Hal Draper with Anne Lipow

Women and Class

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Part 1: Class Roots of the Feminist Movement

Chapter 7
Phobic Anti-Feminism:
The Case of the Father
of Anarchism

Throughout modern history, feminism and democracy are twins. It has to be consistent democracy. It stands to reason: acceptance of democratic rights and equality for the entire human race implies democratic equality for “the Half of the Human Race” that the earliest feminists appealed to.

We have also seen that feminist ideas arose most consistently out of the socialist movement. Feminism and socialism: are these twins also?

No, they are not. We are in process of exploring the relationship, but part of the answer can be set down now: not all varieties of leftists have been proponents of women’s rights. We will see some examples later, for instance the German Lassalleans. The present chapter is on the special case of the most viciously anti-feminist thinker in the annals of the left. This was P.J. Proudhon, the ideological father of anarchism.

But does not anarchism mean the very apotheosis of Freedom? What current has produced more rhetoric about Liberty? It seems to be a confusing sort of exception.

The confusion lies in the prevalent illusions about anarchism in general and Proudhon in particular. The fact is that Proudhon was not only anti-feminist but one of the most thoroughly authoritarian types ever to arise on the so-called left.

It is quite likely, dear reader, that you will have to be liberated from the myth of anarchist “libertarianism” before you can tackle the question of Proudhon’s mind-boggling form of anti-feminism. But this job cannot be accomplished here. I strongly recommend that you attend to it first, even if you have to skip to the next chapter in the meantime. [1]

Proudhon’s extreme anti-feminism has sometimes been mentioned, though never presented fully, and when mentioned it is commonly treated as an odd personal aberration, unrelated to his overall social theory. To see the weakness of this interpretation, we must first lay out Proudhon’s views on women in all their incredible ferocity. Readers who find this unnecessary may skip the first two sections.

1. The Patriarchal Master

“I regard as baneful and stupid all our dreams about the emancipation of women; I deny her any kind of right and political initiative; I believe that for woman liberty and well-being lie solely in marriage, motherhood, domestic concerns, fidelity as a spouse, chastity, and seclusion.”

So Proudhon, or a brief taste of him.

Woman’s role was only that of “nurse and child-bearer.” Proudhon’s Marriage Catechism laid it down that her role had to be limited to: “Care of the household, rearing of the children, education of young girls under the supervision of the magistrates, service of public charity.” The last item was her only possible connection with the world outside the home. She “is inevitably and juridically excluded from any political, administrative, doctrinal, industrial leadership, as of any military action.”

His writings proclaimed, from at least 1846 on, that she could be nothing but “Courtesan or housekeeper ... I see nothing in between.” Even earlier, in 1845, when a liberal friend argued against relegating women to housekeeping only, Proudhon kept saying, “I don’t understand you.”

Above all, the “law” had to be that “the man will be the master and the woman will obey.” In relations with a woman, a man must always keep in mind that for her he is “a father, a chief, a master: above all a master!” The wife could not be the husband’s “associate”: “Woman was given to man to serve him as auxiliary ...”

To an extent, certainly, Proudhon was just articulating the view of woman’s subordination that was prevalent in mid-nineteenth century. If that were all, he would not be interesting. The fact is that this “libertarian” went far beyond even the most conservative versions then current on the place of women. It is this extremeness we want to focus on first.

It was not Proudhon’s argumentation that merits attention. Although he wrote profusely on the subject, he mainly embroidered the standard rationalizations or invented arguments of special absurdity. To be sure, those who are bemused by his “libertarian” label may be shocked by the chief rationalization, the main one of the times and the main one in Proudhon: Men are strong, therefore men must rule. As a “moral philosopher” (a title often conferred on him by admirers) his main effort was represented by this ratiocination: “Why is marriage indissoluble? – Because the conscience is immutable.” (That’s all.)

In method he differed in no way from any of the contemporaneous deep thinkers: everything was proved by dint of assuming in advance that men and women are defined in terms of convenient abstractions. Men = strength; hence force, ability, and all associated virtues. Women = beauty and grace at the best, and nothing else but baby machines and unpaid servitors. He did not even give a nod to a conception that was already commonplace among socialists: that women were driven to prostitution not by their “female” natures but by social conditions.

Proudhon himself understood that his anti-feminist views were more reactionary than even the upholders of the status quo – reactionary in the literal sense of wishing to return to a more patriarchal past. Public opinion and government had to be convinced, he proclaimed, “that the father of the family should be re-established [sic] in his domestic jurisdiction, honors and authority.” A propaganda campaign was needed against the current degenerate state of affairs, “against the licentiousness of young people and feminine rebelliousness.” Women “have nothing to gain by education.”

This reactionary yearning was not simply a personal aberration. The first point to be made about this is that our “advanced thinker” remained a peasant mentality at bottom. Even his admiring anarchoid biographer George Woodcock, terribly embarrassed by his hero’s views, suggests the following as extenuation:

Even his domestic pattern was that of a peasant ... He liked to rule the household in the manner of a Judaic patriarch, and few French farmers would disagree with his view of the functions of women.

