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Proudhon and the problem of method
René Berthier
Article published on 9 June 2012
last modification on 21 May 2016

by Eric Vilain

This text is the translation of the first part of a book published in French in 2009, Études proudhoniennes, L’Économie politique (Éditions du Monde libertaire). This first part develops a thesis concerning Proudhon’s methodological approach of economy I had started to study in an article, “La Question économique”, published in a French anarchist magazine, La Rue, revue culturelle et littéraire d’expression anarchiste, n° 33, 2nd term, 1983.
The reader will quickly realize I am not acquainted with philosophical vocabulary in English and that I am a poor translator. This translation has been done, for practical reasons, quite quickly and needs to be revised and improved, but I do hope the English reader will at least roughly understand what it is about in general terms.
The references which are mentioned are naturally French references. Many authors I quote are Marxist authors the English speaking reader has certainly never heard about and I didn’t bother to find an English version for there certainly are none.
Concerning Marx and Engels, I tried as much as possible to find the English version of their writings, which I found on the Internet. I simply mentioned the title of the book.

It seems the only book that has been translated in English is the Système des contradictions économiques, (System of Economic contradictions), available on the Internet. I mention this book either under the French or the English title.
The motivation for this translation is that I realized that the English speaking readers seem to have a very scarce knowledge of Proudhon, which is quite surprising for he laid the foundations of the anarchist doctrine. Although he can be associated with no anarchist organisation, he developed most of the concepts which characterize the anarchist doctrine, as well as most of the concepts Marx uses in economy.
There is another reason why I decided to translate this text. Two years ago I read Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism, written by Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt (AK Press). I think this is probably one of the most interesting books on anarchism written in the last 50 years . But I realised that the bibliography concerning Proudhon refers to only one very small book (80 pages) written about him in the 30’. Of course I can’t blame the authors of Black Flame for the dramatic absence of information available in English. This is why I thought necessary to translate this passage of my own book on Proudhon.
But why this particular passage? Because in my mind Proudhon’s approach to political economy is probably what is most innovative.

Not being particularly a “Proudhonian” myself, my intention is not to “rehabilitate” this author but to give credit for his contribution to the founding of anarchist doctrine, particularly in a field that is little known: methodology.