The opening shot was the publication of a short translation from Proudhon's The Theory of Property, the final section (also available in my translation), where he admits that, if it was simply a question of his personal preferences, his mature work on property might have taken a different turn. That passage is, of course, one of my touchstones for the work I have done in expanding on Proudhon's property theory, since "a different turn" is precisely what I think is needed. But, that said, it is hard to quite get on board with the argument made in Liberty:
Proudhon and Communism
The so-called Proudhonians like to tell us that in preaching Individualism and private appropriation they follow his teachings. This is what Proudhon wrote in his last work on Property, the "Theory of Property," published in 1866, after his death. After having developed in that work the ideas that, with the present development of the State, private property is the only means of defending man's liberty against the State,—he wrote the following characteristic conclusion to his work (pp. 244-246). To private property he personally preferred Slavonic or Communal possession of land.
I have unfolded the considerations which render the idea of private property intelligible, rational, justifiable, without which it would be usurpatory and hateful. And yet, even on those terms, it contains something of that selfishness which is always antipathetic to me. My levelling reason, always against being governed, and an enemy to the rage and abuses of power, is prepared to allow proprietorship to be kept up as a shield and position of safety for the weak: but my heart will never be with it. As far as I am concerned, I feel no necessity for this concession either for the purpose of gaining my own bread, or to fulfil my civic duties, or for my own happiness. I have no need to meet it with others that I may aid their weakness and respect their rights. I have sufficient energy of conscience and intellectual force to suitably maintain all my relations with my neighbours, without it, and if the majority of my fellow citizens resembled me—what need would there be of that institution? Where would be the danger for the little man the pupil, or the workman? Where would be the need of pride, ambition, and greed which cannot satisfy itself except by the immensity of appropriation?
A small house, held on hire, the use of a garden would be amply sufficient for me: my occupation not being to cultivate the soil, the vine, or a meadow, I do not require a park or a large inheritance, and even if I were a husbandman and vine-dresser, Slavonic form of possession would satisfy me, viz., the share falling to each head of a family in each commune. I cannot tolerate the insolence of the man who with his foot on land which he merely holds by a free concession, forbids us to pass over it, and prevents our gathering a flower in his field or to walk over a foot path.
When I see all these fences in the suburbs of Paris which take away a view of the country and the enjoyment of the soil from the poor pedestrian, my blood fairly boils. I ask myself whether such proprietorship which thus ties up each person within his own house is not rather expropriation and expulsion form the land. Private Property! I sometimes met with these words written in large letters at the entrance to an open road and which resembles a sentinel forbidding you to advance any farther. I confess, my manly dignity fairly bristles up in disgust. Oh! I remain with regard to this on the standpoint of the Christian religion, which recommends abnegation, preaches modesty, simplicity of mind, and poverty of heart. Away with the ancient patrician, unmerciful and covetous; away with the insolent baron, the greedy bourgeois, and the harsh peasant, durus arator. These people are odious to me! I can neither like them nor look at them. If I should ever find myself a proprietor I should be one of the that kind whom God and men, especially the poor forgive!
[Source: Liberty (Chiswick), August 1894, p. 62.]
Obviously, the key to the argument is this business of "the present development of the State," which is presumably what forces the embrace of property on Proudhon. For the moment, I'll leave readers to consider whether that is an adequate reading of "The New Theory."
Next up: Henry Seymour responds