Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (/ˈprdɒn/;[4] French: [pjɛʁʒozɛf pʁudɔ̃]; 15 January 1809 – 19 January 1865) was a French socialist,[5][6][7][8] politician, philosopher, economist and the founder of mutualist philosophy. He was the first person to declare himself an anarchist,[9][10] using that term and is widely regarded as one of anarchism's most influential theorists. Proudhon is considered by many to be the "father of anarchism".[11] Proudhon became a member of the French Parliament after the Revolution of 1848, whereafter he referred to himself as a federalist.[12] Proudhon described the liberty he pursued as "the synthesis of communism and property".[13] Some consider his mutualism to be part of individualist anarchism[14][15][16] while others regard it to be part of social anarchism.[17][18][19]

Proudhon, who was born in Besançon, was a printer who taught himself Latin in order to better print books in the language. His best-known assertion is that "property is theft!", contained in his first major work, What Is Property? Or, an Inquiry into the Principle of Right and Government (Qu'est-ce que la propriété? Recherche sur le principe du droit et du gouvernement), published in 1840. The book's publication attracted the attention of the French authorities. It also attracted the scrutiny of Karl Marx, who started a correspondence with its author. The two influenced each other and they met in Paris while Marx was exiled there. Their friendship finally ended when Marx responded to Proudhon's The System of Economic Contradictions, or The Philosophy of Poverty with the provocatively titled The Poverty of Philosophy. The dispute became one of the sources of the split between the anarchist and Marxist wings of the International Working Men's Association. Some such as Edmund Wilson have contended that Marx's attack on Proudhon had its origin in the latter's defense of Karl Grün, whom Marx bitterly disliked, but who had been preparing translations of Proudhon's work.[20][21][22]

Proudhon favored workers' council and associations or cooperatives as well as individual worker/peasant possession over private ownership or the nationalization of land and workplaces. He considered social revolution to be achievable in a peaceful manner. In The Confessions of a Revolutionary, Proudhon asserted that "Anarchy is Order Without Power", the phrase which much later inspired in the view of some the anarchist circled-A symbol, today "one of the most common graffiti on the urban landscape".[23] Proudhon unsuccessfully tried to create a national bank, to be funded by what became an abortive attempt at an income tax on capitalists and shareholders. Similar in some respects to a credit union, it would have given interest-free loans.[24] After the death of his follower Mikhail Bakunin, Proudhon's libertarian socialism diverged into individualist anarchism, collectivist anarchism, anarcho-communism and anarcho-syndicalism, with notable proponents such as Carlo Cafiero, Joseph Déjacque, Peter Kropotkin and Benjamin Tucker.[19]

In response, K. Steven Vincent states that "to argue that Proudhon was a proto-fascist suggests that

In response, K. Steven Vincent states that "to argue that Proudhon was a proto-fascist suggests that one has never looked seriously at Proudhon's writings".[119] Proudhon had great influence on the anarchist and non-anarchist socialist movement. In the United States, Proudhon was influential within radical progressive sectors and labour leaders, among them individualist anarchists such as Joseph Labadie, Dyer Lum and Benjamin Tucker. In France, Proudhon's influence on French socialism, including the Paris Commune, was surpassed by Marxist socialism only at the beginning of the XX century. Proudhonists made up an important French faction in the First International and Proudhon's thought strongly influenced debate in French and Belgian socialist circles long before the Cercle Proudhon. George Woodcock stated that "Sorel, whose ideas were most fully developed in his Reflections on Violence, had no direct connection with the syndicalist movement, and he was repudiated."[120]

In 1945, In 1945, J. Salwyn Schapiro argued that Proudhon was a racist, "a glorifier of war for its own sake" and his "advocacy of personal dictatorship and his laudation of militarism can hardly be equalled in the reactionary writings of his or of our day".[121] Other scholars have rejected Schapiro's claims. Robert Graham states that while Proudhon was personally racist, "anti-semitism formed no part of Proudhon's revolutionary programme".[122]

Anarchist Albert Meltzer has argued that although Proudhon used the term anarchist, he was not one and that he never engaged in "anarchist activity or struggle", but rather in "parliamentary activity".[123] Proudhon also engaged in an exchange of published letters between 1849 and 1850 with the French Liberal School economist Frédéric Bastiat discussing the legitimacy of interest.[124] As Robert Leroux argued, Bastiat had the conviction that Proudhon's anti-interest doctrine "was the complete antithesis of any serious approach".[125] Proudhon famously lost his temper and declared to Bastiat: "Your intelligence is asleep, or rather it has never been awake. You are a man for whom logic does not exist. You do not hear anything, you do not understand anything. You are without philosophy, without science, without humanity. Your ability to reason, like your ability to pay attention and make comparisons is zero. Scientifically, Mr. Bastiat, you are a dead man."[126]

Stewart Edwards, the editor of the Selected Writings of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, remarks that "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."[127] 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."[128]

In an introduction to Proudhon's works titled Property Is Theft! A Pierre-Joseph Proudhon Anthology, Iain McKay, author of An Anarchist FAQ, cautions readers by saying that "[t]his is not to say that Proudhon was without flaws, for he had many"An Anarchist FAQ, cautions readers by saying that "[t]his is not to say that Proudhon was without flaws, for he had many"[129][130] and adding the following note:

He was not consistently libertarian in his ideas, tactics and language. His personal bigotries are disgusting and few modern anarchists would tolerate them – Namely, racism and sexism. He made some bad decisions and occasionally ranted in his private notebooks (where the worst of his anti-Semitism was expressed). While he did place his defence of the patriarchal family at the core of his ideas, they are in direct contradiction to his own libertarian and egalitarian ideas. In terms of racism, he sometimes reflected the less-than-enlightened assumptions and prejudices of the nineteenth century. While this does appear in his public work, such outbursts are both rare and asides (usually an extremely infrequent passing anti-Semitic remark or caricature). In short, "racism was never the basis of Proudhon's political thinking" (Gemie, 200–1) and "anti-Semitism formed no part of Proudhon's revolutionary programme." (Robert Graham, "Introduction", General Idea of the Revolution, xxxvi) To quote Proudhon: "There will no longer be nationality, no longer fatherland, in the political sense of the words: they will mean only places of birth. Man, of whatever race or colour he may be, is an inhabitant of the universe; citizenship is everywhere an acquired right." (General Idea of the Revolution, 283)[131]

While racism was not overtly part of his political philosophy, Proudhon did express sexist beliefs as 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 that "[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 La Pornocratie ou les femmes dans les temps modernes, described as "the most consistent anti-feminist tract of its time, or perhaps, any other" and which "raises all the main issues about woman's position in society and her sexuality with a paranoid intensity unmatched in any other text".[132]


Proudhon's defenses of patriarchy did not go unchallenged in his lifetime and libertarian communist Joseph Déjacque attacked Proudhon's anti-feminism as a contradiction of anarchist principles. Déjacque directed Proudhon "either to 'speak out against man's exploitation of woman' or 'do not describe yourself as an anarchist'".[133]