Allen Ritter, The Political Thought of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, 1969


Proudhon and His Interpreters

This book interprets Proudhon as a political theorist, through close analysis of his most systematic writings, and consequently differs in both method and aim from the standard studies of his thought. It differs in method by examining die consistency, truth, and meaning of Proudhon's ideas, without looking into their historical origins and effects. It differs in aim by arguing for the inherent merit of his theory, apart from its bearing on his personality or on the intellectual climate of his time.

The thesis of the book is that Proudhon, though a radical, was a realist and a moralist as well. His theory can therefore be regarded as an attempt to integrate these three divergent orientations toward politics into a tolerably coherent whole. The difficulties Proudhon encountered in this attempt are not his alone; they arise for any radical who faces facts and has a conscience. An analytic study of his writings should therefore clarify the problems of a sober and scrupulous kind of radicalism that will always be of interest.

The analytic approach to Proudhon adopted here is bound to arouse misgivings in those acquainted with the main interpretations of his thought, all of which, for different reasons, suggest that his ideas are too mistaken or confused to merit analytic treatment. Hence a helpful start for such a treatment is a review of the interpretations that seem to stand in its way.

Among economists, Proudhon has long been known as a self-taught dilettante, prolific in schemes for abolishing interest on money, but incompetent at economic science. Joseph Schumpeter well summarized this verdict: Proudhon realizes that his findings are "absurd," but, "instead of inferring from this that there is something wrong with his methods, [he] infers that there must be something wrong with the object of his research so that his mistakes are, with the utmost confidence, promulgated as results."1

Like the other interpretations to be examined, this one has more than a grain of truth. Many of Proudhon's explanations of social and economic facts are either untestable or else invalid by empirical scientific standards. But the weakness of his thought as social science does not disqualify it for analytic treatment. Proudhon does more than explain the facts; he makes conjectures and moral judgments about them. These non-empirical aspects of his thought show that standards other than those of science may be applied to it, which may well reveal that Proudhon's ideas are correct enough to merit analytic study despite their weaknesses from a scientific viewpoint.

Dismissal of Proudhon as an inept theorist is not widespread, except among economists. Most commentators make no overt appraisal of his work and so cannot expressly call it worthless, but they disagree so much about its purpose that they too make critical analysis seem misplaced. When the most disparate goals have been plausibly ascribed to a theorist, it is natural to regard him as too muddled for analytic treatment.

The first goal ascribed to Proudhon was revolution. Those who did so saw him as a ferocious, atheistic, leveler, out to destroy bourgeois institutions, by violence if necessary, and to replace them with equal power and wealth for all. Proudhon's early pronouncements about property being theft occasioned this revolutionary image; his actions in 1848 confirmed it. Then, by siding with the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, and by extolling "the sublime ghastliness" of the insurrectionary "cannonade," he became known as l'homme-terreur. In a play of the period he figured as the snake, inciting Adam and Eve to revolt. A Daumier cartoon shows him, pickax in hand, demolishing the roofs of Paris. The caption reads: "The only way to destroy property."2 Conservative writers have worked hard to perpetuate this image. As late as 1905 a book was written to expose Proudhon's subversive aim and to denounce his anti-clericalism.3

To Marxists, Proudhon's aim has seemed quite different: to thwart a revolution, not to make one. The source of this contention is their master's dictum that Proudhon was a petty bourgeois. Marx never clarified his epithet, but this only made it more persuasive. Generally, the Marxists have claimed that whereas they want to press the class struggle to a definitive proletarian victory, "the petty bourgeois Proudhon opts for equilibrium, for mutual support of conflicting forces: the bourgeoisie is not to be abolished, but preserved by means of class collaboration."4 To defend this reading they cite Proudhon's conciliatory attitude toward class conflict, his opposition to strikes, his qualified defense of private property (something the conservatives usually overlook), and his sympathy for les petits -- those whose means of livelihood are independent but modest.5 This view of Proudhon as a bourgeois counterrevolutionary seems more popular than any other and is accepted by many non-Marxists. Its popularity is no doubt due to the wide diffusion of Marxist ideas, which leave their mark even on those who reject them.

