Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Found a couple of good posts on Proudhon. One is Proudhon on government over at CLASSical Liberalism. Where Proudhon denounces representative parliamentary democracy as a sham. Considering the election of King Stephen the Haropcrite this passage seems particularly apt.

"It is completely otherwise in democracy, which according to the authors exists fully only at the moment of elections and for the formation of legislative power. This moment once past, democracy retreats; it withdraws into itself again, and begins its anti-democratic work."

"In fact it is not true, in any democracy, that all citizens participate in the formation of the law; that prerogative is reserved to the representatives."

"It is not true that they deliberate on all public affairs, domestic and foreign; this is the perquisite, not even of the representatives, but of the ministers. Citizens discuss affairs, ministers alone deliberate them."

"...According to democratic theory, the 'People' is incapable of governing itself; democracy, like monarchy, after having posed as its principle the sovereignty of the People, ends with a declaration of the incapacity of the People!"

"This is what is meant by the democrats, who once in the government, dream only of consolidating and strengthening the authority in their hands."

The other is on

text Time to abondon our concept of Collectivism for a concept of Mutualism?
Proudhon and the 21st Century

As I have said here before the real nature of Proudhonian anarchism is self government, something embraced by Max Stirner and late Nietzsche. As well as by Kropotkin and Emma Goldman.

In self government, the individual is soverign, and no decision can be made without my input. Any decisions over my life must be done by my consent. It is classical liberalism taken to its logical teleology.

And yet the post-modernists who rant on about the teleology of Marxism as being essentialist, accept this of anarchism. Post Modernism is also a teleology of liberalism.

While Anarchy means No Government we can see that the government it denies is Monarchy and representative democracy, parlimentarianism. Instead Prodhoun saw government, as did Kropotkin, as self organized by individuals as community.

That is in community or workplace councils, with revocable delegates going out ot present positions within a larger federation, and coming back from those federations with proposals for approval.

This particular article on Proudhon in the 21st Century introduces Prodhoun to North American readers who may not have heard of him. I present an exerpt of this very interesting paper. Discuss amongst yourselves. Those who would call themselves Libertarian would do well to read their Prodhoun.


Most people in North America are unaware of Proudhon, but he did have an influence here. The newspaper editors Charles Dana and Horace Greely were sympathetic to his ideas and he influenced the American individualists, most especially Benjamin Tucker, who translated and published some of his most important writings. Proudhon's criticisms of the credit and monetary systems were an influence upon the Greenback Party. His concept of mutual associations and the People's Bank were forerunners of the credit union and cooperative movements.


The public thinks anarchy means chaos or terrorism. But many people who claim to be anarchists are also confused as to its meaning. Some think anarchism is a doctrine espousing the right to do what ever you want. Others dream that one day a pure anarchist utopia, a kind of earthly Paradise of peace and freedom will come to be. Neither of these conceptions were Proudhon's. "Anarchy" did not mean a pure or absolute state of freedom, for pure anarchism was an ideal or myth.

[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.[2] is unlikely that all traces of government or authority will disappear...[3]

Proudhon wanted people to minimalize the role of authority, as part of a process, that may or may not lead to anarchy. The end was not so important as the process itself.

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.[4] NB. "Commune" means municipality.

In the real world, all actual political constitutions, agreements and forms of government are a result of compromise and balance. Neither of the two terms, Authority and Liberty can be abolished, the goal of anarchy is merely to limit authority to the maximum.

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. Whatever the system favored, whether it be monarchical, democratic, communist or anarchist, its length of life will depend to the extent to which it has taken the contrary principle into account.[5]

...that monarchy and democracy, communism and anarchy, all of them unable to realize themselves in the purity of their concepts, are obliged to complement one another by mutual borrowings. There is surely something here to dampen the intolerance of fanatics who cannot listen to a contrary opinion... They should learn, then, poor wretches, that they are themselves necessarily disloyal to their principles, that their political creeds are tissues of inconsistencies... contradiction lies at the root of all programs.[6]

In rejecting absolute anarchy and favoring an open-ended process, Proudhon criticized all forms of absolutism and utopianism. He saw that utopianism is dangerous, and was a product of absolutism - the sort of thought which fails to distinguish between concrete reality and the abstract products of the mind. Anarchist theory should be open-ended, or "loose". No hard-edged determinism or "necessary stages of history" for Proudhon.

