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Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

I build no system. I ask an end to privilege, the abolition of slavery, equality of rights, and the reign of law. Justice, nothing else; that is the alpha and omega of my argument: to others I leave the business of governing the world.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (pronounced [ˈpruːd.ɒn] in BrE, [pʁu.dɔ̃] in French) (15 January 180919 January 1865) was the first individual to call himself an "anarchist," and the first documented as using the word "Capitalist" to mean property-owner.

QuotesEdit

To be governed is to be watched over, inspected, spied on, directed, legislated at, regulated, docketed, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, assessed, weighed, censored, ordered about, by men who have neither the right, nor the knowledge, nor the virtue.
  • To be governed is to be watched over, inspected, spied on, directed, legislated at, regulated, docketed, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, assessed, weighed, censored, ordered about, by men who have neither the right, nor the knowledge, nor the virtue. ... To be governed is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under the pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolized, extorted, squeezed, mystified, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and, to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, outraged, dishonoured. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.
    • Idée Générale de la Révolution au XIXe Siècle [The General Idea of the Revolution] (1851); quoted in The Anarchists (1964) by James Joll, Ch. 3, p. 78
  • All my economic ideas as developed over twenty-five years can be summed up in the words: agricultural-industrial federation. All my political ideas boil down to a similar formula: political federation or decentralization.
    • Du principe Fédératif [Principle of Federation] (1863)
  • I stand ready to negotiate, but I want no part of laws: I acknowledge none; I protest against every order with which some authority may feel pleased on the basis of some alleged necessity to over-rule my free will. Laws: We know what they are, and what they are worth! They are spider webs for the rich and mighty, steel chains for the poor and weak, fishing nets in the hands of government.
    • "The Authority Principle" in No Gods, No Masters : An Anthology of Anarchism (1980) Daniel Guérin, as translated by Paul Sharkey (1998), p. 90
  • All parties without exception, when they seek for power, are varieties of absolutism.
    • As quoted in Crown's Book of Political Quotations : Over 2500 Lively Quotes from Plato to Reagan (1982) by Michael Jackman, p. 160

