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Proudhon: What is Property? (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought) [Hardcover]

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon , Donald R. Kelley , Bonnie G. Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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25 Feb 1994 Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought
This is a 1994 translation of one of the classics of the traditions of anarchism and socialism. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was a contemporary of Marx and one of the most acute, influential and subversive critics of modern French and European society. His What is Property? (1840) produced the answer 'Property is theft'; the book itself has become a classic of political thought through its wide-ranging and deep-reaching critique of private property as at once the essential institution of Western culture and the root cause of greed, corruption, political tyranny, social division and violation of natural law. A critical and historical introduction situates Proudhon's 'diabolical work' (as he called it) in the context of nineteenth-century social and legal controversy and of the history of political thought in general.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 267 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (25 Feb 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521405556
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521405553
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 13.8 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,025,553 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Book Description

This is a 1994 translation of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's What is Property? (1840), one of the classics of political thought and a notorious and influential critique of the central institution of modern Western society, the private ownership of property.

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In your deliberation of 9 May 1833 concerning the triennial pension founded by Mme Suard, you expressed the following wish: "The Academy requests the pensioner to present annually, in the first two weeks in July, a succinct and clear statement of the various studies which he pursued during the past year." Read the first page
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking and underrated 31 Aug 2006
Format:Paperback
The question is was Proudhon as much of a genius as Marx, and the answer is possibly. You see, the critical issue is he was writing a whole decade before the Communist Manifesto was published and God knows how long before Das Capital. And Marx (and Engels) nicked all his ideas. Proudhon starts talking about the economic relationship between capital and labour, in much more understandable terms than Das Kapital. And he doesn't end up compromising like Marx did (and I'm paraphrasing here) 'Well we don't mind making your bombs, so long as we can have a revolution, get paid more and we can join a trade union'.

The rise of anarchism in political thought and activism recently makes Proudhon's analysis seem timeless and relevant. A must-have for anyone with half a brain cell.

I find the introduction on the blue edition a bit patronising. I think a true anarchist should have written it. I suppose that's the problem, we're all too busy messing around with our aromatherapy sessions to bother complaining to the Cambridge University Press about getting someone with decent ideas to write a good introduction to a seminal piece.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Useful Text 9 May 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Note: The previous reviewer is a known troll on various political discussion boards; he has developed a rabid hatred towards Anarchist ideology, so, if I were a customer considering this book, I would take his review with a grain of salt - it's full of very personal venom. For instance, to put Proudhon and Marx in the same category is blatant proof of the reviewer's prejudices; clearly, he has either not read the text or he is purposefully misrepresenting it. Proudhon would never have supported the authoritarianism espoused by Marx or any of his contemporaries and successors.
Proudhon's discourse on property is a great thing to pit against the theories of Hobbes, Locke, and others. He examines property both as a natural right and as one derived from labor, attempting to prove both as false. Whether or not he successfully does so is up to the reader. This is a great book for people interested in political thought and social theory; regardless of whether or not you are a staunch capitalist or socialist, this book will either give you something to think about. For strong supporters of property, it may help solidify your beliefs while you read it with critical analysis. For opponents of property, it may give you support in your beliefs, or re-affirm that which you already feel.
This book is recommended to any and all interested in the history of modern political thought; you just can't review literature as an ideologue, as the previous reviewer has shamefully done.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Getting beyond the slogans 15 Nov 2007
By Shawn P. Wilbur - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If all you know about Proudhon is that he said "property is theft," then this is the place to start learning the rest. If that is all you want to know, then skip it; you will be frustrated and disappointed. Proudhon makes a series of analyses of property theories as they existed in his era. He finds them wanting in consistency, so that they turn on themselves (basing "property," paradoxically, in what any consistent application of that very theory would consider "theft") or simply fail to deal with the complexities of even 19th century production (leading to the conclusion that property, using other standards, is "impossible.") The First Memoir ends with an early attempt by Proudhon to establish a dialectical balance between the aims of the early capitalists and early socialists, positing a form of liberty in the counterbalance of "communism and property." Proudhon's thought developed considerably after this early work, but he never abandoned the basic terms of the analysis, even when he came, towards the end of his life, that some form of property was necessary to preserve freedom.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The classic of Western European anarchist thought 10 Feb 2006
By M. A. Krul - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The title is perhaps one of the most famous rhetorical questions ever, and should be placed historically in the same range as "Quo usque tandem, Catilina" etc. Proudhon sets himself the task of analyzing the foundations of modern society, and inevitably is drawn towards a critique of the modern political economy, as was popular in the 19th century.

Just like Locke, he then "reverse engineers" the economic relations to find their basis in private property, but quite unlike Locke he brilliantly argues why this is in fact an evil thing and not a force for good, as Locke thought. Working from the hypothetical "state of nature", he shows how possession during use is a natural phenomenon, but a permanent property claim over something that was once part of nature is a later invention, and has since caused all strife and misery that competition over scarce goods is wont to do.

As a critique of modern society, this work deserves reading by everyone, regardless of whether you approve of current economic structures or not. The only downside to the book is Proudhon's rather messy attempt to offer an additional immanent critique of capitalism, which only leads the reader to conclude economic ignorance. That is a pity, for the question itself is not only worth asking, but of the various historical answers given this is one of the best argued and most radical.

Notable is Proudhon's influence on Marx and their subsequent falling out over Proudhon's idealism, as seen in his later work "The Philosophy of Poverty" and Marx's reply "The Poverty of Philosophy".
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great text for anyone studying radical political thought. 22 Sep 1998
By Jeffery Schmitz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Proudhon writes with a flair that captivates the reader and thrusts him into the revolutionary spirit. Fans of Michael Bakunin and Rudolf Rocker will love this work. One of the best reads on early anarchist thought. If you are anti-property you will love this book!
15 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not against property 21 Nov 2002
By nicojx - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The idea that Proudhon was against property is one of the greatest myths about him and quite a surprising one as such. His famous statement, "Property is Theft," is later accompanied by, "Property is Liberty." In fact, his whole aim seems to be to show that property on the one hand corrupts, but that this corruption is the only possible basis for liberty - which is the ultimate aim. While Proudhon may be considered a radical, he sure was no leftwinged radical. Read for yourself! Overall he is a bit confused and confusing, his ideas of law and justice rather strange and even disturbing (law is what you cannot avoid admitting, and justice the right balance (supply and demand)). This guy took Smith a bit seriously and didn't care much about Marx's critique of society - although he has some surprisingly great critiques of communism.
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