Still another goal has been ascribed to Proudhon by French reactionaries, who say his purpose was the same as theirs. This thesis was first suggested in 1909 by the anti-Semitic Edouard Drumont when he certified that "because of [Proudhon's] instinctive loathing of cosmopolites, he was the first of the nationalists."6 A year later Charles Maurras confirmed this judgment: "Except in his ideas, Proudhon instinctively favored French [i.e. Maurrassien] policy."7 Such pronouncements could hardly be convincing, since they deliberately ignored Proudhon's ideas. But this oversight did not last long. In 1912 the Cercle Proudhon, a leftish front for the Action francaise, began publishing its Cahiers, in which it tried to prove that its namesake was a forebear. The Cercle's most cogent spokesman was Georges Valois, then, as ever, eager to blur the line between left and right. "The core of Proudhon ... is the artisanal, military and Christian thought of traditional, Catholic, classical France," he claimed.8 At the center of this "core" Valois and his Cercle put Proudhon's patriarchic views on marriage and family life, his criticism of democracy, his peasant regionalism, and, above all, his French nationalism as typified by his stand with the pope against Italian unification. As for aspects of his thought that do not agree with this interpretation, "these outbursts are merely ... an echo of contemporary ideas that he gave up bit by bit."9 The Proudhon who emerges from this treatment may not be the most orthodox reactionary, but he seeks almost everything that they seek, except a restoration of the king.

The ideology most recently attributed to Proudhon has been fascism; the case for it rests partly on points made by the reactionaries and partly on points omitted by them. Among the latter are Proudhon's occasional anti-Semitic remarks, his qualified support of Negro slavery, and his obscure attempt to persuade Louis Napoleon to reform society. When these aspects of his position are conjoined with those stressed by the Maurrassiens, Proudhon's ideas appear to be not just nationalistic and authoritarian, but racist and socialistic too. This version of his thought was first presented by the Nazis themselves, but it was most skillfully defended by an anti-fascist American; the French, however, have made only half-hearted attempts to support it.10

Proudhon's theory would not merit analytic treatment if two or more of these familiar portrayals of its aim could withstand critical examination, for then his theory would be proved a hopeless muddle. Fortunately, evidence abounds to refute all of these interpretations.

First of all, the biased concerns of the interpreters color their portrayals. Authors of theses about Proudhon's aim were not chiefly concerned with defining his thought fairly; what mattered most to all of them was the advantage they could win for their political positions by arguing for a particular concept of his objective. Conservatives, for instance, could hope to attract support from the political center by depicting Proudhon as a terrorist. Marxists, in contrast, might win converts among committed leftists by calling him an enemy of revolution. The reactionaries could use their identification with Proudhon both to attract leftists hostile to Marx and to distinguish themselves from those conservatives who thought that Proudhon was subversive. Fascists too could find advantages in equating Proudhon's objectives with their own, since this maneuver might win support among his sympathizers, whatever their place in the political spectrum.

These interpretations of Proudhon's thought, however, are not necessarily invalid; they might be accurate despite their authors' partisan concerns. But in comparison with what Proudhon himself said about his purposes, all of these interpretations miss the mark.

The conservatives' contention, that he was a revolutionary, ignores his well-known opposition to violence, as well as his explicit praise of the very inequality and religion that they see as targets of his attack.

The Marxist view of him as an enemy of the workers overlooks his many pronouncements in favor of the proletarian cause. This view also mistakes the reasons behind some of his positions, such as his opposition to strikes: Proudhon did not oppose strikes because he was devoted to class collaboration, but because he was suspicious of the trade union mentality which strikes so often induce among the workers.

The thesis of reactionaries that Proudhon was their forerunner does not withstand examination either. For one thing, this thesis totally neglects some of his most clearly stated teachings, such as his condemnation of tradition and the Church. The reactionary argument also twists the meaning of those of Proudhon's teachings it does consider. His opposition to Italian unification, for instance, was not a defense of Catholic objectives, as Valois implied, but of the small-scale governments that unification would destroy.

