Friday, June 17, 2011

Good, long, quote from Proudhon regarding the government and inequality

Proudhon's substantive contributions have unfortunately been overlooked, although frequently invoked as important, in that for a long time the only writing widely available by him was "What is Property?", which is a legalistic treatise that has little practical relevance. Thankfully, Dover press has reissued "General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century", which was previously available only through an edition put out by Pluto Press. More Proudhon is coming via AK Press in an upcoming anthology. Enjoy this selection, where Proudhon makes general comments on society as a whole:

"Solely because the powers of society were left unorganized by the Revolution, there results an inequality of conditions, of which the cause is not, as formerly, the natural inequality of ability; but which finds a new pretext in the accidents of society, and adds, among its claims, the injustices of fortune to the caprices of nature. Privilege, abolished by law, is born again through lack of equilibrium: it is no longer a mere result of divine predestination: it has become a necessity of civilization.

Once justified as in the order of nature and of Providence, what does privilege lack in order to assure its triumph definitely? It has only to make laws, institutions, the Government, in harmony with itself: toward this end it is about to direct all its forces.

In the first place, as no law forbids, so far at least as it flows from one of these two sources, nature or accident, privilege may call itself perfectly legal: in this regard it may already claim the respect of citizens and the protection of Government.

What is the principle which rules existing society? Each by himself, each for himself. God and LUCK for all. Privilege, resulting from luck, from a commercial turn, from any of the gambling methods which the chaotic condition of industry furnishes, is then a providential thing, which everybody must respect.

On the other hand, what is the function of Government? To protect and defend each one in his person, his industry, his property. But if by the necessity of things, property, riches, comfort, all go on one side, poverty on the other, it is clear that Government is made for the defence of the rich against the poor. For the perfecting of this state of affairs, it is necessary that what exists should be defined and consecrated by law: that is precisely what Power wants, and what demonstrates from beginning to end our analysis of the budget."

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