P.J. Proudhon – Reaction causes Revolution

Proudhon, who was born in 1809, was a French philosopher, metaphysician, anarchist, free thinker, economist, and the father of an alternative economic Weltanschaung. Proudhon, who is highly underrated, is one of a few thinker who really influenced my Weltanschaung. Proudhon was highly intelligent, that’s one reason, next to many others more sinister, why his ideas did not succeed, many simply could not conceive his theories. Fallowing Proudhon, social and economical chaos is the only reason for the existence of government, in the dissolution of economical contradictions, the cause for the economical chaos and it’s social consequences, Proudhon saw the mean to arrive at social justice and in extension stability.

Proudhon believed in a direct relationship between reason; available intelligence in relation to the capacity to make use of it, and liberty, fallowing Proudhon, liberty may only be attained and increased in a sustainable way in harmony with reason, the amount of liberty attainable, in individual and social context, is determined by the absolute level of reason, an increase in reason connected with an increasing capacity for liberty; “summa lex summa libertas” (the fullness of liberty lies in the fullness of reason)

Proudhon was a very outspoken critic of communism, Marx wrote “The Misery of Philosophy” as answer to Proudhon’s “The Philosophy of Misery”.



Reaction Causes Revolution

Part from Proudhon’s “Generell idea of the Revolution in the 19. Century”.
by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon 1809-1865, French Philosopher, Economist

It is an opinion generally held nowadays, among men of advanced views as well as among conservatives, that a revolution, boldly attacked at its incipiency, can be stopped, repressed, diverted or perverted; that only two things are needed for this, sagacity and power. One of the most thoughtful writers of today, M. Droz, of the Academie Francaise, has written a special account of the years of the reign of Louis XVI, during which, according to him, the Revolution might have been anticipated and prevented.

And among the revolutionaries of the present, one of the most intelligent, Blanqui, is equally dominated by the idea that, given sufficient strength and skill, Power is able to lead the people whither it chooses, to crush the right, to bring to nought the spirit of revolution. The whole policy of the Tribune of Belle-Isle—I beg his friends to take this characterization of him in good part—as well as that of the Academician, springs from the fear that he has of seeing the Reaction triumph, a fear that I am not afraid to call, in my opinion, ridiculous. Thus the Reaction, the germ of despotism, is in the heart of everybody; it shows itself at the same moment at the two extremes of the political horizon. It is not least among the causes of our troubles.

Stop a revolution! Does not that seem a threat against Providence, a challenge hurled at unbending Destiny, in a word, the greatest absurdity imaginable? Stop matter from falling, flame from burning, the sun from shining!

I shall endeavor to show, by what is passing before our eyes, that just as the instinct for conservatism is inherent in every social institution, the need for revolution is equally irresistible; that every political party may become by turns revolutionary and reactionary; that these two terms, reaction and revolution, correlatives of each other and mutually implying each other, are both essential to Humanity, notwithstanding the conflicts between them: so that, in order to avoid the rocks which menace society on the right and on the left, the only course is for reaction to continually change places with revolution; just the reverse of what the present Legislature boasts of having done. To add to grievances, and, if I may use the comparison, to bottle up revolutionary force by repression, is to condemn oneself to clearing in one bound the distance that prudence counsels us to pass over gradually, and to substitute progress by leaps and jerks for a continuous advance.

Who does not know that the most powerful soveriegns have made themselves illustrious by becoming revolutionaries within the limits of the circumstances within which they lived? Alexander of Macedon, who reunited Greece, Julius Caesar, who founded the Roman Empire on the ruins of the hypocritical and venal Republic, Clovis, whose conversion was the signal for the definite establishment of Christianity in Gaul, and to a certain extent, the cause of the fusion of the Frankish hordes in the Gallic ocean. Charlemagne, who began the centralization of freeholds, and marked the beginning of feudalism, Louis the Fat, dear to the third estate on account of the favor he extended to the towns, Saint Louis, who organized the corporations of arts and crafts, Louis XI and Richelieu, who completed the defeat of the barons, all performed, in different degrees, acts of revolution. Even the execrable Bartholomew massacre was directed against the lords, rather than against the reformers, in the opinion of the people, agreeing in that respect with Catherine de Medicis. Not until 1614, at the last meeting of the States General, did the French monarchy seem to abjure its function of leadership and betray its tradition: the 21st of January, 1793 was the penalty for its crime.