As for the view that Proudhon aimed for fascism, it too rests on a weak foundation. Fascists seek dictatorship, which Proudhon hated. Fascists spurn individual freedom, which to Proudhon was the greatest good. These differences between Proudhon and the fascists make the resemblances in their tliought too superficial to serve as proof that their objectives are the same.

This is not the first time that the standard readings of Proudhon's aim have been deplored as caricatures. After the First World War the Societe des amis de Proudhon was organized to develop and publicize a more accurate view of its mentor. To this group we owe thanks for the new critical edition of Proudhon's works, a great aid to the study of his writings.11 The Societe also published a useful collection of Proudhon's essays and several anthologies of his work. Probably most important was the group's encouragement of serious scholarship; some of the best recent studies of Proudhon have been written by authors connected with the Societe.

But though the Societe effectively challenged some interpretations, it did not altogether replace them with more acceptable ones, which is not surprising, since many of the group's adherents brought tlie same sort of partisan concerns to their studies of Proudhon that had animated previous interpreters of his thought. Some of the group, sympathetic with the French labor movement, equated Proudhon with the syndicalists, despite the fundamental differences between their ideas.12 Others, like Armand Cuvillier, reworked the Marxist reading of Proudhon, while Daniel Halevy tried to make Proudhon an anticipator of his own highly personal outlook on politics.

It is true that not all associates of the Societe brought partisan concerns to their writings on Proudhon; but these impartial portrayals of his theory are not much more satisfactory than the politically inspired ones. The scholarly Celestin Bougie, for example, had no partisan motive for saying that Proudhon was a sociologist at heart; yet this interpretation, like that of the economists, ignores the normative and conjectural elements in his thinking. Other impartial writers interpret Proudhon inadequately for a different reason. Although they say nothing about the general character of Proudhon's theory and so cannot oversimplify it as Bougie does, their unwillingness to characterize deprives them of a thesis to unify their vision of his work, and inclines them to focus so minutely on its details and background that tliey convey a fragmented and eclectic picture of it. Though these writers impose no artificial unity on Proudhon's theory, they find little unity in it of any kind.13

Since impartial commentators do find Proudhon inconsistent, while only biased and mistaken ones do not, it is tempting to conclude -- which would be fatal to this study -- that his theory is indeed confused. There can be no doubt that Proudhon is the kind of theorist who, because both his life and his writings are highly ambiguous, invites partisan and eclectic readings. But inconsistency does not preclude coherence. A look at the ambiguities that induce the inaccurate readings may reveal tlie possibility of an acceptable interpretation of his theory, despite its absence up to now.

Even Proudhon's early biography has supplied grist for the interpretational mill. Do you want to paint him as a peasant, rooted in the tradition of soil? Then you note that in his youth he spent long months alone in the fields tending cattle. Are you interested in depicting him as a petty bourgeois? Then you dwell on his father's marginal economic status as an impecunious and ultimately bankrupt brewer. If your aim is to portray a dangerous proletarian revolutionary, you can stress his early experience as a printer and his links with the insurrectionary secret societies of Lyons. And if you want to take a nonpartisan stand, you can acknowledge that all of these experiences influenced his thought and that all of them contribute to its inconsistency. Many other cases of ambiguous biographical influences could be mentioned, for they crop up throughout Proudhon's life. But enough has been said to show how these diversities are used to develop both the mistaken though coherent, and the accurate though unsynthesized, interpretations of the man and his thought.

