When two or more individuals have regularly organized a society, — when the contracts have been agreed upon, drafted, and signed, — there is no difficulty about the future. Everybody knows that when two men associate — for instance — in order to fish, if one of them catches no fish, he is none the less entitled to those caught by his associate. If two merchants form a partnership, while the partnership lasts, the profits and losses are divided between them; since each produces, not for himself, but for the society : when the time of distribution arrives, it is not the producer who is considered, but the associate. That is why the slave, to whom the planter gives straw and rice; and the civilized laborer, to whom the capitalist pays a salary which is always too small, — not being associated with their employers, although producing with them, — are disregarded when the product is divided. Thus, the horse who draws our coaches, and the ox who draws our carts produce with us, but are not associated with us ; we take their product, but do not share it with them. The animals and laborers whom we employ hold the same relation to us. Whatever we do for them, we do, not from a sense of justice, but out of pure benevolence.In the final paragraph, Proudhon highlighted what was ultimately the weakness of his own early position: he had essentially defined (simple) property as the opposite of all of his positive key terms, while describing just relations that seem to include pretty conventional property relations—limited only by a particularly strong version of the "enough and as good" proviso. By the time of his trial in 1842, his defense would be that he meant to achieve the equality associated with "possession" by submitting (simple) property to the condition of equality: said that “to abolish that species of theft, it is necessary to universalize it.” As his sense of the historical development of conventions developed, he abandoned the strict terminological distinction between the despotic forms of ownership of the past and the revolutionary ones of the future. And as he turned more seriously to the question of liberty, he found positive reasons to affirm (simple) property (in all its despotic vainglory.)
But is it possible that we are not all associated ? Let us call to mind what was said in the last two chapters, That even though we do not want to be associated, the force of things, the necessity of consumption, the laws of production, and the mathematical principle of exchange combine to associate us. There is but a single exception to this rule, — that of the proprietor, who, producing by his right of increase, is not associated with any one, and consequently is not obliged to share his product with any one ; just as no one else is bound to share with him. With the exception of the proprietor, we labor for each other; we can do nothing by ourselves unaided by others, and we continually exchange products and services with each other. If these are not social acts, what are they?
Now, neither a commercial, nor an industrial, nor an agricultural association can be conceived of in the absence of equality ; equality is its sine qua turn. So that, in all matters which concern this association, to violate society is to violate justice and equality. Apply this principle to humanity at large. After what has been said, I assume that the reader has sufficient insight to enable him to dispense with any aid of mine.
By this principle, the man who takes possession of a field, and says, "This field is mine," will not be unjust so long as every one else has an equal right of possession; nor will he be unjust, if, wishing to change his location, he exchanges this field for an equivalent. But if, putting another in his place, he says to him, "Work for me while I rest," he then becomes unjust, unassociated, unequal. He is a proprietor.
Reciprocally, the sluggard, or the rake, who, without performing any social task, enjoys like others — and often more than others — the products of society, should be proceeded against as a thief and a parasite. We owe it to ourselves to give him nothing; but, since he must live, to put him under supervision, and compel him to labor.
Sociability is the attraction felt by sentient beings for each other. Justice is this same attraction, accompanied by thought and knowledge. But under what general concept, in what category of the understanding, is justice placed? In the category of equal quantities. Hence, the ancient definition of justice—Justum aequale est, injustum inaequale.
What is it, then, to practise justice? It is to give equal wealth to each, on condition of equal labor. It is to act socially. Our selfishness may complain ; there is no escape from evidence and necessity.
What is the right of occupancy? It is a natural method of dividing the earth, by reducing each laborer's share as fast as new laborers present themselves. This right disappears if the public interest requires it; which, being the social interest, is also that of the occupant.
What is the right of labor ? It is the right to obtain one's share of wealth by fulfilling the required conditions. It is the right of society, the right of equality.
Justice, which is the product of the combination of an idea and an instinct, manifests itself in man as soon as he is capable of feeling, and of forming ideas. Consequently, it has been regarded as an innate and original sentiment; but this opinion is logically and chronologically false. But justice, by its composition hybrid — if I may use the term, — justice, born of emotion and intellect combined, seems to me one of the strongest proofs of the unity and simplicity of the ego ; the organism being no more capable of producing such a mixture by itself, than are the combined senses of hearing and sight of forming a binary sense, half auditory and half visual.
This double nature of justice gives us the definitive basis of all the demonstrations in Chapters II., III., and IV. On the one hand, the idea of justice being identical with that of society, and society necessarily implying equality, equality must underlie all the sophisms invented in defence of property; for, since property can be defended only as a just and social institution, and property being inequality, in order to prove that property is in harmony with society, it must be shown that injustice is justice, and that inequality is equality, — a contradiction in terms. On the other hand, since the idea of equality — the second element of justice — has its source in the mathematical proportions of things; and since property, or the unequal distribution of wealth among laborers, destroys the necessary balance between labor, production, and consumption, — property must be impossible. -- What is Property? 233-235.
We can do far better than Proudhon ever did at engaging the details of building societies that accomplish the libertarian "aims" of property, extending his strongest analyses, which refusing his clumsy errors of application. But I'm pretty sure we can't do it by avoiding the question of property rights.