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PIERRE JOSEPH PROUDHON (1809-1865)

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Originally appearing in Volume V22, Page 490 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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PIERRE JOSEPH PROUDHON (1809-1865), French socialist and political writer, was born on the 15th of January 1809 at Besancon, France, the native place also of the socialist Fourier. His origin was of the humblest, his father being a brewer's cooper; and the boy herded cows and followed other simple pursuits of a like nature. But he was not entirely self-educated; at sixteen he entered the college of his native place, though his family was so poor that he could not procure the necessary books, and had to borrow them from his mates in order to copy the lessons. At nineteen he became a working compositor; afterwards he rose to be a corrector for the press, reading proofs of ecclesiastical works, and thereby acquiring a very competent knowledge of theology. In this way also he came to learn Hebrew, and to compare it with Greek, Latin and French; and it was the first proof of his intellectual audacity that on the strength of this he wrote an Essai de grammaire generate. As Proudhon knew nothing whatever of the true principles of philology, his treatise was of no value. In 1838 he obtained the pension Suard, a bursary of 1500 francs a year for three years, for the encouragement of young men of promise, which was in the gift of the academy of Besancon. In 1839 he wrote a treatise L' Utilite de la celebration du dimanche which contained the germs of his revolutionary ideas. About this time he went to Paris, where he lived a poor, ascetic and studious life—making acquaintance, however, with the socialistic ideas which were then fomenting in the capital. In 184o he published his first work Qu'est-ce que la propriete? His famous answer to this question, " La propriete, c'est le vol " (property is theft), naturally did not please the academy of Besancon, and there was some talk of withdrawing his pension; but he held it for the regular period. For his third memoir on property, which took the shape of a letter to the Fourierist, M. Considerant, he was tried at Besancon but was acquitted. In 1846 he published his greatest work, the Systeme des contradictions economiques ou philosophie de la misere. For some time Proudhon carried on a small printing establishment at Besancon, but without success; afterwards he became connected as a kind of manager with a commercial firm at Lyons. In 1847 he left this employment, and finally settled in Paris, where he was now and on their mutual relations; a science which we have not to invent, but to discover." But he saw clearly that such ideas with their necessary accompaniments could only be realized through a long and laborious process of social transformation. He strongly detested the prurient. immorality of the schools of Saint-Simon and Fourier. He attacked them not less bitterly for thinking that society could be changed off-hand by a ready-made and complete scheme of reform. It was " the most accursed lie," he said, " that could be offered to mankind." In social change he distinguishes between the transition and the perfection or achievement. With regard to the transition he advocated the progressive abolition of the right of aubaine, by reducing interest, rent, &c. For the goal he professed only to give the general principles; he had no ready-made scheme, no utopia. The positive organization of the new society in its details was a labour that would require fifty Montesquieus. The organization he desired was one on collective principles, a free association which would take account of the division of labour, and which would maintain the personality both of the man and the citizen. With his strong and fervid feeling for human dignity and liberty, Proudhon could not have tolerated any theory of social change that did not give full scope for the free development of man. Connected with this was his famous paradox of anarchy, as the goal of the free development of society, by which he meant that through the ethical progress of men government should become unnecessary. " Government of man by man in every form," he says, " is oppression. The highest perfection of society is found in the union of order and anarchy." Proudhon, indeed, was the first to use the word anarchy, not in its revolutionary sense, as we understand it now, but as he himself says, to express the highest perfection of social organization. Proudhon's theory of property as the right of aubaine is substantially the same as the theory of capital held by Marx and most of the later socialists. Marx, however, always greatly detested Proudhon and his doctrines, and attacked him violently in his Misere de la philosophic. Property and capital are defined and treated by Proudhon as the power of exploiting the labour of other men, of claiming the results of labour without giving an equivalent. Proudhon's famous paradox, " La propriete, c'est le vol," is merely a trenchant expression of this general principle. As slavery is assassination inasmuch as it destroys all that is valuable and desirable in human personality, so property is theft inasmuch as it appropriates the value produced by the labour of others without rendering an equivalent. For property Proudhon would substitute individual possession, the right of occupation being equal for all men. A complete edition of Proudhon's works, including his posthumous writings, was published at Paris (1875). See also P. J. Proudhon, sa vie et sa correspondence, by Sainte-Beuve (Paris, 1875) ; Beauch6ry, Economic sociale de P. J. Proudhon (Lille, 1867) ; Spoll, P. J. Proudhon,ctude biographique(Paris,1867) ; Marchegay. Silhouette de Proudhon (Paris, 1868) ; Putlitz, P. J. Proudhon, sein Leben and seine positiven Ideen (Berlin, 1881) ; Diehl, P. J. Proudhon, seine Lehre and sein Leben(Jena, 1888–1889); Miilberger, Studien fiber Proudhon(Stuttgart, 1891) ; Desjardins, P. J. Proudhon, sa vie, ses oeuvres et sa doctrine (Paris, 1896) ; Miilberger, P. J. Proudhon (Stuttgart, 1899).
End of Article: PIERRE JOSEPH PROUDHON (1809-1865)
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