Even a life as ambiguous as Proudhon's could not have furnished enough material for his disparate images. The necessary supplement was provided by his writings themselves, for they are even less definable than his biography. As one commentator complained, "It is literally impossible to analyze not only his complete works but even his most important writings; . . . certain chapters are so turbid and diffuse that even the best informed reader is unable to discern any general point; and . . . the critic continually wonders if he is misrepresenting his author by citing a passage which is demolished with equal vigor ten pages later."14 The apparent contradictions in Proudhon's work, more than anything else, explain why it invites polemical distortion and keeps conscientious critics from portraying it as unified. Proudhon's work seems inconsistent for several reasons, one being that it is resolutely unmethodical, since Proudhon was not, and did not wish to be, a systematic philosopher. "My aim is not to write a moral treatise, any more than a philosophy of history," he said in his most comprehensive work. "My task is more modest: first we must get our bearings, everything else will then follow automatically."15

Proudhon's incompetence in economics adds to the apparent inconsistency of his theory, by making an important part of it a muddle. In 1841, soon after publishing his second book on economics, he confessed to a friend, "Political economy is not my strong point and it will be most unfortunate if I have not given it up completely before I am forty."16 His foreboding came true, because he dabbled confusedly in economics all his life.

Frequent polemical exaggeration is another of Proudhon's traits that make him seem inconsistent. It is common in the history of political theory for a writer to slant his position so as to sharpen its contrasts with that of his adversary. Proudhon often did this because he found polemical exaggeration difficult to avoid: "It is impossible for me to retain philosophical composure and indifference, especially when I have to deal with biased and dishonest opponents."17 With most writers such a disposition does not lead to contradiction. Polemical exaggeration is usually aimed at only one, or at most a few, allied opponents; its excesses therefore produce parallel, not conflicting, distortions. But Proudhon found opponents everywhere. He thought himself "l'excommunie de l'epoque."18 "The development of my thought has deprived me of almost all community of ideas with my contemporaries," he explained.19 Finding himself surrounded by enemies, all of whom opposed him for different reasons, he lashed out simultaneously in contradictory directions. In 1848, for example, being equally opposed to democrats, socialists, and conservatives, he assaulted all three with equal vigor. By doing so, he exposed himself to plausible charges by each adversary of sympathizing with the others. There are many otlier cases where Proudhon's attack on a variety of rival opponents made his own position seem self-contradictory.

Still further evidence of Proudhon's inconsistency is the fact that he altered his ideas over a period of time. His theory appears quite different depending on whether its early, middle, or late form is emphasized, while if all three phases are given equal weight, a composite and incongruous picture is likely to result. Though Proudhon usually denied that his position had evolved, its changes have often been pointed out by others. Indeed, a major purpose of Proudhon studies has been the charting of his theory in order to distinguish the fundamental from the circumstantial changes in his ideas. Scholars now agree that most of Proudhon's changes are circumstantial and that those occurring in the foundations of his theory involve shifts in emphases among fixed premises, not changes in the premises themselves.20 But recognition of his fixed premises does no more than reduce the apparent inconsistencies in Proudhon's thought. Shifts of emphasis can produce almost as many incongruities as can changes in first principles. Even after basic continuities are acknowledged, the earlier Proudhon still cuts quite a different figure from the later Proudhon.

Because so much data suggests that Proudhon is incoherent, it is indeed hard to see the unity of his thought; yet this data is weaker proof against unity than may appear. Consider first the biographical evidence offered for his inconsistency: Proudhon's varied experiences, however ambiguous, do not prove that his ideas are incoherent, since a man whose behavior is irregular can still think clearly. The same point applies to Proudhon's lack of system. An unsystematic writer may also be inconsistent, but he need not be. Inconsistency and lack of system do not always go together.

As for Proudhon's incompetence in economics, it neither confuses his political ideas nor thus precludes a unified political theory. In fact, as we shall see, even Proudhon's most muddled monetary scheme, rather than complicating his political problems, helps resolve them.

Nor are Proudhon's polemical exaggerations obstacles to coherent interpretation of his thought. It is usually quite simple to recognize these excesses and thus discount them as forensic tactics, so that they do not affect one's reading of his theory. This corrective technique no doubt deprives Proudhon's viewpoint of some of its panache, but this is a necessary and not excessive sacrifice to make for an accurate understanding of his position.

The doubts about Proudhon's consistency, based on his changing views, also can be allayed. As pointed out, these changes are only shifts in emphases among fixed premises, and although the changes reflect the development of his thought around a basic structure, they do not alter the structure itself, and so need not be considered in assessing the fundamental consistency of his tliought.