Proudhon’s peasant mentality was honestly come by. His parents were peasants of the Franche-Comté, who provided the “rustic blood” he liked to boast of and the “pure Jurassic limestone” of his nature. (The Jura mountains on the Swiss side later also provided Bakunin’s best recruiting ground.) This side of his family changed over from peasant life to that of urban artisans and small traders, thereby combining the class characteristics of the French peasant with the town shopkeeper. His father having gone bankrupt as a tavern keeper, the family went back to the land; young Pierre Joseph began his working life as a peasant boy in the Juras. As a young man he attained to artisan life, becoming a journeyman printer.

“Back to patriarchy!” was the banner he raised himself. “It is to a new patriarchate that I would like to invite all men,” he wrote. It was in this peasant yearning, articulated by a citified self-made intellectual, that we get one clue to the connection between his antifeminism and his anarchist standpoint, that is, his blind resentment against the organization of modern society and a longing to return to the small-unit society of the past, where a patriarch could rule.

Out of this peasant soul of his came even part of his vocabulary and the brutal viciousness of some of his formulations, as we will see. A favorite swearword of his, reserved for effeminate men and “masculine” women, femmelins, came from the peasants of the Franche-Comté; so he told us. He liked to use the peasant expression that a “strong-minded female” (his ultimate horror) was a “hen trying to crow like a cock.” He quite consciously linked the peasant’s concern for preserving seed with the “virile” man’s need to retain his seed in order to conserve strength and intellect. Women, eunuchs and children were inferior because they lacked this conservation of the “seed.” This hayseed notion may remind you of the General in Dr. Strangelove who worried about the health of his “body fluids” ...

Proudhon’s desire for a return to the patriarchate of the past even impelled him to make common cause with the institution he often execrated, the Church – an alliance against women’s pretensions. On women, family and sex he expressed the most complete agreement with the most reactionary strictures of the Church, objecting only to signs of liberalization in the Church’s attitude. His chapters on women in his book De la Justice were even publicly presented with a bow of agreement to the Archbishop. Above all, he insisted constantly and at length on the utter rigidity of church and state laws on the indissolubility of marriage and the absolute impossibility of divorce, qualified only by a rather reluctant acceptance of the few exceptions historically recognized by the papacy.

2. The Female Enemy

Proudhon founded his antifeminism completely on the proposition of woman’s inferiority, “physical, intellectual and moral” – but this common starting point led him in a far from common direction.

Again, it is useless to seek in Proudhon’s voluminous works for any reasoned case trying to establish this inferiority. You will find only the assertion that, since men are “stronger,” they are necessarily stronger in all respects, hence superior in all fields and professions. This “enemy of the state” next reasoned that since “all legislation is an inference from the right of force,” those who lack force should have no legal rights. His obsession with strength in a personal sense was symbolized when, on going into exile in 1858, he assumed the name Durfort (“hard-strong”).Women’s inferiority was organic; it was inherent in her sex. A key word was “virility”; maleness was superior by definition; femaleness was “irrationality.” This state of affairs was “organic and inevitable.”

These jejune thoughts led Proudhon to sweeping social and political conclusions. First of all, they led to the sexist equivalent of the “white man’s burden.” Woman was inherently and eternally the ward of the man – some man, any man.

That is why, in principle no woman should be regarded as being sui juris sui compos; she is presumed to be eternally [sic] in a state of tutelage to a father, brother, uncle, husband, even indeed a lover wherever concubinage is recognized by the law. If there is no natural-born guardian indicated, the law has to appoint one among the persons officially designated for family counsel: mayor, judge, head of the workshop, etc.

Inside a family, the woman’s role – outside of reproduction – was that of the housekeeper: “The household is the complete manifestation of the woman.”

Now the plot thickens. Again and again Proudhon exhorted the man to be the Master in the house. He kept on saying, “the first condition, for a man, is to dominate the woman and be the master.”

If she has a good mind or is a talented woman, etc., you have to be seven times stronger than she; if not, no marriage. There is no peace for a man in feeling himself criticized; no dignity in being contradicted; this raises the imminent danger of cuckoldry, which is the worst of shames and miseries. Rather the frequentation of courtesans than a bad marriage.

In the great tradition of the cracker-barrel sexist, he assured young men that they must learn “that a woman wanted to be dominated.” Now observe the next step.

Make her jump, he counseled (using an expression applied to dogs jumping for a tidbit). Never tell her any secrets, even such as you might confide to a friend (i.e., a male friend). “Never forgive her for grave faults: she will disdain her husband so much the more.” Let her get out of hand in any way and she will not only start to “affect equality,” she will “make jokes about her master.” That is horrible enough, but, worse still, she may even grow so degenerate as to dare to make a complaint against her master.

It is a shameful thing for our society, a mark of decay, that a woman should be able to ask divorce on grounds of incompatibility in temperament or the use of violence by the husband.

The last phrase already indicated that, for this libertarian, wife-beating was as guiltless an occupation as house-breaking a dog. In the same passage he himself made the link with the Law of Strength. “If he [the man] has been endowed with superiority in strength, it is also in order that he exercise its rights. Strength has right, strength has its obligation.” (This phrase is modeled on the axiom Noblesse oblige.)

