The text is from Denis William Brogan (1934), Proudhon, London: H. Hamilton.
By D.W. Brogan
Proudhon returned to Paris in 1838, supporting himself by writing articles for a Catholic encyclopedia and correcting proofs for a royalist journal. These jobs did not last long; and he was ready to plunge into his studies, supported by the scholarship. He had dreamed of founding a review; he now wanted to express the ideas fermenting in him, and he took the first opportunity offered by sending in an essay for a prize offered by the Academy of Besancon, on the question of The Usefulness of the Celebration of Sunday. His essay got an honorable mention, but, more important, it revealed the essential Proudhon. The social usefulness of the Mosaic law is stressed; but for us, the most interesting themes are those that Proudhon was to spend his life in elaborating. 'Is equality of conditions an institution of nature, is it equitable, is it possible? On each of these points I dare decide for the affirmative.' There is a declaration of the absolute character of the moral law, for Rousseau had erred 'in submitting justice and morality to the decision of numbers and to the opinion of the majority.' Lo thignob is stressed; for it means not, 'Thou shalt not steal', but 'Thou shalt not lay anything aside for thyself', There must exist a science of society which it is the work of the economist not to invent, but to find. If the form and, in the main, the language of the essay are innocuous enough, to any reader who knows the later Proudhon, it is obvious that the Celebration of Sunday, for all its formal piety, shows that the Academy had caught a tartar, and in 1840 appeared the work which put this beyond doubt.
It was a very human touch in Proudhon to regard almost every book of his, while be was writing it, as epoch-making, new, final. Of none of them were these hopes better founded than the essay on property, which he was convinced might prove 'the most remarkable event of 1840'. Into it he put all his bitterness, all his delight in verbal analysis, and, he thought, the result, free from all rhetoric, had nothing like itself in all philosophy. What is Property? was the title, and the answer was given in the first few lines. 'If I had to answer the following question: What is Slavery? and answering in a single word, I replied: It is Murder, my meaning would be understood at once. I should have no need of a long discourse to show that the power to take from a man thought, will, personality, is a power of life and death, and that to enslave a man is to murder him. Why then, in answer to this other question: What is Property? can I not reply, It is Theft without having the assurance of not being understood, although this second proposition is only the first transformed?'
Property is Theft. To most of his own countrymen Proudhon, for the rest of his life, was capable of anything because of his epigram. In vain he elaborated his doctrine, explained, for twenty years, that he was a defender, not an enemy of property; he could never live down or live up to the too successful,opening lines. But he never recanted what he had written; he was indeed inordinately proud of his phrase - and there was no quicker way to earn his hate than to assert that he had not invented it or, at least, that he had not given it its first real interpretation. It was one of the crimes of Louis Blanc that he said Brissot had preceded Proudhon in this assertion, and the property in the phrase,'Property is Theft' was fought over with an acerbity that has its comic side.
The attack on property was made in three tracts. The first caused a terrific scandal and embroiled him with the Academy. The second, however (The Letter to M. Blanqui) was written in milder style to explain the first, which might have led to Proudhon's arrest had not M. Blanqui, a distinguished economist, assured the Minister of justice, M. Vivien, that Proudhon was a serious student, not a mere agitator -a good office for which Proudhon remained grateful both to the academician and the minister. The third tract was the Letter to Considerant or the Warning to Proprietors, and this was as inflammatory as the first. What are the arguments brought forward to justify the declaration that Property is Theft? No time need be lost in confuting the critics who point out that the idea of theft necessarily implies property. For Proudhon, property was private property. Much of his argument reads oddly to-day, if it is not remembered when he was writing and against what antagonists. In the lifetime of Proudhon's father and mother, there had been an immense transference of property rights from the Church and the nobility, chiefly to the middle classes; at any rate, not to the Proudhon family. As fast as possible, the new owners began to demand a religious reverence for all property rights, including those so recently acquired! Property, indeed, had been declared to be one of the 'Rights of Man'. It is against these defences that Proudhon launches his most formidable attacks. If 'the right to property', is to have any meaning relating it to the other natural rights, it must mean the right of every man to have property, not the right of some men to exclude their less fortunate fellows from enjoyment of this 'natural right'. But property is not a natural right at all; if it were, why all the argument? 'Who,' he asks audaciously, 'ever inquires into the origin of the rights of liberty, security, equality?' All attempts to demonstrate that property has any rights, other than those based on formal law, break down. Jurists, like Grotius and Pothier, philosophers like Reid, 'chief of the Edinburgh school', produce arguments that either keep to the surface or involve deep contradictions. In short, property is impossible!