Though the evidence examined thus far does not seem to rule out the feasibility of a unified interpretation of Proudhon, another kind of evidence might do so. Allegations against the consistency of the fundamental propositions in his theory must be examined. Proudhon's premises, arguments, and conclusions might be so thoroughly contradictory that any attempt to depict them as coherent would be futile. That there are conflicts among his basic propositions is certain; that there are logical inconsistencies is less clear. It may be that the conflicts among these propositions, rather than confusing his thought, give clues to its meaning. To find out, it is necessary to ask if his premises are logically opposed and if he contradicts himself when he applies them.

The value of asking these questions can be brought out by comparing the situation faced by the analyst of Proudhon's ideas with that confronting the student of Locke's. Their problems of interpretation are analogous, because both deal with theories containing similar contraries.

Locke's theory exhibits two conflicting trains of thought. On the one hand, his theory paints a harmonious picture of the state of nature and lays down generous terms for the right of revolution. Each citizen decides for himself when revolution is justified, by comparing his situation under government with the one he would enjoy in the state of nature. If the latter seems preferable to him, he is entitled to revolt. Interpreters who stress this side of Locke's theory usually view it as an attack on absolute government and a spirited defense of revolutionary overthrow. The Continental Europeans have traditionally depicted it in this way. C. E. Vaughan is a more recent espouser of this interpretation.21

But Locke's theory has elements that suggest a different reading. Some parts of the Second Treatise stress the inconvenience of the state of nature instead of its harmony. Other passages make clear that the generous right of revolution is scarcely operational. Locke gives ample justification for revolt, but the institutions he prescribes make successful overthrow difficult to achieve. The interpreters who emphasize these elements of Locke's position come to quite a different conclusion about his theory: Locke appears to them as some kind of authoritarian, perhaps a majority rule democrat, perhaps a crypto-Hobbist.22

In reaction to both of these coherent but one-sided accounts, a third, eclectic approach may be pursued. The critic may describe both trends in Locke's thought, assign equal weight to each, and conclude that he is more or less hopelessly muddled.

But let us consider another interpretational option -- also a reaction to the one-sided approaches -- which begins by acknowledging that Locke's theory is rife with conflict but, unlike the eclectic view, does not conclude that it is contradictory. Instead, this fourth approach offers reasons for Locke's ambiguities and draws out their implications. By taking this approach the analyst is able to evince the dilemmas that plagued the founder of liberalism and that continue to perplex its adherents.

It is obvious that the first three strategies used to construe Locke's theory correspond to the previously described strategies used to interpret Proudhon's theory. But the fourth approach, mentioned above, may apply to Proudhon as it applied to Locke. Explication and analysis of the conflicts in Proudhon's thought may evince the dilemmas which perplex a radical thinker and that confront his interpreters.

Pursuit of this approach requires that the character of Proudhon's conflicting premises be clearly understood. Comparison with Locke is almost as helpful for this purpose as for clarifying interpretational strategies, because Proudhon's most basic political conflicts are strikingly similar to Locke's. Locke's dilemma is to reconcile the constraints of social life with individual freedom. When he stresses the restrictions prerequisite for social living, his theory takes on an authoritarian tone; when he stresses the value of freedom, his theory sounds more libertarian. Proudhon's problem is precisely the same. He too values the reconciliation of liberty with social life and therefore frames a theory that sometimes stresses authority, sometimes liberation. But here the similarity between the two writers ends: Proudhon's ambivalence, though of the same kind as Locke's, differs vastly in degree. This all-important difference results from a more extreme conception of liberty, on the one hand, and a keener awareness of the need for social restraint, on die other.

