Proudhon and Fraternity

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Proudhon and Fraternity.

In the closing chapter of the first volume of his "System of Economical Contradictions" Proudhon discusses the origin of evil. He combats the doctrine of Rousseau that man is born good and that society depraves him, pointing out that, if men were good by nature, the social institutions which lead to inequalities could have no such effect, for the inherent goodness of man's nature would at once restore the balance. In the course of his argument he uses this language:

Love thy neighbor as thyself, Jesus Christ tells us, after Moses. That is the whole of it. Love thy neighbor as thyself, and society will be perfect; love thy neighbor as thyself, and all distinctions of prince and shepherd, of rich and poor, of learned and ignorant, disappear, all clashing of human interests ceases.

Joseph R. Buchanan, the editor of the Chicago "Labor Enquirer," in a paragraph which he considers, I suppose, a review of Proudhon's work, quotes the above lines, and comments on them thus:

As near as can be seen from the mass of intricate arguments, the reconciliation sought for is Love — with a big L. This remedy is an old one, but it is thought by many that its application would destroy economical science instead of reconciling its contradictions.

It is unmistakably Buchanan's intention to give his readers the idea that Proudhon proposed Love as an economic remedy. Is it possible that he sees no distinction between pointing to the absence of love as explanatory of the existence of social evil and advocating love as the means of abolishing that evil? Win. Lloyd Garrison held that, if slaveholders loved their neighbors as themselves, they would free their slaves. It does not follow, however, that his plan for the abolition of slavery consisted of a pouring of love into the hearts of the slaveholders. Nor is such Proudhon's plan for the abolition of economic slavery. On the contrary, he, perhaps more than any other writer, discountenanced all reformatory projects resting on fraternity as a basic principle. If Buchanan had really read the book which he "reviews" in this quack fashion, numerous passages in it would have shown him this. I content myself with the quotation of only one of them, taken from the chapter on "Monopoly," in which the author is discussing, not the origin of evil, but political economy:

Why, then, continually interject fraternity, charity, sacrifice, and God into the discussion of economic questions? May it not be that the utopists find it easier to expatiate upon these grand words than to seriously study social manifestations?
Fraternity! Brothers as much as you please, provided I am the big brother and you the little; provided society, our common mother, honors my primogeniture and my services by doubling my portion. You will provide for my wants, you say, in proportion to your resources. I intend, on the contrary, that such provision shall be in proportion to my labor; if not, I cease to labor.
Charity! I deny charity; it is mysticism. In vain do you talk to me of fraternity and love: I remain convinced that you love me but little, and I feel very sure that I do not love you. Your friendship is but a feint, and, if you love me, it is from self-interest. I ask all that my products cost me, and only what they cost me: why do you refuse me?
Sacrifice! I deny sacrifice; it is mysticism. Talk to me of debt and credit, the only criterion in my eyes of the just and the unjust, of good and evil in society. To each according to his works, first; and if, on occasion, I am impelled to aid you, I will do it with a good grace; but I will not be constrained. To constrain me to sacrifice is to assassinate me.
God! I know no God; mysticism again. Begin by striking this word from your remarks, if you wish me to listen to you; for three thousand years of experience have taught me that whoever talks to me of God has designs on my liberty or on my purse. How much do you owe me? How much do I owe you? That is my religion and my God.

From this and other passages it is clear that any reviewer of the book who says that Proudhon proposed Love as a reconciliation is either a contemptible quack, an insufferable blockhead, or a sophistical trickster. Come, Buchanan, make your confession. Of these three which are you?


  • Benjamin R. Tucker, “Proudhon and Fraternity,” Liberty 5, no. 21 (May 26, 1888): 11.