The Well-Read Anarchist #004 – “What is Property?” by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon – Chapter Two

by | Mar 6, 2014 | The Well-Read Anarchist | 8 comments

The Well-Read Anarchist podcast continuation its exploration of the works of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon with a reading of his first major work, “What is Property?” published in 1840. Today we read Chapter Two of the book, “Property Considered as a Natural Right.”


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  1. Joseph Proudhon (JP) Stylistic Look. JP starts a segment with a false hood, Abuse and Use of property is the same. Ch.#1 JP claims a Right to write his essay backwards; but on what basis is this Right? Self OwnerShip. JP’s claim to objects in the world is based on his ownership of himself. He assumes Abuse is clear, but Truck Garden to Park, (JP sees as an Abuse), seems just fine to me. Why imaginary examples? Why not use Publically accessible examples. Common Carrier concept has near %100 public agreement, but is it a correct concept? It violates the Right to say NO. A workers ability to say no on wages, terms and conditions had major influence on History and is a major part of Classical Economics Division of Labor.

  2. More to say: Division of Labor has a sub set Comparative Advantage which loves the idea of self ownership and the unique nature of each individual. Something that JP never develops. JP has not identified what Property is, as JP does not identify the nature of Justice or Truth. Can a railroad manger refuse your trade offer? Common Carrier says the manager cannot. This makes the manager a slave. If society is a collection of individuals engaged in transactions, Common Carrier makes all interactions illegal thus society ceases to exist as a practical entity. Millions of jobs and Trillions in market options died. %100 of RR went bankrupt. We learned nothing from History.

  3. More to say: Style – again JP is writing his essay backwards which leads him to generate problems for his position. He presents us with his conclusion that property should be abolished without telling us anything about property and what he has presented is advocating an arbitrary violence to curb abuses which are debatable on the basis of economic theory and historical outcomes. His analysis is the status quo version of reality and his policy recommendations are the same with predictable results. Common Carrier is the same as advocating the abolishment of property – property gives the right to say no, which Common Carrier abolishes.

  4. More to say: Style – After presenting a false statement JP gives several pages of dialog on existing law and assures the reader that this is really important. It is not. He then gives his actual argument by making no visible argument that has nothing to do with anything that came before. “that for the majority of citizens it (property) exits only potentially as a dormant faculty without exercise”. That the State does not respect it,(nor does JP) and is a chimera. This is a conclusion to an argument. If you flip back a few pages you find – NOTHING.

  5. More to say: Let’s deconstruct JP’s statement. His lead up is a legal view of property; however, he leaves out the most important concept of FEE Simple. This is the State giving you permission to buy and sell property, use as collateral, use (within the confines of Tort), sell your labor at wages you ok, and terms and conditions of use. FEE Simple for ordinary citizens was the revolution of the 17, 18h and 19th centuries. Historians have an Industrial Revolution 1 (1750 to 1850) and an Industrial Revolution 11, but I would say we had a FEE Simple revolution which lead to the Industrial Revolution. Without FEE S Simple anti slavery, anti indenture, and anti serfdom are impossible.

  6. More to say: JP lived during the freeing of 100’s millions from slavery and serfdom, did theses people see self ownership as a chimera? This was an explosion of property rights that affected such a huge number of people. JP suffers from schizophrenia – an inability to recognize reality. Even illiterate Irish, Scottish, southern Italians when questioned as to why they came to America, over %90 gave a layman’s version of FEE Simple. Legislatures have to implement rights like Freedom and FEE Simple is that process. JP, when confronted with FEE Simple, is opposed to freedom. – so is the Status Quo.

  7. More to say: Another Right is Equality. JP asserts, with out any proof, that this is related to Property. It is not. Property is opposed to Equality. The essence of every individuals life is choice, which means losing the possibilities that are lost in those choices. Each individual exists in a Time and Place that even without choice excludes other possibilities. Equality before the law is a political idea that has no meaning in private life. JP continually mixes political and private even though these concepts are opposed.

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