January 15, 2015
A galvanic figure in 19th century economic and political thought, PIERRE-JOSEPH PROUDHON (1809–65) was a man of paradox and conundrums. The bad news first: he was a casual anti-Semite, though this inherited prejudice appears rarely in his work. Prouhdon’s sexism was worse, extending to the afterlife with the posthumous publication of his unfinished anti-feminist screed Pornocatrie (1875). This is not the Proudhon that matters, however, nor the one whose liberatory ideas for non-violent, cooperative, anti-authoritarian social revolution were propagated throughout Europe and America; should one yet feel queasy, reading Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock (1992) and George Sand’s Consuelo (1842) are appropriate remedies. “Je suis anarchiste” Proudhon declared in his second book, What It Property? (1840), a question he answered with the deathless aphorism “la propriété, c’est le vol” (property is theft). In 1844, Proudhon met Mikhail Bakunin and Karl Marx, influencing both (no matter Marx’s subsequent refutations) and in March 1861, he befriended Leo Tolstoy, soon to favorably review — and later borrow the title of — Proudhon’s latest book, La Guerre et La Paix. In The Federative Principle (1863), written during the American Civil War, certain of Proudhon’s observations remain startling: “If Mr. Lincoln teaches his compatriots to overcome their revulsion, grants blacks their civil rights and also declares war on [what creates] the proletariat, the Union will be saved.” Another incitation, this from Flaubert’s Sentimental Education (1869); as Jacques Arnoux, publisher, and Fumichon, industrialist, argue socialisms, good and bad:
“Let me alone with your Proudhon. If he were here, I think I’d strangle him!”
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