Disagreement on the Posthumous Works of Proudhon – First Letter

The complete translation can be downloaded in pdf form.

The publication of Proudhon’s posthumous works occasioned a controversy among his literary executors, with some of the debate occurring in the pages of La Presse in November, 1865. The debate involved four of the six executors—J. A. Langlois, Georges Duchêne, A. A. Rolland, and Gustave Chaudey—and Proudhon’s old collaborator Alfred Darimon, which whom Proudhon had parted ways politically, plus a number of other allies and adversaries. The debate was important enough for Auguste Beauchery to include the two main letters from La Presse in his 1867 Economie Sociale de P.-J. Proudhon, an attempt to summarize Proudhon’s thought. Here is a working translation of the first of those two letters. (The letter to which Langlois and Duchêne are responding is reproduced in the second letter.)
Disagreement Regarding the Posthumous Publication
of Unpublished Works by P.-J. Proudhon.
We receive the following letter:
Paris, November 16, 1865.
Dear editor,
The Presse of November 16 takes up again, after some literary journals, the question of the posthumous works of Proudhon, and the manner in which you intend to publish them. Your article contains two things: the principal et un incident. Let us begin by eliminating the incident:
Two persons, you say, have abstained from signing with you and associating with an act of literary dishonesty. Allow me to observe to you that these two persons are better positioned than you in journalism to explain the motives of their abstention; perhaps they would give others than those you lend them.[1]
The incident dealt with, let’s get to the core.
The introduction to The Theory of Property is composed of several parts:
1) Citations extracted from the older works of Proudhon:
2) Connecting phrases such as: “Chapter IV of the study on goods is titled: economic balances: Worker and masters; buyers and sellers, etc.,” or: “Speak of taxation, I said.”
 3) Some phrases constructed exclusively with parts of phrases written by Proudhon, like this other “What was I attacking above all in 1840? The right of increase, that right so inherent, so intimate to property that, where is does not exist, property is nothing;”
4) Some handwritten notes scattered in the last manuscript;
5) Some phrases that Proudhon said to us in conversation and with remain in our memory;
6) Finally, the famous article of Mr. Paignon.
All deductions made, there remains in the 62 pages of the introduction, we believe, 90 lines or 3 pages. Thus the summary has been, in reality, on our part only a work of ordering, made with Proudhon, of published and unpublished work.
That is our defense, if indeed it matters to the true Proudhonians, to the  partisans of the political, economic, religious and moral reforms elaborated by Proudhon, who, in this debate, have still not spoken.
For ten days, epithets have been bestowed: impertinent, impious, dishonest, profaners. Against us, who have only shared with the great thinker the works and struggles, the trials and prison, is raised a clamor to make us proclaim the miracle. The Proudhonian doctrine is thus finally triumphant!…
When come to her from all sides,
These children she has not carried at her breast?[2]
Some men of letters who have never fumbled with the least economic, political, or social question; some Catholics who prompted the last three-year sentence for the author of the Justice; some Jacobin absolutists who have cried out against him: Stupid federalist; some proprietors who put the income from property well above its political function: some old fighters, become the conservatives of tomorrow: some satisfied sorts from all times: these are, from Mr. Barbey d’Aurevilly all the way to Mr. Bauer, the people who have raised their voices against us.
What a difference with what took place only ten months ago! Proudhon expressed himself before us one day in these terms:
The so-called democratic papers have said nothing of my Theory of Taxation (awarded a prize by the council of state of the canton of Vaud and published in France in 1861). The conspiracy of silence already existed; I have note even had on this occasion the honor of the assaults. (Phrase quoted on page 64 of our Introduction. )
Proudhon is dead, as Mr. de Girardin said so well, of the silence observed around his work and the suffocation of his thought.
He is dead, and so here he is, passed to the state of God, and, to employ the vigorous expression of the excellent Bergman, to the state of the Dalai Lama of what one worships even the excrement. Et stercora adorabant.
