Proudhon Quotes

First off, I've added a new text to the Property is theft! book page, namely the classic article "The Malthusians" (Le Représentant du Peuple, August 10, 1848). Benjamin Tucker translated the essay for the May 31, 1884 issue of Liberty. Malthus was much hated in his own country by working class people, a hatred shared by Proudhon who used him to personify all that was wrong with laissez-faire capitalism and its apologists.

This work was  first placed on-line by Shawn P. Wilbur and he deserves much credit for providing such rare material to a new audience. He was also a great help in getting the book ready.

Second, I was asked by AK Press to provide a list of good Proudhon quotes to use in the book -- I think the aim is to have a page simply of the best quotations and, perhaps, pepper the back page with them as well. Not that easy a task to narrow down someone who produced more than his fair share of classic quotes. He most certainly had a way with words! Here are a few of my favourites, in no particular order...

 “Property is theft!”

“I am an Anarchist”

“Liberty is inviolable. I can neither sell nor alienate my liberty”

“Property is despotism”

“Since property is the grand cause of privilege and despotism, the form of the republican oath should be changed. Instead of, ‘I swear hatred to royalty,’ henceforth the new member of a secret society should say, ‘I swear hatred to property.’”

“I preach emancipation to the proletaires; association to the labourers”

“Political economy — that is, proprietary despotism — can never be in the wrong: it must be the proletariat”

 “Contrary to all expectation! It takes an economist not to expect these things”

“the problem of association consists in organising . . . the producers, and by this organisation subjecting capital and subordinating power. Such is the war that you have to sustain: a war of labour against capital; a war of liberty against authority; a war of the producer against the non-producer; a war of equality against privilege”
“But remember that the red flag is the sign of a revolution that will be the last. The red flag! It is the federal standard of humanity.”

“What they always want is inequality of wealth, delegation of sovereignty and government by influential people . . . democracy says that the people reign and do not govern, which is to deny the Revolution.”

“it is the liberty that is the mother, not the daughter, of order.”

“Such, then, is the first principle of the new economy, a principle full of hope and of consolation for the labourer without capital, but a principle full of terror for the parasite and for the tools of parasitism, who see reduced to naught their celebrated formula: Capital, labour, talent!”

“the proletariat must emancipate itself without the help of the government”

“In order to organise the future, a general rule confirmed by experience, the reformers always start out with their gaze fixed upon the past. Hence the contradiction forever discovered in their actions: hence also the immeasurable danger of revolutions.”

 “Killing men is the lousiest way of combating principles”

“That a new society be founded in the heart of the old society”

“the government can do nothing for you. But you can do everything for yourselves”

“philanthropy is a corollary of poverty” 

“Either Property will overrule the Republic, or the Republic will overrule Property”

“When I used those pronouns you and we, it was self-evident that at that point I was identifying myself with the proletariat and identifying you with the bourgeois class”

“Who will tell me that the right to labour and to live is not the whole of the Revolution?”

“the revolutionary power . . . is in you. The people alone, acting upon themselves without intermediary, can achieve the economic Revolution . . . The people alone can save civilisation and advance humanity!”

“The State is the EXTERNAL constitution of the social power . . . the people does not govern itself; now one individual, now several, by a title either elective or hereditary, are charged with governing it, with managing it affairs”

“We deny government and the State, because we affirm that which the founders of States have never believed in, the personality and autonomy of the masses.”

“No authority, no government, not even popular, that is the Revolution”

“Laws! We know what they are, and what they are worth! Spider webs for the rich and powerful, steel chains for the weak and poor, fishing nets in the hands of the Government.”

“There will no longer be nationality, no longer fatherland, in the political sense of the words: they will mean only places of birth. Whatever a man’s race or colour, he is really a native of the universe; he has citizen’s rights everywhere.”

“To be governed is to be kept in sight, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right, nor the wisdom, nor the virtue to do so . . .”

“industrial democracy must follow industrial feudalism”

“Workers’ associations are the home of a new principle and model of production that must replace current corporations”

“There is mutuality, in fact, when in an industry, all the workers, instead of working for an owner who pays them and keeps their product, work for each other and thereby contribute to a common product from which they share the profit”

“The people have never done anything but pray and pay: we believe that the time has come to make them PHILOSOPHISE”

“The revolution, in democratising us, has launched us on the paths of industrial democracy”

“We want the mines, canals, railways handed over to democratically organised workers’ associations . . . We want these associations to be models for agriculture, industry and trade, the pioneering core of that vast federation of companies and societies woven into the common cloth of the democratic social Republic.”

“Besides universal suffrage and as a consequence of universal suffrage, we want implementation of the binding mandate. Politicians balk at it! Which means that in their eyes, the people, in electing representatives, do not appoint mandatories but rather abjure their sovereignty! That is assuredly not socialism: it is not even democracy.”

“Whoever lays his hand on me to govern me is a usurper and a tyrant: I declare him my enemy.”

From above . . .  signifies power; from below signifies the people. On the one hand we have the actions of government; on the other, the initiative of the masses.”

“The problem before the working classes then is not to conquer but to overcome at the same time power and monopoly, which means creating, out of the people’s guts and labour’s profundity, a greater authority, a more powerful fact, that surrounds and subjugates capital and the state.”

Capital, whose mirror-image in the political sphere is Government, has a synonym in the religious context, to wit, Catholicism. The economic notion of capital, the political notion of government or authority, the theological notion of the Church, these three notions are identical and completely interchangeable: an attack upon one is an attack upon the others”

“by its very nature government is counter-revolutionary: it either resists, oppresses, or corrupts or wrecks. Government knows nothing else, can do nothing else and will never seek anything else.”

“I belong to the Party of Labour against the Party of Capital”

“I do not wish to be either governor nor governed!”

“the capitalist principle and the monarchist or governmental principle are one and the same principle; that the abolition of the exploitation of man by man and the abolition of the government of man by man are one and the same formula”

“The federative system is applicable to all nations and eras, since humanity is progressive in all generations and all races, and the politics of federation, which is par excellence the politics of progress”

“political right must have the buttress of economic right”

“what does science say? . . . Nothing: it keeps harping on its eternal law of supply and demand; a lying law, in the terms in which it is posed, an immoral law, appropriate only for ensuring the victory of the strong over the weak, of those who have over those who have not.”

“I declare here and now that the labouring masses are actually, positively and effectively sovereign: how could they not be when the economic organism – labour, capital, property and assets – belongs to them entirely”

“In a mutualist confederation, the citizen gives up none of his freedom, as Rousseau requires him to do for the governance of his republic!”

“It is no longer the government that is made for the people, it is the people that is made for the government”

“Whoever lays his hand on me to govern me is a usurper and a tyrant: I declare him my enemy.”

“The conclusion is that government can never be revolutionary quite simply because it is government. Society alone, the masses armed with their intelligence, can create revolution; society alone is able to deploy all its spontaneity, to analyse and explain the mystery of its destiny and its origin, to change its faith and its philosophy, because it alone is capable of fighting against its originator and to bear its fruit. Governments are God’s scourge, established to discipline the world: do you really expect them to destroy themselves, to create freedom, to make revolution?”

“But experience testifies and philosophy demonstrates, contrary to that prejudice, that any revolution, to be effective, must be spontaneous and emanate, not from the heads of the authorities but from the bowels of the people: that government is reactionary rather than revolutionary: that it could not have any expertise in revolutions, given that society, to which that secret is alone revealed, does not show itself through legislative decree but rather through the spontaneity of its manifestations: that, ultimately, the only connection between government and labour is that labour, in organising itself, has the abrogation of government as its mission.”