Women like to be roughed up now and then by their master: they positively like it. This old chestnut of the barnyard sages was repeated by our anarchist theoretician, in mild forms and in virulent forms. He bade men remember this “aphorism”: “that the men most beloved by their women are those who know how to make themselves respected, even a little feared.”

The man has strength, in order to make use of it. Without force, the woman scorns him; and making her feel he is strong is also a way of giving her pleasure, fascinating and captivating her.

Finally, a gemlike formulation: “A woman does not at all hate being used with violence, indeed even being violated.” Whether “by reason or force,” a woman has to be bent and broken to the master’s will. “If the woman resists you to your face, it is necessary to beat her down at any cost.”

Even to the power of life and death: violence in dominating the woman is not to be limited. Proudhon demanded that society return to the Patriarchal Law.

The simplest case was death out of hand for a wife taken in adultery. A man who did not immediately stab an unfaithful wife to death simply lacked elementary self-respect. “Murdering an unfaithful wife is an act of marital justice,” said the philosopher of Justice. On the other hand, what if the wife caught out an adulterous husband? It was her duty, indeed her “triumph,” to take him back lovingly in her arms.

Proudhon also spelled out a wider range of reasons for which a husband might kill his wife “in accordance with the rigor of paternal justice.” Besides adultery, the list included “lewdness, treason, drunkenness and debauchery, squandering money and theft,” and, last but not least, “obstinate, peremptory, disdainful insubordination.” His rights over her “are almost unlimited.”

In fact, the more one dives into Proudhon’s writings on the question, the clearer is his psycho-pathological obsession with bloodthirsty visions of revenge against women for the slightest infraction of real or fancied male prerogatives. There is an incredible passage about a woman who gave a successful literary talk while her husband sat by and beamed. Proudhon’s pen whipped itself up into a frenzy; he gave a detailed account of what he would have done if his wife had dared to make such a public spectacle of herself against his wishes. At the first sign of disobedience, he would tell her that he would fix her so that she could not do it again. “And as I would have spoken, so would I have acted. In a society [France] where the law does not protect the dignity of the head of the family, it is for the head of the family to protect himself. In such a case, I consider, like the Roman, that the husband has the right of life and death over the wife.”

In a similarly obsessive vein, repeating his slogan of “Courtesan or housekeeper – nothing else!”, he added as part of the same thought: “Better death!” – better death for the woman who ignores this law than suffer her to live a “prostituted” life outside the household chores. In these passages, he added another slogan: “Imprisonment rather than emancipation!”

The case of the literary lady indicated what it took to rouse his most murderous responses. When it came to the best-known woman writers of the day, his pen turned into an SS trooper’s truncheon. Naturally his most bestial imprecations were reserved for the greatest woman writer that France had produced, George Sand. To the offence of writing books she also added the crime of advocating “free love.” To give an adequate sample of the vulgarity and coarseness of Proudhon’s invective would take more space than it is worth, for it can be appreciated (clinically) mainly in its bulk.

At this point we are mainly interested in his repeated screams threatening physical beatings or death as a punishment for such writings. His response to George Sand’s autobiography was this: “how could she have failed to reflect that, by tucking up her skirts before the public that way, she authorized the first-comer to flog her without her having any right to complain?” This cogent criticism was actually published in his book De la Justice. To one of the women who dared to attack this work in a pamphlet, he replied: “I do not have the right of force with regard to you, madame; if it were otherwise, you can be sure that never in your life would you ever touch pen again.”

To paraphrase a noted saying: when Proudhon hears the phrase woman writer he reaches for his knout. But women writers were only the most notorious cases of the larger world of degeneracy, i.e., “emancipated women.” To them he directed these words: “when men recover their sense of shame, they will drown you and your lovers in a pond.”

Male writers who countenanced “obscenity” were equally proscribed. In his Notebooks he raged against the “obscenity” in the novels of Dumas: “prostitution everywhere, prostitution always! Death, massacre for the infames!” Later he mused in the same pages: “After the Revolution, we will have to condemn some millions of individuals of both sexes to forced labor! – prostitutes male and female, pimps and procuresses, rapists, seducers, violators of young girls, thieves pointed out by public opinion and remaining unpunished, etc., etc.”

By “prostitutes” Proudhon did not merely mean prostitutes. In this Liberty-loving plan for prisons for millions, a “prostitute” was any woman who went outside the sphere assigned her by our Moral Philosopher, or who even thought about doing so. “Promiscuity in ideas ends in promiscuity of love affairs, and vice versa,” he wrote in capitals and italics. “What is called her [woman’s] emancipation is the same thing as prostitution,” he repeated in various ways.

