Proudhon’s projects

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During his lifetime Proudhon was frequently accused of being primarily a critic, a destroyer, and within anarchist circles it is largely his destructive critique of property rights that we remember. In some ways, this is a curious turn of events, since so much of his work was devoted to constructing his People’s Bank, his theory of Progress, his evolving theory of property, etc. When his Œuvres Complètes was assembled in the late 1860s, apparently the editors felt the need to combat that perception, and their advertisement for the series contained a passage from Théorie de la propriété, in which Proudhon responded to the charge. It’s an entertaining bit, despite some awkwardness and repetition, and it really does give a sense of the extent to which Proudhon was engaged in a constructive philosophical project. Here’s the catalog of things that the reader can expect to find in Proudhon:

  • “A theory of force: a metaphysics of the group (which will be demonstrated above all, along with the theory of nationalities, in a book which will be published soon);
  • A dialectical theory: formation of genera and species par by the serial method; aggrandizement of the syllogism, which is good only where the premises are accepted;
  • A theory of rights and of morals (doctrine of immanence);
  • A theory of liberty;
  • A theory of the Fall, that is, a theory of the origin of moral evil: idealism;
  • A theory of the right of force: right of war and right of peoples;
  • A theory of contract: federation, public or constitutional right;
  • A theory of nationalities, deduced from the collective force: indigénat, autonomy;
  • A theory of the division of powers, correlative of the collective force;
  • A theory of property;
  • A theory of credit: mutuality, correlative of federation;
  • A theory of literary property;
  • A theory of taxation;
  • A theory of the balance of commerce;
  • A theory of population;
  • A theory of the family and of marriage;
  • Not to mention a mass of incidental truths.”

And we’ve really just started to recover all that, so there’s plenty to look forward to.


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