Pierre Joseph Proudhon's basic ideas

An anarchist classic and a contribution to the history of political economy

Proudhon is most famous for his hypothesis that Property is theft, but he was for possession. He was a social individualist anarchist, see the economic-political map at System Theory. IIFOR's precisation of Proudhon's property vs possession concept is: Anarchies very briefly defined are systems with small rank and income differences, plus efficiency. Any ownership that is compatible with systems with small rank and income differences, plus efficiency, is possession. Possession may be individual or collective, private or public. 1. Any ownership that results in large income differences is capitalist, economical plutarchy. 2. Any ownership that results in large rank differences is statist. 1. and 2. are property, i.e. theft, not possession. [1]. The basic ideas of Proudhon are elaborated in the following quotes. *)**)

"[Anarchy] ... the ideal of human government... centuries will pass before that ideal is attained, but our law is to go in that direction, to grow unceasingly nearer to that end, and thus I would uphold the principle of federation. [2] is unlikely that all traces of government or authority will disappear... [3] Proudhon wanted people to minimalize the role of authority. By the word [anarchy] I wanted to indicate the extreme limit of political progress. Anarchy is... a form of government or constitution in which public and private consciousness, formed through the development of science and law, is alone sufficient to maintain order and guarantee all liberties... The institutions of the police, preventative and repressive methods officialdom, taxation etc., are reduced to a minimum... monarchy and intensive centralization disappear, to be replaced by federal institutions and a pattern of life based upon the commune. [4] Since the two principles, Authority and Liberty, which underlie all forms organized society, are on the one hand contrary to each other, in a perpetual state of conflict, and on the other can neither eliminate each other nor be resolved, some kind of compromise between the two is necessary.

Whatever the system favored, whether it be monarchical, democratic, communist or anarchist, its length of life will depend to the extent to which it has taken the contrary principle into account. [5] ...that monarchy and democracy, communism and anarchy, all of them unable to realize themselves in the purity of their concepts, are obliged to complement one another by mutual borrowings. There is surely something here to dampen the intolerance of fanatics who cannot listen to a contrary opinion... They should learn, then, poor wretches, that they are themselves necessarily disloyal to their principles, that their political creeds are tissues of inconsistencies... contradiction lies at the root of all programs. [6] ...writers have mistakenly introduced a political assumption as false as it is dangerous, in failing to distinguish practice from theory, the real, from the ideal... every real government is necessarily mixed... [7] ...few people defend the present state of affairs, but the distaste for utopias is no less widespread. [8]  The people indeed are not at all utopian... they have no faith in the absolute and they reject every apriori system... [9]"

How would Proudhon introduce the anarchist society? Not through utopian schemes or a wipe-the-slate-clean revolution but, " to dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system, by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this giant machine... the State. [12] We should not put forward revolutionary action as a means of social reform because that pretended means would simply be an appeal to force, or arbitrariness, in brief a contradiction. I myself put the problem this way; to bring about the return to society by an economic combination, of the wealth drawn from society... [13] We desire a peaceful revolution... you should make use of the very institutions which we charge you to abolish... in such a way that the new society may appear as the spontaneous, natural and necessary development of the old and that the revolution, while abrogating the old order, should nevertheless be derived from it... [14]  There are no such things as minor reforms, or minor economies or minor wrongs. The life of man is a battle, that of society a perpetual reformation; let us therefore reform and go on reforming unceasingly. [15] I am one of the greatest artifers of order, one of the most moderate progressionists, one of the least Utopian and one of the most practical reformers that exist. [16]

The way to achieve selfmanagement/selfadministration or anarchism on a large scale was through federation . Proudhon wished to dissolve authority and the State with the aid of the federal system. Note in the following quotations how the State is still assumed to exist, yet is being set on the path of abolition.

