Submitted by subrosa in Anarchism

A while ago I posted this thread, it's a little rant about what twitter liberals mean when they speak of 'progress', and how it limits their ability to grasp/envision progress outside of tiny 'improvements':

Today I realized that, to most people, progress means improving what already is. It means building on top of everything we've 'accomplished' so far, and racing towards a better future by constantly improving the status quo. [...]

Then, a couple days ago I posted about my disillusionment with the "ideas that keep the destructive human-made world very stable".

Maybe I'm just late to the game, but I dove deeper into Proudhon's writings and discovered that his entire philosophy is, at its core, an expression of very similar sentiments and ideas of progress, and whatever follows from them.

Take his 'mutualism', it's not much of a specific social or economic system, it's really about creating conditions that allow individuals to progress in any way they see fit, allow them to voluntarily band together, with respect to different needs and interests, without governance of any kind. It's about allowing change to these conditions, so that relationships (and thus society as a whole) can progress in any 'direction'.

Perhaps more than anything else, it's the opposition to the stable, controllable world. Actual progress is what people want when they speak of freedom. Actual progress is a threat to this world, and it's a threat to any system we attempt to keep stable, including communist societies.

Here's a page or two from "The Philosophy of Progress", written in 1853. I wanted to share because it's great. (IMO Proudhon deserves to be in anarchist reading lists, why is it always Kropotkin, Bakunin, Goldman, and Malatesta?)

[...] Progress, in the purest sense of the word, which is the least empirical, is the movement of the idea, processus; it is innate, spontaneous and essential movement, uncontrollable and indestructible, which is to the mind what gravity is to matter, (and I suppose with the vulgar that mind and matter, leaving aside movement, are something), and which manifests itself principally in the march of societies, in history.

From this it follows that, the essence of mind being movement, truth,—which is to say reality, as much in nature as in civilization,—is essentially historical, subject to progressions, conversions, evolutions and metamorphoses. There is nothing fixed and eternal but the very laws of movement, the study of which forms the object of logic and mathematics.

The vulgar, by which I mean the majority of the savants as well as the ignorant, understand Progress in an entirely utilitarian and material sense. The accumulation of discoveries, multiplication of machines, increase in general well-being, all by the greatest extension of education and improvement of methods; in a word, augmentation of material and moral wealth, the participation of an always greater number of men in the pleasures of fortune and of the mind: such is for them, more or less, Progress. Certainly, Progress is this as well, and the progressive philosophy would be short-sighted and bear little fruit, if in its speculations it began by putting aside the physical, moral and intellectual improvement of the most numerous and poorest class, as Saint-Simon’s formulas said. But all of that only gives us a restricted expression of Progress, an image, a symbol, (how shall I say it?) a product: philosophically, such a notion of Progress is without value.

Progress, once more, is the affirmation of universal movement, consequently the negation of every immutable form and formula, of every doctrine of eternity, permanence, impeccability, etc., applied to any being whatever; it is the negation of every permanent order, even that of the universe, and of every subject or object, empirical or transcendental, which does not change.

The Absolute, or absolutism, is, on the contrary, the affirmation of all that Progress denies, the negation of all that it affirms. It is the study, in nature, society, religion, politics, morals, etc., of the eternal, the immutable, the perfect, the definitive, the unconvertible, the undivided; it is, to use a phrase made famous in our parliamentary debates, in all and everywhere, the status quo.



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Tequila_Wolf wrote

if u/humanispherian ever shows up around here again, maybe they will have something interesting to say re Proudhon.

I've got a bunch to say about progress but no energy at the moment. Thanks for writing this up.


kore wrote

thanks for this! would be very interesting to compare this with ideas of no fixed self present in many eastern philosophies and also stirner.

also really reminds me of /u/celebratedrecluse was talking about with work and entropy.


insurrectobot wrote

Probably the reason Proudhon isn't on many anarchist recommended reading lists is due to his antisemitism and sexism.

"Proudhon's diaries (Carnets, ed. P. Haubtmann, Marcel Rivière, Paris 1960 to date) reveal that he had almost paranoid feelings of hatred against the Jews. In 1847, he considered publishing an article against the Jewish race, which he said he "hated". The proposed article would have "called for the expulsion of the Jews from France". It would have stated: "The Jew is the enemy of the human race. This race must be sent back to Asia, or exterminated. H. Heine, A. Weil, and others are simply secret spies; Rothschild, Crémieux, Marx, Fould, evil choleric, envious, bitter men who hate us". (Carnets, vol. 2, p. 337: No VI, 178)". Proudhon differentiated his antisemitism from that of the Middle Ages, presenting it as quasi-scientific: "What the peoples of the Middle Ages hated by instinct, I hate upon reflection and irrevocably".

". He held patriarchal views on women's nature and their proper role in the family and society at large. In his Carnets (Notebooks), unpublished until the 1960s, Proudhon maintained that a woman's choice was to be "courtesan or housekeeper". To a woman, a man is "a father, a chief, a master: above all, a master". His justification for patriarchy is men's greater physical strength and recommended that men use this greater strength to keep women in their place, saying: "A woman does not at all hate being used with violence, indeed even being violated". In her study of Gustave Courbet, who painted the portrait of Proudhon and his children (1865), art historian Linda Nochlin points out that alongside his early articulations of anarchism Proudhon also wrote and published "the most consistent anti-feminist tract of its time, or perhaps, any other", La Pornocratie ou les femmes dans les temps modernes, which "raises all the main issues about woman's position in society and her sexuality with a paranoid intensity unmatched in any other text""

quotes are from wikipedia Proudhon entry.


subrosa OP wrote

Good point. I still think the reading lists should include Proudhon, just avoid making excuses for his bigotry. He was wrong about some stuff, but the writings on government, progress, property, etc. are worth sharing and discussing.


rot wrote

proudhon and marx both have this idea of history occurring in stages