On P. J. Proudhon’s ‘What is property?’

Original text available  free at Marxists.org

On our journey through anarchist philosophy, we arrive at the fourth stop.

In Hindsight, I wish I had arrived here first. The archetypal treatise known as ‘what is property? has helped me to understand the rest of the reading at a far deeper level than I had been able to ascertain prior.

Having gone through most of  the works of Mikhail Bakunin, several by William Godwin, and a brief but enjoyable stop at ‘The Communist Manifesto’ by Karl Marx; We now find ourselves at the literary doorstep of Pierre Joseph Proudhon as he lends assistance toward our understanding of the state, our place (within), and how we think about the government and our lives as a whole.

I would almost go so far as call it the Anarchist version of the communist manifesto. If Marx dealt with the who and the how of the state and revolution; Proudhon dealt with the what and the why. 

While their comparison requires one to speak in terms of apples and oranges; Proudhon seems to have peered both deeper into the roots of society, as well as having done so with better spirit and intention than Marx and at the same time falls short on Marx’s ability to verbally paint detailed pictures of societal constructs and functions as well as predict the course of their (r)evolutions. 

Highlights

1. “What is slavery? and I should answer in one word, It is murder, my meaning would be understood at once.”(Proudhon 1840)

At first our mind does not wish to reconcile these two phenomena as identical; but upon closer inspection we may begin to see the parallel. Murder is too end the life of another through execution. Slavery forces one to forfeit their life for the sake of somebody’s profit. If one is too live merely for someone else’s gain, and that alone; are they truly better off than dead?

If one is doing so for a good reason such as a parent living purely for their children or an activist living purely for their cause than certainly, because those things hold a legitimate importance and bear meaning too the individual.

However if one is living purely for the profit of a malignant superior whom they did not choose, than I say they may as well seek liberation or die trying.

While the majority of us do not live under such conditions this may just as fluently speak to smaller more personal instances, which may only pose a risk to certain degrees of comfort, wealth, free time and or reputation. A perfect example would be liberation from a destructive addiction, a toxic partner, an unfair landlord or a shitty job that has a hold on you.

 2. “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? “(Proudhon 1840)

If we are a mere microcosm of the earth; than any attempt to lay claim on it is in fact a glorified act of robbery.

If you go hiking through the woods and catch a tick, does that tick now legally possess the right to unpack, set up shop, start a dynasty, partition your skin, seize your bodies means of production and create a monopoly on your skin cells and hair follicles?

Didn’t think so; most of us would likely remove it as soon as we were aware of it’s presence, which causes one too wonder if this is part of the planet’s agenda.

The irony here is that some conservative thinkers are fond of deeming those who collect social security parasites; while this in a sense this may be true, they are in fact only leaching off a larger and more destructive parasite. In another sense this need not be true. Unlike real parasites, every parasitic force in this world has the ability to become a mutualite. That is too say that you contribute something to your host. If every parasite underwent this transformation, the world would be a perfect place.

This is not communism, this is not too say you work only for the state, but you work for the state and yourself. I believe however taxes aren’t a very good way to accomplish this. Charity, and investments into the quality of life of the public at whatever reasonable level you can afford, ought to be mandatory and replace the idea of taxation.

That said a perfect society, would be a capitalist direct-democratic society in which anyone with wealth and power was an egalitarian who thought like a Green-Market Socialist, an Anarcho-syndicalist , or an outright saint. Those who believe such a feet to be out of reach will be in for a rude awakening.

     3. Property is robbery! That is the war-cry of ’93! That is the signal of revolutions!”(Proudhon 1840)

This was also the war cry of 2000s anarcho-punk band Wingnut dishwashers Union on their track ‘Proudhon in Manhattan’ “Throw your hands in the air cause property is robbery.”

4. “If your conscience is free, if your mind can unite two propositions and deduce a third therefrom, my ideas will inevitably become yours.” (Proudhon 1840)

Proudhon makes it a point to inform us that utilizing what he has left us will require arduous deductive reasoning in order to read between the overlapping borders of his ideological web.

The process of deducing additional information from the cross reference of two statements will be key in the analysis of his work.

5.”every perception received by the mind is determined by certain general laws which govern the mind;”(Proudhon 1840)

That is to say that we view all that we are met with in terms of how our mind wants us too see it. To say that our individual perspectives are sculpted by and in conformity with our worldview.

That while our worldview may grow and change it always serves to reconcile our experiences and knowledge with it’s own most primitive form.

6.”If the mind has no innate ideas, it has at least innate forms” (Proudhon 1840)

If the mind cannot produce ideas which are purely independent of what it is exposed to, it would still however possess the ability to take shape and execute functions which exist independently of the mind.

Systems like anarchism and communism may be modeled and replicated in the mind while existing independently of it’s container.

Likewise our minds may take variants of pre-determined shapes according to what types of problems we want too solve, what kind of tasks we wish to complete, and how we wish to exist and portray ourselves.

This allows archetypal personality types such as Tyrant, Artist, Peasant, Merchant and Scholar to take forms which are transient of the minds they occupy.

7.”(That) very thing which exists implies the ideas of substance, mode, relation, number.”(Proudhon 1840)

For something to exist:

  1. It must consist of one or more smaller somethings (substance)

2. Must be identifiable with some form of categorically qualitative property (mode)

3. Must have the ability to interact with other somethings (relation)

4. Must be rationally quantifiable. (number 

9. “Even when we are fighting against a principle which our mind thinks false … we obey it while attacking it” (Proudhon 1840)

This speaks to a strange situation many who seek communities or roles of resistance find themselves in. It causes one to antagonize the host from the inside, yet itself being a working component of that society.

Kinda like an unending game of ‘devils advocate’; in which ones mind is always always at odds with the bodies actions due to ideological or emotional friction created by the subjected scenario therein.


10. This principle, impaired by our ignorance, is honored and cherished; for if it were not cherished it would harm nobody, it would be without influence … what is it? Can it be religion? (Proudhon 1840) 

The answer is yes.

People have used religion as an excuse to do harm but this does not make any religion inherently harmful. One may also make the same claim about the Arts, Philosophy and Mathematics. For all of these exist primarily to serve as tools for our mental canvas and a point of reference for thoughts and ideas.

The exception being religion (and art depending on how you look at it) in serving for it’s subscribers as a way to facilitate spiritual growth or a ‘personal connection’ with God/Universe/Allah/Yahweh if you believe in that sort of thing.

Faith is something I would probably recommend purely because it has improved my quality of life, but everyone is and ought to always be free to form their own choices and beliefs.

The last thing I want is too appear as if I’m telling anybody what they ought to believe; unless that consists of telling people to believe in equal opportunity, non-violence, and freedom of speech.  

11. Do unto others that which you would that others should do unto you; Do not unto others that which you would not that others should do unto you.(Proudhon 1840)

This age old wisdom is still repeated today as the golden rule of ‘treat others how you’d like to be treated’ I don’t think the fact that it carries a tremendous amount of merit on any and every level of the social sphere needs much explaining.

Well this just covers the tip of the iceberg for this work, but I don’t wanna drag you along all day just quite yet. If you find this sort of stuff interesting, by all means read the original text! I hope all of you have a wonderful day, and let us not forget ladies and gentleman: PROPERTY IS ROBBERY!

 

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