Introduction to P.-J. Proudhon, The Principle of Federation (1863)


Richard Vernon


P.-J. Proudhon's Du Principe federatif is surely the nearest thing to a manifesto that the federalist tradition has to its name. Unlike The Federalist itself -- to which it is much inferior as a work of political science -- Proudhon's book has everything needed for the role: it is truculent, overstated, and avowedly schematic, for a scheme, Proudhon says in his first chapter, is what is needed by a book if it is to appeal, to persuade, and to be remembered. In its day Du Principe federatif was indeed a success, its first printing selling out within weeks of its publication in February 1863. Its subsequent influence, too, has been important, among such diverse groups as the Paris communards, the right-wing Regionalist thinkers of Third Republic France, and the English theorists of political pluralism, among whom Harold Laski, notably, regarded Du Principe federatif as one of the great books of the nineteenth century.1 Today, however, it is largely forgotten, except among certain French europeens, for whom it is a key text for the idea of international confederation. But in English-language scholarship it attracts very little interest: textbooks on federalism pass over it in silence -- while regretting that there is so little theoretical writing on the subject -- and the best recent critical study of Proudhon's thought deals with it very briefly.2

The contemporary neglect of Du Principe federatif may be explained in part by its unsatisfactory character as a book. It is, as Proudhon's biographer has written, 'an awkward compromise between a constructive political treatise and a collection of topical wrangles. Its form is diffuse, and of the three parts into which it was divided only the first is permanently important.'3 The remaining two parts consist of an account of the then current Italian situation -- already discussed at some length in Proudhon's La Federation et l'Unite en Italie (1862) -- and of a detailed response to critics of his earlier work. With the exception of one chapter, these two latter parts, which are of very limited general interest, are omitted from this translation. The first part of the book, Proudhon's 'constructive political treatise,' stands on its own: and even though it consists in part of a recapitulation of themes and arguments already developed by Proudhon in the previous twenty years, it stands as a uniquely condensed expression of his political thinking, and as one of the rather few writings on the topic of federalism which -- whether good or bad -- can claim to be works of political theory in the traditional sense.

'The theory of the federal system,' Proudhon claims at the beginning of his book, 'is quite new; I think I may even say that no one has ever presented it before.' As Proudhon was perfectly well aware, federation is an ancient practical expediency, but all the same his claim to be the first to theorize about it, though vain, is not wholly untenable. In both the ancient and the modern phases of federalism, there has been a 'failure of theory to keep pace with practice,' as Sheldon Wolin remarks.4 Some might think that the converse applies to Proudhon's book -- that here theory wholly outstrips practice: 'Proudhon has swept us out into a sea of doctrine,' complains one recent critic, 'He is discussing federalism, not federation. And he promotes it as Plato promotes "forms" or More "utopia" or Moore "the good."'5 There is some truth in this; as I have already said, Proudhon overstates the case, and in his account of the logic of political development 'federalism' does indeed assume the status of an 'ism,' a panacea, fully comparable to 'liberalism' or 'socialism,' a doctrine rather than an expedient. This, indeed, is the principal interest of his argument. He regards federalism not as a set of institutional arrangements but as a philosophy of political life, connecting it, in fact, with nothing less than a philosophy of history. But this consideration should not be allowed to blunt the force of another important point. The reference to More is unfortunate, for Proudhon's argument is expressly anti-utopian; the reference to Plato is misleading, for Proudhon's central inspiration here is so clearly Aristotelian. Federalism, he says, springs from a transaction (and some recent scholars echo him in calling it a 'compromise' or 'bargain'); it arises, in Proudhon's argument, from the practical tensions and inconsistencies essential to politics, and not from a vision of unique and self-sufficient good; and although his stance in Du Principe federatif is indeed theoretical, his is a theory which takes as its point of departure a practical contradiction.

All polities, Proudhon contends, are subject to the conflicting requirements of authority and liberty. There is no such thing as an authoritarian regime, except as an ideal type, for authorities are obliged to leave some liberty to their subjects, especially as the scope of their jurisdiction extends. There is no such thing as a libertarian regime, in the real world, for all government involves authority. Nor can any theory reconcile authority and liberty and explain satisfactorily how it is that we can be both free and unfree at once. But as human history unfolds, Proudhon believes, the realm of liberty expands inexorably, while that of authority contracts, without however vanishing; and political history, in broad outline, is the history of repeated practical efforts by men to restrain and control their authorities. It is this that leads Proudhon to the large claims that he makes for the federal principle. Among the various devices or models which history offers, federalism alone extends liberty to its practical limit and confines authority to its practical minimum; in federalism alone an expanded liberty and a compressed authority reach final equilibrium. Federalism, in short, is the only political form adequate to human progress: 'The twentieth century will open the age of federations, or else humanity will undergo another purgatory of a thousand years.'6

Whether this is in fact the age of federations (a view which some would accept),7 or, alternatively, an age of purgatory ( a view of one's present which always finds favour with some), or whether Proudhon's prediction is simply wide of the mark, are of course eminently debatable questions. But what we may say of Proudhon's book is that more than any other it invites us to take federalism seriously, not as an expedient or an adjunct, but for itself. To this we may add that it connects the argument for federalism with a ferocious onslaught upon bureaucracy, with an ambitious theory of modern political development, and with one of the earliest critiques of mass democracy, which compares favourably in passion if not in depth with his contemporary Tocqueville's. On any of these grounds alone it would merit attention.


A second reason for the contemporary neglect of Proudhon's book, one may suspect, is that we have him firmly pigeon-holed as an anarchist rather than a federalist; what support his book lends to federalism, then, comes from a surprising and perhaps not entirely welcome quarter, and it would be as well to begin by considering briefly its relation to Proudhon's rather better-known writings. The immediate circumstances which prompted Du Principe federatif contain an element of the bizarre.8 In 1858 Proudhon had fled to Belgium, after his great work De la Justice had earned him a prison sentence and a fine from a French court. During his years of exile his attention turned increasingly to international affairs -- it was in 1861 that La Guerre et la Paix was published -- and to the European situation generally. The emergence of nationalist movements, even of the democratic nationalism of the Italians, disturbed him greatly, and in 1862 he published two articles sharply critical of Mazzini and Garibaldi, focusing upon the centralized nation-state which Proudhon feared would be the outcome of the Italian nationalist movements. Italy, he objected, was a diverse nation, with strong local traditions of politics and culture; to unite its cities and provinces under a single sovereign would be -- he remarked in passing -- to license the annexation of the Low Countries by the French emperor. This remark, taken quite out of context and read as a plea for annexation, led to considerable excitement -- provoked, Proudhon suspected, by the Belgian police -- and he left hurriedly for Paris, taking advantage of a pardon granted by Louis Napoleon a few years before. La Federation et l'Unite en Italie and then Du Principe federatif itself represent Proudhon's attempt to explain his federalist alternative to nationalism in more depth, to a public who, he feared, had been thoroughly confused by the perverse criticism which it had received.