The first retort of the unmetaphysically-minded reader is to ask that if property is impossible, why make such a fuss about it? But by impossible Proudhon means that the idea of absolute property, as understood by the lawyers, is contradictory, is a Utopia. By property, Proudhon almost always at this stage means property in land and property in land not worked by the owner. It is rent in the common meaning of the word, not the Ricardian economic rent, that is the first great grievance of the propertyless classes, for the mere landlord is paid for something he has not created; his relation to the economic exploitation of the land is purely parasitic. It is useless for Charles Comte to ask what about the owner who improves the land? The making of two blades of grass grow where one grew before creates rights, (very limited rights indeed), but they are apart from ownership. If a tenant improves the land he farms, the law does not give him the increased value; it goes to the landlord whose essential character is to draw an income without adding in the least to the wealth of society. This parasitic drain on labour means that production costs more than it is worth, 'for the landlord's part represents no economic reality. Proudhon's views of production were pessimistic and, if a large part of the total product of society went to non-producers, production must fall. At its best it is barely sufficient for the maintenance of the race; property cuts down this meagre return from labour and so property tends to kill itself, to produce impoverishment in the very exercise of its rights. As for the worker, the farmer, his lot is far worse; he has to work harder and harder, while the worker in industry is forced to undercut big fellows. As the workers without property cannot buy what they produce, and since production does not produce a surplus which can be seized with impunity by non-producers, 'property is murderous'. Moreover, property is incompatible with political liberty. If you have political equality and economic inequality, property will be attacked under cover of law, by taxation, for instance, and such attacks are inconsistent with the absolute property rights of the lawyers. Property and equality cannot co-exist; but equality is just and what is just is what should determine the Organisation of society; justice is the criterion.
It was natural for Proudhon's enemies and for hasty readers to conclude that the author of this indictment was not only a socialist but a communist. But he never gave any grounds for this view, and both Marx and Considerant absolved Proudhon from the charge of being a renegade to his earlier convictions. If the public bad been taken-in and believed this fanatical individualist to have been a communist, the fault was the public's for looking to the form rather than to the substance. In fact, Proudhon was a defender of property; but property could not survive in the post-revolutionary world if it could not be harmonised with Justice, that is to say, with equality. Already governments, for all their lip-service to property rights, are invading them. The conversion of the national debt is an attack on property, even though the conversion is formally voluntary. The holders of the debt have a right to their 5 per cent -or property rights are empty, an argument that one might have thought silly if it had not been used in our own time by Sir Ernest Benn. What is good, in property, the possibility it offers of escape from the slavery and degradation of communism, is only to be secured by equality.