The contract of federation, whose essence is always to reserve more powers for the citizen than the state, and for municipal and provincial authorities than for the central power, is the only thing that can set us of the right path. [17] ...the citizen who enters the association must 1. have as much to gain from the state as he sacrifices to it. 2. retain all his liberty... except that he must abandon in order to attain the special object for which the contract is made... the political contract is called federation. [18] Free association... the only true form of society. [19] The system of contracts, substituted for the system of laws, would constitute the true government, true sovereignty of the people, the REPUBLIC. [20] ... the constitutional monarchy is preferable to the qualified monarchy: in the same way that representative democracy is preferable to [monarchical] constitutionalism. [21] Regime of Authority: 1. Government of all by one - monarchy 2. Government of all by all - communism - Regime of Liberty 1. Government of all by each - democracy 2. Government of each by each - anarchy or self-government. [22]

There was also the important question of what kind of association one should organize.  Association is a bond which is naturally opposed to liberty, and which nobody consents to submit, unless it furnishes sufficient indemnification... Let us make a distinction between the principle of association, and the infinitely variable methods , of which a society makes us... [24] ...association applicable only under special conditions... [25] Association formed without any outside economic consideration, or any leading interest, association for its own sake is... without real value, a myth. [26]  ...mutualism intends men to associate only insofar as this is required by the demands of production, the cheapness of goods, the needs of consumption and security of the producers themselves, i.e., in those cases where it is not possible for the public to rely upon private industry...

Thus no systematized outlook... party spirit or vain sentimentality unites the persons concerned. [27] In cases in which production requires great division of labour, it is necessary to form an ASSOCIATION among the workers... because without that they would remain isolated as subordinates and superiors, and there would ensue two industrial castes of masters and wage workers, which is repugnant in a free and democratic society. But where the product can be obtained by the action of an individual or a family... there is no opportunity for association. [28]

Proudhon was in favor of private ownership of small-scale property, in the meaning of possession. He opposed individual ownership of large industries because workers would lose their rights and ownership. Property, in the meaning of possession, was essential to building a strong democracy and the only way to do this on the large-scale was through co-operative associationsWhere shall we find a power capable of counter-balancing the... State? There is none other than property [i.e. possession]... The absolute right of the State is in conflict with the absolute right of the property owner. Property [i.e. possession] is the greatest revolutionary force which exists. [29]. ...the more ground the principles of democracy have gained, the more I have seen the working classes interpret these principles favorably to individual ownership [i.e. possession]. [30] [Mutualism] ...will make capital and the State subordinate to labor. [31] 

That every individual in the association... has an undivided share in the company... a right to fill any position according to suitability... all positions are elective, and the by-laws subject to approval of the members. That pay is to be proportional to the nature of the position, the importance of the talents, and the extent of responsibility. [32]  In a free society, the role of the government is essentially that of legislating, instituting, creating, beginning, establishing, as little as possible should it be executive... The state is not an entrepreneur... Once a beginning has been made, the machinery established, the state withdraws, leaving the execution of the task to local authorities and citizens. [33] [Coinage] is an industry left to the towns. That there should be an inspector to supervise its manufacture I admit, but the role of the state extends no farther than that. [34]

The following quote from 1863 is a good summary of Proudhon's economic and political ideas: All my economic ideas, developed over the last 25 years, can be defined in three words, agro-industrial federation; all my political views... political federation or decentralization, all my hopes for the present and future... progressive federation. [35] I)

"Do not expect me to provide you with a system. My system is Progress, that is to say the need to work constantly toward discovering the unknown while the past is being exhausted," Proudhon wrote in a letter of December 1851. This does not mean anarchism is without system, it is a whole set of systems related to the economical political map , and the updated research front of anarchism . It means we, Proudhon, IIFOR and other anarchists, will 1. not provide you with a fixed, dogmatic system once and for all. 2. You are invited to improve the research front of anarchist systems while learning. 3. "Proudhon's system" at that time, as well as today's updated research front of anarchism is a front of Progress:

The research front, using the scientifical method of the natural sciences, the hypothetical deductive method, see , is all of the time developing and improved as an accumulated capital of knowledge, consistent and with small -- and sometimes large -- breakthroughs and revolutions, in a progressive way. Join in to improve the research front while learning and send a comment to IIFOR, click on the link to IIFOR's homepage and use the e-mailform.

We have made an extract of Proudhon's definitions of possesion and property from "What is property?"(WIP) [1]: If I were asked to answer the following question: WHAT IS SLAVERY? and I should answer in one word, IT IS MURDER, my meaning would be understood at once. No extended argument would be required to show that the power to take from a man his thought, his will, his personality, is a power of life and death; and that to enslave a man is to kill him. Why, then, to this other question: WHAT IS PROPERTY! may I not likewise answer, IT IS ROBBERY, without the certainty of being misunderstood; the second proposition being no other than a transformation of the first?

