The New International Encyclopædia/Proudhon, Pierre Joseph
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Proudhon, Pierre Joseph
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PROUDHON, prōō'dṓN', Pierre Joseph (1809-65). A noted French socialist and political writer, born at Besançon, July 15, 1809. He was educated at the College of Besançon, where he proved himself an able student; but on account of the poverty of his parents he was compelled to leave before receiving his degree. In 1828 he obtained employment in a large printing establishment in his native city, and after eight years he set up one of his own, which was not successful. In 1838 he published his Essai de grammaire générale, which secured him a triennial pension of 1500 francs from the Academy of Besançon. In the same year he removed to Paris. Here in 1840 he published Qu'est-ce que la propriété? (translated by Tucker, Philadelphia, 1888, in which he sums up his doctrines in the celebrated dictum, La propriété c'est le vol). At the moment of publication the work attracted little notice, and the sole results to its author were the withdrawal of his pension by the Academy, on the score of his noxious opinions, and the threat of prosecution. In 1842, for a repetition of the offense in his Avertissement aux proprietaires, he was prosecuted before the Cour d'Assises of Besançon, but succeeded in obtaining an acquittal. From 1844 to 1847 Proudhon was employed at Lyons in the superintendence of a scheme of water transport on the rivers Saône and Rhône, publishing during this time at Paris the two works entitled De la création de l'ordre dans l'humanité and Systeme des contradictions économiques. On the outbreak of the Revolution of February, 1848, Proudhon repaired to Paris, and on April 1st came before the public as editor of the Représentant du Peuple. By his vigorous advocacy of extreme democratic and socialistic opinions, he became one of the leading figures of the hour. His paper was suppressed in August; but meantime, on June 4th, he had been elected to the Constituent Assembly as representative of the Department of the Seine. In that body he had comparatively little influence; he attached himself to no political party, but attacked the radical Left and the reactionary Right with equal bitterness. His importance as a writer was much greater, and as editor of three daily journals in succession he had great influence upon the political movements. All three papers were in turn suppressed as anarchistic and obnoxious — Le Peuple (November 23, 1848-April, 1849), La Voix du Peuple (October, 1849-May, 1850), Le Peuple de 1850 (June 15th-October 13th). During their continuance Proudhon was repeatedly subjected to fines, which were defrayed for him by popular subscription. In January, 1849, he attempted to put his theories into practice by the institution of a People's Bank. The bank was closed by the authorities, and its originator fled to Geneva to escape threatened imprisonment. In June, however, he returned, and his next three years were passed in the prison of Sainte Pélagie. While confined there he married. In June, 1852, he was set at liberty, and, quitting Paris, went to Belgium, where he continued to publish from time to time on his favorite subjects. He returned to Paris after the amnesty of 1860 and died at Passy, January 16, 1865.
Proudhon's theories are best set forth in his works Qu'est-ce que la propriété? and Système des contradictions economiques. Property, he declared, is unjustifiable either on the ground of occupation, which can entitle the possessor only to the usufruct, or on the ground of labor, which presupposes occupation. The individual has a right only to the integral product of his labor. One service can only be duly repaid by rendering another; but the owners of land and capital exact many services while rendering none. Society should suppress interest and rent, to which there can be no just claim.
His political programme was equally revolutionary. He was the founder of a school of individualistic or philosophical anarchy. He declared that the State, representing unintelligent conservatism or brutal reaction, must be suppressed. The revolution for the betterment of humanity must come, not from above, through the Government, but from below, through the individual. The indispensable condition of reform is the suppression of government.
In the history of French thought and socialism Proudhon occupies an important position. His destructive criticism was of value; but he also elaborated numerous propositions which are regarded as positive acquisitions by economists and socialists. He gave to federalism and anarchy a doctrine; he conceived of a democratic organization of credit; he outlined the socialistic theories of value, of rent, and of the right of the laborer to the whole product of his labor. His theories were of great influence upon three important movements — the Revolution of 1848, the Commune of 1871 (many of the principal actors in which held his opinions), and the International Workingmen's Association. Moreover, many organizations of workingmen, especially in France, still look for their intellectual leadership to Proudhon. Among his works, in addition to those already mentioned, are: Explications présentées au ministere public sur le droit de propriété (1842); Solution du problème social (1848); Banque du peuple (1849); Actes de la révolution: résistance (1849); Les confessions d'un révolutionnaire (1849); Intérét et capital (1850); Idée générale de la révolution au XIXème siècle (1851); Philosophie du progrès (1853); La guerre et la paix (1861); De la capacité politique des classes ouvrières (1865).
Bibliography. Desjardins, P. J. Proudhon, sa vie, ses œuvres, et sa doctrine (2 vols., Paris, 1896); Diehl, P. J. Proudhon, seine Lehre und sein Leben (3 vols., Jena, 1888-96); Mülberger, P. J. Proudhon, Leben und Werke (Stuttgart, 1899); Putlitz, P. J. Proudhon, sein Leben and seine positiven Ideen (Berlin, 1881).