Proudhon pushes the argument for equality very hard. Even the farmer who has increased wealth by his improvements on the land he tills is not entitled to appropriate the increased wealth. After all, the fisherman whose extra skill results in a catch twice as great as that of his fellows is content with the reward of one double catch; he does not claim a double catch for ever! Proudhon had always a weakness for analogy, not as illustration, but as argument; and his attempt to limit the rights of the improving farmer to a pre-emption and yet to preserve equality are not very happy. He is hard, indeed, on all claims to superior reward, for every member of society is its debtor; no matter how hard or skilfully a man works, he dies as he is bom, overdrawn at the Bank of Society. The great source of wealth is the community, and this conviction is at the basis of what M. Bougle calls 'the sociology of Proudhon'. It is useless to say that high talents ought to be better paid, for the difference between man and man is slight and more education will reduce it further; while the scarcity of some talents merely shows that they are not much needed. Nature provides as many of each class of worker as society needs, so there is gross injustice in paying an actress like Rachel more than a seamstress; any payment of that kind must be taken from the workers. A poet who spends thirty years on a masterpiece is, at the end of it, entitled to thirty years pay as a worker, and any out-of-pocket expenses he may have incurred for books and travel. After all, there are occupations which are luxuries, one professor of philosophy is quite enough for the whole of France and one economist for every two thousand million people! Naturally, some workmen do in six hours what others take eight to do, but they must not make use of those two hours to earn more. If others can only do four hours work in eight hours, they must not get more than half pay. The average product of., the average worker, that is what should be the standard. It is easy here to see the former printer, used to the discipline of the workshop! But the real solution is to secure land for everybody who wants it, and to secure equality of resources in this way. For, Proudhon, at this stage, and later, property is land and gold and silver; they must be distributed equally, or society organised so that the special privileges of their owners disappear.
The main doctrines of Proudhon are present in these three tracts - and the main fancies. Commencing a revolutionary campaign, he fires on his own side as well as on the common enemy. Not only the rich, but other rebel writers and leaders are assailed. Cabet, Saint-Simon, Fourier, Louis Blanc, the radicals of the National as well as the supporters of the bourgeois monarchy, are bludgeoned. The passion for equality which animates the author does not go as far as equality between the sexes, man and woman are not in a common society, so the necessity of equality which arises between man and man is absent! In this first appearance before the great public, Proudhon was sublimely confident that he saw further into the heart of things than anyone else, and that his writings were of immense immediate importance. Property was like a criminal trying to escape cross-examination and, in the Second Memoir, he declares that he 'is sworn to an immense relvolution, terrible to charlatans and despots'! Pelletan was later to say that Proudhon fired a musket off in the street to attract attention, and, in this case, he succeeded in his, publicity methods. It was not for nothing that he had known the young romantics of Paris; where Gautier had worn a red waistcoat to startle the middle classes, Proudhon relied on violent language, language which often concealed far from violent thought. He now received the very thing he needed to maintain the impression he had made, a prosecution, at Besancon, for the seditious character of the Warning to Proprietors, a prosecution which failed and gave Proudhon an advertisement and what prove to be a dangerously high opinion of his power over an audience. The unknown printer and obscure student who had been so ill-at-ease in the houses of his teachers in Paris, was now a famous, or at least a notorious man. What were the causes of his success?
The greatest of Proudhon's assets was his admirable mastery of the French tongue. He professed to despise mere literature and mere men, of letters, but, at his best, there was no contemporary writer of French prose who had a surer command of the language. This mastery he displayed, above all, in attack and, at moments, his verve and force made him not unworthy of comparison with the master who he admired so much, Paul Louis Courier. In the first Memoir on Property, as in his last posthumous fragments, there are passages of invective whose technical excellence wins the admiration even of the most hostile reader. When Marx praised the literary force displayed in the first great pamphlet he, however grudgingly, recognised a polemical power in this line at least equal to his own ; and the most enthusiastic tribute to Proudhon's literary ability comes from his rigorous critic, Arthur Desjardins. 'This plebeian carves out his phrases with profound art, the art of the great classical authors; he is descendant of the writers whom Louis XIV protected and who perfected our tongue. He, no less than Moliere, ought to have been a member of the Fren Academy.'