Proudhon's dislike of the nation-state, then, provides the most obvious bridge between his earlier anarchist or mutualist views and the federalism which he espouses in his last few major political writings. But obviously it cannot take us all the way, if 'anarchism' and 'federalism' are to retain anything like their accepted meanings, for anarchism involves the abolition of government, while federalism, though often characterized by a suspicion of governments and a desire to restrain them, is a theory of government all the same. In trying to come to terms with this transition, we step straight into the middle of some contested ground, for the two full-length French-language treatments of Proudhon's federalism take opposed views on the matter. The older book, by Nicolas Bourgeois, published in 1927, makes something of a contrast between the younger anarchist Proudhon and the older federalist Proudhon, and attempts to resolve the inconsistency by means of a distinction between his ultimate and proximate ideals; anarchie, Bourgeois contends, remained Proudhon's ultimate ideal throughout, though in his later years he came to accept the federal organization of states as a practicable alternative to their abolition.9 But the more recent book by Bernard Voyenne (1973), written from an avowedly federalist perspective, sharply rejects the view that federalism is no more than Proudhon's second-best option, and insists that works such as Du Principe federatif spring directly from the ideas of justice and order which Proudhon had elaborated from the very start.10

Thus there is in Proudhon something rather parallel to the notorious question of the 'young' and 'old' Marx; and the contested character of that debate should warn us that matters such as this are not merely textual but conceptual, and that we can scarcely hope to settle them by marshalling quotations from an author's work. On the one hand, there clearly is a discernible shift in works such as De la Justice, Du Principe federatif, and De la Capacite politique des classes ouvrieres; Proudhon comes to conceive of the good society no longer as a grouping of economic associations whose relations are unmediated by government, but as a grouping of governed territories; and since Proudhon remarks, in Du Principe federatif itself, that anarchie is 'scarcely likely' ever to be realized, then the interpretation suggested by Bourgeois is obviously tenable. On the other hand, although Proudhon moves the focus of his argument from autonomous enterprises to governed territories, apparently (in part, at least) on the grounds that to do so is more realistic, it is not the case that there is any accompanying shift in values or any visible diminution of Proudhon's idealism: for Proudhon brings exactly the same models, images, and arguments to bear upon the territories of a federation as upon the enterprises of anarchie. To that extent Voyenne is right. But whether the continuities outweigh the discontinuities, or vice versa, is a question which involves us in the critical task of assessing not only what Proudhon's views were, but also how adequate they are.

Proudhon's writings, like so many others of his century, may be read in the light of a preoccupation with the process and meaning of secularization;11 and his political doctrines spring very largely from a specific understanding of what is meant by the emergence of a secular political consciousness. Rather in the manner of the Young Hegelian school -- of whose writings, however, Proudhon had only the sketchiest knowledge12 -- he imagined this process as one of demystification. History was characterized, he repeatedly claimed -- his Systeme des contradictions economiques gives this theme its fullest treatment -- by a progress from mystery to reason. As human knowledge extends, what was once mysterious becomes comprehensible. In particular, the process of historical change, once perceived in terms of the workings of an inscrutable providence, comes to be seen as the work of man; and when this is grasped, the power once attributed to an omnipotent god is now assigned to humanity itself. Secularization is not, therefore, merely a process by which secular organization extricates itself from religious institutions and religious doctrine: it is a process which involves the overturning of religion and the elimination of the basic modes and presuppositions of religious thought itself: 'The first duty of the intelligent and free man is to chase the idea of god out of his mind and consciousness.'13

Now the theme of religious alienation which Proudhon pursues along these lines is both paralleled with and connected to a critique of political alienation. The parallel is to be found in that 'alienation' of rights to which Rousseau and other theorists of social contract had traced the origins of political society. Just as in a religious context man alienates or makes over his own powers to a god whom he imagines, so in a political context he makes over his own powers of independent action to the state which he obeys. As for the effective connection between these two phenomena, it is quite simply that the acceptance of political authority is (Proudhon thinks) reinforced or actually produced by the directly religious aura with which states have invested themselves: 'Government is by divine right or it is nothing.'14

Authority of all kinds, then, rests upon a mystique; if its intellectual elaboration is in religion, its psychological roots lie, Proudhon contends, in the child's adoration of his father. The state is the family writ large: Proudhon's anarchism is simply patriarchalism in a critical mood. But here there is a lacuna in Proudhon's argument which helps to explain much of the subsequent development of his thinking. He has left no place for the non-patriarchal state; and this is a serious omission, for the state which confronts the anarchist, an essentially modern figure, is one that has long since severed itself from what are alleged to be its patriarchal roots. Among the contractual theorists, Rousseau, whom Proudhon regards as the theorist par excellence of the modern state, and still more clearly John Locke and Thomas Paine, separate political from familial authority; indeed, one may say that the distinctively modern view of the state emerges only with the rejection of the patriarchal model.15 But Proudhon, by virtue of his notion of the essential character of authority, is led either to deny outright or to blur the difference between a pre-modern state founded upon the personal dominium of a king and a modern state founded upon formal norms of legality.

Closing off by definition the idea of a secular state, or of a state freed from its divine mystique, Proudhon sought the model of human liberation in the non-political relations of civil society -- specifically, those of economic exchange. Anarchie or 'mutualism,' as he still defines it in Du Principe federatif itself, is essentially a system in which horizontal relations of exchange wholly exclude the vertical dimension of governmental control, in which matters currently managed by direction from above are placed in the hands of autonomous agents who manage them by mutual agreement. Proudhon imagined this process not quite as a market, as this is understood in economic theory, but as one which nevertheless has decidely market-like features. It is not a market, because it is regulated by a principle of fairness, by virtue of which goods and services are to be exchanged on the basis of the average labour-time required for their production or performance; but it is like a market in that it excludes any central unified control of distribution, the enterprises remaining strictly autonomous (within the boundaries of the principle of fairness), and in that it contains a significantly competitive element, for the criterion of average labour-time obviously penalizes the less productive enterprise.16 This conception, worked out in detail in several of Proudhon's books, survives intact in Du Principe federatif under the title, now, of 'agro-industrial federation,' something which, Proudhon insists (in chapter 11), must accompany political federation if the latter form is to be workable and stable.17

But it is of course the scheme of political federation that principally concerns us here; and its place in Proudhon's thinking is not entirely clear. What is involved is still a fundamentally economic paradigm of order, which is imagined as something resulting from multiple contracts of mutual advantage; but the contracting parties are now the inhabitants of a territory and the governments which are held to represent them, rather than (or anyway in addition to) associations of producers. And the question to which we are led is this: is Proudhon offering a distinctive view of government, as he claims, or is he simply arriving, by a long and devious route, at the secular or demystified state which the earlier development of his argument had ruled out? Is his theory toute nouvelle or, rather, a late flowering of the contractualist tradition?

This difficulty is evident in the text itself. The reader who follows the dialectic interplay which Proudhon traces between authority and liberty may well doubt that the authority which he finally reconciles with liberty is the same thing as the authority which he initially counterposes to it. In the federation as Proudhon describes it in chapters 7 to 11, liberty finally achieves an 'equilibrium' with authority, albeit a shrunken authority, for the individual is to be ruled by successive tiers of government which are restrained by contractual obligations. Those who rule towns, cantons, provinces, states, federations -- the number of levels, and the names assigned to them, vary as the argument develops -- are confined to the pursuit of limited and defined tasks, and, moreover, are held strictly accountable to lower levels of government or directly to the citizens themselves. This, surely, is no longer the divine, mystical, paternal authority against which liberty, according to Proudhon, had long struggled. As contractual obligations, the functions of rulers would seem to fall rather into the realm of liberty itself, for the contract is in Proudhon's view the essential and 'solemn' expression of liberty.18 What we are left with, it is tempting to say, is simply a version of the contractualist state, one in which the conditions of legitimacy are unusually stringent; even their stringency is exaggerated by the fact that Proudhon persistently misreads other contractual theorists, especially Rousseau, in a manner which quite underrates their own efforts to restrain and control political power.19 To some extent this reading is borne out by the manner in which Proudhon develops his case: though critical indeed of those of his contemporaries who call themselves liberals, Proudhon does not at all reject the liberal tradition in political thinking, often presenting federalism, on the contrary, as an institutional arrangement capable of giving reality and force to liberal aspirations.

