Pierre-Joseph Proudhon


French Libertarian, Socialist, Mutualist Philosopher and Economist

Author Quotes

Where shall we find a power capable of counter-balancing the... State? There is none other than property [i.e. possession]... The absolute right of the State is in conflict with the absolute right of the property owner. Property [i.e. possession] is the greatest revolutionary force which exists... the more ground the principles of democracy have gained, the more I have seen the working classes interpret these principles favorably to individual ownership [i.e. possession]. [Mutualism] ...will make capital and the State subordinate to labor.

Anarchy... the ideal of human government... centuries will pass before that ideal is attained, but our law is to go in that direction, to grow unceasingly nearer to that end, and thus I would uphold the principle of federation ... it is unlikely that all traces of government or authority will disappear... By the word [anarchy] I wanted to indicate the extreme limit of political progress. Anarchy is... a form of government or constitution in which public and private consciousness, formed through the development of science and law, is alone sufficient to maintain order and guarantee all liberties... The institutions of the police, preventative and repressive methods officialdom, taxation etc., are reduced to a minimum... monarchy and intensive centralization disappear, to be replaced by federal institutions and a pattern of life based upon the commune. Since the two principles, Authority and Liberty, which underlie all forms organized society, are on the one hand contrary to each other, in a perpetual state of conflict, and on the other can neither eliminate each other nor be resolved, some kind of compromise between the two is necessary.

Communism--the first expression of the social nature--is the first term of social development--the thesis; property, the reverse of communism, is the second term--the antithesis. When we have discovered the third term, the synthesis, we shall have the required solution.

If property is impossible on account of the desire to accumulate, communism would soon become so through the desire to shirk.

Of a real, true contract, on whatsoever subject, there is no vestige in Rousseau's book. To give an exact idea of his theory, I cannot do better than compare it with a commercial agreement, in which the names of the parties, the nature and value of the goods, products and services involved, the conditions of quality, delivery, price, reimbursement, everything in fact which constitutes the material of contracts, is omitted, and nothing is mentioned but penalties and jurisdictions.

The conclusion is that government can never be revolutionary quite simply because it is government. Society alone, the masses armed with their intelligence, can create revolution; society alone is able to deploy all its spontaneity, to analyze and explain the mystery of its destiny and its origin, to change its faith and its philosophy, because it alone is capable of fighting against its originator and to bear its fruit. Governments are God?s scourge, established to discipline the world: do you really expect them to destroy themselves, to create freedom, to make revolution?

There will no longer be nationality, no longer fatherland, in the political sense of the words: they will mean only places of birth. Whatever a man?s race or color, he is really a native of the universe; he has citizen?s rights everywhere.

Who will tell me that the right to labor and to live is not the whole of the Revolution?

And for my part I say: The first duty of man, on becoming intelligent and free, is to continually hunt the idea of God out of his mind and conscience. For God, if he exists, is essentially hostile to our nature, and we do not depend at all upon his authority. We arrive at knowledge in spite of him, at comfort in spite of him, at society in spite of him; every step we take in advance is a victory in which we crush Divinity.

Contrary to all expectation! It takes an economist not to expect these things.

If, as was formerly thought, the evil from which humanity suffers arose solely from the imperfection inevitable in every creature, or better, if this evil were caused only by the antagonism of the potentialities and inclinations which constitute our being, and which reason should teach us to master and guide, we should have no right to complain. Our condition being all that it could be, God would be justified.

Philanthropy is a corollary of poverty.

The constitutional monarchy is preferable to the qualified monarchy: in the same way that representative democracy is preferable to [monarchical] constitutionalism.

Thus no systematized outlook... party spirit or vain sentimentality unites the persons concerned. In cases in which production requires great division of labor, it is necessary to form an ASSOCIATION among the workers... because without that they would remain isolated as subordinates and superiors, and there would ensue two industrial castes of masters and wage workers, which is repugnant in a free and democratic society. But where the product can be obtained by the action of an individual or a family... there is no opportunity for association.

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.

As long as humanity shall bend before an altar, humanity, the slave of kings and priests, will be condemned; as long as one man, in the name of God, shall receive the oath of another man, society will be founded on perjury; peace and love will be banished from among mortals. God, take yourself away! for, from this day forth, cured of your fear and become wise, I swear, with hand extended to heaven, that you are only the tormentor of my reason, the specter of my conscience.

Disregard then, reader, my title and my character, and attend only to my arguments.

In a mutualist confederation, the citizen gives up none of his freedom, as Rousseau requires him to do for the governance of his republic!

Political economy ? that is, proprietary despotism ? can never be in the wrong: it must be the proletariat.

The contract of federation, whose essence is always to reserve more powers for the citizen than the state, and for municipal and provincial authorities than for the central power, is the only thing that can set us of the right path... the citizen who enters the association must 1. have as much to gain from the state as he sacrifices to it. 2. retain all his liberty... except that he must abandon in order to attain the special object for which the contract is made... the political contract is called federation. Free association... the only true form of society. The system of contracts, substituted for the system of laws, would constitute the true government, true sovereignty of the people, the REPUBLIC... The constitutional monarchy is preferable to the qualified monarchy: in the same way that representative democracy is preferable to [monarchical] constitutionalism.

To be governed is to be, at every operation, every transaction, noted, counted, registered, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished.

Workers? associations are the home of a new principle and model of production that must replace current corporations.

As man seeks justice in equality, so society seeks order in anarchy.

Dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system, by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this giant machine... the State. We should not put forward revolutionary action as a means of social reform because that pretended means would simply be an appeal to force, or arbitrariness, in brief a contradiction. I myself put the problem this way; to bring about the return to society by an economic combination, of the wealth drawn from society... We desire a peaceful revolution... you should make use of the very institutions which we charge you to abolish... in such a way that the new society may appear as the spontaneous, natural and necessary development of the old and that the revolution, while abrogating the old order, should nevertheless be derived from it... There are no such things as minor reforms, or minor economies or minor wrongs. The life of man is a battle, that of society a perpetual reformation; let us therefore reform and go on reforming unceasingly. I am one of the greatest artifers of order, one of the most moderate progressionists, one of the least Utopian and one of the most practical reformers that exist.

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.

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French Libertarian, Socialist, Mutualist Philosopher and Economist