The equation was this: emancipation = free love = prostitution = degeneration = collapse of society, and so on ad infinitum. A father who took his wife or daughter to a theater thereby put them on the road to prostitution. Proudhon demanded that the theater be purged of its immorality. Actresses who portrayed love on the stage acted like tarts. “The most obscene and the vilest names would hardly suffice to give an idea of these mores.” When it came to vile names Proudhon did his best: George Sand, “who pisses phrases as much as Dumas does dialogues,” is an “old harlot,” etc. Women artists were all the same: the courtesan of antiquity “was, in her way, an artist” after all,” he mused. “The dancing girl of India, the Egyptian dancing woman, the teahouse women in Japan, are also artists.” QED: artists were courtesans, proved by history in Proudhon’s customary caricature of erudition on the half-shell.

It should not be thought that Proudhon made no concessions to the usual platitudes about kindness to women, as to dumb animals. In one of his dithyrambs to Justice we learn that Justice “tells the man Command, in order the better to serve; it tells the woman Obey, in order the better to reign.” It is well known that all authoritarians insist on despotic rule solely in order to Serve the People.

3. The Anti-Sex Appeal

We have not yet plumbed the depths of Proudhon’s ideas on women’s place. You have already no doubt noticed that those ideas were closely associated in his own mind with his views on sexual behavior, and we have to probe into this area. You may come to the conclusion that the problem was more psychiatric than political or social. Without denying this, we want to round out the facts before going on to the relation between Proudhon’s anti-feminism and his anarchism.

To begin with: behind Proudhon’s antagonism to feminism was his psycho-pathological hostility to and fear of women; and behind this, his overt and obvious antagonism to sex.

Glorification of chastity was not unusual, either as an attitude or an attitudinization. But the substance was quite different when Proudhon wrote, “What is chastity? The highest expression of love.” The usual bows to chastity meant that suitable forms and rituals made sex pure.

For Proudhon, love was pure only when it was completely devoid of sex both in act and thought. The only pure woman was the chaste (continent) woman – one who felt no sex urge whatever and preferably remained virgin. Thus she could approach the moral heights enjoyed by the male. “It is by chastity that women can draw closer to men, that is, by stripping off their sex.” The function of chastity was to defeminize the woman; woman minus sex became almost tolerable.

Proudhon applied the demand for chastity even more strongly to men, though not for the same reason. His frequent injunction to men is: abstain, be continent. Sometimes this was connected with the need to remain master in the household; for the sexual urge represented a weapon of power in the hands of the woman; it might make the man capitulate to her. There were other reasons.

An old man said: It is unfortunate that we could not do without women to preserve society. He should have said: It is unfortunate that we cannot abstain from love. – Love is a mystical thing, irrational, even incomprehensible.

This sort of thought may also be found among men who have wondered at the “mystical” power of love (or sex) to sweep them off their feet. Proudhon was not one of these. All biographical evidence as well as his Notebooks and other writings indicate that his own sex drive was not exactly sweeping, and – perhaps more important – what there was of it was seen as a great annoyance. “For men,” he wrote, “women are an affliction of the spirit, whether he resorts to them [sexually] or whether he abstains.”

He therefore convinced himself that “nature” (which always commanded men to do whatever the philosopher Proudhon decided was right) has made man, not woman, the prototype of chastity. The de-sexed, non-sensual love of Judith and Manasseh was, in fact, “the love that is really felt by every virtuous young man and which animates so many young girls.” Later he modified this only to exclude females more generally:

The woman – and this is remarkable – ascribes no chastity to the man, does not make it his obligation, doesn’t worry about it with regard to him, would even be annoyed if he were chaste. [How convenient for the double standard!] – The man to the contrary. This ... is a law of nature. Chastity has its principle in the man; it applies only to him, emanates only from him.

Our libertarian notes that once in power, he would, in order to encourage chastity, “proscribe any depiction or description of physical and platonic love.”

Proudhon then moved further to proscribe love itself as an immoral emotion. His demand for the purification of sex became a demand for the suppression of sex – even in wedlock, even between newlyweds. Since the only moral passion is the passion for Justice –

Any other passion is egoistic: love is egoism. The just man is passionate, but passionate against all love ... The love of a father of a family for his children is ... odious to the just man ...

... and so on ad furorem. He wrote: “I have always said, in a sense, that between decent people there is no talk of love, and that the less love plays a part in existence, the more chance of happiness there is.” – “In all love, there is defilement and prostitution of the body.” The Church’s blessing of the nuptial bed, Proudhon maintained, had to be conditional only, because what went on there was inherently “shameful,” unless decontaminated by a complete absence of any pleasure in the shame. Marriage was different from prostitution only if the partners remained “chaste in marriage as in love” – limiting sex to a minimum performed as a pleasureless duty. To marry for love was whoredom. Any woman who felt “love for love’s sake, love for pleasure’s sake” was a whore. “She is chaste who feels no amorous emotion for anyone, not even for her husband.” Two who married for sensual pleasure were simple fornicators, debauchees and libertines. Once the children were grown up, sex relations between man and wife must cease. These instructions were detailed in Proudhon’s fantastic Marriage Catechism.

There was another element involved, besides the purely “moral” one. Sex relations between fiances, or even between man and wife, were “destructive to domestic respect, love of work, and the practice of social duties.” It got in the way of the proper relation of serf to master. By engaging in love with the woman, the Master will “lose respect in her eyes.” This line of thought leads back to the motivation of despotism.