What makes this reading (perhaps any one reading) problematic is a difficulty which is posed by the most fundamental assumptions of his argument. Economic exchange is a voluntary act; government on the other hand, is compulsory. What happens to its compulsory or coercive character when government is modelled upon an economic process?20 On this crucial point Proudhon is elusive, and any firm judgment of the relation of his federalism to his anarchism is rendered conjectural. Are the constituent units of a federation to be immune from coercion by the federal government? Proudhon often says that they are to be 'sovereign,' but he sometimes seems to be content with much less -- 'at least', he says, they should 'administer themselves.'21 They are to be sovereign only within their defined spheres of competence; although they have the inalienable right to secede from federation, as Proudhon explains in a rather anxious footnote, they have this right only when their spheres of jurisdiction have been invaded -- and by implication, their alienation of some jurisdictional powers to the federation is permanent.22 Moreover, in the case of the Swiss confederation which Proudhon often takes as a model, the secessionist cantons (Sonderbund) were compelled in 1848 to accept a new constitution favoured by a majority of cantons: Proudhon lamely justifies this not by a constitutional right but by 'the right of war,' thus silently accepting (here, at any rate)23 that after 1848 the unity of the Swiss confederation rested not at all on contract but on conquest.

By what decision-rule are the internal affairs of provinces and inter-provincial disputes to be settled? The majority principle, we might be inclined to say, would bring something much like a state into being, whereas the requirement of unanimity would render the association purely voluntary. But Proudhon does not tell us which is to apply. His defence of the right of secession -- which he upheld even in the case of the American Civil War -- would seem to point to a majority principle, for if unanimity were required a province would have a right of veto and would never need to secede. His critique of the democratic state is directed against the mass character of its democracy, and not against the principle of majority decision; he calls eloquently for the acceptance of diversity and division, and the rejection of notions of unitary will; but within these diverse associations which he recommends, he appears to assume a unity of will and purpose and to leave the question of rules of decision quite open.

All we may say, then, is that there are clear hints of, but no explicit defence of or open commitment to, the acceptability of coercion: if authority is to lose its mystique in federation, it is nevertheless to retain legitimate coercive power, apparently, and we cannot say that the notion of the state, abstractly conceived, has been entirely abandoned. But rather than regretting Proudhon's unclarity here, we might do better to change the question. There is no very clear philosophical concept of the state in Du Principe federatif. Although he introduces at length the notions of authority and liberty, he conceives of these less as philosophical principles than as habits of mind or styles of interaction, and the model of federalism which he presents is cast, rather, at the level of its political culture. What his federal scheme is to preserve, above all, is the sense of locality, respect for autonomies, and the spirit of self-government (he uses the English phrase) -- things virtually extinguished, he complains, by successive phases of the French political tradition. The philosophical and legal notions which he introduces, with a certain amount of flourishing, are ultimately shells for this more profoundly felt vision, which provides the most substantial link with his earlier anarchist views.


Today, readers of Proudhon's book may well be disturbed by the undifferentiated character of its 'federalism,' which is presented without the benefit of the various distinctions and qualifications which recent political science would insist upon. Most strikingly of all, of course, no express distinction is made between federalism and confederation -- a distinction probably not made systematically before Le Fur's book in 1896,24 although the differences involved had been evident more than a century before in the American constitutional debates. But this is only the beginning. Federalism, as recent discussions of its 'infinite variety' have shown, may take 'classical' or 'cooperative,' 'centralized' or 'peripheralized,' 'horizontal' or 'vertical,' 'social' or 'governmental,' 'symmetrical' or 'asymmetrical,' 'interstate' or 'intrastate' forms, to mention but a handful of current discriminations; and political scientists today would probably take the view that calling for 'federalism' tout court is about as helpful as calling for happiness without further explanation. We should, therefore, try to explain the character of Proudhon's federalism with more precision, though to make his views run the gamut of all these distinctions would be mechanical rather than helpful.

Both of the full-length discussions of Proudhon's thinking take the view that what he had in mind was, in later terms, a confederation rather than a federal state.25 But this judgment is questionable, even though the high degree of autonomy that Proudhon assigns to the constituent units of federation may seem broadly to confirm it. What distinguishes a federal state ('classically' defined) is that each citizen is subject to a dual jurisdiction -- of 'Centre' and of 'Province' -- whereas the central organs of a confederal arrangement do not have direct jurisdiction over the citizens of constituent states.26 Now despite the fact that he sometimes calls the constituent units 'states,' which indeed invites us to think in terms of confederation, what Proudhon has in mind is surely closer to some model of dual jurisdiction, if it is closer to either model; for the 'states' in question are units which have been radically transformed in character and no longer exclude the direct jurisdiction of more comprehensive governments over their own members. And here, in fact, we may have a partial explanation (or excuse) for the uncertainty in the treatment of sovereignty, mentioned above. The question cuts both ways. With respect to the decentralization and federalization of existing states, Proudhon wishes to insist on the sovereign character of their components: these are no longer to be departments or prefectures, but political societies in their own right, and 'states' in that sense. But with respect to these 'states,' the new units created from the mammoth centralized states of the present, Proudhon wishes to insist upon their openness to larger contexts of concerns. They are not to be, as were the sovereign states of the pre-federal age, insulated and self-sufficient entities, for if they were there would be little or no net gain in freedom for their citizens; Proudhon does not naively suppose that a reduction of scale is inherently a guarantee of freedom, but believes that local no less than central governments are in need of restraint. What this points to inescapably is a dispersion of jurisdictions among levels, with more comprehensive levels of governments assuming the responsibilities appropriate to them, and hence a system not wholly incomparable to a 'federal state' defined following K.C. Wheare. As for Proudhon's own terminology, if he sometimes calls the constituent units themselves 'states,' he also describes the federation or confederation as a 'state,' one 'constituted by a plenitude of autonomies.'27

What may still provoke some misunderstanding here is that the powers assumed by more comprehensive levels of government -- more general in their range, more restricted in their functional scope -- are seen by Proudhon as being delegated upwards by the constituent units, and on terms which he says are freely revocable and amendable. In this respect we may be tempted to see these units as member-states of a confederal association. But quite apart from the fact that Proudhon, as we have seen, is far from definite on this point -- the Swiss example, in particular, muddying the waters terribly -- another consideration tells against this reading. To the extent that Proudhon does believe in the revocability of delegated powers, he effectively applies the same argument to local units within the constituent units of federation themselves. The contractual principle is not confined to relations between province and centre, in Wheare's terms, or between states and federation, as Proudhon sometimes puts it; it is present no less forcibly and significantly in the relations between all levels of association. Above the autonomous enterprises and towns, as Voyenne himself says, there is a 'pyramid of free associations' culminating in the federal authority;28 and if any meaning can be given to the term free associations, it is that states thus composed are no more 'sovereign' over their own members than the federation is over the states themselves.