There are different kinds of property: 1. Property pure and simple, the dominant and seigniorial power over a thing; or, as they term it, NAKED PROPERTY. 2. POSSESSION... The tenant, the farmer, the commandite', the usufructuary, are possessors; the owner who lets and lends for use, the heir who is to come into possession on the death of a usufructuary, are proprietors... This double definition of property -- domain and possession -- is of the highest importance; and it must be clearly understood, in order to comprehend what is to follow. This distinction between the jus in re and the jus ad rem is the basis of the famous distinction between possessoire and petitoire,-- actual categories of jurisprudence, the whole of which is included within their vast boundaries. Petitoire refers to every thing relating to property; possessoire to that relating to possession.

In writing this memoir against property, I bring against universal society an action petitoire: I prove that those who do not possess to-day are proprietors by the same title as those who do possess; but, instead of inferring therefrom that property should be shared by all, I demand, in the name of general security, its entire abolition. If I fail to win my case, there is nothing left for us (the proletarian class and myself) but to cut our throats: ... But property, in its derivative sense, and by the definitions of law, is a right outside of society; for it is clear that, if the wealth of each was social wealth, the conditions would be equal for all, and it would be a contradiction to say: PROPERTY IS A MAN'S RIGHT TO DISPOSE AT WILL OF SOCIAL PROPERTY. Then if we are associated for the sake of liberty, equality, and security, we are not associated for the sake of property; then if property is a NATURAL right, this natural right is not SOCIAL, but ANTI-SOCIAL.

Property and society are utterly irreconcilable institutions. It is as impossible to associate two proprietors as to join two magnets by their opposite poles. Either society must perish, or it must destroy property. To tell a poor man that he HAS property because he HAS arms and legs, -- that the hunger from which he suffers, and his power to sleep in the open air are his property, - is to play upon words, and to add insult to injury. The proprietor, producing neither by his own labor nor by his implement, and receiving products in exchange for nothing, is either a parasite or a thief.

1. The republican constitution of 1793, which defined property as "the right to enjoy the fruit of one's labor," was grossly mistaken. It should have said, "Property is the right to enjoy and dispose at will of another's goods, -- the fruit of another's industry and labor."2. Every possessor of lands, houses, furniture, machinery, tools, money, &c., who lends a thing for a price exceeding the cost of repairs (the repairs being charged to the lender, and representing products which he exchanges for other products), is guilty of swindling and extortion. In short, all rent received (nominally as damages, but really as payment for a loan) is an act of property,--a robbery. 3. Since property is the grand cause of privilege and despotism, the form of the republican oath should be changed. Instead of, "I swear hatred to royalty," henceforth the new member of a secret society should say, "I swear hatred to property."

By this principle, the man who takes possession of a field, and says, "This field is mine," will not be unjust so long as every one else has an equal right of possession; nor will he be unjust, if, wishing to change his location, he exchanges this field for an equivalent. But if, putting another in his place, he says to him, "Work for me while I rest," he then becomes unjust, unassociated, UNEQUAL. He is a proprietor. Reciprocally, the sluggard, or the rake, who, without performing any social task, enjoys like others -- and often more than others -- the products of society, should be proceeded against as a thief and a parasite. We owe it to ourselves to give him nothing; but, since he must live, to put him under supervision, and compel him to labor.

With "sluggard or the rake" Proudhon probably means a capitalist/economical plutarchist, who lives entirely on the work of others. Proudhon is a man of paradox, see George Woodcock Anarchism, Penguin Books 1979 p 98-133. It is also stated that Proudhon called himself a man of paradox. (source E. H. Carr, Studies in Revolution p. 18 (1962).) Thus he must be interpreted in the full context to be properly understood. In What is property? Proudhon also writes: "Property is impossible". In Ch. 5, Part 2, Proudhon writes: "Property is the exploitation of the weak by the strong." He also declared: "... property is despotism." p. 259 and "Property ... violates equality by the rights of exclusion and increase, and freedom by despotism ... [and has] perfect identity with robbery." p. 251.

In the Revolutionary Program (1848): "Revolutionary Program, To the voters of Seine, Paris, May 30, 1848" Proudhon comfirms his hypothesis that propety is theft. This conclusion stands firm:


Since my political friends and the socialists desire it, I again agree to try my fortune in the elections, and I address to you my profession of faith. It will summarize without equivocation, and in an intelligible fashion, my ideas on the Revolution, and my hopes for the future. You will not name me, citizens: neither you, whom I solicit for the vote, nor the government, which might support my candidacy, have the time to understand me. But, voters of Paris, ... ; and what your prudence will not grant at first sight, I do not despair, will elicit your wisdom on the second examination.