What is Property? (1840)Edit

Using primarily the translation of Benjamin R. Tucker What is Property? An Inquiry into the Principle of Right and of Government (1890)
I recognized at once that we had never understood the meaning of these words, so common and yet so sacred: Justice, equity, liberty; that concerning each of these principles our ideas have been utterly obscure...
To name a thing is easy: the difficulty is to discern it before its appearance.
All men in their hearts, I say, bear witness to these truths; they need only to be made to understand it.
Man is very willing to obey the law of duty, serve his country, and oblige his friends; but he wishes to labor when he pleases, where he pleases, and as much as he pleases... to act from judgment, not by command...
As man seeks justice in equality, so society seeks order in anarchy.
  • If I were asked to answer the following question: What is slavery? and I should answer in one word, It is murder, my meaning would be understood at once. No extended argument would be required to show that the power to take from a man his thought, his will, his personality, is a power of life and death; and that to enslave a man is to kill him. Why, then, to this other question: What is property! may I not likewise answer, It is robbery, without the certainty of being misunderstood; the second proposition being no other than a transformation of the first?
    I undertake to discuss the vital principle of our government and our institutions, property: I am in my right. I may be mistaken in the conclusion which shall result from my investigations: I am in my right. I think best to place the last thought of my book first: still am I in my right.
    • Ch. I: "Method Pursued in this Work. The Idea of a Revolution"
  • Property is robbery! That is the war-cry of '93! That is the signal of revolutions!
    Reader, calm yourself: I am no agent of discord, no firebrand of sedition. I anticipate history by a few days; I disclose a truth whose development we may try in vain to arrest; I write the preamble of our future constitution. This proposition which seems to you blasphemous — property is robbery — would, if our prejudices allowed us to consider it, be recognized as the lightning-rod to shield us from the coming thunderbolt; but too many interests stand in the way! ... Alas! philosophy will not change the course of events: destiny will fulfill itself regardless of prophecy. Besides, must not justice be done and our education be finished?
    • Ch. I: "Method Pursued in this Work. The Idea of a Revolution"
    • Property is theft! is a more famous translation of the original: La propriété, c'est le vol!
  • Of what consequence to you, reader, is my obscure individuality? I live, like you, in a century in which reason submits only to fact and to evidence. My name, like yours, is truth-seeker. My mission is written in these words of the law: Speak without hatred and without fear; tell that which thou knowest! The work of our race is to build the temple of science, and this science includes man and Nature. Now, truth reveals itself to all; to-day to Newton and Pascal, tomorrow to the herdsman in the valley and the journeyman in the shop. Each one contributes his stone to the edifice; and, his task accomplished, disappears. Eternity precedes us, eternity follows us: between two infinites, of what account is one poor mortal that the century should inquire about him?
    Disregard then, reader, my title and my character, and attend only to my arguments.
    • Ch. I: "Method Pursued in this Work. The Idea of a Revolution"
  • I build no system. I ask an end to privilege, the abolition of slavery, equality of rights, and the reign of law. Justice, nothing else; that is the alpha and omega of my argument: to others I leave the business of governing the world.
    • Ch. I: "Method Pursued in this Work. The Idea of a Revolution"
  • I have made every effort to obtain exact information, comparing doctrines, replying to objections, continually constructing equations and reductions from arguments, and weighing thousands of syllogisms in the scales of the most rigorous logic. In this laborious work, I have collected many interesting facts which I shall share with my friends and the public as soon as I have leisure. But I must say that I recognized at once that we had never understood the meaning of these words, so common and yet so sacred: Justice, equity, liberty; that concerning each of these principles our ideas have been utterly obscure; and, in fact, that this ignorance was the sole cause, both of the poverty that devours us, and of all the calamities that have ever afflicted the human race.
    • Ch. I: "Method Pursued in this Work. The Idea of a Revolution"
  • To name a thing is easy: the difficulty is to discern it before its appearance. In giving expression to the last stage of an idea, — an idea which permeates all minds, which to-morrow will be proclaimed by another if I fail to announce it to-day, — I can claim no merit save that of priority of utterance. Do we eulogize the man who first perceives the dawn?
    Yes: all men believe and repeat that equality of conditions is identical with equality of rights; that property and robbery are synonymous terms; that every social advantage accorded, or rather usurped, in the name of superior talent or service, is iniquity and extortion. All men in their hearts, I say, bear witness to these truths; they need only to be made to understand it.
    • Ch. I: "Method Pursued in this Work. The Idea of a Revolution"
  • The purchaser draws boundaries, fences himself in, and says, “This is mine; each one by himself, each one for himself.” Here, then, is a piece of land upon which, henceforth, no one has a right to step, save the proprietor and his friends; which can benefit nobody, save the proprietor and his servants. Let these sales multiply, and soon the people — who have been neither able nor willing to sell, and who have received none of the proceeds of the sale — will have nowhere to rest, no place of shelter, no ground to till. They will die of hunger at the proprietor’s door, on the edge of that property which was their birthright; and the proprietor, watching them die, will exclaim, “So perish idlers and vagrants!”
  • Property is impossible.
    • Ch. IV: "That Property Is Impossible"
  • The elements of justice are identical with those of algebra.
    • Ch. IV
  • AXIOM. — Property is the Right of Increase claimed by the Proprietor over any thing which he has stamped as his own.
    • Ch. IV
  • The proprietor, producing neither by his own labor nor by his implement, and receiving products in exchange for nothing, is either a parasite or a thief.
    • Ch. IV
  • Communism is inequality, but not as property is. Property is the exploitation of the weak by the strong. Communism is the exploitation of the strong by the weak. In property, inequality of conditions is the result of force, under whatever name it be disguised: physical and mental force; force of events, chance, fortune; force of accumulated property, &c. In communism, inequality springs from placing mediocrity on a level with excellence. This damaging equation is repellent to the conscience, and causes merit to complain; for, although it may be the duty of the strong to aid the weak, they prefer to do it out of generosity, — they never will endure a comparison. Give them equal opportunities of labor, and equal wages, but never allow their jealousy to be awakened by mutual suspicion of unfaithfulness in the performance of the common task.
    Communism is oppression and slavery. Man is very willing to obey the law of duty, serve his country, and oblige his friends; but he wishes to labor when he pleases, where he pleases, and as much as he pleases. He wishes to dispose of his own time, to be governed only by necessity, to choose his friendships, his recreation, and his discipline; to act from judgment, not by command; to sacrifice himself through selfishness, not through servile obligation. Communism is essentially opposed to the free exercise of our faculties, to our noblest desires, to our deepest feelings. Any plan which could be devised for reconciling it with the demands of the individual reason and will would end only in changing the thing while preserving the name. Now, if we are honest truth-seekers, we shall avoid disputes about words.
    Thus, communism violates the sovereignty of the conscience, and equality: the first, by restricting spontaneity of mind and heart, and freedom of thought and action; the second, by placing labor and laziness, skill and stupidity, and even vice and virtue on an equality in point of comfort. For the rest, if property is impossible on account of the desire to accumulate, communism would soon become so through the desire to shirk.
    • Ch. V: "Psychological Explanation of the Idea of Justice and Injustice, and the Determination of the Principle of Government and of Right," Part 2: Characteristics of Communism and of Property