In short, it does not really matter whether the word state is used of the federated units or of the federation as a whole (though it is indeed unhelpful of Proudhon to apply it to both, at various points, without explanation). The idea of the state as an insulated and self-sufficient order is to vanish, and no level of organization, it would appear, is to be distinguished qualitatively from any other. What does matter is that the spirit of commanding and of conquering must give way to a spirit of arranging or bargaining, that at each of the successive levels of organization the consent of lower levels must be won. Such a process -- as critics of the claims of federalism have often pointed out29 -- is compatible with various legal forms, and so the un-clarity of Proudhon's legal framework is perhaps not a crucial failing.

To the extent that Proudhon does want the new units of association to have a state-like character, it is in connection with the political rather than the legal features of the state. What he retains from the idea of the state is its character as a focus for political life or a vehicle for public sentiment. Du Principe federatif stands squarely in the tradition of 'civic humanism' which modern scholarship has shown to be so vital a feature of Western thought: the tradition springing from Aristotle, Machiavelli, and Montesquieu, which values above all the independence of citizens and their active, responsible participation in the management of their common affairs.30 What Proudhon regrets in the modern state is its reduction of the individual to a passive and dependent thing, condemning him to 'perform his little task in his little corner, drawing his little salary, raising his little family, and depending for the rest on the providence of government.'31 The moment that bureaucracy appears, Proudhon says, liberty is imperilled; and the 'liberty' that he has in mind here is above all the civic liberty of the engaged citizen, which the centralized absorption of power erodes. What he hopes is that the new 'states' of the federalized order will serve as bearers of this revived civic ideal, drawing upon the active participation of their members instead of reducing them to clients of Parisian bureaucracy. That federalism guarantees or even enhances freedom is a view much criticized by modern political scientists, notably William Riker;32 but this notion of freedom is one that entirely escapes his critique, and it is not obviously fallacious to expect it to be enhanced, at least, by a political order which sharply reduces the scope of central management.

Among the various definitions which currently rival K.C. Wheare's is Riker's own, which he describes as political rather than legal, and which in that respect perhaps forms a better parallel to Proudhon's. 'A constitution is federal' according to Riker, 'if (1) two levels of government rule the same land and people, (2) each level has at least one area of action in which it is autonomous, and (3) there is some guarantee (even though merely a statement in the constitution) of the autonomy of each government in its own sphere.'33 Such a constitution arises, Riker finds, as a result of a political 'bargain' by which distinct territories accept some degree of central control while retaining some degree of autonomy. Stressing compromise or balance Riker's view sits quite well with the parallel line of argument by Proudhon, who likewise sees federalism as a balancing of (central) authority and (local) liberty. It must be pointed out at once, however, that Riker's view of the conditions under which such a bargain is uniquely struck entirely rules out Proudhon's view of federalism's future: for Riker will admit only that federal systems are formed by the (partial) fusion of separate regimes, in the face of a military or diplomatic threat, and not that they can be formed by the (partial) disintegration of existing states for ideological reasons.

This disagreement in turn reflects a more fundamental difference -- that Proudhon's definition of federalism is at once less formal and more stringent than Riker's, and, related as it is to a set of specific political values, is imagined as the product of a movement rather than of elite calculation. Much of what Riker calls federalism would be excluded by Proudhon's definition, for Proudhon insists that more than some matters must fall under the jurisdiction of constituent units, that most of them must; what is definitive is not a formal characteristic common to various institutional arrangements, but a vision of freedom which is held to be realizable by means of a massive decentralization of political life. The 'federal' character of an order is thus to be measured not in terms of a simple division between levels but in terms of the jurisdictional preponderance of the units over the federation; a system in which the centre is preponderant is not federal. We may extract from Proudhon's argument a principle that there is some threshold of distribution beyond which powers accumulate at the centre to such an extent that the 'federal' character of the whole is lost, and any formal criterion becomes trivial to the point of meaninglessness. And here Proudhon's approach may find some degree of support in the view that criteria of obvious similarity are indispensable for classing federal systems together, and that the existence of divided power does not usefully correlate systems as federal.34

Now while Proudhon approaches federalism in the light of disaggregation rather than aggregation, of dissolving large units rather than uniting small ones, he introduces a notion which tends to weaken this contrast, a notion of return. In a chapter which contrasts 'federal Gaul' and 'monarchical France,' he detects in the hard-pressed provincial life of France a residue of ancient 'nations' or Gallic tribes;35 and whether such an antiquarian view is essential to his argument or not, he often wrote as though the local or regional communities which were to constitute federations were in some sense primordial or natural, pre-political entities whose distinct characters required political defence and political expression. In the light of this we have a further substantive criterion for federalism, the political representation of cultural difference, and a further necessary condition for federalism's emergence: the existence of diversity. It was this trend of thinking, it may be noted, that appeared in Proudhon's earlier essays on federation, in which the diversity of local cultures and traditions in Italy was advanced as a principal argument against that country's unification.

To this we may add that Proudhon's economic argument tends broadly to complement this diversitarian theme. Proudhon's images here are often strongly organic in character, pointing towards the differentiation of parts as the prime reason for the unity of the whole, along lines which anticipate Durkheim's construct of 'organic solidarity.' It is the division of labour and the asymmetry of human needs that make possible acts of economic exchange and institutions such as credit and insurance; if individuals led precisely parallel and synchronized lives such things would be impossible, and it is only from social diversity that the co-operative power of the economy arises. This economic organism is treated by Proudhon as both a model for and a necessary adjunct to political federalism: indeed, one interpreter goes so far as to regard Proudhon's political structures as no more than 'shells' for what is essentially a kind of economic federalism, a set of contractual relations among and between enterprises and consumers.36

In the light of all this we may feel driven to conclude that it is neither the legal nor the political levels with which Proudhon's argument engages, but that what he has in mind would be more properly described in terms of the 'social federalism' that has also been advanced as an alternative to Wheare's 'classical' model.37 In such a view, political decentralization is regarded as simply a reflection of social or economic differentiation; every society, it is held, contains such differentiation, and a federal society is one in which these diversities happen to be territorially grouped. It may not be quite clear whether the view is advanced as a definition or as a causal hypothesis -- that is, whether we are to think of a society's 'federal' nature as consisting in or arising from the territorial grouping of its diversities; but on either reading, it is evidently the socio-economic level that is held to be decisive.