4. The Dirty Mind

Behind all his talk about morality, purity and chastity, Proudhon’s gut-feeling about sex was that it was dirty and devilish; this hardly needs to be argued today. He more or less said so more than once. “Everything written on this subject fills me with a deep disgust,” he wrote a friend. The association of any thought of sex with “disgust” keeps recurring. “Woman solicits, arouses, provokes man; she disgusts him, annoys him.” (As usual, the abstraction “man” was actually named Pierre Joseph.) The sex act itself was one of the “most shameful things.” The “mysteries” of reproduction were “all very ugly”; a boy should be told to read a botanical textbook – “that is enough, nothing more.”

In De la Justice he propounded one of his moral principles:

If anything is made to reveal to man his dignity, it is certainly the coupling of animals, the most repulsive of all spectacles: the sight of a corpse is less shocking. Now the shame which a man feels in the solitude of his dignity is redoubled under the eyes of a bystander; hence he has a new duty which we formulate as follows: Do not do in private what you would not dare to do before others; do not do before others what you do not want them to do before you.

This was surely one of the most remarkable of golden rules. But it is an illuminating statement psychologically. In the above-mentioned letter to a friend, he made clear that the whole modern world was filthy-dirty, polluted with sex like a barnyard. Some day the “spirituality” hinted in Plato and in Christianity might be realized.

I regard our present-day lasciviousness as altogether contrary to nature; all these displays of tenderness, even when honest and delicate, these expressions of ardency about women, that fill modern works, seem to me to be the result of a disordered erotic excitation, rather than a symptom of legitimate tendencies.

The sickness in his soul he projected onto the world, and demanded that the human species be psychically castrated. Sex was literally of the devil. This bitter despiser of women wrote, “In principle there is no ugly woman; all partake more or less of that ineffable beauty that people call ‘beauté du diable’.” One of the women who polemized in a pamphlet against his 1858 book showed exceptional insight in pointing out Proudhon’s “tendency to obscenity.”

His Notebooks were replete with vituperation against the Fourierists and the Saint-Simonians because of their favorable attitude toward women’s rights and “free love.” His notes could not be mistaken for simple political comments; they were usually more like retchings. After a denunciation of the Fourierists as glorifiers of sensuality, he grated: “You are disgusting! This is my last word.” It was also often his first word.

He put his demand for sexual abstinence to work politically. It was his one and only solution of the overpopulation problem, for it was the only method of birth control that was not immoral. The way to enforce abstinence was to make men and women work so hard that the “erotic appetites” were restrained. To put it in popular parlance: comes the revolution, we libertarians will work your balls off!

Taking Proudhon not as a political type but as a clinical case, one would have to investigate the personal origins of his obviously sick mind. Though this is not my subject, there is enough data lying on the surface to make clear that the task would not be in vain. Some remarks may be useful simply to supplement the picture.

For one thing, there is no doubt that his fear and detestation of sex went back to his earliest known years, in a fairly conscious way. “I am not particularly amorous,” he wrote a friend as a young man. As a young printer apprentice in his master’s home, he would flee to his own room when visiting young people “became flirtatious,” a contemporary recalled. In later life he wrote about falling in young love, and rejoiced that he had retained his pristine innocence: “What a memory for a man’s heart in after years,” he rhapsodized, “to have been in his green youth the guardian, the companion, the participant of the virginity of a young girl.” Explaining “I am chaste; I am naturally so, by inclination,” he later stated that he was a virgin until “ten years after my puberty.” His biographer Woodcock thinks the experience of losing his virginity was probably unpleasant for him.

In any case, there was no record or hint of any other relationship with a woman in Proudhon’s life until a mind-boggling episode which might be rejected in disbelief if it were not vouched for by Proudhon himself. One day in 1847 he accosted a stranger on a street in Paris. It was nine days before his 38th birthday. He had decided to get married: typically, a completely abstract decision, detached from any flesh and blood, let alone glands. “The presence of a woman at my hearth has become necessary to me,” he explained to a friend.

The young woman he accosted was completely unknown to him, except that he had observed her before. He quizzed her on the spot, and got (so to speak) her name, rank and serial number: Euphrasie Piégard, 24, lace worker. Then and there he abruptly proposed marriage. The next day he sent her a long letter expounding his reasons for wishing to marry her. A slight idea of the oddities contained in this composition may be gained from the following: “I had in principle resolved to settle down. Reasoning on this question, I told myself that if I took a wife I would wish her to be young and even pretty ...” (and so on). Then he signed a false name to the letter.

Actually he was unable to make a final decision for marriage for almost two years, by which time he was a political prisoner in Sainte-Pélagie, the well-known Paris jail. But living conditions for political prisoners in those innocent days were not much more arduous than living in a mediocre hotel as a shut-in, except that he could leave the premises only once a week. The marriage took place on the last day of 1849. Two months later he noted in his daybook: “In all, after six weeks of marriage, I have slept with my wife three times: a thing I am far from complaining about. It is not good, in my opinion, to be always together. ” Sainte-Pélagie was good for his soul.