The Philosophy of Misery (1846)Edit

I will explain … how, studying in the silence of my heart, and far from every human consideration, the mystery of social revolutions, God, the great unknown, has become for me an hypothesis, — I mean a necessary dialectical tool.
The Philosophy of Misery (1846) (also translated as The Philosophy of Poverty)
  • Before entering upon the subject-matter of these new memoirs, I must explain an hypothesis which will undoubtedly seem strange, but in the absence of which it is impossible for me to proceed intelligibly: I mean the hypothesis of a God.
    To suppose God, it will be said, is to deny him. Why do you not affirm him?
    Is it my fault if belief in Divinity has become a suspected opinion; if the bare suspicion of a Supreme Being is already noted as evidence of a weak mind; and if, of all philosophical Utopias, this is the only one which the world no longer tolerates? Is it my fault if hypocrisy and imbecility everywhere hide behind this holy formula?
  • Tormented by conflicting feelings, I appealed to reason; and it is reason which, amid so many dogmatic contradictions, now forces the hypothesis upon me. A priori dogmatism, applying itself to God, has proved fruitless: who knows whither the hypothesis, in its turn, will lead us?
    I will explain therefore how, studying in the silence of my heart, and far from every human consideration, the mystery of social revolutions, God, the great unknown, has become for me an hypothesis, — I mean a necessary dialectical tool.
    • Introduction
  • In order better to grasp the thought of Malthus, let us translate it into philosophical propositions by stripping it of its rhetorical gloss: —
    "'"Individual liberty, and property, which is its expression, are economical data; equality and solidarity are not."
    "Under this system, each one by himself, each one for himself: labor, like all merchandise, is subject to fluctuation: hence the risks of the proletariat."
    "Whoever has neither income nor wages has no right to demand anything of others: his misfortune falls on his own head; in the game of fortune, luck has been against him."
    From the point of view of political economy these propositions are irrefutable; and Malthus, who has formulated them with such alarming exactness, is secure against all reproach. From the point of view of the conditions of social science, these same propositions are radically false, and even contradictory.
    • Chapter I

Confessions of a Revolutionary (1849)Edit

It is necessary to have lived in this insulator which is called the national assembly, in order to perceive how the men who are the most completely ignorant of the state of the country are almost always the ones who represent it.
As translated in "P. J. Proudhon in the Revolution of 1848" by Mary B. Allen The Journal of Modern History (1952) 24:1-14.
  • Power, instrument of the collective force, created in society to serve as mediator between capital and labor, has become inescapably enchained to capital and directed against the proletariat. No political reform can resolve this contradiction, since, according to the avowal of politicians themselves, such a reform could only end by giving more energy and expansion to power, and until it had overthrown the hierarchy and dissolved society, power would not be able to attack the prerogatives of monopoly. The problem consists, then, for the working classes, not in capturing, but in defeating both power and monopoly, which would mean to make rise from the bowels of the people, from the depths of labor, a power greater, an action more powerful which would envelop capital and the State and subjugate them.
  • It is necessary to have lived in this insulator which is called the national assembly, in order to perceive how the men who are the most completely ignorant of the state of the country are almost always the ones who represent it. I set myself to read everything that the distribution bureau sends the representatives: proposals, reports, brochures, even the Moniteur and the Bulletin of the laws. The greater part of my colleagues of the left and the extreme left were in the same perplexity of spirit, in the same ignorance of the daily facts. The national workshops were spoken of only with a kind of fright; for fear of the people is the defect of all those who belong to authority; the people, as concerns power, is the enemy.