But not all of Proudhon's literary skill was spent on invective. There are in his letters, and scattered through his writings, especially in the autobiographical fragments of Justice in the Revolution and the Church, pages of pure description, of reminiscence, sketches of his early days in Franche-Comte, which make on realise that he sacrificed the chance of giving Renan's Memories of Childhood and youth a more fomidable rival than his Life of Jesus was to Renan's best-seller. He gave up to his cause, to his loves and hates, the possibility of a literary career of the first order. Even when his publishers would not publish his political books, when the Press was barred to him and when literature invited him with open arms to escape from dire poverty by entering her service, he was not tempted. He dallied with the idea of literary criticism; his friends, like Sainte-Beuve, his well-meaning timid publishers, the Garniers, tried to persuade him; but his vocation had been chosen twenty years before, when the delights and duties of controversy, of expounding the truth and of confuting error had taken possession of him. His 'one talent which was death to hide' was for public affairs, his duty was to aid the deliverance of the poor from the chains in which ignorance of the true cause of their ills bound them. Proudhon was content to be a pamphleteer.
He was a great pamphleteer, but the uncritical praises of big admirers have made it harder for the world to appreciate his greatness. He was only occasionally, and for brief periods, a keen reasoner. He was not, despite repeated assertions of disciples, in his own lifetime and since, a master of rigid logical demonstration. He himself was, indeed, under the illusion that logic was his strong point. He was excessively fond of casting argument into logical forms and having brought his demonstration to a triumphant conclusion, he was prone to regard any critic who demurred to his results, as wilfully blind - or merely incapable of rational thought. In his long and barren controversy with Bastiat, over the nature of interest, he was at last provoked into declaring that 'I have to do with a man whose intelligence is hermetically sealed and for whom logic does not exist.' Bastiat was not a profound thinker, and his share of the controversy earned him the contempt of Walras, but he was not as stupid as Proudhon made out. In fact, Proudhon's devotion to logic was very superficial. A logical method, the series of Fourier, the antimonies of Kant, the dialectic of Hegel, the syllogism of the scholastics, was, for Proudhon, not a means of testing truth, or of finding it, but a device for persuading his readers of truths which he held on intuitional grounds. This is no doubt true of many more writers than Proudhon, but few writers of his ability have relied on more childish fallacies with more naive confidence than he. The pain with which Walras disentangles some of the less flagrant sophistries, the repeated bold transitions from a moral to an economic category which is the great Proudhonian trick, is unconsciously funny. In the Proudhonian world, 'equality of respect' and 'equality of incomes' were terms in the same syllogism, for Proudhon had no understanding of an intellectual world in which non-moral categories existed. For all his parade of rigid demonstration of truths which would save the world, Proudhon was never asking 'Is this True?' but always 'Is this Right?' If his opponents had been notably more clear-headed than Proudhon, he would have been a less formidable controversialist than, in fact, he was; but in the middle of the nineteenth century, orthodox economists had not acquired their present self-denying attitude and, consciously or unconsciously, mixed their own categories. Even Walras, who was fighting at a higher level than Bastiat or Thiers, committed himself to the view that it was impudent for Say (and Proudhon) to attack the psychological results of the division of labour, since division of labour had, or would, reduce working hours, so that the worker who had spent ten hours making the twelfth part of a pin could restore his mutilated personality by any form of recreation he liked! The assumption, that the monotony or variety of work was in itself unimportant, came more easily to the mathematician than to the former printer who remained to his death so proud that he had mastered a whole trade, not a mere part of a process. But what was an occasional slip with Walras, was frequent with lesser men, and the legal apologists for property, who mixed up implicit utilitarianism, legal dogma hazardous anthropology, in one stout affirmation of the property system as defined by the Code Napoleon, were easy marks for Proudhon's logical devices.
