CNRS (CEVIPOF) Article published in
Archives proudhoniennes, 2012.
par Eric Vilain
Published in 1970 by the Presses Universitaires de France, in the collection founded by Georges Gurvitch, La Naissance de l’anarchisme [Birth of Anarchism] is today a classic among studies on Proudhon, cited both by the great historians of 19th century socialism (for example Tony Judt and Bernard Moss) and by young researchers working on anarchism (for example Irène Pereira and Simon Luck). It is a classic not only because it is based on a deep knowledge of Proudhon and his time, but also because it provides, at first glance, a simple and powerful hypothesis : Proudhonian thought is the expression of a certain form of economic organization, the workshop, and more particularly of the social group of master weavers in the silk industry, the famous Lyon Canuts [silk weavers].
This article aims to show that Pierre Ansart offers us much more with this book than a sociological explanation for the birth of anarchism. Alongside this admittedly important result, it also and above all inaugurates a profound methodological renewal in the history of ideas, the possibilities of which remain largely unexploited. To uncover these possibilities, it is necessary to overcome what constitutes the main obstacle to the understanding of this book, the too simple result to which it is reduced : an explanation of Proudhon’s thought by the homology with the organization of master weavers of the Lyon silk industry. By taking up the thread of the book, I would like to offer a reading that does not stop at this result, but that attempts to reconstruct the argumentation that leads to it, its inflections, the indications of method, the paths opened. I hope in this way to show that this work is not only important for the understanding of Proudhon and Proudhonism, but also for thinking a history of ideas which cannot be reduced either to the internal study of supposed great works, or to a historical sociology of intellectual production inattentive to the theoretical and normative stakes of the thoughts it studies.