It must be recorded that this marriage worked out very well – at least for Proudhon. After three months of marriage he rhapsodized that his selection was “the simplest, sweetest, most docile of creatures. ” There was no danger of her developing intellectual ambitions, since she barely knew how to write, never read books, and showed no interest in her husband’s intellectual pursuits. As Proudhon said of a friend’s marriage: “How happy he is – his wife is not so foolish as to be ignorant of how to make a good stew, nor intelligent enough to discuss his articles!”

5. Homosexuality and Fear

Within the limits already mentioned (that is, without getting into psychiatric depths), it is possible to point to some elements that played a part in shaping this teratological phenomenon.

One, no doubt, was his relationship to his mother. Biographer Woodcock tells us that the son’s “admiration” for the mother was lifelong. She worked like a dog for her family and unquestioningly accepted her place. We are told that this revered mother was the mirror in which Pierre Joseph saw all women; and this claim raises obvious questions about the source of the hatred and disgust of women that filled him from youth. When he wrote in his Notebook, “If I ever get married, I wish to love my wife as much as I loved my mother,” one must wonder about this expression of model filial piety. He said she had counseled him, “Never speak of love to a girl, even when you propose to marry her,” and one may ask what had led her to conclude that love and marriage must be strangers.

Another element, not a matter of speculation, was his latent homosexuality. To be sure, he condemned homosexuality like all other detestable sexual practices; in fact, his genial plan for the new Proudhonian social order was so libertarian that he had a whole list of sexual crimes for which offhand murder was justified. Any homosexual taken in flagrante might be freely killed by anyone who came along. He freely echoed the peasant’s rustic sneers at femmelins and ambigus; for example, the Girondins were femmelins, the Jacobins were castrati, etc.

The starting point was an extended argument by Proudhon that women were not only physically and morally weaker than men but “hence also less beautiful.”

The woman’s beauty, besides being infinitely less in expression than men’s, is of much shorter duration. And whatever is not always beautiful is less beautiful. – No sexual illusion can destroy this reasoning. – Besides, if men because of passion find women more beautiful than themselves, it is likewise true that women find men more beautiful than themselves.

He listed some classical statues of male figures, and asserted they “are more beautiful than the Venuses of Medici, Milo, and all the Venuses in the world.” Women’s figures had only one note, “the rounded contour,” whereas men’s had many esthetic aspects. Pygmalion was himself more beautiful than the statue he made. Then:

And why shouldn’t love, something more than friendship, exist between men of different ages, at least in platonic form? All of us feel it unawares. We all love to see and caress young boys, when their faces are attractive. Pederasty comes much less from privation or abuse of conjugal enjoyment, as is thought, than from that vague intuition of masculine beauty which suddenly enamors the heedless heart with an incomprehensible love.

This, one of the closest approaches in Proudhon to a poetic flight, was followed by more on the patterns of homosexuality.

Every man is susceptible at a given moment to loving his friend’s son, or his neighbor’s, and becoming a pederast. It is a somnambulistic erotic outburst that no one can resist; and if the man who is hit in this way, seduced by his imagination, gives way to his disordered senses, he is lost. The pederastic furor increases with time and satisfaction. The most terrible penalties can no longer stop it. A man should therefore watch without relaxation over his heart and senses; master his flesh by work, study and meditation; above all, make moderate and discreet use of the fine arts, all of which are the fascinator-agents of lust and sensuality.

It is clear that Proudhon saw this “pederastic furor” as related to his justified contempt for women, who, being supernally inferior, had to be inferior also as objects of love. All very classical.

Homosexuality was closely associated in Proudhon’s mind with another type of sexuality, which the textbooks call bestiality, and which usually surfaces in the form of jokes about peasants and rustics. On the page after the last extract quoted above, we can read the following:

Love for animals. I have no more doubt about this love than of homosexual love, though it is perhaps rarer. – I speak of a love with sensual delight, as in the case of pederastic and conjugal love.

Both forms of sexuality were associated in his mind for purposes of vituperation as well. In one of his monotonously regular denunciations of the Fourierist group, he frothed: “You are pederasts, and 7 out of 8 of you fondle your dog or your mare.” A little further on, the reference to masturbatory bestiality was made explicit.

In still another Notebook entry, Proudhon unleashed a long argument in which his sexism and racism were wrapped up in one package with the specters of sexual perversion. The male white Frenchman, lord of creation, might consort with lesser breeds – like women – just as savage races might crossbreed with monkeys. He set up a continuous gradation, all under the heading, “Women. – Omnigamy. ” It started with a news report that a female monkey in the Paris zoo was to be “crossed with a man, like a Negress with a white.” He opined that the savants would be better advised to use an Australian native. Then the next step could be to breed monkeys with dogs, showing that Man was cousin-german to all animals. Hence –

Hence it is not natural history that separates us from animals; it is not the divine order. Bestiality is the inspiration of God himself. It is the human way, the human order, it is the law of purity or nobility which is manifested among the people by feudality and caste.