The revolution of February put into question all of society. In such a solemn moment, a profession of the faith, in order to be sincere, must be complete; it is not even enough that it is complete, it is necessary that it is justified. You will excuse then, citizens, the length of these explications. I am not one of those for whom a profession is only a diplomatic act, where, with vague formulas, one appears to promise much, while in reality one promises nothing. The social system, that which it is a question of reforming and refounding, embraces three orders of ideas: The family, Public economy, The form of government. I will tell you what I think about each of these points.

I am, as you are well aware, citizens, the man who wrote these words: Property is theft! I do not come to retract them, heaven forbid! I persist in regarding this provocative definition as the greatest truth of the century. I have no desire to insult your convictions either: all that I ask, is to say to you how I partisan of the family and the household, and adversary of communism that I am understand that the negation of property is necessary for the abolition of misery, for the emancipation of the proletariat. It is by its fruits that one must judge a doctrine: judge then my theory by my practice. When I say, Property is theft! I do not propose a principle; I do nothing but express one conclusion. You will understand the enormous difference presently. However, if the definition of property which I state is only the conclusion, or rather the general formula of the economic system, what is the principle of that system, what is its practice, and what are its forms?

My principle, which will appear astonishing to you, citizens, my principle is yours; it is property itself. I have no other symbol, no other principle than those of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen: Liberty, equality, security, property . Like the Declaration of Rights, I define liberty as the right to do anything that does not harm others . Again, like the Declaration of Rights, I define property, provisionally, as the right to dispose freely of one's income, the fruits of one's labor and industry. Here is the entirety of my system: liberty of conscience, liberty of the press, liberty of labor, free trade, liberty in education, free competition, free disposition of the fruits of labor and industry, liberty ad infinitum, absolute liberty, liberty for all and always.

It is the system of '89 and '93; the system of Quesnay, of Turgot, of J.-B. Say; the system that is always professed, with more or less intelligence and good faith, by the various organs of the political parties, the system of the Débats , of the Presse , of the Constitutionnel , of the Siècle , of the Nationale , of the Rèforme , of the Gazette ; in the end it is your system, voters. Simple as unity, vast as infinity, this system serves for itself and for others as a criterion. In a word it is understood and compels adhesion; nobody wants a system in which liberty is the least bit undermined. One word identifies and wards off all errors: what could be easier than to say what is or is not liberty?

Liberty then, nothing more, nothing less. Laissez faire, laissez passer , in the broadest and most literal sense; consequently property, as it rises legitimately from this freedom, is my principle. No other solidarity between citizens than that which rises accidentally from force majeur: for all that which relates to free acts, and manifestations of reflective thought, complete and absolute insolidarity ... Who does not see that the mutualist organization of exchange, of circulation, of credit, of buying and selling, the abolition of taxes and tolls of every nature which place burdens on production and bans on goods, irresistibly push the producers, each following his specialty, towards a centralization analogous with that of the State, but in which no one obeys, no one is dependent, and everyone is free and sovereign? II)

It is worth while to note that Proudhon is critical to the policy of Quesnay, Turgot and J.-B. Say, stating their system is professed with more or less intelligence and good faith, he himself proposing a mutualist organization. Laissez faire literally means let (people) do (as they please), it has nothing to do with liberalism, capitalism or extreme individualism in this context. Laissez passer means literally let pass, a permit. Proudhon was a social individualst anarchist: "... we must regard Proudhon as a social individualist", see p. 99, George Woodcock: Anarchism, Penguin Books 1979.

In the posthumously published Théorie de la propriété - Theory of Property (1866) [a book that was not finished from his side, and thus must be given less weight in the context] he declared that "Property is liberty" and argued that property is a power that can act as a counterweight to the State. But he retained to his death that "property is theft". As mentioned in What is property? Proudhon operates with two forms of property, quoting: "There are different kinds of property: 1. Property pure and simple, the dominant and seigniorial power over a thing; or, as they term it, NAKED PROPERTY. 2. POSSESSION...". The property is theft hypothesis mainly excludes property type 1., a hypothesis that Proudhon was retaining all of the time from he wrote it to his death. Thus it is perhaps likely that when he writes property is freedom, he mostly means property in the form 2. possession, not property in the meaning 1. Hence, Proudhon could retain the idea of property as theft, and at the same time offer a new dimension to the definition of it as liberty. There is the constant possibility of abuse, exploitation, which spells theft.

