Saturday, June 29, 2013

The General Idea of the Revolution (partially revised translation)

Since the question of Proudhon's understanding of "anarchy" is complicated by the fact that the English translation of one of the key texts, The General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, obscures the range of meanings that term might have, I thought it would be useful to make available a revision of John Beverley Robinson's translation, which at least restores that particular complexity to the text. I have marked portions of the text in bold: first, I've bolded all of the instances in which "anarchie" was originally translated as "chaos," "disorganization," etc., and I have restored the term "anarchy;" second, I have highlighted a few passages where Proudhon either makes comments about how the term "anarchy" should be understood, or where he says things about "anarchy" which it seems to me the range-of-meanings question has particular consequences. The changes are not substantial, at least in terms of the amount of text modified, but I think they raise some very interesting questions, which will perhaps pose some challenges for all of us who have sought, to one degree or another, to build up from a foundation in (or explicitly distinguished from) Proudhon's work.


Anonymous said...

Could you explain the practicality of this? Why is it important for people to see Proudhon's works through this light?

Shawn P. Wilbur said...

I guess the question is whether or not people want to understand Proudhon's work. I've been dealing with the broader question of what Proudhon meant when he said "I am an anarchist" in other posts, but the Robinson translation actually obscures what Proudhon said, so providing a more direct translations seems useful.

Again, the most immediate reason we might mistrust Robinson's translation is that when Proudhon does talk about "anarchie" in ways that Robinson felt comfortable translating as "anarchy" he also emphasized that the terms had multiple meanings. But Robinson essentially hid at least some of those meanings.

Once we know what meanings have been hidden, we can look at "The General Idea" differently, and I think I'll be able to show in some subsequent posts that the second look potentially opens up a range of very interesting new questions about Proudhon and anarchy.

Anonymous said...

I think that Shawn is right, I had to revise some of Robinson's translations for the extracts included in Property is Theft! as they did not quite do justice to what Proudhon was arguing.

The same can be said of Tucker's translations as well -- I should have consistently changed "Communism" to "Community" when Proudhon used that word. The two are not the same and, I would argue, that the Utopian socialists who advocated what Proudhon termed "Community" were not socialists in any meaningful sense of the word -- particularly as their communities were not communist nor socialist (retaining property income, for example).

Indeed, I think a good case could be made that Proudhon was the first modern socialist.

Anyways, we need to take a critical perspective on previous translations. I started (for good or bad) with Property is Theft! and, hopefully, it will be done -- although it is tempting to concentrate getting new material translated!


Shawn P. Wilbur said...

It really is a question of priorities. There are lots of little problems with the Tucker translations, mostly involving style and missed nuances, but nothing that seems to distort the argument in the way that this particular set of translation choices does.

I've been working off and on again translating the study on "Community" from the "Economic Contradictions," which is quite interesting, but it's hard to find time for all the things that it would be nice to have available.