Naturally, such readers as were not taken-in by the parade of logical rigour, were sometimes inclined to doubt Proudhon's good faith. They pointed out (it was not very hard) contradictions and inconsistencies. Critics on the left thought his adoption of the role of the candid friend an expression of spleen as well as of intellectual disagreement; critics on the right thought he was, in another sense, a traitor to the workers by filling them with half-baked and chimerical ideas which distracted their attention from practicable reforms. Both can find apparently conclusive texts, but Proudhon was both honest and disinterested, only he had mistaken his abilities; he was not a philosopher; he was not an economist; he was a moralist, for whom the object of all social and economic arrangements was not the increasing of the level of material well-being, but the creation of a society in which the great law of the universe, the subordination of all ends to the rule of Justice, embodied in independent and equal men (or, more strictly, heads of families) was, at last, after thousands of years of error, to be given free play. This preoccupation with right saved Proudhon from difficulties which assailed other socialist leaders, for he did not promise to increase production. His arguments against capitalism were not arguments, based on its inefficiency, but on its injustice. Occasionally, he does make optimistic prophecies; when he is trying to refute Malthus, he makes bold assertions of the greater rapidity of the growth of production compared with human fertility, but his heart is not in such demonstrations. He believed, that the human race was destined to work harder and harder and, indeed, it was this increasing burden of labour that would solve the population problems by making continence easy to the weary labourers. The most that Proudhon promises is the diversion to useful work of the soldiers, officials and other unproductive members of society made necessary by the present state system and, in addition, the equalisation of property rights will force the idle rich into productive activities. This is something but not much, for even when the rich and their political parasites have got off the backs of the poor, those backs will still be bent by the natural necessity of unceasing toil. Although Proudhon talked a great deal about the division of labour, he was really doubtful of its economic efficacy. He thinks that the labour saved is merely diverted into other equally unproductive channels, and this is the basis of his persistent objection to free trade. On his own principles, he was bound to oppose free trade. One of the few legitimate activities of the state was to even out the different factors of production. The owner of a hundred acres in the Beauce should not thereby be allowed to ruin the owner of a hundred acres in the Cantal; and, still less, should the producers of France be rained by American wheat and Lancashire cotton. But Proudhon is not content with this application of his equalitarian theories. At the end of his life he tried to show that the Cobden Treaty was wholly deceptive, because even if the price of cotton goods went down, the price of wine would go up equally! Bordeaux and Manchester would benefit at the expense of the cotton spinners of Rouen and of the French worker who would no longer be able to afford his native wine. Without going very far into the argument, it is easy to see that Proudhon did not understand or refused to consider what the free trade case was and he would have been well advised not to plunge into a controversy for which he was ill-fitted.
If his pamphlets and his trial brought Proudhon fame, they did not bring him fortune. With a simplicity which never left him, he thought that the government and social order which he had been assailing would give him a job. Needless to say, the two official posts he had hoped for, were not wasted on so incorrigible an agitator; and he had to shoulder the debts of his unfortunate printing business, the burden of his parents without an income with the ending of his £ 6o a year from his three years scholarship. He had never been so poor as he was just after he had become famous. He found an employer in a judge who had a desire to win a reputation as a criminologist and for whom Proudhon was to furnish information and ideas. It was not a dignified post, but he thought he could smuggle his ideas into the work of the eminently respectable judge. Even a judge could see through this trick, for Proudhon, in his Machiavellian moments, had a marked resemblance to the villain of melodrama who hisses behind his hand, 'I don't mean a word of what I am telling this simpleton.' The collaboration and the income came to an end, but Proudhon was now deep in the writing of a great philosophical work of which he had, in advance, the highest possible opinion, seeing himself as another Newton. He had got rid of his printing business at a loss of £ 4oo, a terrible burden of debt for one in his position and his livelihood was a most urgent problem. An old school friend took him into his firm, Gauthier Brothers; the business was that of transporting coal on the Rhone-Saone system and Proudhon became an expert on river transportation, and, in his own eyes, a master of business method. As was usual with him, all his experience was worked into his philosophy. It reinforced his belief that other revolutionaries who knew nothing of book-keeping were unworthy of attention, for book-keeping by double entry applied to society was the solution of all social problems; so arithmetical arguments now begin to come in at suitable and unsuitable moments. Gauthier's business was beginning to suffer from the competition of railways; and Proudhon began to write on railway economics. Theorists might talk about savings in time and money, but he knew, that if it were not for the double-dealing of the government under the influence of the speculators, the canals and rivers of France would hold their own and departments which had river communications in their territory would not have their vested interests ruined by the selfish greed of the other departments which cared nothing for the bargemen or stevedores of Lyons, if only they could get their goods carried cheaply and quickly from Paris to Marseilles! It is difficult to decide if he detested railways more for being so often under the control of Saint-Simonists (who were also Jews), than he detested Saint-Simonists for being builders and exploiters of railways! When Proudhon tries to discuss railways and canals the 'fallacy of misplaced concreteness' is seldom far away!