Probably no one in the history of political theory has conceived of liberty more broadly than Proudhon, since none has required that men, to count as free, be unhindered by as many restraints. Certainly Locke's freedom, by comparison, is meager indeed. For him "liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others . . . and is not, as we are told, a liberty for every man to do what he lists."23 In Locke's view, men can be restrained in many ways without ceasing to qualify as free: they can be pressured socially, exploited economically, censored religiously, or repressed legally. Provided they are not "subject to the arbitrary will of another," they are free men in the full sense of that term. Locke even goes a step further. Certain kinds of restraint are included in the very definition of liberty. In the state of nature, man's liberty consists not just in his freedom from the will of others but also of his having "the law of nature for his rule," while under government part of the definition of liberty is having "a standing rule to live by."24 A person who is unrestrained by such laws or rules is not freer than one who is. On the contrary, he is not free at all, for he is in a state of license, not liberty.25 Freedom for Locke, then, requires only a limited absence of restraint and actually calls for the presence of certain impediments.

To Proudhon, on the other hand, "freedom" denotes total liberation, from every possible form of hindrance. The absence of other people's restraining wills is only a small part of liberty; the presence of any limitations, far from being a requisite for liberty, is an obstacle to it. A free man must be "liberated from all restraint, internal and external."26 Both kinds of restraint are defined in very broad terms. External restraint includes, in addition to the hindrances identified by Locke, every kind of legal, social, and natural impediment.27 A man's freedom is restricted just as much by duly enacted laws, social pressures, religious codes, economic, and even physical forces, as by the arbitrary wills of other people. Internal restraint includes not just the tyranny of passion, but control by conscience. A free man "can resist even the voice of conscience and can do what he himself declares wrong and evil."28 "He is able to dishonor his person, deprave his nature, and debase it further than could his passions, acting alone."29

This conception of freedom shows no trace of the traditional equation, implicit in Locke, of liberty and goodness. A man does not cease to count as free when he misbehaves, or even when he is unhindered by rules. In his famous hymn to liberty, "le genie de la revoke," Proudhon outlines the extreme implications of this position:

"Liberty recognizes no law, no motive, no principle, no cause, no limit, no end, except itself. . . . Placing itself above everything else, it waits for a chance to escape ... all laws but its own, to insult everything but itself, to make the world serve its fancies and the natural order its whims. To the universe that surrounds it it says: no; to the laws of nature and logic that obsess it: no; to the senses that tempt it: no; to the love that seduces it: no; to the priest's voice, to the prince's order, to the crowd's cries: no, no, no. It is the eternal adversary that opposes any idea and any force that aims to dominate it; the indomitable insurgent that has faith in nothing but itself, respect and esteem for nothing but itself, that will not abide even the idea of God except insofar as it recognizes itself in God as its own antithesis."30

This passage is a key to Proudhon's thought. By committing himself to such a radical ideal of liberty, he placed a towering obstacle in the way of its realization. Any attempt to create a world where men can enjoy such unlimited freedom is bound to encounter grave problems. Examination of Proudhon's attempt to reach this objective therefore brings into sharp relief the theoretical difficulties of all extreme libertarian endeavors.

The other horn of both Locke's and Proudhon's basic dilemma is awareness of the restraints necessitated by social life. Here, as in his conception of liberty, Proudhon goes beyond Locke, thus further sharpening their shared ambivalence.

Locke recognized that, in the absence of all restraint, social life was inconvenient, but he believed it was both possible and preferable to extreme political coercion. He tried to reconcile social life and freedom by describing the state of nature as a feasible social arrangement that men could revert to as a refuge from intolerable oppression.

Proudhon could not adopt this solution because he thought it was chimerical. Locke's state of nature, like any social arrangement, is inescapably restrictive, for at least two reasons. First, human nature makes unrestrained social life impossible. "Man is naturally free and selfish, . . . capable of self-sacrifice for love or friendship, but rebellious."31 Hence, if left unrestrained, people will not get on harmoniously: they will oppress one another. Second, and more subtle, the process of personal interaction necessarily imposes prevalent norms on each member of society. "I view society, the human group, as being sui generis, . . . with its own functions, foreign to our individuality, its ideas which it communicates to us, its judgments which resemble ours not at all, its will, in diametrical opposition to our instincts."32 Since society influences its members directly, none can escape being restrained by the norms and expectations that prevail in it.

