Pierre Joseph Proudhon

Proudhon, Pierre Joseph (pyĕr zhôzĕfˈ prōdhôNˈ) [key], 1809–65, French social theorist. Of a poor family, Proudhon won an education through scholarships. Much of his later life was spent in poverty. He achieved prominence through his pamphlet What Is Property? (1840, tr. 1876), in which he condemned the abuses of private property and embraced anarchism. He also edited radical journals. After the Revolution of 1848, he was elected a member of the constituent assembly; at that time he tried unsuccessfully to establish a national bank for reorganization of credit in the interest of the workers. As a replacement for the existing social and political order, Proudhon developed a theory of "mutualism," by which small, loosely federated groups would bargain with each other over economic and political matters within the framework of a consensus on fundamental principles. He hoped that man's ethical progress would eventually make government unnecessary and rejected the use of force to impose any system. Proudhon left a great mass of literature, which influenced the French syndicalist movement. Among his most important books are System of Economic Contradictions; or The Philosophy of Poverty (1846; tr. of Vol. I, 1888) and De la justice dans la révolution et dans l'église [of justice in the revolution and in the church] (3 vol., 1858).

See his selected writings, ed. by S. Edwards (1970); biography by G. Woodcock (1956, repr. 1987); A. Ritter, The Political Thought of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1969); C. M. Hall, The Sociology of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1971); R. L. Hoffman, Revolutionary Justice: The Social and Political Theory of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1972); H. De Lubac, The Un-Marxian Socialist (1948, repr. 1978); S. Condit, Proudhonist Materialism and Revolutionary Doctrine (1979); E. Hyams, Pierre-Joseph Proudon: His Revolutionary Life, Mind and Works (1979); K. S. Vincent, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and the Rise of French Republican Socialism (1984).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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