But business was only a means of livelihood; the passion for preaching was as strong as ever. He dreamed of editing a newspaper; he engaged in an attack on the famous Dominican preacher, Lacordaire; and he published his treatise On the Creation of Order in Humanity, or Principles of Political Organisation. This is a confused work which its author afterwards regretted. It shows the high-water mark of Fourier's influence and some of Proudhon's disillusionment with it may be due to this inconvenient fact; but there is a good deal of essential Proudhon scattered through these ill-planned pages, most characteristic, perhaps, in the announcement of the true object of political economy. 'Either political economy is a hoax and those who teach it are liars: or it really has as its object, the centralisation of industrial forces, and the disciplining of the market.'
If The Creation of Order was ambitious, the book which grew out of it was more ambitious still, for Proudhon was convinced that he had discovered fundamental contradictions in the writings of the classical economists. He proposed to show the existence of these contradictions and, later, to harmonise them. So the motto of his new book was Destruam et Aedificabo (I shall destroy and build up). He secured as publishers, Guillaumin, the leading economic publishers, and they insisted in tempering the vigour of his assaults on the orthodox economists. The book appeared on October 15, 1846, under the title of The System of Economic Contradictions or the Philosophy of Poverty.
Although there are still writers who regard this book, highly, its main importance, to-day, is that it marked the occasion of Proudhon's break with Marx. The latter, as a refugee in Paris, had made Proudhon's acquaintance and, for a time there was a brisk exchange of ideas between them. Marx later professed to have indoctrinated Proudhon with Hegel- and to regret it, since Proudhon was incapable of using the dialectical method successfully and was only led further astray by his attempts to do so. This Proudhon would not admit and, indeed, the question was little moment, for Hegel, like Kant, was mere topdressing for Proudhon's ideas and he was quit capable of getting a smattering of Hegelian language from other sources than Marx. A rupture was bound to come; each was a born teacher, but a poor disciple; each was jealous of fame and of authority. Sorel suggests that Marx came to resent the influence which Proudhon had acquired in Germany at a time when he, the learned doctor, was still unknown and there are some evidences of this in the confutation of Proudhon which Marx hastened to publish. Bo apart from personal differences, the doctrinal positions of the two men were widely apart. For Proudhon, socialism was primarily a solution for moral problem, the deliverance of the individual from the fetters imposed on him by the industrial system; he was not, and never pretended to be, communist. For Marx, there were no absolute moral truths which had existed from the beginning of time and which the French Revolution had revealed; the fundamental force was the organisation of the methods of production. A clash between the materialist and the spiritualist views of history was inevitable. In any case, Proudhon, for all his pretensions, was not a system builder, he repeated, in various forms, what he considered a few fundamental truths, but he recoiled from a new orthodoxy, especially one coming from another source and animated by another spirit. Before he broke with Marx, he appealed to him 'to give an example of a learned and foresighted tolerance .. don't let us pose as apostles of a new religion, even of the religion of logic, the religion of reason.' On these terms, he thought it possible to co-operate with Marx, and he willingly awaited Marx's criticisms of his book. 'I am willing to accept the rod from your hands, if there is reason for it, and with good grace, waiting for my revenge.' The rod did descend, but not on a grateful victim!