Solution of the Social Problem (1849)Edit

  • liberty is not daughter of order but mother of order.
    • la liberté non pas fille de l'ordre mais MERE de l'ordre.

Quotes about ProudhonEdit

Proudhon, like the Communists, fights against egoism. ~ Max Stirner
It is the general idea put forward by Proudhon in 1840 that unites him with the later anarchists, with Bakunin and Kropotkin, and also with certain earlier and later thinkers, such as Godwin, Stirner, and Tolstoy, who evolved anti-governmental systems without accepting the name of anarchy ~ George Woodcock
  • Proudhon is the master of us all.
  • Proudhon, like the Communists, fights against egoism. Therefore they are continuations and consistent carryings-out of the Christian principle, the principle of love, of sacrifice for something general, something alien. They complete in property, only what has long been extant as a matter of fact — namely, the propertylessness of the individual. ... In this too Proudhon is like the Christians, that he ascribes to God that which he denies to men. He names him the Proprietaire of the earth. Herewith he proves that he cannot think away the proprietor as such; he comes to a proprietor at last, but removes him to the other world.
    • Max Stirner, in The Ego and Its Own [Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum] (1845)
  • In France, Proudhon has the right to be a bad economist because he is reputed to be a good German philosopher. In Germany, he has the right to be a bad philosopher because he is reputed to be one of the ablest of French economists. But being both a German and an economist, I wish to protest against this double error.
    • Karl Marx, in The Poverty of Philosophy [Das Elend der Philosophie] (1847)
  • Like such titles as Christian and Quaker, "anarchist" was in the end proudly adopted by one of those against whom it had been used in condemnation. In 1840, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, that stormy, argumentative individualist who prided himself on being a man of paradox and a provoker of contradiction, published the work that established him as a pioneer libertarian thinker. It was What Is Property?, in which he gave his own question the celebrated answer: "Property is theft." In the same book he became the first man willingly to claim the title of anarchist.
    Undoubtedly Proudhon did this partly in defiance, and partly in order to exploit the word's paradoxical qualities. He had recognized the ambiguity of the Greek anarchos, and had gone back to it for that very reason — to emphasize that the criticism of authority on which he was about to embark need not necessarily imply an advocacy of disorder. The passages in which he introduces "anarchist" and "anarchy" are historically important enough to merit quotation, since they not merely show these words being used for the first time in a socially positive sense, but also contain in germ the justification by natural law which anarchists have in general applied to their arguments for a non-authoritarian society.
What is to be the form of government in the future? … I hear some of my readers reply: "Why, how can you ask such a question? You — are a republican." A republican! Yes, but that word specifies nothing. Res publico; that is, the public thing. Now, whoever is interested in public affairs — no matter under what form of government, may call himself a republican. Even kings are republicans. "Well, you are a democrat." No ... "Then what are you?" I am an anarchist!
  • Proudhon goes on to suggest that the real laws by which society functions have nothing to do with authority; they are not imposed from above, but stem from the nature of society itself. He sees the free emergence of such laws as the goal of social endeavour. … Proudhon conceiving a natural law of balance operating within society, rejects authority as an enemy and not a friend of order, and throws back at the authoritarians the accusations leveled at anarchists; in the process he adopts the title he hopes to have cleared of obloquy.
    • George Woodcock, in Anarchism : A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements (1962), Prologue
  • Proudhon was a voluntary hermit in the political world of the nineteenth century. He sought no followers, indignantly rebuffed suggestions that he had created as system of any kind, and almost certainly rejoiced in the fact that he accepted the title anarchist in virtual isolation.
    • George Woodcock, in Anarchism : A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements (1962), Prologue
  • It is the general idea put forward by Proudhon in 1840 that unites him with the later anarchists, with Bakunin and Kropotkin, and also with certain earlier and later thinkers, such as Godwin, Stirner, and Tolstoy, who evolved anti-governmental systems without accepting the name of anarchy; and it is in this sense that I shall treat anarchism, despite its many variations: as a system of social thought, aiming at fundamental changes in the structure of society and particularly — for this is the common element uniting all its forms — at the replacement of the authoritarian state by some form of non-governmental cooperation between free individuals.
    • George Woodcock, in Anarchism : A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements (1962), Prologue

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