The proposed redefinition of federalism has been much criticized on the grounds that it is historically inaccurate and methodologically unhelpful;38 and in very recent years attention has shifted, in the Canadian context at least, to the contrary proposition that socio-economic diversity may be seen as the product rather than the cause of political structure.39 But it is not in fact at all clear that Proudhon's forays in the direction of 'social federalism' expose his own case to these serious and well-reasoned objections. In the first place, the use of economic process as a model for political process, whatever problems it may involve, does not imply a reductionist conception of politics in the relevant sense, that is, a view in which economic variables are held to determine political ones. In the second place, to the extent that Proudhon's case rests (as I have mentioned above) upon the cultivation of specifically political and civic variables, it is not correct to regard his view of the political as nothing but a container for an economic program. In the third place, and most significantly, Du Principe federatif contains a largely inexplicit but nevertheless forceful recognition of the determining power of political variables. The reader may well be struck by the remarkable contrast between Proudhon's strongly positive view of the citizens of the federal state and his outraged contempt for the citizens of a mass democracy. The former are to be responsible and creative men whose political virtues are perhaps unprecedented, while the latter are the victims of systematic self-deception, riven by paradoxes and contradictions, easy prey to pleasing but vacuous demagogues. And if this contrast is a bit disturbing in its starkness, it is clear all the same that the difference is to be accounted for, in Proudhon's eyes, by a changed political context. Solicit men's views in the mass, and they will return stupid, fickle, and violent answers; solicit their views as members of definite groups with real solidarity and a distinctive character, and their answers will be responsible and wise. Expose them to the political 'language' of mass democracy, which represents 'the people' as unitary and undivided and minorities as traitors, and they will give birth to tyranny; expose them to the political language of federalism, in which the people figures as a diversified aggregate of real associations, and they will resist tyranny to the end. We do not have to accept this view to see that it is one in which politics enjoys clear primacy. At the social level, there are tendencies towards both diversity and unity, conflicting pulls of locality and mass, and it is the political order which determines which of these appeals predominates. To be sure, Proudhon writes in Du Principe federatif of the futility of merely political change, tracing the failure of the revolutionary movement in 1848 to its neglect of social and economic reform; but clearly he is concerned here with social and economic change brought about by political means, and not with some allegedly independent socioeconomic variables. In one remarkable sentence, he shows that he was well aware that the decentralized order which he favoured might require to be achieved through the leverage of central power.40


Proudhon is not, then, a social or economic determinist; but he does indeed connect federalism with social and economic diversity, which figures very significantly in his picture of the age of federations. This leads us to a further general set of questions, concerning what may be called the federal process, or the manner in which units are linked together and with the federation itself in their political action. For a high degree of social and economic diversity -- the differences coinciding with territorial boundaries -- will tend to produce a federalism in which issues of a general scope are unlikely to emerge. The society will therefore tend to be managed by multiple decentralized (provincial) processes, and will approximate what has been termed inter-state federalism.41 This is contrasted with 'intra-state federalism,' a model of political process in which particular regional interests are articulated at the centre, forming the building-blocks out of which general policies are formed -- a process which, incidentally, is indistinguisable from what is commonly called pluralism, except that the groups concerned happen to be territories. Federalism may be conceived of, in other words, in terms of tendencies towards the insulation of the constituent units or tendencies towards the central aggregation of their needs, and the former model would seem especially applicable to a system characterized by a degree of regional diversity sufficient to make central aggregation of demands difficult or impossible.

The 'inter-state' model and the associated notion of insulation do appear prominently in Proudhon's discussion. The rule of distribution that he follows -- the larger the territorial range of responsibility, the smaller and more specific the functional scope of a government's powers -- scarcely points towards any notion that the federal centre is to serve as a system-wide focus for the generation and pursuit of broad common ends. More specifically, the same conclusion is suggested by Proudhon's remarks in chapter 10 -- so strongly reminiscent of Tocqueville's Ancien Regime -- on the instability of centralized systems. In monarchical, imperial, and republican France, political disturbances in Paris reverberate throughout the whole system, and every riot is potentially a revolution, not only because all the powers of government are concentrated at a single vulnerable point, but also because in consequence the provinces take their mood and style and thinking from the capital. But in federal France, in which the provinces would have recovered their governmental independence and their distinctive character, change must be brought about at multiple distinct sites, and stability will therefore be enhanced. The whole thrust of this line of argument is towards provincial insulation, and the merit of federalism, it is held, is precisely that it erects obstacles in the path of system-wide change by dispensing with any preponderant central locus of power and influence.42

Now this dualism of inter-state and intra-state forms, insulating and aggregating processes, is of much importance to Canadian federalism at the time of writing, for these two models appear to represent two options between which the Canadian federal polity is currently poised. On the one hand, there are demands for a higher degree of provincial insulation from those who see this option as the only alternative to the dissolution of federation. Often this view is connected with a further demand that the cultural asymmetries of Canadian society should be given political expression through the granting of special status to the province of Quebec -- or, indeed, to everyone, a view which recalls Proudhon's somewhat in its strongly contractual character.43 On the other hand, there are those who regret that the 'provincialism' or 'regionalism' of the Canadian polity is already so well-marked, and who call for institutional measures designed to enhance the federal centre as a site for political debate.44 Typically, this demand fosters schemes intended not to safeguard but to overcome provincial insulation, by transmitting particularistic demands more effectively into a central arena, in order to permit their aggregation within policies of a general character and scope.

These two sets of demands are in obvious tension with one another. Proudhon's conception would seem, at first glance at least, to reinforce the former option -- if not, indeed, to reinforce the demand of the Parti Quebecois for 'sovereignty-association,' to which, one might feel, his federal model bears a strong resemblance. On this reading, Proudhon's relevance to the current Canadian debate would lie in a suggestion that the 'federalist' label has been utterly misapplied, and that it is the separatists, not the proponents of unity, who more clearly merit this description. This would be a provocative and tempting reading; but the position is not quite as clear-cut as that. Proudhon is indeed a 'provincialist,' but he is not only a provincialist; and while it would be altogether too much to claim that he offers to resolve these difficulties, his position does point to certain respects in which the options now regarded as exclusive contain some overlapping features.

In the first place, although Proudhon favours what he calls the 'sovereignty' of provinces, we have already noted the ambiguity of his thinking here; and it would be jumping to conclusions to regard him as a Pequiste out of his time. A province claiming such comprehensive internal jurisdiction as the present Quebec government envisages has no place in Proudhon's scheme; for the 'federal principle,' as we have seen, is to apply to intra-provincial no less than extra-provincial relations. Local and professional associations are not creatures of the province any more than the province is of the federation; and even more relevantly, supra-provincial authority is regarded by Proudhon as a guarantee of individual, professional, and local liberties within a province. In this respect, therefore, the Proudhonian mantle may be claimed by Ottawa no less than by Quebec City, for the overriding of minority claims is not something to be permitted either governmental level, or, more precisely -- for Proudhon's thinking is far from settled here -- not a right assigned to any level in preference to any other. And if Proudhon fails to tell us what to do when provincial (or 'national') and individual (or minority) rights conflict, he does not fall into the trap of supposing that some mystical value justifies the suppression of either, or that the arguments for either unity or liberty can be asserted at one level and arbitrarily denied at another.

Secondly, today's reader of Du Principe federatif will not fail to be struck by a peculiarity in Proudhon's proposed governmental arrangements. Federalism, on the North American model, is characterized by duality of constituency as much as by duality of jurisdiction: that is, the two levels of government not only enjoy distinct jurisdictions but are controlled by distinct and separate popular elections.45 Proudhon, however, seems to favour a governmental pyramid composed of dependent tiers, each level being responsible to the lower level of government rather than to popular control through separate elections. This proposal belongs less to the modern federalist tradition than to the pacifist tradition of Cruce and Saint-Pierre, in which permanent councils of delegates from national governments are proposed as a means of ensuring international harmony. Proudhon evidently would not insist upon such an arrangement, for it is not a feature of the Swiss constitution that he so admires; but what can be said is that he favours some mode of organization by which sub-national claims and interests are brought to bear directly in the formulation of policy at the national level. The political meaning of such proposals is very hard to assess. Many political scientists today would take the view that its tendency would be to reinforce particularism and to hamper the emergence of a general or 'intra-state' constituency, as the experience of parallel arrangements with metropolitan or regional government may seem to suggest. But was this Proudhon's intention? Perhaps it was, but as we have seen, it is hard to determine which, if any, of the various nested constituencies that contain the individual are to enjoy primacy; the individual, it appears, is to have multiple identifications of equal weight. Moreover, the representational device that Proudhon recommends could presumably bring about either of two different outcomes: the representation of provincial governments at the centre could function as a restraining or insulating device in ensuring that provincial interests were not overridden by central government, or it could function instead as a transmitting device which projects provincial differences and interests into a central arena. Seen in this light it would bear comparison with other devices currently promoted with a view to overcoming the separation of provincial and federal constituencies and connecting the former more effectively with general policy-formation; none of which, incidentally, seem any more immune than Proudhon's own from the risk of producing the opposite outcome, immobilisme, instead, for what actually happens when interests are 'aggregated' at the centre is anyone's guess.

