The Well-Read Anarchist #003 - "What is Property?" by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon - Chapter One

02/26/20147 Comments

The Well-Read Anarchist podcast begins its exploration of the works of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon with a reading of his first major work, "What is Property?", published in 1840. Today we read Chapter One of the book, "Method Pursued in This Work - The Idea of a Revolution."


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  1. jhnsmall6 says:

    Joseph Proudhon uses multiple definitions of Just interchangeably. The economic of voluntary exchange and the various Governmental, though he clearly is aware that organizing an activity using violence is different from voluntary.
    Epistemology, “Now, if man arrives at a knowledge of all that he needs to know, it is reasonable to believe that, ceasing to err, he will cease to suffer.” This confuses an individual’s ability with government man, which has no ability to know. Ditto for ethics, a gov. is not ethical but an only the individual.

    • jhnsmall6 says:

      More to say: “in a word, that there has been progress in ideas. Now, that is what history proves by the most overwhelming testimony.” But later admits the Roman society remained the same after Christian dominance. “The monsters which the successors of the apostles were bent on destroying, frightened for a moment, reappeared gradually,” Changing religion had only negative effects for the poor. Per Adam Smith, the main cause of poverty and the reductions in the standard of living was government policy. Wage and price controls have the same effect no matter the religion or the type of government. It is the policy that determines social outcomes.

  2. jhnsmall6 says:

    More to say: Political change accomplishes what? “Thus the people found that the republic, among the so-called new institutions, was acting on the very principles against which they had fought, and was swayed by all the prejudices which they had intended to destroy. We congratulate ourselves…” JP talks about the problems of class/cast and guilds as bad, then recommends the killing of politicians for having wrong policies. This is not a policy that any anarchist should endorse. How about the rule that government should not be selecting one individual over another. The ability to give you a job is a source of corruption and injustice.

    • jhnsmall6 says:

      More to say: The use of the word “property” does not have the usual meaning of the word. Do not go out and study the History of Property. JP has a very idiosyncratic meaning. ” The more obnoxious forms of property–statute labor, mortmain, maitrise, and exclusion from public office.” These examples are from government policy on economic and social activities, not actual qualities of private property, and Adam Smith would agree that these are bad items consistent with crony systems. This is like saying the IRS is a capitalist enterprise because they deal with money. You are in London (1800) where would you get child slaves?-answer- the British Government. Not a Merchant.

  3. jhnsmall6 says:

    More to say: Stylist – JP starts out with the preposterous title, and assures us he seeks Truth and Justice which are words with hundreds of definitions, both are a warnings you are being played. Guess the literary and intellectual tricks. In the property quote he uses property in three different ways and the voting issue is an issue having nothing to do with any subject being discussed. It is a magicians trick to divert attention. He claims to be non-ideological but all this is %100 ideology. He leads with a falsehood, Christianity ended slavery in Roman era and few pages later – Just kidding. This is like reading the Sacramento Bee, all untrue, misleading and ideological.

  4. nosoapradio says:

    What struck me listening, especially as I’m obsessed with smart cities at the moment, was that for “my” city, one of the underlying tenets of the smart city was a modification in how we view property for example:


    The idea of the smart city is built around 4 main ideas:

    the taking into account of the environmental challenges and energy constraints;
    the main actors functioning as a network – local authorities, citizens and businesses;

    the movement away from ownership to usage – participation of users in the design of products and services;

    the inclusion of new technologies (information and communication, robotics, intelligent transport systems etc.) to
    facilitate working as a network,
    encourage changes in energy use,

    support and encourage behavioural change and usage patterns.”

    but I’ve seen other such references to real estate but don’t have the links at my fingertips… forgot where…

  5. westerncivic says:

    Thank you for this, Sir James. Highly unlikely in this stage of the game for me that I could bring requisite attention to a translated 150 plus year old text. Your reading has made this available to me. I have listened to the first 3 now, and will finish the series.

    What grabbed me was something that very much defined my early eagerness (as reflected in this video: ( ) while I was yet unelightened as to the technocracy agenda.

    You read JP:

    “Law is the product of will; it should be the product of fact”

    While I basically concur, I determine today to differentiate between technology in service of democracy (which appears to be far off), and authoritarian we-have-the-facts technocracy.

    Was JP on the same tightrope? (Unaware of coming tech?)

    In addition to sharing this with our French/American yellow vest signal group for further discussion, I may have to finish the series to find out. 👍

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