It would be easy to multiply examples; anybody with the slightest knowledge of history can supply them.

A revolution is a force against which no power, divine or human, can prevail: whose nature is to be strengthened and to grow by the very resistance which it encounters. A revolution may be directed, moderated, delayed: I have just said that the wisest policy lay in yielding to it, foot by foot, that the perpetual evolution of Humanity may be accomplished insensibly and silently, instead of by mighty strides. A revolution cannot be crushed, cannot be deceived, cannot be perverted, all the more, cannot be conquered. The more you repress it, the more you increase its rebound and render its action irresistible. So much so that it is precisely the same for the triumph of an idea, whether it is persecuted, harassed, beaten down during its beginning, or whether it grows and develops unobstructed. Like the Nemesis of the ancients, whom neither prayers nor threats could move, the revolution advances, with sombre and fatal step, over the flowers cast by its friends, through the blood of its defenders, across the bodies of its enemies.

When the conspiracies came to an end in 1822, some thought that the Restoration had overcome the Revolution. It was at this time, under the Villèle administration, and during his expedition to Spain, that insults were hurled at him. Poor fools! The Revolution had passed away: it was waiting for you in 1830.

When the secret societies were broken up in 1839, after the attacks of Blanqui and Barbès, again the new dynasty was believed to be immortal: it seemed that progress was at its command. The years that followed were the most flourishing of the reign. Nevertheless it was in 1839 that serious disaffection began, among the business men by the coalition, among the people by the uprising of the 12th of May, which ended in the events of February. Perhaps with more prudence, or with more boldness, the existence of the monarchy, which had become flagrantly reactionary, might have been prolonged a few years: the catastrophe, although delayed, would have been only the more violent. Following February, we saw the Jacobins, the Girondists, the Bonapartists, the Orleanists, the Legitimists, the Jesuits, all the old parties, I had almost said factions, that had successively opposed the revolution in the past, undertake, by turns, to put down a revolution which they did not even understand. At one time the coalition was complete: I dare not say that the Republican party came out of it well. Let the opposition continue, let it persist: its defeat will be universal. The more the inevitable overthrow is put off, the more must be paid for the delay: that is as elementary as the working-out of revolutions as an axiom in geometry. The Revolution never lets go, for the simple reason that it is never in the wrong.

There is but one way, which I have already told, to ward off the perils of a revolution; it is to recognize it. The people are suffering and are discontented with their lot. They are like a sick man groaning, a child crying in the cradle. Go to them, listen to their troubles, study the causes and consequences of them, magnify rather than minimize them; then busy yourself without relaxation in relieving the sufferer. Then the revolution will take place without disturbance, as the natural and easy development of the former order of things. No one will notice it; hardly even suspect it. The grateful people will call you their benefactor, their representative, their leader. Thus, in 1789, the National Assembly and the people saluted Louis XVI as the Restorer of Public Liberty. At that glorious moment, Louis XVI, more powerful than his grandfather, Louis XV, might have consolidated his dynasty for centuries: the revolution offered itself to him as an instrument of rule. The idiot could see only an encroachment upon his rights! This inconceivable blindness he carried with him to the scaffold.

Alas, it must be that a peaceful revolution is too ideal for our bellicose nature. Rarely do events follow the natural and least destructive course: pretexts for violence are plentiful. As the revolution has its principle in the violence of needs, the reaction finds its own principle in the authority of custom.

