Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Proudhon measures Progress

Some of the reshuffling of my scholarly priorities has revolved around my decision to go back and finish a translation of Proudhon's Philosophy of Progress, before tackling any more of Justice or going back to look at The General Idea of the Revolution. It was a work which scored low when I asked people what they would like to see in translation first, but it is one which seems particularly important to me at the moment, in part because it contains, in condensed and clear form, Proudhon's own account of what ties his various works together, an account which, despite the fact that it was written before many of the major works, still seems to me helpful and convincing. It also includes a very accessible, relaxed, often witty Proudhon, which is certainly a major part of the attraction for me. As an example, here is the end of the first of two Letters which make up the work.

If I have, unbeknownst to me, in the heat of polemic, in bad faith from party spirit, or in any other way, been in unfaithful to this doctrine [of Progress], it is a lapsus calami on my part, an argument ad hominem, a failure of mind or of heart, that I disavow and retract.

Still, this philosophical humility costs me little. The idea of progress is so universal, so flexible, so fecund, that he who has taken it for a compass almost no longer needs to know if his propositions form a body of doctrine or not: the agreement between them, the system, exists by the mere fact that they are in progress. Show me a philosophy where a similar security is to be found!... I never reread my works, and those that I wrote first I have forgotten. What does this matter, if I have moved for twelve years, and if today I still advance? What could could a few lapses, some false steps, detract from the rectitude of my faith, the goodness of my cause?... You will please me, sir, to learn for yourself what road I have traveled, and how many times I have fallen along the way. Far from blushing at so many spills, I would be tempted to boast of them, and to measure my valor by the number of my contusions.

I am, sir, etc.

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