At the same time property (mostly in the meaning of possession) is a spontaneous creation of society and a bullwark against the ever-encroaching power of the State. He continued to oppose both capitalist and state property . In the Theory of Property he maintains: "Now in 1840, I categorically rejected the notion of property ... for both the group and the individual," but then states: "property is the greatest revolutionary force which exists, with an unequaled capacity for setting itself against authority..." and the "... principal function of private property within the political system will be to act as a counterweight to the power of the State, and by so doing to insure the liberty of the individual." However, he continued to oppose concentrations of wealth and property , arguing for small-scale property ownership associated with peasants and artisans, i.e. possession.

He still opposed private property in land: "What I cannot accept, regarding land, is that the work put in gives a right to ownership of what has been worked on." In addition, he still believed that "property" (i.e. possession) should be more equally distributed and limited in size to that actually used by individuals, families and workers associations. He supported the right of inheritance, and defended it "as one of the foundations of the family and society." However, he refused to extend this beyond personal possessions arguing that "under the law of association, transmission of wealth does not apply to the instruments of labour."III)

Contradictions are not acceptable from anarchist, i.e. scientifical point of view, see note on dialectics below. Proudhon is as mentioned above a man of paradox. Thus as mentioned he must be interpreted in the whole context to get a proper interpretation. And thus, when Prodhon writes: "There is only one new thing for us in our thesis: It is that we today accept entirely the very principle of property, the contradictory and abusive principle of which raised our disapproval, as well as its equally contradictory qualification: Dominium est jus utendi re sud, quatenus juris ratio patitur." [from "The Theory of Property", p 242.], it must be interpreted in the whole context. This statement is a bit unclear, but "Dominium est jus utendi re sud, quatenus juris ratio patitur" means "property is the right to use without breaking the law".

If the law only accepts property 2. possession, this is consistent with WIP. But this is perhaps not the most likely interpretation. This statement however clearly means there should be some sort of regulations, perhaps a form of selfregulation, on the use of property according to law, and it seems like Proudhon is accepting some tendencies of property 1., naked property, in addition to what he defined as possession in WIP. Some insignificant tendencies towards or of property 1. naked property, are however compatible with the definition of possession at the introduction to this page. For more information on this property vs possession concept, theoretically and practical operationally, see chapter V. A and B at .

Based on the whole context the following is valid: As a consequence of his opposition to profit, wage labour, worker exploitation, ownership of land and capital, as well as to state property , Proudhon rejected both capitalism and communism. He adopted the term mutualism for his brand of anarchism, which involved control of the means of production by the workers. In his vision, self-employed artisans, peasants, and cooperatives would trade their products on the market. For Proudhon, factories and other large workplaces would be run by 'labor associations' operating on directly democratic principles. The state would be abolished; instead, society would be organized by a federation of "free communes" (a commune is a local municipality in French). In 1863 Proudhon wrote: "All my economic ideas as developed over twenty-five years can be summed up in the words: agricultural-industrial federation. All my political ideas boil down to a similar formula: political federation or decentralization."

In his book The Confessions of a Revolutionary (1849), Proudhon wrote among other things, the well known phrase, "anarchy is order". Proudhon seems to reject massive, unregulated, i.e. very significant tendencies of property 1, naked property, i.e. theft, according to WIP and favors property 2., i.e. possession, because he of course do not want a society based on massive theft. Theft is not order, and Proudhon advocates anarchy, i.e. order. Possession vs property in the Proudhonian sense will probably correlate well with the definitions of possession vs property in the introduction to this page. Some slight, unsignificant tendencies of property 1, naked property, may also be compatible with the operational definition of possession in the introductions to this page, and socialism. But not if this is the significant, i.e. much and unregulated property 1., will a.o.t. probably make the gini-index above 35, indicating, as a rule of the thumb, capitalism, see chapter V. B. of , and thus not be compatible with anarchism.

