Moving forward with “The Theory of Property”


Contr’un Revisited: [commentary coming soon]

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I’ve been spending some quality time with the manuscript of Proudhon’s The Theory of Property, now that it is available through the Ville de Besançon site, and it’s been a fascinating experience. Having spent a lot of time with the published version over the last few years, there were a lot of moments when I could look at a page and, once I had deciphered the handwriting, could immediately place the manuscript material in the published work. On my first pass through, the page where Proudhon proclaims that “Humanity proceeds by approximation” jumped out at me. Given the importance of that particular passage in the development of my work on Proudhon and mutualism, encountering it in the manuscript was a real treat. I was also amused to find that Proudhon apparently anticipated me by almost a century and a half on another important point, scribbling what what can only be the “two guns” of mutualism in the margins of the manuscript.

I’ve started the work of matching manuscript pages to published pages, and it’s been pretty straightforward work so far. The bulk of the work is there, in roughly its published form. The major summaries from the concluding chapter and the outline for the survey of the previous works also seem to be present. There is a lot of painstaking word-by-word comparison to be done, but I am leaning more and more towards the belief that Langlois and Co. were pretty faithful in their treatment of the manuscript.

The most interesting surprise has been that there are apparently at least a few pages, and potentially more than a few pages, of Proudhon’s writing on property that did not find a place in the published work. It isn’t clear whether there will be much worth transcribing and translating in his historical notes, but there are a few pages on intellectual property that refer back to Les Majorats littéraires, which should probably be included as an appendix.

For those unfamiliar with the controversies surrounding The Theory of Property, or my previous writing on the subject, here are some highlights:

My very rough draft translation of the work is available in the Libertarian Labyrinth archive.

I have a few more of the manuscript writings on property to consult, and then I can begin to really clean up that translation. Then, perhaps, it will be time to talk about publishing the whole series.


About Shawn P. Wilbur 2701 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.