Both these points need further elaboration. Their interest here lies in the light they shed on the basic conflict in Proudhon's thought. Had he worked with an unexamined or even a Lockean conception of the need for social restraint in his effort to achieve total liberation, his difficulties would have been great enough. The problems raised by attempts at complete emancipation are themselves acute. But by identifying the unavoidable obstructions to such attempts, he increased his difficulties.

The conflict between these two basic premises -- a radical concept of liberty and a realistic acknowledgment that restraint is unavoidable -- made theorizing a Sisyphean labor for Proudhon: the closer he came to his goal of total liberation, the heavier his sense of the need for restraint weighed on him. Most of the incoherences in his thought, including many of those exploited by the polemicists and catalogued by the scholars, can be understood as symptoms of this fundamental dilemma. By following Proudhon in his search for a resolution, I hope to present a unified account of his thinking that overlooks none of its ambivalence.

The work most useful for this purpose is De la Justice dans la Revolution et dans l'Eglise; it goes further than any other toward explicating and applying his first principles. This book, which is Proudhon's summa, will therefore be the main source for my interpretation. Other writings must also be considered, inasmuch as they clarify the views expressed in Justice. Of these, die most helpful is probably die "Cours d'economie politique," an unpublished work recently unearthed by Pierre Haubtmann. There, in curiously transfigured form, much of the theme of Justice can be found in embryo. Almost as important is the sequel to Justice, La guerre et la paix; though mainly devoted to international relations, it is more than obliquely relevant for domestic politics. These three works form a solid basis for a study of Proudhon that takes full account of his complexity.33

The plan of this book is suggested by its overall approach. The next chapter explores Proudhon's realistic awareness that restraint is unavoidable. The third chapter studies his radical contention that liberation of the individual ought to occur. The book moves on, in chapter four, to analyze the confrontation of restraint and liberation; when Proudhon's libertarian ideal faces his recognition of social realities, the result is an extreme critique of the existing world. Chapter five examines his attempt to combine the opposed tendencies of his thought by devising a socio-political arrangement for effectively reconciling freedom and social life. The last analytic chapter studies Proudhon's tactics: the means he used for reaching his chosen ends.

Though all these chapters are expository, they are not merely descriptive; they are more than a tidy reformulation of Proudhon's ideas. They comprise an effort at internal comprehension, designed to bring out the half-hidden implications of his thought. Following Raymond Aron's example, "we isolate his theory; in a sense, we complete his system."34 This enterprise sometimes leads to asking questions that Proudhon did not expressly put, and to giving answers he did not explicitly provide. The risks of such a procedure are considerable; the reader must decide if it has compensating merits.

All of the chapters outlined thus far include evaluations of the points analyzed in them. The final chapter goes a step further by criticizing both Proudhon's way of posing the problem of liberation and his solution. There I sketch a different solution, suggested by the strengths and weaknesses of his approach. It is here that his theory may be of practical value, since an understanding of his position indicates some promising paths toward liberation and others to be avoided. But even if these practical suggestions are worthless, the theoretical value of studying Proudhon remains unimpaired. For however great his reputation as an activist, he is also a man of thought: he strives to elucidate questions that face us all.


1 Joseph Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis (New York, 1954), p. 457. Vilfredo Pareto was of the same opinion, Les systemes socialistes (2d ed., Paris, 1926), 11, 275. One economic writer who disagreed with Schumpeter was Dudley Dillard. In his article, "Keynes and Proudhon," Journal of Economic History, 11 (May 1942), pp. 63-76, Dillard depicts Proudhon as Keynes' anticipator.

2 For these and other details about Proudhon's rise to notoriety see Daniel Halevy's introduction to Conf., pp. 36-43.

3 Gaston Isambert, Les idees socialistes en Prance de 1815 a 1848 (Paris, 1905), pp. 316-70. Other writers who have taken this view are: Martin Ferraz, Histoire de la philosophie en France au dix-neuvieme siecle (3d ed., Paris, 1877), pp. 427-71; Arthur Desjardins, Proudhon, sa vie, ses oeuvres, sa doctrine, 2 vols. (Paris, 1896).