In The solution to the social problem (Solution du problème social) Paris, Pilhes et Guillaumin (1847 and 1848),  The organization of credit and the circulation, and the solution to the social problem , without tax, without loan  (Organisation du Crédit et de la Circulation, et Solution du problème social, sans impôt, sans emprunt ). Paris, Pilhes et Guillaumin (1848), and the Summary of the social question, Exchange bank ( Resumé de la question sociale, Banque d'échange) (1848),  he laid out a program of mutual financial cooperation among workers. He believed this would transfer control of economic relations from capitalists and financiers to workers. The central part of his plan was the establishment of a bank (similar in some respects to today's credit unions) to provide credit at a very low rate of interest and the issuing of "exchange notes" (i.e. similar to labor notes credit) that would circulate in lieu of money based on gold. He attempted to establish a popular bank (Bank du Peuple) early in 1849, but despite over 13,000 people signing up, mostly workers, receipts were limited falling short of 18,000FF and the whole enterprise was essentially stillborn.

In Freedom pamphlets. No. 1. (New Edition. 1920) The wage system, by Peter Kropotkin, he states: : "That the English Socialists of the early part of this century should invent labor notes is comprehensible.... If later Proudhon took up this same idea, that again is easy to understand..."In "Anarchism", by Peter Kropotkin, from The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1910, he states: " He [Proudhon] preferred to attain the same end by rendering capital incapable of earning interest; and this he proposed to obtain by means of a national bank, based on the mutual confidence of all those who are engaged in production, who would agree to exchange among themselves their produces at cost-value, by means of labour cheques representing the hours of labour required to produce every given commodity.

Under such a system, which Proudhon described as 'Mutuellisme', all the exchanges of services would be strictly equivalent. Besides, such a bank would be enabled to lend money without interest, levying only something like I per cent, or even less, for covering the cost of administration. Everyone being thus enabled to borrow the money that would be required to buy a house, nobody would agree to pay any more a yearly rent for the use of it. A general 'social liquidation' would thus be rendered easy, without violent expropriation. The same applied to mines, railways, factories and so on." However Kropotkin does not mention a particular source in Proudhon's works where he mentions labor notes or similar. Whether Proudhon really advocated labor notes or something similar, or not, is a bit disputed, and the answer is left to further research on Proudhons works, especially perhaps the works on mutualism. As a likely working hypothesis IIFOR for the moment assumes that Proudhon's proposed "exchange notes" are something similar to labor notes credits, see .

Proudhon's essay on What Is Government? is worth mentioning:

To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished.

It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be place[d] under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality. (P.-J. Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century , translated by John Beverly Robinson (London: Freedom Press, 1923), pp. 293-294. IV)

Another famous quote was his "dialogue with a Philistine" in What is Property? [1] pp. 271-272, where Proudhon speaks from the anarchist ideal perspective:

"Why, how can you ask such a question? You are a republican."
"A republican! Yes; but that word specifies nothing. Res publica; that is, the public thing. Now, whoever is interested in public affairs -- no matter under what form of government -- may call himself a republican. Even kings are republicans."
"Well! You are a democrat?"
"What! "you would have a monarchy?"
" A Constitutionalist?"
"God forbid."
"Then you are an aristocrat?"
"Not at all!"
"You want a mixed form of government?"
"Even less."
"Then what are you?"
"I am an anarchist."
"Oh! I understand you; you speak satirically. This is a hit at the government."
"By no means. I have just given you my serious and well-considered profession of faith. Although a firm friend of order, I am (in the full force of the term) an anarchist. Listen to me."

About Proudhon's works and dialectics

Quoting Kropotkin, from MODERN SCIENCE AND ANARCHISM :

" When the metaphysicians try to convince the naturalist that the mental and moral life of man develops in accordance with certain "Immanent (in-dwelling) Laws of the Spirit," the latter shrugs his shoulders and continues his physiological study of the mental and moral phenomena of life, with a view to showing that they can all be resolved into chemical and physical phenomena. He endeavors to discover the natural laws on which they are based. Similarly, when the Anarchists are told, for instance, that -- as Hegel says -- every development consists of a Thesis, an Antithesis, and a Synthesis; or that "the object of Law is the establishment of Justice, which represents the realization of the Highest Idea;" or, again, when they are asked, -- What, in their opinion, is "the Object of Life?" they, too, simply shrug their shoulders and wonder how, at the present state of development of natural science, old fashioned people can still be found who believe in "words" like these ...

