Proudhon and Anarchism


It took me twenty years to get around to reading the works of Pierre Joseph Proudhon. Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta and Goldman were all familiar to me, so why was I reticent about the “Father of Anarchism”? Some of this may be attributed to the general influence of Marx’s writings on public opinion. Marx did a hatchet job on Proudhon and Marxists such as Hal Draper took quotes out of context or dug up embarrassing statements that made Proudhon look authoritarian or proto-fascist. There are also anarchists who claim he is “inconsistent” or “not quiet an anarchist”.[1] Among English speaking libertarians, P.J. is renown for his statement “property is theft” and his condemnation of government and little else.

When I finally read his works, far from appearing “inconsistent” or “not quite an anarchist”, the “Sage of Besancon” had created a practical and anti-utopian anarchism — An anarchism based upon a potential within actually existing society and not a doctrine or ideology to be imposed from outside. Since Proudhon’s conception of anarchism was the original, and the others were derived from it, if the later varieties differed significantly from the original, perhaps there was a necessity to question whether these differences were of a positive or “progressive” nature. The history of anarchism is usually treated as a linear progression from the formative period of Proudhon to Bakunin’s collectivism, then on to anarchist communism and syndicalism. But not everything which occurs at a later time in history is necessarily better or an improvement over what went before.

For the popular mind anarchism is an irrational doctrine of fanatics and terrorists. Yet, Proudhon’s anarchism was rational, non-violent and anti-utopian. However, the “propaganda of the deed” period did provide grounds for the negative conception. Anarchism, as it was originally conceived, had been turned into its opposite. This is not unusual in history, think only of the original Christians and the Inquisition and of Nietzsche and the “Nietzscheans”.

That anarchism changed into something very different from the original conception is not just of academic interest. We face greatest challenges in our history from the Leviathan State and the New World Order. Only a mass popular movement can save us. A people divided will never succeed in this endeavor. Proudhon’s philosophy provides a foundation on which to build such a movement. He is one of those rare thinkers who provides a bridge between populism and libertarianism and between “left” and “right” libertarianism.


Categories: Anarchism/Anti-State

Leave a Reply