Always the status quo tries to prescribe for poverty; that is why the reaction has the same majority at first that the revolution has at the end. In this march in opposite directions, in which the advantage of the one continually turns into a disadvantage for the other, how much it is to be feared that clashes will occur! …

Two causes are against the peaceful accomplishment of revolutions: established interests and the pride of government.

By a fatality which will be explained hereafter, these two causes always act together; so that riches and power, together with tradition, being on one side, poverty, disorganization and the unknown on the other, the satisfied party being unwilling to make any concession, the dissatisfied being unable to submit longer, the conflict, little by little, becomes inevitable.

Adversus Hostem Aeterna Auctoritas Esto (against the enemy the right of defense is inalienable)


~ by metadave on February 26, 2008.

3 Responses to “P.J. Proudhon – Reaction causes Revolution”


    Well. Proudhon certainly was a Socialist by his own definition of the term, and by the definition of the term that was widely in use at the time amongst other people who called themselves Socialists. In the General Idea, he flatly states that Socialism is “the new name for the Revolution,” and also that “But an idea cannot perish. It is born again, always from its contradictory. Let Rousseau triumph: his glory of a moment will be but the more detested. While waiting for the theoretical and practical deduction of the Contractual Idea, complete trial of the principle of authority will serve for the education of Humanity. From the fulness of this political evolution, we finally arise the opposite hypothesis: Government, exhausting itself, will give birth to Socialism as its historic sequel.”

    If many people who use the word “Socialism” today think that it implies something incompatible with Proudhon’s views (e.g. government expropriation of the means of production, or central economic planning by the state), that hardly settles the question of whether or not Proudhon should be called a Socialist. Those people may be using the word incorrectly or confusedly. Or they may be using it as part of an ideological package-deal, which should be combated rather than pandered to. I for one see no reason why the views of Karl Marx, Eduard Bernstein, V.I. Lenin, or whoever you like have a better claim to the word “Socialism” than the views of Proudhon, or other anarchistic socialists, such as Josiah Warren, Benjamin Tucker, Victor Yarros, et al. Proudhon came to both the term and the movement years before Karl Marx ever did, and there is an old and continuing tradition of anarchistic socialism that rejects, root and branch, the Marxist disaster of State monopoly and State planning.

    Many people today misunderstand what the word “anarchist” means; they think that an anarchist is someone who advocates riot and social disorder. Nothing could be further from the views that Proudhon was referring to when he called himself an “anarchist.” Does that mean we should go around saying, “Proudhon was by no means an Anarchist, at least not in the modern definition of the term”? No, of course not. What we should do is correct the misconceptions that people have about the meaning of the term “Anarchism.”

  2. I fully agree with you, it’s a widespread problem in our infamous epoch of hypocrisy and political correctness, the often wrong way in which terms are used today is a huge obstacle to the meaningful exchange of ideas.

    How would you suggest could I make the distinction between Proudhon’s ideas of socialism based on individualism and free association and the collectivism of Marx clear for people not so familiar with the subject matter without having to resort to define all those terms involved, and the difference between them, from scratch?

    Those who today call themselves “socialists” are precisely those Proudhon considered to be worse than conservatives, those which, fallowing Proudhon, should be thrown into the Seine with millstones round their necks!


    Edit: Solved the problem I believe.

  3. Well, one way is just by distinguishing the terms “anarchistic socialism” and “state socialism.” Francis Tandy (a follower of Tucker) used the term “voluntary socialism.” Today, Kevin Carson likes to use the term “free market anti-capitalism”.

    If more than two or three words are needed, you can explain that, even though most people today use “socialism” to refer only to state socialists, anarchistic socialism has been around as part of the socialist movement longer than Marxism and Social Democracy have, and that anarchistic socialism is based on the idea that workers should own the means of production, either individually or as part of voluntary associations, rather than the government owning the means of production, as state socialists suggest. You might also point interested parties to Benjamin Tucker’s essay, “State Socialism and Anarchism: How Far They Agree and Wherein They Differ,” which explicitly mentions Proudhon and his ideas, and is, I think, one of the finest discussions of the distinction ever put to paper.

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