Marx's criticism took the form of a long, able, hostile and angry tract called The Poverty of Philosophy. Proudhon would not have been Proudhon -or a human being - if he had remained passive under this assault. Marx was still obscure, (twenty years later, for Proudhon's first biographer, Saint-Beuve, he had remained obscure), and he hurt Proudhon's pride as well as his doctrines. He declared that Proudhon owed his reputation in France to the belief that he was a master of German philosophy and, in Germany to the belief that he was a master of French economics; both of these beliefs, as Marx proposed to show, were erroneous. Proudhon was a clever pamphleteer who had overestimated his strength and, far from being a leader of the social revolution, was a champion of the most backward class of all, that of the 'lesser bourgeoisie' to which he belonged, a class doomed to disappear, and one whose wriggles under the harrow of modem capitalism had no permanent historical interest and could in no way affect the movement of society. In attempting to erect the prejudices of this class into eternal laws of nature, in his preoccupation with 'right' and 'wrong', instead of with the dialectical movement of history, Proudhon showed his incapacity for understanding either philosophy or economics; he neither understood, Hegel nor could apply Ricardo. 'The work of M. Proudhon is not simply a treatise on political economy, an ordinary book, it is a Bible. "Mysteries", "Secrets dragged from the bosom of God", "Revelations", nothing is lacking.' These rhetorical passages are irrelevant, but they are symptomatic of Proudhon's mind, for he thinks of economic activity as subordinated to ethical activity, but if the work of one man is now worth that of another, 'it is not the doing of M. Proudhon's "eternal justice", it is solely the accomplishment of modern industry'.
This assault, when it came, infuriated Proudhon. He had expected attacks from the right. His patient friend, Bergmann, had reproached him with the pamphleteering character he had given to what passed for a work of science, but Proudhon defended his personalities. 'To my mind, in politics, in practical morals, in social science, in all that concerns active life and the actuality of societies, theories are not merely ideas, abstractions of the mind; they are interests, influences, alliances, intrigues, persons as well.' But what was sauce for the goose was not sauce for the gander; and the 'libel of a Doctor Marx' was 'a tissue of insults, abuse, calumnies, falsifications and plagiarisms'. As the notes he made on his copy show, Proudhon thought that The Poverty of Philosophy was merely an expression of jealousy on Marx's part. 'The real meaning of Marx's work is that he regrets that, all through, I have thought like him and that I have said it before him'. Whatever Marx's motives may have been (and he was not altogether an amiable man!) this was not one of them, for the two, men differed profoundly as to method and as to object.
But even to-day it is still not enough to say of a book, to dispose of it, that Marx did not approve. The merits of the two men were very different and Proudhon might have incurred just criticism and yet the book be, in the main, a good one. To one reader, at least, it seems a bad one. It loses, by its length and diffuseness, the fighting point of the Memoirs on Property; if it has dropped much of the terminology, it preserves much of the confusion of The Creation Of Order; it has more than the usual share of rhetoric and less than the usual share of eloquence. God is brought in and then asmued as the origin of evil. The refusal, or inability, to understand what the classical economists were driving at, makes long passages mere verbiage. There is the customary assault on railways and the usual philology, ingeniously defended to Bergmann, who thought it irrelevant - and, as philology, bad. But if Proudhon's genius is often hidden, it sometimes flashes out. He wins a few verbal, if not substantial, victories over his antagonists; and there are momentary triumphs of his irony. 'What need have we now of the dietary rules of the Church? Thanks to taxes, all the year is Lent for the worker; and his Easter dinner is not equal to the Bishop's Good Friday collation.' But there were people whom the book impressed and events were soon to make of its author, an actor, instead of merely an observer.
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