P.J. Proudhon – Is there Sufficient Reason for Revolution in the Nineteenth Century?

The revolutionary month is still not over, in this small excerpt from Proudhon’s “Generell idea of the Revolution in the 19. Century”, Proudhon provides some insights into what drives a revolution, in what cases reasons for a revolution are sufficient, and what those reasons are.

(PLEASE NOTE THAT PROUDHON WAS BY NO MEANS A SOCIALIST IN THE DEFINITION OF THE TERM COMMONLY USED TODAY, THOSE WHO TODAY CALL THEMSELVES “SOCIALISTS”, AUTHORITARIAN COLLECTIVISTS LIKE MARX, OR WHAT IS TODAY CALLED “SOCIAL DEMOCRATS”, 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!!!

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Is there Sufficient Reason for Revolution in the Nineteenth Century?

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

A revolution is an act of sovereign justice, in the order of moral facts, springing out of the necessity of things, and in consequence carrying with it its own justification; and which it is a crime for the statesman to oppose it. That is the proposition which we have established in our first study. Now the question is to discover whether the idea which stands out as the formula of the revolution is not chimerical; whether its object is real; whether a fancy or popular exaggeration is not mistaken for a serious and just protest. The second proposition therefore which we have to examine is the following:

Is there today sufficient reason in society for revolution?

For if this reason does not exist, if we are fighting for an imaginary cause, if the people are complaining because, as they say, they are too well off, the duty of the magistrate would be simply to undeceive the multitude, whom we have often seen aroused without cause, as the echo responds to one who calls.

In a word, is the occasion for revolution presented at the moment, by the nature of things, by the connection of facts, by the working of institutions, by the advance in needs, by the order of Providence?

It should be possible to determine this at a glance. If a long philosophical dissertation were necessary, a cause might exist, but it would be only in the germ, only potentially. To weigh arguments in such a cause would be prophecy, not practical history.

To solve this question I will take a rule, as simple as it is decisive, with which the occurrences in past revolutions furnish me. It is that the motive behind revolutions is not so much the distress felt by the people at a given moment, as the prolongation of this distress, which tends to neutralize and extinguish the good.

Thus the trial which is instituted by a revolution, and the judgment which later it puts into execution, are related to tendencies rather than to mere facts: society, as it were, paying little attention to principles, and directing its course solely toward ends…

Usually good and evil, pleasure and pain, are inextricably entangled in human dealing. Nevertheless, despite continual oscillations, the good seems to prevail over the evil, and, taking it altogether, there is marked progress toward the better, as far as we can see.

The reasoning of the masses is built upon this idea. The people is neither optimistic nor pessimistic; it admits the absolute not at all. Let is stay as it believes.

Always at each reform, each abuse to be destroyed, each vice to be combatted, it confines itself to seeking for something better, something less evil, and works for its own sanctification by labor, by study, by good behavior. Its rule of conduct is therefore: A tendency toward comfort and virtue; it does not revolt until it can see nothing for it but A tendency toward poverty and corruption.

Thus there was no revolution in the seventeenth century, although the retrograde feeling which was manifested in 1614 was already the principle of royal policy, and although the poverty was frightful, according to the witness of La Bruyere, Racine, Fénélon, Vauban and Boisguilbert. Among other reasons for resignation was that it had not been proved that poverty was anything more than the accidental effect of some temporary cause: the people remembered having been much more wretched not very long ago. The absolute monarchy under Louis XIV could not have appeared to them worse than feudalism.

Nor was there any revolution under Louis XV, except in the intellectual realm. The corruption of principles, visible to philosophers, remained hidden from the masses, whose logic never distinguishes an idea from a fact. Popular experience, under Louis XV, was far from being at the level of philosophical criticism. The nation still supposed that with a well-behaved and honest prince, its ills might have an end. Louis XVI too, was welcomed with fervor; while Turgot, the unbending reformer, was received without sympathy. The support of public opinion was lacking to this great man. In 1776, one might have said that a worthy man, who wanted to bring about reforms peacefully, had been betrayed by the people. It was not within his power to accomplish the Revolution by action from above without disturbance, I had almost said, without revolutionaries.

Fifteen years more of chaos were needed, under a monarch personally irreproachable, to prove to the most thoughtless that the trouble was not accidental but constitutional, that the disorganization was systematic, not fortuitous, and that the situation, instead of improving, was according to the usual fate of institutions, daily growing worse and worse. The publication of the Red Book in 1790, demonstrated this truth by figures. Then it was that the Revolution became popularized and inevitable.

The question which we have taken for the text of this study:—Is there sufficient reason for a revolution in the nineteenth century?—resolves itself into the following:—What is the tendency of society in our day? ..

Society, as far as it has been able to develop freely for half a century, under the distractions of ‘89–‘93, the paternalism of the Empire and the guaranties of 1814, 1830, and 1848, is on a road radically and increasingly wrong.

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~ by metadave on March 3, 2008.

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