4 Henri Mougin, "Avant-propos" to Karl Marx, Misere de la philosophie (Paris, 1961), p. 15.

5 See, e.g., Georges Cogniot, Proudhon et la demagogie bona-partiste: un "socialiste" en coquetterie avec le pouvoir personnel (Paris, 1958); E. H. Carr, Studies in Revolution (London, 1950), p. 44.

6 Edouard Drumont, "Le centenaire de Proudhon," La grande revue (January 10, 1909), p. 140.

7 Charles Maurras, "A Besancon," Cahiers du cercle Proudhon, 1 (January-February 1912), p. 4.

8 George Valois, "De quelques tentatives d'aggression contre le Cercle Proudhon," Cahiers du Cercle Proudhon, 2d series, 1 (January-February 1914), p. 80.

9 Ibid.

10 J. Salwyn Shapiro, "P.-J. Proudhon, Harbinger of Fascism," American Historical Review, l, No. 4 (July 1945), pp. 714-37. Karl Heinz Bremer, "Der sozialistische Kaiser," Die Tat, xxx (1938), pp. 160 ff; Willibald Schulze, "War Proudhon Anarchist?" Deutschlands Erneuerung, xxin (January 1939), pp. 14-21; Jacques Bourgeat, Proudhon, pere du socialisme francais (Paris, 1943); Henri Bachelin, P.-J. Proudhon, socialiste national (Paris, 1941).

11 The edition would be even more useful if it had an index.

12 For a thorough comparison of Proudhon and the syndicalists see Gaetan Pirou, Proudhonisme et syndicalisme revolutionnaire (Paris, 1910).

13 The work of such interpreters as Georges Guy-Grand and Edouard Dolleans, notwithstanding its unquestionable merit, does seem to suffer from this sort of eclecticism. See Georges Guy-Grand, Pour connaitre la pensee de Proudhon (Paris, 1947) and Edouard Dolleans, Proudhon (Paris, 1948).

14 Maurice Lair, "Proudhon, pere de l'anarchie," Annates des sciences politiques, xxiv (1909), p. 589; cf. W. Pickles, "Marx and Proudhon," Politica, 111 (1938-1939), p. 235: "Proudhon is . . . anything but a consistent thinker. . . . He presented the public with a running analysis of his own mental processes, he thought aloud in print, giving free reign to irony, invective, metaphor and every kind of passion as his feelings dictated. He corrected himself as he went along."

15 Justice, 1, 239; cf. ibid., III, 264; Corr., xn, 317, 344.

16 Corr., VI, 313.

17 Ibid., VII, 8.

18 Ibid., VII, 265.

19 Ibid., II, 284.

20 Henri de Lubac, The Un-Marxian Socialist (London, 1948), p. 30, "Between his former works and those of the days of his exile, though there may be a few changes in tone or emphasis, we do not find the profound differences which some have thought they could see"; cf. the introduction to P.F. by J. L. Puech and T. Ruyssen, p. 75.

21 Vaughan very nearly makes Locke an anarchist, for in his view Locke "lays the State at the mercy of the individual, by enabling any minority, however small, to challenge the moral justification of any law." Studies in the History of Political Theory before and after Rousseau (New York, 1961), 1, 168.

22 These are the themes of two well-known studies of Locke. Willmoore Kendall, John Locke and the Doctrine of Majority Rule (Urbana, 1941); Richard H. Cox, Locke on War and Peace (New York, 1960).

23 John Locke, Two Treatises on Government, ed. Peter Laslett (Cambridge, England, 1960), p. 324.

24 Ibid., pp. 301-302.

25 Ibid., pp. 288-89.

26 Justice, III, 409.

27 Ibid., III, 407.

28 Ibid., III, 418.

29 Ibid., III, 411.

30 Ibid., III, 424.

31 Ibid., I, 306.

32 Prog., pp. 66-67.

33 Though Propriete is certainly his best-known book, it is not especially useful for this study, being quite unsystematic and unusually polemical.

34 Raymond Aron, La philosophic critique de l'histoire (2d ed., Paris, 1950), p. 10.