A Proudhonian summary from the manuscript writings


The project of working through Proudhon’s works, keyword by keyword, has been rewarding for a variety of reasons. It’s been nearly impossible to get a clear sense of the larger patterns in Proudhon’s use of those keywords without that kind of survey, but the work has also unearthed some important explanations and summaries in unexpected places. The section of the State in The Theory of Taxation is certainly one of the most interesting, but in searching for the surprisingly scarce references to anarchy, I ran across some very interesting material in Napoleon III, a collection of manuscript writings published in 1900. Based on internal references, the early sections appear to date from about 1858. The first chapter begins with some “general reflections on the principle of command,” posing a choice between “Archy or Anarchy,” and those reflections begin with this interesting observation:

Anarchy expresses a very reasonable idea, the absence of authority and command, which is the true republican principle. We feign to make this word a synonym of disorder, confusion, chaos: it is in this sense that I myself, speaking in the language of everyone, have used it frequently.

It is sad that some republicans accept that synonymy…

I’m inclined to think that a certain synonymy was probably part of the power of the notion of anarchy from the beginning, and that it is hard to imagine Proudhon not exploiting it, despite his stated early desire to express new ideas with new words. But to the extent that the French republicans considered that synonymy an end to the matter, we know they would have been very far from Proudhon’s complex vision. In our examination of Proudhon’s development, we can mark another affirmation of anarchy as “the true republican principle” as late as 1858, and we find it alongside a discussion, in the second chapter, of the opposing principles of Liberty and Authority, which resembles the discussion in The Principle of Federation. That 1863 discussion, which treated anarchy as a “perpetual desideratum,” is, as we have noted, sometimes taken as an abandonment of anarchy as Proudhon’s political ideal. In Napoleon III, however, we find the affirmation of anarchy and we find the claim that “fidelity to principles exists in politics only in the ideal,” which is essentially the argument from the work on federation.
I’ll translate at least those two chapters as time allows, but for now I want to present another section from the first chapter, which amounts to one of the clearest summaries of Proudhon’s political theory in the constructive period. Among the “new developments,” in the context of the explorations here, is a constructive use of the term “government.” There are a few passages that are perhaps not quite clear. Unfortunately, the manuscript writings sometimes offer fewer clues, and did not get the careful final editing that was one of Proudhon’s constant habits. But I think there is a lot here, all in one place, which helps to understand Proudhon’s constructive project.

1. — The fundamental principle of society is Justice.

2. — Justice is a faculty immanent in human nature, which unfolds by its own virtue, without any help from grace or supernatural excitation, nor from any impetus from the State.

3. — It is at once a sentiment and an idea. — As a sentiment, Justice is the principle of all legislation; — as an idea, the principle of all logic and all philosophy, the instrument of all certainty, and the guarantee of that truth.

4. — The goal of society is to establish Justice.

5. — To establish Justice is to render to each what naturally and legitimately belongs to them, without distinction of persons, conditions, talents, or aptitudes.

6. — One of the consequences of the establishment of Right is the progressive equivalence of conditions, of occupations, and of fortunes; consequently the final equality of well-being and happiness.

7. — Justice presupposes liberty; it is the agreement [pacte] of liberties. So its aim is not to limit liberties by the sacrifices that it imposes on them, with an eye to the augmentation of the State; — but to increase the power of each liberty, by the transaction — which establishes it itself, and which is Right.

8. — The transaction of liberties, from which the expression of their right arises, is not their necessary association. — Association is one of the means of human industry, of economic organization; it is not at all the general, universal, absolute, and necessary form; any more than competition, which is opposed to it, any more than property, which it is impossible to destroy.

9. — The satisfaction of the physical, intellectual and moral needs of each is the business of each; society only assists to the extent that it guarantees to each the respect of their rights, the tendency of which is equivalence, equilibrium.

10. — Justice is satisfied, and the social organization is complete, when the liberty of each leaves nothing to be desired; when the have the use of all their faculties and aptitudes, the free disposition of their person and their product.

11. — Liberty being the first of goods for the individual, save for the respect of Justice, which commands everyone and everything, association must only be employed, like everything that effects liberty, where it is indispensable; where the economic result sought cannot be obtained otherwise.
Industrial association is not the business of the State; it arises exclusively from the free initiative of the citizens; for an even greater reason, the State does not have a mission to create it everywhere, to make it the smock of the nation.

12. — The government, in a Society, the Power is neither democratic, nor monarchic, nor aristocratic; these words suppose a mass of questions that we can neither solve nor define. — The government is national, social.
It is the resultant of forces, both corporative and individual; — the expression of their equilibrium and of their synthetic will; consequently the most elevated, the most general application of right.

13. — Universal suffrage is one hypothetical manner of presuming the agreement of the masses, their resultant: in itself it is nothing, no more than the ballot box.
The sovereignty of the people is no more than the sovereignty of the prince, it is nothing. Justice is greater than both, independent of both.

14. — It follows that every popular plebiscite can be attacked in the name of right; that the homeland only exists for each on the condition of respecting right and that where right is collectively violated by the nation each citizen would have the right to oppose themselves to the nation, to repudiate its acts, and to declare themselves free towards it of every duty and commitment.

15. — In society, every citizen has right of government and right of justice. This right is never abdicated; the mandate is not a transfer of sovereignty; it is a commission.

Every election of representatives without a definition of its object is null.

There is no blank commission; that would imply a contradiction.

That is why the election of the representative, of the President, of the Emperor, is null. The mandate to command everything and do everything, in the name of the people, is absurd.

16. — Law results: 1) from public, prolonged, preliminary discussion, for the press, the meetings, etc: — 2) from the discussion of the large associations [corporations]: — 3) from their transaction. The law is not the will of anyone: the people are not infallible.

17. — The transaction is not the vote; the vote is only one means of arriving at a transaction. Every law voted for by 300 deputies, rejected by 150, is unjust.
The transaction is the compromise between the 300 and the 150.

18. — The transaction is the synthetic expression which results from all the opinions, for or against, expressed regarding the law.

19. — Every divergence of opinions leads to a synthesis, which is the general opinion, the actual law.

20. — The law is changing, depending on the state of the opinions, the divergence of which varies, and thus gives rise to a new transaction.

21. — Labor being assured, subsistence guaranteed to each, education partially paid for by the State and the communes, instruction will be obligatory, attendance at the school free.

22. — The aim of Society is the extinction of war: — the government does not presuppose any hostility with other governments, is animated with regard to them by no hostile intention, its greatest efforts will tend to universal disarmament.

23. — The precautions that could demand defense transitorily will be entrusted to a special committee, named by the corporations, revocable by them, with a limited mandate; to which the State will be bound to provide all the means of action that depend on it. — Under a despotic power, the army never represents the homeland (Waterloo).

In short, the ministry of war is outside the government.

24. — The action of the State, is in any case the least possible.
It tends to step aside more and more. Every industrial or commercial initiative is strictly forbidden to it.

24. — The State does not make the bank, nor the exchange; it does not bankroll anyone; it is neither the cashier nor the creditor of the nation.

25. — The State does not owe recognition to anyone, neither to the soldier, nor to the worker.
Every citizen is bound to work for themselves until their last breath. The infirm and maimed are the responsibility of the families, corporations and communes: public assistance does not extend beyond that.

26. — In that assistance, the family has the largest share; the corporation the 2nd, and the commune the 3rd and least.

The budgets, wages, etc., must be regulated in that pension.

This is an entirely different world. Between the program of L. Blanc and this one, there is no compatibility.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]
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Independent scholar, translator and archivist.