These and related problems, Proudhon's book may serve to remind us, are not the result of national peculiarities, nor of federalism's having gone wrong or having been betrayed or misunderstood; they are inherent in federalism itself, for federalism sets itself the enormously difficult task of inserting one political society within another, in such a way that both retain their political character. There are strong tendencies for the province to become a prefecture, or for the centre to become an arena for blank confrontations, and the problems are compounded by the fact that both these trends, apparently, can be simultaneously perceived and feared by political actors within a federation. It cannot be said, unfortunately, that Proudhon helps us much with this difficulty, for the problem involved here is very closely related to a fundamental ambivalence in Proudhon's thinking, as Du Principe federatif displays only too well; and it is this that I now wish to explore at a little more length, by way of a recent application of Proudhon's thinking.


In the Canadian context, Proudhon's federalist scheme has been emphatically revived by his biographer, George Woodcock, as a proposal for far-reaching structural reform. Woodcock's views, together with a varied selection of critical responses, are put forward in a remarkably interesting issue of Canadian Forum, which comprises the most extended available treatment of a Proudhonian position in recent North American writing.46 Some of Woodcock's interlocutors read him in the light of the much less relevant examples of Rousseau or Fourier, both of whom Woodcock also mentions; but it is perfectly clear that of these French writers it is Proudhon, and specifically the federalist Proudhon, who is echoed most directly in Woodcock's remarks -- these departing, precisely as Proudhon's did, from a critique of the nationalism of the Left, which neither Proudhon nor Woodcock finds any less objectionable than the nationalism of the Right: 'It is one of the paradoxes of the revolutionary tradition that in preaching the universality of man it has encouraged nationalism, and in preaching international liberation it has promoted imperialism.'47 Woodcock draws upon Proudhon's federalism as a means of making good the promises of democratic revolution and deflecting the centralist trends with which, he complains, it has become entangled.

Like Proudhon, Woodcock rejects the vertical spirit of command and obedience for the spirit of horizontal co-operation and consensus. Like Proudhon, he connects (or even identifies) the federal principle with more extensive participation, and insists that such participation must be extended to 'the most basic levels' of Canadian society; like Proudhon, therefore, he finds the existing scale of political organization unmanageably large and calls for a multiplication of smaller units. And like Proudhon, too, he takes the view that since federalism -- uniquely among political systems -- is based upon 'voluntary' commitment, its constitutional arrangements must be 'liable to perpetual revision.' The vision, then, is that of a 'mosaic' of autonomous political constituencies with an intensely democratic ethos, united by ties of a basically contractual or negotiated kind; and just as Proudhon insists that political orders thus constituted will lose the belligerent and exclusive character of existing nation-states, forming components of a global 'confederation of confederations,' so Woodcock maintains that a Canada thus restructured would become an 'anti-nation,' 'as open towards the world' as to its own constituent associations.

Some of Woodcock's commentators read him sympathetically, but none agree with him whole-heartedly, and most offer very sharp critiques of what they regard as an outright failure of political realism; and it is ironical indeed that the Proudhonian vision, which is presented in so anti-utopian a mood, should end up as what is so insistently perceived as a Utopia. The lack of realism which Woodcock's critics detect lies not only in the problem of political realization (which is severe enough), but also, they allege, in his linking together of several distinct ends which would in the realm of actuality be mutually exclusive. A radically decentralized society, it is objected, would be rendered incapable of dealing with precisely those forces of economic concentration that Woodcock dislikes ('How can Sudbury take on Inco?'). A higher degree of local autonomy is at least as likely to foster conservatism as it is to enhance the values which Woodcock favours. An order in which conflict is frowned upon is unlikely to be a progressive one. A freer society will only be a more participatory one on the dubious assumption that increased participation is not only good but a perceived and valued good. A society whose powers at the national level are diminished is more likely, in a world of nation-states, to be enslaved than liberated. Finally, as Donald Smiley points out, a polity in which participation is intense is not likely to be one in which institutions retain much force as mediations of popular will; and, as Smiley also points out, a federal polity in which large sub-units (provinces) have been split up or shrunken will be a polity in which central authority faces no strong countervailing power.

Valid or not, such lines of criticism apply not only to Woodcock's specific proposals but to the Proudhonian vision that underpins them; ready to hand in these comments on Woodcock's paper we have a very condensed and useful compendium of the difficulties posed by Proudhon's 'federalism.' Moreover, by pointing to some contradictions within it, and by contrasting it with other conceptions of the federal polity, these commentaries -- especially Smiley's brief but valuable essay -- point towards a range of divergent values within federalist thinking and help us to assess the significance of Proudhon's text. I should like to conclude this essay by sketching three such values and the pictures of federalism connected with them, and by briefly considering the relations between these values in Proudhon's own account.48

When Woodcock describes the federal principle as a participatory principle he is probably departing somewhat from current assumptions about federalism's meaning, but it is certainly true that a federal arrangement may be and has been considered as a case of the well-known thesis concerning participation and scale. The nation-state, it is argued, is too vast and remote a thing to encourage the engagement of the citizen, which is realizable only within the narrower and more familiar horizons of a relatively small territory or group; here, it is held, the level of information is higher, the sense of efficacy stronger, the possibilities of control much greater, and hierarchical distance less extreme. So conceived, Proudhon's federalism lies behind the revolutionary experiment of the Paris Commune of 1870 and the various schemes derived from that by Marx, by Lenin (in State and Revolution),49 and by Hannah Arendt,50 among many others; it also lies behind much of the thinking of the English school of political pluralism, who reverted from territorial to functional units of the kind which the earlier Proudhon had favoured, and through the English pluralists it has therefore contributed to modern theories of group participation.51 A 'federal' polity, on this conception of things, is one composed of a tiered or layered or nested series of constituencies, each of which is to act as the most effective possible vehicle of its constituents' will and as an instrument for transmitting this will to more comprehensive levels of decision-making.