We have heard much of late about "the dialectic method," which was recommended for formulating the socialist ideal (i.e. marxism, ed. note). Such a method we do not recognize, neither would the modern natural sciences have anything to do with it. "The dialectic method" reminds the modern naturalist of something long since passed -- of something outlived and now happily forgotten by science. The discoveries of the nineteenth century in mechanics, physics, chemistry, biology, physical psychology, anthropology, psychology of nations, etc., were made -- not by the dialectic method, but by the natural-scientific method..." (i.e. the hypothetical deductive method)

Similar to Michael Bakunin, Sam Dolgoff, Daniel Guerin and other more or less anarchist or semilibertarian thinkers sometimes using left-Hegelian type dialectics, Proudhon's dialectical ideas in itself and the arguments and writings related to these ideas must principally be rejected as pseudoscience, and thus not anarchism or anarchist, i.e. scientifical. These dialectical ideas may a) at best be irrelevant to anarchism or b) at worst be marxian dialectical ideas and semilibertarian or authoritarian. In case b) the general principle is to reject the whole thing as marxian, as marxian ideas are incompatible with anarchism, and mixes of marxian ideas and anarchist rhetorics are marxism, not anarchism. In case a) the dialectical ideas and framework should be omitted in anarchist perspective, or the hypothesis be reformulated in a non-dialectical, anarchist way if possible and reasonable.

When this is done, what is left of the work and corrected, may be seen as anarchist, and the writer may also be seen as anarchist if what is omitted or corrected in general of important works is not the essential or significant, and the rest, the valid part of the works intending to be anarchist, are of major interest as anarchism. In the case of Proudhon several of  his  works may be considered as anarchist . In the texts quoted on the dialectical tendency is insignificant. However, quoting from the Système des contradictions économiques ou Philosophie de la misère ( The System of Economic Contradictions or the Philosophy of Misery) , 1846, of Proudhon: "I will explain therefore how, studying in the silence of my heart, and far from every human consideration, the mystery of social revolutions, God, the great unknown, has become for me an hypothesis, -- I mean a necessary dialectical tool".

Thus this book is based on "god" as well as dialectics and is thus from anarchist, i.e. scientifical point of view - based on the hypothetical deductive method, of less importance. Here we have made a scientifically valid interpretation of Proudhon's major works, and omitted the dialectical, non-scientifical, parts. We have a nomothetical approach to the interpretations of Proudhon, as opposed to a hermeneutical approach. The nomothetical approach is the scientifically valid.

Proudhon maintained to his death the hypothesis that property is theft and advocated possession as the best and most libertarian form of ownership, and he was a socialist all of his life. That he in his older days indicated that private property (capitalism) could be a counterweight against statism, is another thing, but that is not central to Proudhon's basic ideas as a socialist and anarchist thinker. It is mainly Proudhon's basic ideas as a socialist and anarchist thinker, that is relevant as a contribution to the updated research front of anarchism . In this connection the following quote of Proudhon may be mentioned: 1) "It is a fact of universal history that land has been no more unequally divided than in places where the system of possession alone has predominated." (Frazier's translation, from the "Selected Writings." Originally appeared in "Theory of Property,"  p146 .) "... similarly, the states where the most liberty and equality is found are  those where property reigns," (Shawn P. Wilbur's translation).

We think Proudhon's hypothesis 1) is wrong in this case, and probably a slip of the pen. He has no statistics of the gini-index or similar to discuss the consequences of possession vs property in a scientific way. We also doubt there has ever been a society with significant possession as defined by Proudhon before he wrote 1). And this is just a single, and not central, quote of Proudhon. Remember: "In the posthumously published Théorie de la propriété - Theory of Property (1866) [a book that was not finished from his side, and thus must be given less weight in the context...]". Another reason for that this hypothesis should be rejected, is that it implicitely means that a system with property, i.e. theft according to Proudhon, i.e. a society based on massive theft, should have more equality in rank and/or income, than a society without much theft, i.e. absurd. A society based on massive theft, cannot be anarchy/ism, by a reasonable definition. And this also contradicts other quotes of Proudhon, see above. Proudhon was in general not an advocater of theft.


1. V. NOTES A. PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS VS POSSESSION IN ANARCHIST LAW, at . Extracts from P. J. Proudhon: What is Property? An Inquiry into the Principle of Right and of Government.

