This is a letter from Proudhon to a young man who had written to him to ask for advice about getting involved with politics. Unfortunately, the anthology this has been taken from does not include letters to Proudhon but only letters from him, so the specifics of the young man's letter must be inferred from this response.
To see the original French,go here
To Mr. B-- son of Fertè-Bernard1
Sir, if I may have the honor of acquainting myself with you, if I may take your words seriously and add to them the sincerity of your demand, here is how I permitted myself to respond to you:
You aren't yet seventeen years old, you say; you would like to adopt an opinion and follow a political movement; and, to this end, you ask my advice.
Sir, I really want to warn you that you must not expect a complacent response from me. I will go further than that; I will let you know my motives.
It is not appropriate for you, young man, to get involved in politics and embrace an opinion, especially one that contradicts that of your parents; you haven't yet reached the age where it is permissible for a son of a family to follow his inclinations; and, before you invoke in your favor the precocity of your young experiences, your letter proves to me precisely that you don't yet know what our men of State are like, and that the better writers are those who submerge themselves for a longer period of time in serious things before picking up the pen.
Whether the realities [you write about] are [realities] of physics, of history, of mathematics, of industry, of commerce, or of practicality doesn't really matter to me; politics is only the cloth more or less agreeable and just from which one dreams up positive ideas and which one furnishes by intellectual and moral work; and you, who are young, you who are just entering life, you who have not yet done anything, you want, as your beginning, to start with radicalism?
And it is I who you are addressing to give you advice? But know, sir, that before becoming a journalist, I was a printer for fifteen years and an apprentice for sixteen, and that I find that my strength still is unequal to the task [of promoting anarchism].
As for my political opinions, which you claim are those of Robespierre and of Ledru-Rollin, I have only one thing to say to you: that I am the antidote to Robespierre, and that I am continually fighting the tendancies of Ledru-Rollin and the men belonging to his movement; you see, therefore, that you must think for a while longer before you can express, in these delicate matters, a conscientious and motivated judgment [of others' ideas].
I therefore don't want to give you any advice, because, besides the fact that you don't have either the age nor the experience necessary to get involved with politics, if my advice doesn't agree with the viewpoint or the feelings of your father about your character, I could, without intending to, make myself responsible for the seduction of a minor, as well as for attempting to upsurp the rules of the family and your father's authority.
I will close by wondering whether your letter is anything more but an attempt to distort my character; in this case, sir, the least you can do to make up for it is to take your "knowledge" about my character to someone who can teach you better than I can; you will discover, no doubt, that I am pure of all charlatanism, and that my life and my intentions have, to the present day, defied slander.
1. Translated from the French by Stephanie Silberstein
Return to top
Return to Proudhon's Collected Works
Return to Proudhon's letters