Secondly, a federal order may be imagined not as a medium for the expression of political will but as the political order required by cultural diversity, its units not (or not primarily) participatory devices but rather distinct segments of a heterogeneous society. It is not the requirements of sheer scale that are to determine the boundaries of units, but the historical lines of demarcation among cultural, ethnic, or linguistic groups, peoples or nations or provinces with distinct traditions; and these boundaries are to serve primarily as obstructions to flows of control or influence. Charles Tarlton has aptly called such a model of federalism 'asymmetrical,' in contradistinction to views of federalism in which the constituent units are imagined as multiple symmetrical replicas of a single type (views evidently typified by the participatory model sketched above).52

A third conception involves a model of what may be called conflict pluralism. Here the units are not (or not primarily) expressions of cultural distinctness, nor are the sites of participation imagined as a series of linked tiers of ascending generality. The units are held to be actors in a continuous political struggle, serving as counterweights to one another and to central power. Territorial division, thus understood, is simply an extension of the constitutionalist 'division of powers' thesis, as, indeed, Proudhon's own argument makes quite explicit: 'At first,' he writes, 'the demand for a constitution is heard from all sides; later the demand will be for decentralization.'53 A further extension of this argument adds another dimension to it: mutual competition among units may serve not only a restraining function but also an aggregating one, the clash of provincial rivalries contributing to the formation of general policies.54 But in either version, this picture of federalism is focused upon the existence of separate yet interdependent political interests, territorially grouped. That provinces may possibly also function as media for the enhancement of participation or as vehicles for regional cultures is an incidental side-effect.

All of these themes of participation, diversity, and conflict are present, as we have seen, though in varying proportions, in Du Principe federatif; and even this rapid survey of their main features is enough to show that the chances of collision between them are very high indeed. The conflict model requires effective concentrations of power at the provincial level, and thus may well dictate much larger provincial units than would satisfy the participatory model -- Ontario would suit the case better than Prince Edward Island.55 Moreover, the conflict model may also require a degree of hierarchy, in that provincial elites are called upon to defend provincial interests vigorously in the federal arena, and it may therefore offend the requirements of the participatory model even more directly. The primacy of cultural autonomy as a value is very likely indeed to require entrenched guarantees which national majorities and their governments cannot dispense with, whereas the participatory model, with its stress upon the sovereignty of popular will, is not one in which such guarantees have a very secure place. Pluralistic conflict requires a political culture which favours hard-headed bargaining and considerable flexibility; this jars somewhat with the segmental picture of distinct cultures, invested with the sacredness of inherited identity (as theorists of political development have argued).56

The list of difficulties could be extended indefinitely; but they are familiar enough to students of federalism that detail is scarcely necessary. What may be worth mentioning is another problem of a rather broader kind that underpins these difficulties: that of the relation between particular and general identifications in a federal polity. It is of course a commonplace that particular and general identifications may clash in any conceivable political order: one is not only a citizen but also a bourgeois, a trade-unionist, a Southerner, a Catholic, and the demands made upon one as citizen collide with the interests or obligations one may have under some other status. But a federal polity formally inserts a second, particularistic citizenship between the individual and the general constituency of the federation itself; and the varieties of federalism spring from diverging assessments of the relation between these two identifications, for each of these conceptions of federalism presents this relation in a significantly different way. In the model of cultural segments, the notion of a general identification may be diminished almost to the vanishing-point, and the 'nation' -- assuming that this term is not pre-empted by the segments themselves -- becomes merely a collective noun descriptive of a grouping of territories in minimal union. In either of the other models, particular identifications are linked systematically with general ones, though in quite different manners. In the participatory version, as Woodcock among many others develops it, smaller constituencies figure as schools in which one is led to engagement in larger contexts of action: 'Once people begin to take any interest at all in political or social affairs, their horizons soon open beyond their narrow personal interests.'57 In the version of conflict pluralism, on the other hand, local and partial attachments are indeed still to be connected with broader contexts of action, but not by virtue of any supposed transcendence of selfishness; on the contrary, they are to be transmitted to larger constituencies in the form of special claims upon general resources, and to take their chances within some centrally determined schedule of priorities.

Proudhon does not tell us which of these readings of the matter is to apply to Du Principe federatif; a case could be made out for any or all of them. And here, I think, we touch on one of the deepest uncertainties in Proudhon's thinking, not only in his federalist phase but in the earlier phases of his thinking too. His ultimate end, as we have noted already, was to absorb the functions of the state into civil society -- either by dispensing with governmental institutions, or else, later, by means of a mode of government adapted to the contours of social process. But two images of 'society' recur persistently. In one, society as a whole is a second-order thing, a resultant, the indirect outcome of multiple individual and group decisions; it has no identity but its history, a process of change in which the most varied undertakings collide and coalesce, in a manner which reflects no general purpose.58 In the other, however, society as a whole is imagined as a single actor, as a 'giant,' engaged in the pursuit of ends which impose compelling obligations upon individuals and groups.59 Sometimes, in short, the general figures as an accumulation of particulars, while sometimes particulars figure as phases or local manifestations of the general; consequently, it becomes hard indeed to understand whether Proudhon's demystification of the state involves breaking decisively with any such Rousseauan notion as a 'general will,' or whether, on the contrary, what is intended is a society in which the pursuit of general objects becomes the typical motive of all modes and levels of behaviour. Either of these views, it is evident, could justify the conclusion that government is to be abolished or else rigorously constrained; but though they may converge in their outcomes, they are quite different in the pictures of social relations and political psychology which they contain.

To raise these issues is to pose the question of the very meaning of that demystification or secularization of life which Proudhon and his century demanded: is the politics of post-theistic man to be 'pragmatic,' instrumental, particularistic, 'pluralistic' in the current sense, or is it, on the contrary, to offer a new and secular redemption which infuses particularity with ends of a general character? It is to pose the closely related question of the relation between civil society and state, and hence, by extension, that of the generic meaning of the political. At that point we have clearly gone beyond what an introductory essay of this kind can reasonably attempt, especially as the text in question provides only limited guidance here, and what is called for is a full-scale exploration of Proudhon's work. But all the same, in verging upon these ultimate questions, we may be helped towards a sceptical though perhaps not unconstructive conclusion. Proudhon sweeps us not only into a sea of doctrine, but into a sea of problems. He does so by building into the doctrine of federalism a set of ideals which are separately conceivable but jointly incapable of full realization, or so experience seems to suggest; it is this that lends him the air of a Utopian despite the language of insistent realism that he adopts. But one may ask whether the difficulties spring from his utopianism or rather from his federal principle itself; for one may doubt whether any of the federalisms intertwined in his account would be valuable or even tolerable as political forms, if not complemented and necessarily compromised by others. A federalism of cultural autonomy in which material interests and the values of citizenship had been sacrificed to the maintenance of historic distinctiveness would be too folklorique to be true; a bargaining society, un federalisme rentable in which nothing cannot be traded, is a fantasy of the professional politician and the academic political scientist; as for the participatory model, which anyway figures only marginally in current views of federalism, it is surely something that requires a cultural or material content even to operate, and what it is like will depend wholly upon the content inserted into it. We may want to insist, then, that the themes which Proudhon introduces are (at the very least) more separable than he will apparently allow; but at the same time we may be driven to recognize that the tensions so evident in his doctrine are tensions which any federal system will display. And here, in drawing attention to the mixed and compromising nature of real politics, we would be following the spirit, though not the letter, of Proudhon's own argument.


1 For Laski's view of Proudhon see the Holmes-Laski Letters ed. Mark DeWolfe Howe (Cambridge, Mass. 1953) vol. 1; Laski's introduction to Leon Duguit Law in the Modern State (Eng. trans. New York 1919) xiii-xiv; Authority in the Modern State (New Haven 1919) 114.

2 Alan Ritter The Political Thought of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (Princeton 1969) 155-60; this discussion, though brief, is excellent.

