Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

French Libertarian, Socialist, Mutualist Philosopher and Economist

"Justice is that which is most primitive in the human soul, most fundamental in society, most sacred among ideas, and what the masses demand today with most ardor. It is the essence of religions and at the same time the form of reason, the secret object of faith, and the beginning, middle and end of knowledge. What can be imagined more universal, more strong, more complete than justice?"

"It is clear that property in itself owes allegiance to no particular form of government, and is bound by no dynastic or legal ties. Its politics may be summed up in a single word: exploitation, or even anarchy. It is the most formidable enemy and most treacherous ally of any form of power. In short, in its relation to the State it is governed by only one principle, one sentiment, one concern: self-interest, or egoism... That is why all governments, all utopias, and all Churches distrust property... We can conclude that property is the greatest existing revolutionary force, with an unequaled capacity for setting itself against authority."

"Property is theft; property is liberty: these two propositions stand side by side in my System of Economic Contradictions and each is shown to be true."

"What is property? Property is theft."

"The time we have at our disposal every day is elastic; the passions that we feel expand it, those that we inspire contract it; and habit fills up the rest."

"Property is theft."

"A common danger tends to concord. Communism is the exploitation of the strong by the weak. In Communism, inequality comes from placing mediocrity on a level with excellence."

"All my economic ideas as developed over twenty-five years can be summed up in the words: agricultural-industrial federation. All my political ideas boil down to a similar formula: political federation or decentralization."

"All men in their hearts, I say, bear witness to these truths; they need only to be made to understand it."

"Property is the Right of Increase claimed by the Proprietor over anything which he has stamped as his own."

"All parties without exception, when they seek for power, are varieties of absolutism."

"Communism is a society where each one works according to his abilities and gets according to his needs. "

"Before entering upon the subject-matter of these new memoirs, I must explain an hypothesis which will undoubtedly seem strange, but in the absence of which it is impossible for me to proceed intelligibly: I mean the hypothesis of a God."

"Communism is the exploitation of the strong by the weak. In property, inequality of conditions is the result of force, under whatever name it be disguised: physical and mental force; force of events, chance, fortune; force of accumulated property… In communism, inequality springs from placing mediocrity on a level with excellence. This damaging equation is repellent to the conscience, and causes merit to complain; for, although it may be the duty of the strong to aid the weak, they prefer to do it out of generosity, — they never will endure a comparison. Give them equal opportunities of labor, and equal wages, but never allow their jealousy to be awakened by mutual suspicion of unfaithfulness in the performance of the common task."

"Communism is oppression and slavery. Man is very willing to obey the law of duty, serve his country, and oblige his friends; but he wishes to labor when he pleases, where he pleases, and as much as he pleases. He wishes to dispose of his own time, to be governed only by necessity, to choose his friendships, his recreation, and his discipline; to act from judgment, not by command; to sacrifice himself through selfishness, not through servile obligation. Communism is essentially opposed to the free exercise of our faculties, to our noblest desires, to our deepest feelings. Any plan which could be devised for reconciling it with the demands of the individual reason and will would end only in changing the thing while preserving the name. Now, if we are honest truth-seekers, we shall avoid disputes about words."

"From the point of view of political economy these propositions are irrefutable; and Malthus, who has formulated them with such alarming exactness, is secure against all reproach. From the point of view of the conditions of social science, these same propositions are radically false, and even contradictory."

"Communism is inequality, but not as property is. Property is the exploitation of the weak by the strong. "

"I have made every effort to obtain exact information, comparing doctrines, replying to objections, continually constructing equations and reductions from arguments, and weighing thousands of syllogisms in the scales of the most rigorous logic. In this laborious work, I have collected many interesting facts which I shall share with my friends and the public as soon as I have leisure. But I must say that I recognized at once that we had never understood the meaning of these words, so common and yet so sacred: Justice, equity, liberty; that concerning each of these principles our ideas have been utterly obscure; and, in fact, that this ignorance was the sole cause, both of the poverty that devours us, and of all the calamities that have ever afflicted the human race."

"I stand ready to negotiate, but I want no part of laws: I acknowledge none; I protest against every order with which some authority may feel pleased on the basis of some alleged necessity to over-rule my free will. Laws: We know what they are, and what they are worth! They are spider webs for the rich and mighty, steel chains for the poor and weak, fishing nets in the hands of government."

"I build no system. I ask an end to privilege, the abolition of slavery, equality of rights, and the reign of law. Justice, nothing else; that is the alpha and omega of my argument: to others I leave the business of governing the world."

