What Is Property? seminar

As announced, I’ll be doing a close reading of Proudhon’s first memoir from What Is Property? during the month of July, and I am inviting one and all to read along. I have set up a discussion list and wiki page on the anarchylist.org site. Please subscribe to the list if you are interested in participating in the main discussion. If you’re not up to that kind of commitment, I will be posting material on this blog, and compiling a running list of seminar-related material on the wiki page.

My ambitions for the reading are fairly simple: I would like to provide an opportunity for individuals, anarchists of whatever school or non-anarchists, to read (or reread) this very important text, in a context where it is also possible to develop a reading of the material. Developing a reading—really coming to terms with the text—is a bit more complicated process than just going the distance through it. But if Proudhon’s argument, that “property is theft,” is to be more than just an empty slogan, it is necessary to engage with the complexities involved. There are all kinds of complicating issues: Proudhon’s very specific definitions of “property” and “possession,” potential inconsistencies in Proudhon’s various treatments of the question of “property,” subsequent developments in Proudhon’s property theory, idiosyncratic or period-specific use of terms, etc. The text treats certain conventional libertarian approaches to property, such as “self-ownership,” rather obliquely. In my running commentary on the work, I hope to clarify some issues, and highlight the difficulties with regard to others. I’ll try to provide some context from other of Proudhon’s writings, including some that remain untranslated.

Contrary to my original posting, I intend to spend the entire month of July dealing with the text, and will extend the seminar if it seems desirable. I’ll begin slowly this week, with some general comments, and some discussion of the first chapter. The Tucker translation of the first memoir is a little less than 300 pages long, making the pace around ten pages per day. I’ll try to give some guidance for the busy about which sections are must-reads.

I’ll post links to some biographical material later this evening. Sign up for the discussion list if you’re interested in reading along.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.


  1. Damn! I was really looking forward to this since it gave me the perfect excuse to actually read the copy of WIP I’ve had sitting on my shelf for the last year. Unfortunately, it’s now in a box that will remain in Vegas for a while, and I’ll be in Vermont, with as-yet-undetermined internet access.

    I hope all the relevant material will be archived?

  2. Yeah, David. The mailing list archive is public, and I’ll be collecting links to everything involved on the wiki project page.

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