Religious miscegenation has always been equated with bestiality (so continued Proudhon’s reasoning). The higher races of Man were saved from this, nature’s sexuality, by the advance of Chastity, until “absolute virginity” became “the supreme law, the final state of being,” as expressed in the Catholic mass.

So two forces solicit the human soul: natural sensuality, which pushes to the point of universal bestiality, practised by the ancients (cf. Minotaur, Pasiphae, Mendes goat [etc.] ...); and human chastity, which refines sensuality and purifies love to the point of complete abstinence.

By providing the death penalty for sodomy and bestiality alike, “Catholicism has given expression to the real human tendency.”

Do you understand? It is these forms of sexuality, homosexualism and bestiality, that express the “real human tendency,” not that filthy-dirty business with women.

In this context Proudhon – who could usually hardly write Fourier’s name without foaming at the mouth – set down the following decree of nature:

In resume, in the order of nature marriage is only a word, the supreme law is omnigamy. Fourier is right.

This is one of those dialectical transformations that justify Hegel’s birth. Our enemy of sex, our glorifier of chastity, super-prude and ultra-prig, turns before our very eyes into the philosopher of an orgiastic “omnigamy” (sexual congress of all with all) which sees bestiality as the most genuinely human form of sex, whereas the love of women is disgustingly “contrary to nature” ...

It should be evident that some of Proudhon’s most extreme imprecations against women were not merely name-calling. Women were simply animals, subhuman creatures – literally: “Woman is a nice animal, but she is an animal. She is greedy for kisses [baisers] as the she-goat is greedy for salt.” – “She is, in short, a domesticated animal, who at times reverts to her instincts.”

Naturally this had to be “proved” by the usual Proudhonian decree of nature, a little more absurdly than usual. Only the male is a “complete human being” because the woman “lacks an organ.” Woman is therefore a passive being, a receptacle for the man’s seed, a “place of incubation” only, etc. Hence “woman has no reason for existence: she is the instrument of reproduction that nature has chosen. She is “a sort of intermediate term between him [Man] and the rest of the animal realm.” Nature decrees that “the male sex ... is the final product in embryonic development for a superior goal.”

With this wonderful theory virtually expelling women from the human race, all kinds of political and social problems were solved. Antifeminism, or sexism, was reduced to a subheading under racism (and, by the way, Proudhon was one of the most virulent racists of the day). A certain sense can be made of denunciations that sounded like insane ravings – as when he wrote that the natural female state, unleavened by Man’s beneficent influence, was “loquacious, lewd, lazy, dirty, perfidious, debauching agent, public poisoner, a locust, a plague on her family and society.” I suggest that these burbling sounds translate into a scream of fright.

There was no question that he was filled with fear. His rantings about women were full of expressions of panic fear of mere association with women – even apart from sexuality and even with the best women – put in terms of the deleterious effects of such association on the women.

This fear was fused with hatred.

¶ In proportion as the two sexes become close, they care nothing for each other. – The man hates the woman. All erotic manifestations prove this...

¶ In short: scorn, derision or despair, these are the three characteristics of love.

¶ Women. – The more one knows them, the less one loves them.

¶ A woman becomes worse as she gets older.

There were some “good women” in existence, but these were “only the elite of the sex, few in number, overwhelmed in the mass.” But was it reasonable for males (man, this climactic product of cosmic progress), to hate a poor domesticated animal whose “threefold and incurable inferiority” reduced her to “nothingness,” as Proudhon insisted? The answer was that this hatred was really fear. This complex of hate and fear, strident contempt and vituperation, was the characteristic product of a Master Race psychology that felt itself at bay before its “inferiors.”

For Proudhon this was overtly fear and hatred of women’s sexuality. Woman was inherently a sexual monster. We have already seen that it was men and not women who are by “nature” chaste and pure. He stressed this many times. Women’s tendency was to “lasciviousness, license, obscenity, anything lewd.” Rousseau was wrong: “no woman ever said: enough!” More about this monster:

The woman lets the law of chastity be imposed on her, accepts it, unreflectingly submits to it with a sort of indifference, with the same docility that she gives herself to sensual pleasure, capable of passing from one to the other, of being in turn Venus or the Virgin Mary.

A magic monster like this, whose like can be found in the myths of various peoples, was an object of fear, not a mere target of scorn. Women were sexual entities only: “the amorous obsession is constant with woman... she cannot speak or think of anything else ... woman has no other inclination, no other aptitude except love.”

There is an interesting offering of “examples,” which should probably be taken autobiographically: “Examples are not rare, either, among civilized women [as well as savages]; in the countryside, in town, everywhere that little boys and girls mingle in games, it is almost always the lubricity of the latter that provokes the coldness of the former.”

So much for Proudhon’s views. The reader may ask wonderingly: “How can a Liberty-loving anarchist, self-proclaimed Champion of Freedom, be so vilely reactionary?”

6. The Anarchist Rationale

A heavy fog of rhetoric and myth has hung around anarchism; the social nature of this tendency has generally been misunderstood. One misconception is that this ism is an organic part of the political left in modern society.