"It is necessary to have lived in this insulator which is called the national assembly, in order to perceive how the men who are the most completely ignorant of the state of the country are almost always the ones who represent it. I set myself to read everything that the distribution bureau sends the representatives: proposals, reports, brochures, even the Moniteur and the Bulletin of the laws. The greater part of my colleagues of the left and the extreme left were in the same perplexity of spirit, in the same ignorance of the daily facts. The national workshops were spoken of only with a kind of fright; for fear of the people is the defect of all those who belong to authority; the people, as concerns power, is the enemy."

"I recognized at once that we had never understood the meaning of these words, so common and yet so sacred: Justice, equity, liberty; that concerning each of these principles our ideas have been utterly obscure."

"The purchaser draws boundaries, fences himself in, and says, This is mine; each one by himself, each one for himself. Here, then, is a piece of land upon which, henceforth, no one has a right to step, save the proprietor and his friends; which can benefit nobody, save the proprietor and his servants. Let these sales multiply, and soon the people — who have been neither able nor willing to sell, and who have received none of the proceeds of the sale — will have nowhere to rest, no place of shelter, no ground to till. They will die of hunger at the proprietor’s door, on the edge of that property which was their birthright; and the proprietor, watching them die, will exclaim, So perish idlers and vagrants!"

"murder, my meaning would be understood at once. No extended argument would be required to show that the power to take from a man his thought, his will, his personality, is a power of life and death; and that to enslave a man is to kill him. Why, then, to this other question: What is property? May I not likewise answer, It is robbery, without the certainty of being misunderstood; the second proposition being no other than a transformation of the first?"

"Of what consequence to you, reader, is my obscure individuality? I live, like you, in a century in which reason submits only to fact and to evidence. My name, like yours, is truth-seeker. My mission is written in these words of the law: Speak without hatred and without fear; tell that which thou knowest! The work of our race is to build the temple of science, and this science includes man and Nature. Now, truth reveals itself to all; to-day to Newton and Pascal, tomorrow to the herdsman in the valley and the journeyman in the shop. Each one contributes his stone to the edifice; and, his task accomplished, disappears. Eternity precedes us, eternity follows us: between two infinites, of what account is one poor mortal that the century should inquire about him?"

"Power, instrument of the collective force, created in society to serve as mediator between capital and labor, has become inescapably enchained to capital and directed against the proletariat. No political reform can resolve this contradiction, since, according to the avowal of politicians themselves, such a reform could only end by giving more energy and expansion to power, and until it had overthrown the hierarchy and dissolved society, power would not be able to attack the prerogatives of monopoly. The problem consists, then, for the working classes, not in capturing, but in defeating both power and monopoly, which would mean to make rise from the bowels of the people, from the depths of labor, a power greater, an action more powerful which would envelop capital and the State and subjugate them."

"To be governed is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-ridden, regulated, penned up, indoctrinated, preached at, checked, appraised, seized, censured, commanded, by beings who have neither title, nor knowledge, nor virtue. To be governed is to have every operation, every transaction, every movement noted, registered, counted, rated, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, refused, authorized, endorsed, admonished, prevented, reformed, redressed, corrected. To be governed is, under pretext of public utility and in the name of the general interest, to be laid under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, exhausted, hoaxed and robbed; then, upon the slightest resistance, at the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, annoyed, hunted down, pulled about, beaten, disarmed, bound, imprisoned, shot, judged, condemned, banished, sacrificed, sold, betrayed, and, to crown all, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored."

"Reader, calm yourself: I am no agent of discord, no firebrand of sedition. I anticipate history by a few days; I disclose a truth whose development we may try in vain to arrest; I write the preamble of our future constitution. This proposition which seems to you blasphemous — property is robbery — would, if our prejudices allowed us to consider it, be recognized as the lightning-rod to shield us from the coming thunderbolt; but too many interests stand in the way! ... Alas! philosophy will not change the course of events: destiny will fulfill itself regardless of prophecy. Besides, must not justice be done and our education be finished?"

"Thus, communism violates the sovereignty of the conscience, and equality: the first, by restricting spontaneity of mind and heart, and freedom of thought and action; the second, by placing labor and laziness, skill and stupidity, and even vice and virtue on an equality in point of comfort. For the rest, if property is impossible on account of the desire to accumulate, communism would soon become so through the desire to shirk."