...writers have mistakenly introduced a political assumption as false as it is dangerous, in failing to distinguish practice from theory, the real, from the ideal... every real government is necessarily mixed...[7]

...few people defend the present state of affairs, but the distaste for utopias is no less widespread.[8]

Not only was utopia a dangerous myth, the working people were too practical and too intelligent to bother with such pipe dreams.

The people indeed are not at all utopian... they have no faith in the absolute and they reject every apriori system...[9]

There was no easy way out - no Terrestrial Paradise, things might improve, but we still have to work. Such was his hard-headed realism in contrast to all the fancy dreaming and system-mongering of the intellectuals. Poverty, by which he meant lack of luxury, not destitution, was the foundation of the good life.

In rejecting absolutism, Proudhon never waffled on the question of freedom. As opposed to the modern left which pits equality against liberty, and demands the restriction of the latter for the sake of the former, Proudhon was a resolute libertarian:

Lois Blanc has gone so far as to reverse the republican motto. He no longer says Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, he says, Equality, Fraternity,
Liberty!... Equality! I had thought that it was the natural fruit of Liberty, which has no need of theory nor constraint.[10] ...the abolition of taxes, of central authority, with great increase of local power. There lies the way of escape from Jacobinism and Communism.[11]


Proudhon proposed mutualism as an alternative both to capitalism and socialism. Mutualism was not a scheme, but was based upon his observation of existing mutual aid societies and co-operatives as formed by the workers of Lyon. But the co-operative association in industry was applicable only under certain conditions - large scale production.

...mutualism intends men to associate only insofar as this is required by the demands of production, the cheapness of goods, the needs of consumption and security of the producers themselves, i.e., in those cases where it is not possible for the public to rely upon private industry... Thus no systematized outlook... party spirit or vain sentimentality unites the persons concerned.[27]

In cases in which production requires great division of labour, 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.[28]

Proudhon was in favor of private ownership of small-scale property. He opposed individual ownership of large industries because workers would lose their rights and ownership. Property was essential to building a strong democracy and the only way to do this on the large-scale was through co-operative associations.

Where shall we find a power capable of counter-balancing the... State? There is none other than property... The absolute right of the State is in conflict with the absolute right of the property owner. Property is the greatest revolutionary force which exists.[29]

...the more ground the principles of democracy have gained, the more I have seen the working classes interpret these principles favorably to individual ownership.[30]

[Mutualism] ...will make capital and the State subordinate to labor.[31]

Alienation and exploitation in large-scale industry was to be overcome by the introduction of workers' co-operative associations. These associations were to be run on a democratic basis, otherwise workers would find themselves subordinated just as with capitalist industry. A pragmatist, Proudhon thought all positions should be filled according to suitability and pay was to be graduated according to talent and responsibility.

That every individual in the association... has an undivided share in the company... a right to fill any position according to suitability... all positions are elective, and the by-laws subject to approval of the members. That pay is to be proportional to the nature of the position, the importance of the talents, and the extent of responsibility.[32]

Proudhon was an enemy of state capitalism and state socialism. At the very most, government could institute or aid the development of a new enterprise, but never own or control it.

In a free society, the role of the government is essentially that of legislating, instituting, creating, beginning, establishing, as little as possible should it be executive... The state is not an entrepreneur... Once a beginning has been made, the machinery established, the state withdraws, leaving the execution of the task to local authorities and citizens.[33]

[Coinage] is an industry left to the towns. That there should be an inspector to supervise its manufacture I admit, but the role of the state extends no farther than that.[34]

The following quote is a good summary of Proudhon's economic and political ideas:

All my economic ideas, developed over the last 25 years, can be defined in three words, agro-industrial federation; all my political views... political federation or decentralization, all my hopes for the present and future... progressive federation.[35]

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1 comment:

freeman said...

Thanks for pointing out that latter post. Good stuff.