3 George Woodcock Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: his Life and Work (New York 1972) 249

4 Sheldon Wolin, preface to William H. Riker Federalism: Origins, Operation, Significance (Boston 1964) vii

5 Preston King 'Against Federalism' in Robert Benewick, R.N. Berki, and Bhiku Parekh (eds.) Knowledge and Belief in Politics (London 1973) 152

6 See below, 68-9.

7 Riker Federalism 1

8 Here I follow Woodcock Proudhon 219-50.

9 Nicolas Bourgeoisies Theories du droit international chez Proudhon (Paris 1927): see especially 65-6.

10 Bernard Voyenne Le Federalisme de P.-J. Proudhon (Paris 1973): see especially 15-16.

11 For some remarks on this theme see Richard Vernon 'The Secular Political Culture: Three Views' Review of Politics (1975) 490-512, and 'Auguste Comte and "Development": A Note' History and Theory (1978) 323-6.

12 S.-R. Taillandier 'L'atheisme allemand et le socialisme francais' Revue des Deux Mondes (1848) 280-322

13 Systeme des contradictions economiques (new edition, Paris 1923) vol. 1,382

14 Idee generate de la revolution au XIXe siecle (Paris 1868) 142

15 See Gordon J. Schochet Patriarchalism in Political Thought (Oxford 1975).

16 See Ritter Political Thought of Proudhon 126-42 for an account and a critique of Proudhon's 'mutualism.'

17 For a recent statement of the view that 'political and economic devolution must go hand in hand' see The Failure of the State ed. James Cornford (London 1975) 12.

18 Preston King also makes this point in Fear of Power: An Analysis of Anti-statism in Three French Writers (London 1967) 64-5. It is hard, though, to accept King's inference that because federalism escapes the dichotomy of liberty and authority it therefore belongs in the realm of the merely ideal, for Proudhon insists throughout on the realistic character of his federalism. Surely a simpler explanation is that Proudhon is inconsistent in his use of the term 'authority' -- a not unusual inconsistency.

19 Proudhon's view of Rousseau is discussed by Aaron Noland 'Proudhon and Rousseau' Journal of the History of Ideas (1967) 33-54.

20 See especially Proudhon's Idee generate de la revolution 4th study.

21 See below, 65.

22 See below, 42n.

23 However, in his posthumously published De la Capacite politique des classes ouvrieres (1865) Proudhon argues that the introduction of the 'right of war' expresses the subversion of federalism by the unitary principle, and contends quite explicitly that there must be a right of secession in any federal arrangement; see the new edition (Paris 1924) 207-8.

24 Louis Le Fur Etat federal et confederation des etats (Paris 1896). Proudhon at one point (see below, 42n) distinguishes in passing between les confederes of the American South and les federaux of the North; I have translated les federaux as 'the Unionists.'

25 Bourgeois Theories du droit international 46 and (more guardedly) Voyenne Federalisme de Proudhon 176. See also Franz Neumann The Democratic and the Authoritarian State (Glencoe 1957) 218.

26 K.C. Wheare Federal Government (London 1946)

27 See below, 40.

28 Voyenne Federalisme de Proudhon 185

29 For two critiques of the view that federalism secures government by consent more effectively than other systems, see King 'Against Federalism' and William H. Riker 'Six Books in Search of a Subject: or Does Federalism Exist and Does it Matter?' Comparative Politics (1969) 135-46.

30 See especially J.G.A. Pocock The Machiavellian Moment (Princeton 1975).

31 See below, 60.

32 Riker Federalism 139-45

33 Ibid. 1

34 See, for example, A.H. Birch 'Approaches to the Study of Federalism' Political Studies (1966) 15-33.

35 See below, 77-8.

36 Stanley Hoffman 'The Areal Division of Power in the Writings of French Political Thinkers' in A. Maass (ed.) Area and Power (Glencoe 1959)133

37 See especially W.S. Livingston 'A Note on the Nature of Federalism' Political Science Quarterly (1952) 81-95.

38 Birch 'Approaches to the Study of Federalism'

39 See Alan C. Cairns 'The Governments and Societies of Canadian Federalism' Canadian Journal of Political Science (1977) 692-725.

40 See below, 69: 'Though centralization would have had to be broken at a later point, it would at that time have provided a powerful lever.'

41 The distinction is suggested by Karl Loewenstein Political Power and the Governmental Process (Chicago 1965) cited in Smiley 'Territorialism and Canadian Political Institutions' Canadian Public Policy (1977) 451.

42 Curiously, P.E. Trudeau, drawing upon the Maoist model of 'base areas,' argues the precisely opposite case in his 1961 paper 'The Practice and Theory of Federalism' Federalism and the French Canadians (Toronto 1968) 126.

43 Edwin R. Black Divided Loyalties: Canadian Concepts of Federalism (Montreal 1975) especially 232-4

44 See Smiley 'Territorialism.'

45 If co-ordinate jurisdiction by two independent levels of government is taken to be a defining feature of federalism, then Proudhon's scheme would not be a federalist one. But Ivo D. Duchacek takes the reasonable view that what is required is that 'the exercise of the central authority as it reaches all citizens [must be] independent of the individual approval and resources of the component units' (Comparative Federalism: The Territorial Dimension of Politics [New York 1970] 207, emphasis added). This formulation would admit Proudhon's scheme. However, in one passage (see below, 49) Proudhon appears to make the exercise of central authority dependent upon provincial approval. This would seem unnecessary, given that the formation of central policy is already so highly constrained, in his model, by provincial surveillance. Perhaps Proudhon regarded these two approaches as alternatives, or perhaps he was simply inattentive to the difference between participating in the formation of policy and participating in the execution of it.

46 'Political Horizons' Canadian Forum (April 1972) 15-47

47 Ibid. 16

48 These three versions of federalism share much with the models of pluralism distinguished by David Nicholls Three Varieties of Pluralism (London 1974).

49 Lenin, however, combined an admiration for the Commune as a revolutionary model with a fierce rejection of Proudhon's 'federalism'; the correct line, Lenin maintains, is to reject 'centralism from above,' not centralism as such. See State and Revolution (Eng. trans. Peking 1965) 60-4.

50 See Hannah Arendt On Revolution (New York 1965) 234-85.

51 For a discussion of 'pluralism' and 'participationism,' see F.M. Barnard and R.A. Vernon 'Pluralism, Participation and Politics: Reflections on the Intermediate Group' Political Theory (1975) 180-97.

52 Charles D. Tarlton 'Symmetry and Asymmetry as Elements of Federalism: A Theoretical Speculation' Journal of Politics (1965) 861-74

53 See below, 34.

54 See, for example, Smiley 'Territorialism' 452.

55 Woodcock ('Political Horizons' 18) takes Prince Edward Island to be about the right size: cf. George Rawlyk ibid. 27

56 See, for example, Gabriel Almond 'Comparative Political Systems' Journal of Politics (1956) 391-409.

57 Woodcock 'Political Horizons' 18

58 See, for example, Proudhon's Carnets, vol. 3 (Paris 1968) 139. It is worth noting here that in Du Principe federatif itself Proudhon stresses (in chapter 9) that federalization can occur only within already constituted political societies; and one could well infer from what he says here that sovereignty can be divided only among groups which have come to share a strong sense of a common good, by virtue of their long experience of political unity.

59 Capacite politique 148