Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865), the first person to proclaim himself an anarchist, is rarely treated with respect. Thanks to various hatchet-jobs (Marx, Schapiro, Draper), if he is mentioned it is often with contempt but usually with incomprehension. The notion that he was contradictory is so well engrained in the secondary literature (itself usually based on repeating previous secondary sources) that what Proudhon actually argued is lost. It is so bad that many people think he advocated ideas he publically refuted holding.
This is a write-up of a talk I gave at Housemans bookshop for An Anarchist FAQ volume 2 publication event. It is based on my notes and is what I intended to cover. So it may not be exactly what was said on the night. And as one member of the audience rightly noted, it is very much focused around white, male Europeans. This is simply because there is still much work needed to get the ideas and histories of non-European countries into English (sadly, this also applies to much of European anarchism as well!). Still, we need to correctly understand anarchist history in order to develop it to meet the challenges of today. Hopefully this talk contributes to both processes, correctly understanding the history of anarchism and building anarchism today as a theory and movement. Whether I succeeded or not rests with the reader!
The French people are demoralised because they need an idea. They lack understanding of the time and situation and only retain pride in an initiative, the principle and goal of which have escaped them. None of the political systems they have tried have completely met their expectations, and they cannot imagine any others.
An observation to be made in general on moral and political sciences is that the difficulty of their problem comes above all from the figurative way basic reason designed their elements. In the popular imagination politics, as well as morals, is a mythology. There all becomes fiction, symbol, mystery, idol. And it is this idealism which, adopted with confidence by philosophers as an expression of reality, causes them so much embarrassment later.
Since, in theory and in history, Authority and Liberty follow one another as by a kind of polarisation;
That the first declines imperceptibly and withdraws whilst the second grows and reveals itself;
That a kind of subordination results from this double movement in accordance of which Authority takes up more and more the cause of Liberty [au droit de la Liberté];
If the reader has followed with some diligence the previous exposition, human society must appear to him like a fantastic creation, full of surprises and mysteries. We shall briefly recall the different terms:
a) Political order rests on two related, opposed and irreducible principles: Authority and Liberty.
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