2. Woodcock, George. P.J. Proudhon , p. 249

3. Selected Writings p. 105

4. Ibid 92

5. Ibid 103

6. The Federal Principle , p. 21

7. Ibid 21

8. op cit 56

9. General Idea of Revolution in the 19th Century , Freedom, 1927, p. 76

10. Ibid 95

11. Ritter, Alan, Political Thought of P.J. Proudhon , p 280

12. General Idea 173

13. George Woodcock, Anarchist Reader , p. 139

14. General Idea ... 174

15. Ritter 280

16. DeLubac, Henri, The Unmarxian Socialist , p. 31

17. Federal Principle ... 45

18. Ibid 38

19. P.J. Proudhon ... 71

20. General Idea ... 206

21. Ibid 135

22. Federal Principle ... 9

23. op cit 80

24. Ibid 83

25. Ibid 85

26. Ibid 87

27. Selected Writings ... 62

28. op cit 216

29. Theory of Property in Lubac p. 177

30. General Idea ... 210

31. Selected Writings ... 57

32. op cit 222

33. Federal Principle ... p. 45

34. Ibid 46

35. Ibid 74 I)

*) The International of Social-Individualist Anarchism , ISIA, and the libertarian systems between advanced marxian social-democracy and advanced social liberalism on the Economical-Political Map (and a bit above), is mainly rooted back to Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's research on an anarchist third social form between communism, in the meaning of state-socialism, and liberalism, in progressive direction medio 1800s. "... we must regard Proudhon as a social individualist ", see p. 99, George Woodcock: Anarchism, Penguin Books 1979.

The terms third alternative, road, way and social form may sometimes be used as labels on anarchism in general, but are usually referring to the social-individualist sector of the anarchist quadrant of the EP-map. Social-individualist anarchism may also be called just social anarchism, federalist or mutualist anarchism. However the word mutualism may also be used in a more narrow meaning, as a name of the libertarian co-operative movement, and may then sometimes have a more individualist approach. See .

In general anarchies very briefly defined are systems with significantly small rank and income differences, plus efficiency, i.e. significantly horizontally organized. State defined in a broad societal meaning is the opposite of this: A system with significantly large rank and/or incomedifferences, significantly vertically organized.

Furthermore it is clear that Proudhon's ideas of society and anarchist solutions are far from Murray Rothbard's "anarcho"capitalism/"free" marketers' ideas, i.e. individualism on the economical political map, outside the anarchist quadrant, located in the quadrant of liberalism on the map. "Anarcho"capitalism (and "free" markets) is - or most likely will end up in - economical plutarchy broadly defined, a.o.t. significantly large income-differences. Thus "anarcho"-capitalism is an oxymoron, it is not anarchism, but an extreme form of liberalism, far right on the economical-political map.

Proudhon, at least in the English translations used here, use the term "selfgovernment". Usually anarchists use the word government = state = archy = rule, i.e. over somebody, and a person cannot really rule (over) him/her-self. Thus "selfgovernment" is really a nonsensial word. Also "selfgovernment" is used of governments, i.e. regional government that have some autonomy, as say,  selfgovernment in Northern Ireland, and selfgovernment in the Kurdish Northern Iraq.

Thus the term "selfgovernment" is very ambiguous and should be avoided in anarchism. The usually makes use of the words selfadministration = autonomy narrowly defined, and selfmanagement = autogestion, instead. To avoid misunderstandings it is better to use the words selfmanagement and/or selfadministration than selfgovernment. Here we can assume that the term "selfgovernment" = selfadministration and/or selfmanagement, and that this is the meaning of Proudhon.

Proudhon also writes about anarchism as a form of government, i.e. literally speaking an oxymoron. Here we can assume that Proudhon by the term "government" in this connection means administration and/or management, significantly horizontally organized. A similar interpretation may be used for the word "state".

**) In this research we have read a lot of works of Proudhon and made our own contributions, but we have also quoted some Internet pages, also some secondary sources, with quotes of Proudhon, mainly by Larry Gambone I), Shawn P. Wilbur II), Wikipedia III) and Infoshop IV). Thanks, and all credit to those we have quoted. We have tried to quality secure this by reading original material to some extent.

But we have also selected and put this material in our own context, using a nomothetical framework, and thus made this page to our own contribution. Thus, this page of Proudhon's works is copyrighted material of IIFOR, and we hope it is a representatitve selection of Proudhon's thoughts on anarchism. In case you disagree, contact IIFOR via the mailform at and give us your thoughts.