But these are not enthusiasts. There is an asp under the flowers that are lavished on the tomb of Proudhon. Proudhon once dead, must remain dead: that is what they want. He left seventeen works, where he continues the struggle, the propaganda from beyond the grave. This scandal must be cut short by smothering the thinker under the crowns bestowed on the artist.
Well, no, the fighter is not dead: we see it from time to time. But for the posthumous work to bear its fruits, it must be published in an intelligible manner. The editors have not been chosen from among these enthusiasts of the next day, fortunately.
“Put an end to a work which must inevitably detract from the intellectual legacy of the celebrated writer,” our friend Darimon advises us.”
If the question was only literary, if it was a question of novels, of sonnets and ballads, we would not have worried about it. But the question is political. The public must have the whole of Proudhon’s thought, even if some of his present eulogists receive blows in exchange for their swings of the censer. Four or six remain to us to be done, and they will.
Accept, Mr. Editor, our attentive salutations.
J. A. Langlois, G. Duchêne.
Let us exclude from the debate the personality of Mr. Langlois or Mr. Duchène. It is not at issue. No one thinks to put in doubt their devotion to the Proudhonian cause, nor the good faith that they bring to the work in which they are engaged. If someone did that, you would see us on the front line to defend them. They are old comrades at arms ; I battle them only by complaining.
What the public complains of, is that instead of publishing the posthumous works of their master as he left them, Mr. Duchène and Mr. Langlois les rework, arrange, and assemble them, as they say in the preface to the book on art.
To find this manner of proceeding bad, it is not necessary to be guided by a political passion; it is enough to be a man of taste. That is how it happens that Duchène and Langlois encounter, uniting in a common criticism, people belonging to the most opposed camps. There is nothing astonishing about seeing, in these circumstances, a friend of Proudhon, Mr. Darimon, agree with Mr. Barbey d’Aurevilly, one of his adversaries; it is the opposite which would be strange. In questions of good sense, there can be no dissent.
At base, Duchêne and Langlois share the sentiments of the whole world. They feel so strongly that to make alterations to the work of a dead author is to profane it, that they strive to prove that the additions made by them to the Theory of Propertyconsist largely of verbatim quotes taken from Proudhon himself. But even this admission condemns them; they plead extenuating circumstance; it is not a right that they assert, and in that alone they have been right.
Within the limits that my two excellent friends put on their work, to my [other] friends they still go too far. That in order to make the fragments left by Proudhon intelligible, as they say, they supply some notes intended to clarify the text, no one contradicts; but that they make Proudhon speak as if they had in them the very mind and soul of the master, that is what everyone is permitted to find detestable.
MM. Duchêne et Langlois conclude their letterwith a sentence that proves they are determined to continue, despite the good advice that comes to them from all sides. Weare sorry for them, for their obstinacy (the word is not too hard) theywill certainly attract indiscreet questions. Already it is said in public that neither they nor anyone else received the mandate from Proudhon to publish his posthumous works, that Proudhon had limited himself to designating six persons charged with overseeing the republication of his Complete Works, and that he had not given a mandate to anyone to revise his unfinished manuscripts. One adds that not only do Langlois and Duchêne act without title, but that the true Proudhonians, — to borrow their expression, — deplore the way they have treated the unpublished works of their leaders, and have let them know. Some go even further: it is said that the publisher, the honorable Mr. Lacroix, is, on this point, of the opinion of the friends of the famous publicist.
If this was so, one need not despair of seeing Mr. Duchêne and Mr. Langlois come to repentance. It is unfortunate that two men of heart and intelligence persist in pursuing a labor which earns them such severe and unanimous cautions. — Alfred Darimon. Presse, November 18, 1865.


[1]The six literary executors listed in The Principle of Art are J. A. Langlois, A. A. Rolland, G. Duchêne, F. G. Bergmann, G. Chaudey and F. Delhasse. Chaudey and Rolland did not sign the notice in The Theory of Property.
[2] From Jean Racine, Athalie; my translation.
[to be concluded…]
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]
About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.