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Proudhon, Pierre Joseph (1809–1865)

Alex Prichard


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The influence of the anarchist writer and political philosopher Pierre Joseph Proudhon on his times, and his importance within and for understanding the two centuries since his birth, has been the subject of major controversy, due to three main features of his life and writings. First, Proudhon was the first to openly declare himself as an anarchist and to articulate precisely what he meant by this. Second, Proudhon's own descriptions and opinions changed and evolved. Third, the sheer novelty of his thinking may have made him difficult to understand. As Alexander Herzen , one of the most preeminent Russian revolutionaries of the late nineteenth century and a comrade of Proudhon's, once wrote: “The French seek experimental solutions in him, and, finding no plans for the phalanstery nor for the Icarian community, shrug their shoulders and lay the book aside … Proudhon is the first of a new set of thinkers. His work marks a transition period, not only in the history of socialism, but also in the history of French logic.” In his first and perhaps most notorious extended monograph, What is Property ? (1840), Proudhon made two famous proclamations. The first was that “property is theft” and the second was “I am an anarchist!” With regard to the first proposition, he argued against natural law theories of property as legitimate in favor of a labor theory of property, holding that private ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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