"Is it my fault if belief in Divinity has become a suspected opinion; if the bare suspicion of a Supreme Being is already noted as evidence of a weak mind; and if, of all philosophical Utopias, this is the only one which the world no longer tolerates? Is it my fault if hypocrisy and imbecility everywhere hide behind this holy formula?"

"To name a thing is easy: the difficulty is to discern it before its appearance. In giving expression to the last stage of an idea, — an idea which permeates all minds, which to-morrow will be proclaimed by another if I fail to announce it to-day, — I can claim no merit save that of priority of utterance. Do we eulogize the man who first perceives the dawn?"

"Laws: We know what they are, and what they are worth! They are spider webs for the rich and mighty, steel chains for the poor and weak, fishing nets in the hands of the government."

"Individual liberty, and property, which is its expression, are economical data; equality and solidarity are not."

"I undertake to discuss the vital principle of our government and our institutions, property: I am in my right. I may be mistaken in the conclusion which shall result from my investigations: I am in my right. I think best to place the last thought of my book first: still am I in my right."

"The chief condition on which, life, health and vigor depend on, is action. It is by action that an organism develops its faculties, increases its energy, and attains the fulfillment of its destiny. "

"My conscience is mine, my justice is mine, and my freedom is a sovereign freedom."

"Man is very willing to obey the law of duty, serve his country, and oblige his friends; but he wishes to labor when he pleases, where he pleases, and as much as he pleases... to act from judgment, not by command."

"The great are only great because we are on our knees. Let us rise."

"There are no such things as minor reforms, or minor economies or minor wrongs. The life of man is a battle, that of society a perpetual reformation; let us therefore reform and go on reforming unceasingly. "

"The elements of justice are identical with those of algebra."

"To suppose God, it will be said, is to deny him. Why do you not affirm him?"

"The proprietor, producing neither by his own labor nor by his implement, and receiving products in exchange for nothing, is either a parasite or a thief."

"Under this system, each one by himself, each one for himself: labor, like all merchandise, is subject to fluctuation: hence the risks of the proletariat."

"Whoever puts his hand on me to govern me is a usurper and a tyrant; I declare him my enemy."

"Whoever has neither income nor wages has no right to demand anything of others: his misfortune falls on his own head; in the game of fortune, luck has been against him."

"Tormented by conflicting feelings, I appealed to reason; and it is reason which, amid so many dogmatic contradictions, now forces the hypothesis upon me. A priori dogmatism, applying itself to God, has proved fruitless: who knows whither the hypothesis, in its turn, will lead us?"

"Yes: all men believe and repeat that equality of conditions is identical with equality of rights; that property and robbery are synonymous terms; that every social advantage accorded, or rather usurped, in the name of superior talent or service, is iniquity and extortion. All men in their hearts, I say, bear witness to these truths; they need only to be made to understand it."

"A single moment of disorder which the Omnipotent might have prevented and did not prevent accuses his Providence and shows him lacking in wisdom; the slightest progress which man, ignorant, abandoned, and betrayed, makes towards good honors him immeasurably. By what right should God still say to me: Be holy, for I am holy? Lying spirit, I will answer him, imbecile God, your reign is over; look to the beasts for other victims. I know that I am not holy and never can become so; and how could you be holy, if I resemble you? Eternal father, Jupiter or Jehovah, we have learned to know you; you are, you were, you ever will be, the jealous rival of Adam, the tyrant of Prometheus."

"And for my part I say: The first duty of man, on becoming intelligent and free, is to continually hunt the idea of God out of his mind and conscience. For God, if he exists, is essentially hostile to our nature, and we do not depend at all upon his authority. We arrive at knowledge in spite of him, at comfort in spite of him, at society in spite of him; every step we take in advance is a victory in which we crush Divinity."

"Anarchy... the ideal of human government... centuries will pass before that ideal is attained, but our law is to go in that direction, to grow unceasingly nearer to that end, and thus I would uphold the principle of federation ... it is unlikely that all traces of government or authority will disappear... By the word [anarchy] I wanted to indicate the extreme limit of political progress. Anarchy is... a form of government or constitution in which public and private consciousness, formed through the development of science and law, is alone sufficient to maintain order and guarantee all liberties... The institutions of the police, preventative and repressive methods officialdom, taxation etc., are reduced to a minimum... monarchy and intensive centralization disappear, to be replaced by federal institutions and a pattern of life based upon the commune. Since the two principles, Authority and Liberty, which underlie all forms organized society, are on the one hand contrary to each other, in a perpetual state of conflict, and on the other can neither eliminate each other nor be resolved, some kind of compromise between the two is necessary."