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Updated on December 24, 2014

Portrait by Gustave Courbet, 1865

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was a French economist and Socialist philosopher. "Father of Anarchism" is a title which many have given him. He saw anarchy as order without power.

He was born in France in 1809. This was a dramatic time in history. There were 2 major events occurring in France. There was the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution occurring during Proudhon's lifetime. These events would have a profound impact on his ideology. Proudhon was always very patriotic towards France. In 1848 he became a member of French parliament.

In 1820 efforts were made to send him off to study at the city college in Besancon. Proudhon taught himself Latin. He had a job as a printer. Learning Latin helped him with his work. It started off as an apprenticeship in 1827. Most of what was printed was Christian material. Proudhon would have read a lot of this reading material, but eventually rejected Christianity altogether. By 1829 he was much more interested in social issues.

He published his first major work in 1840. This was a piece entitled "What Is property?". This book attracted the attention of both the French authorities and Karl Marx. A friendship occurred between Marx and Proudhon. They became close when Marx was in exile in France. Marx was highly critical of some of Proudhon's ideas. This severed the friendship and sent the men off into 2 divergent political areas.

Proudhon believed in peaceful revolution. It was an anti-utopian anarchism he was after. He believed in the inner potentials of people. That society could exist in a rational and non-violent fashion. He also frowned upon the idea of collective ownership. In his lifetime he tried to create a bank which never got off the ground. This bank would provide people with interest free loans. This idea is similar to the credit unions we have today.

God is folly and cowardice; God is hypocrisy and falsehood; God is tyranny and misery; God is evil.

— Proudhon

Proudhon's Life Story

Both of Proudhon's parents were of the peasant class. Proudhon's father was a brewer who was rigidly moralistic. He did not want to go against any of his values for the sake of profit. This had a negative impact on the family's financial state. The business suffered because of this attitude. Proudhon had no formal education as a child. His exposure to literature was limited.

Proudhon was taught to read by his mother. There was some care about his education. In 1820 his mother began searching for a way to have him admitted to the city college. His family wanted him to do well, but they did not have a lot of money. He was not very rich. School was very expensive. The family could not afford tuition. They found a way to send him to school by getting people in the village to put together a bursary. This covered his tuition, but he could not afford books. It was also said that he was unable to afford shoes. He attended class barefoot. His classmates ridiculed him because of this. He was one of the least wealthy people in his class.

Proudhon and his children, by Gustave Courbet, 1865
Proudhon and his children, by Gustave Courbet, 1865

Proudhon And Freemasonry

Proudhon became a Freemason in 1847. He was initiated into the Besancon Lodge, Sincerite, Parfaite Union et Constante Amitie on January 8, 1847. 3 of the main historical figures of Anarchism were involved with Freemasonry. Both Michael Bakunin and Peter Alexander Kroptokin became Freemasons. Proudhon was an atheist in his spiritual beliefs, but he came from a Christian background. This had an impact on him and how he viewed the world.

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