But the first key to anarchism is that it is not of modern society at all, even though it appears in it in some form. One of its important components is a yearning for a simpler world antedating bourgeois society, industrialization, and urbanization. It arose in part as a reaction against this modern development. Historically, it has often been a reflection of aspirations emanating from certain peasant conditions of life and (at its most advanced) from individual-artisan occupations carried on under non-factory conditions.

A second key to demythologizing anarchism is the special meaning of the word ‘liberty’ or ‘freedom’ in its jargon. Anarchist dithyrambs on this great word do not refer to freedom in the state – which to most people, especially the left, means complete democratic control by the people in some form. Anarchists mean freedom from the state – in fact, from all manifestations of social authority, no matter how democratically organized.

Anarchist “freedom” has no meaning other than the unqualified freedom of the individual from all trammels of any sort emanating from society – called “authority” in anarchist manifestos. Hence its superficial charm and essential absurdity.

The standpoint is, and can only be, that of the atomic individual, confronting organized society as an enemy. Impulses in this direction are not rare, of course; we all feel hampered by social restraints; but this tendency can harden into a systematic ideology only under special conditions hostile to modern reality. Above all, it flourishes in the world of the peasant, whose livelihood is gained by personal labor on his land, while the outside society (the state, etc.) intrudes only to collect taxes, conscript his sons, and otherwise deprive him of his Godgiven freedoms.

In Proudhon’s case, the atomic individual was the individual family, which was the only natural unit of the species. Proudhon’s need for patriarchalism was not simply a personal aberration. The family was the only meaningful unit of society, and the family was necessarily an autocracy: this was the crux of Proudhon’s view of the world. The outside society was a matter of relations among the individual autocrats, an adventitious growth.

Proudhon understood quite clearly the connection between his view of women’s role and his view of the patriarchal autocracy (family) as the unit of society. His ideal picture of society was one in which the family autocrats lived “free,” that is, untrammeled by restraints of any

kind. Hence his occasional attempts to state a theoretical reconciliation between his elocution about “liberty” and his demand for the complete subjection of women. Here is one:

The real husband, the PATERFAMILIAS, is the strongest man. In a state composed of real heads of family, no tyranny.

He means, of course, no tyranny by the state over those heads of family, the Strong Men. Within the family, however, the Paterfamilias exercises an unqualified tyranny over all its members – a tyranny which is a decree of “nature,” therefore not subject to question.

I invite you to peer into Proudhon’s mind, where society was portrayed with stark simplicity. There were so many families; each family lived in its own stronghold (or its own cave, so to speak); each lived under its own Patriarchal Master, picking its own berries (metaphorically speaking). Around each family reigned Freedom – unless, of course, the Paterfamilias was not as strong a Strong Man as the next one down the bush. Inside this stronghold of Pure Freedom, in the patriarchal family, reigned pure despotism. All of Proudhon’s theoretical equipment was only a labored sophistication, adulteration, or camouflage of this idyllic state of affairs. All anarchism posits a similar counterposition between an atomic individual (not necessarily the Proudhonian family) and the enemy, which is the enveloping society.

Proudhon’s most considerable effort to think out this matter resulted in the following passage, which rewards a careful analysis.

It started with “political society, of which the family is only the embryo.” The aim of this society, Proudhon stated forthrightly, was to increase “dignity and masculine [virile] liberty” as well as wealth. – Not human liberty, only masculine liberty? The rest of this passage was a direct attempt to put into words his reasons for excluding half the human race from the blessings of anarchist liberty. This is how it went:

The relation of families to the state, in short the Republic, is, for the male sex, the problem to be solved. Women are involved only in an indirect way by means of a secret and invisible influence [on their masters]. How could it be otherwise? As the embryonic organ of justice, man and wife make up only one body, one soul, one will, one intelligence; they are dedicated to each other for life and death; how could they have different opinions or interests?

Political affairs aim to establish family solidarity and assure “liberty, property, labor, commerce, security, education, information, circulation that they require – all the things that depend exclusively on the attributes of the man.”

How would women be personally consulted? Suppose a woman could, in an assembly of the people, vote contrary to her husband: that is to suppose them to be in disagreement and to prepare their divorce. Suppose that the wife’s judgment could be counterpoised to the husband’s: that means going against the will of nature and degrading masculinity. In short, to admit to the exercise of public functions a person whom nature and the law of marriage has, so to speak, consecrated to purely domestic functions is to strike a blow against family decency, make the woman a public person, proclaim the confusion of sexes in practice, community of love, abolition of the family, absolutism in the state, enserfment of individuals and the feudalistic subjection of property.

All of Proudhon’s mentality lies open to view in this exercise. But we are concerned here only with its anarchist conception of freedom.

Unless women were enserfed to men, terrible things would happen, including “absolutism in the state.” He meant, as we have seen, “absolutism ” over the despots in the family, infringement on their freedom to be despots. Unless women were enserfed to men, there would be “enserfment of individuals ” – that is, of the individual little despots whose liberty must not be trammeled from the outside. Every right for woman means diminishing the God-given “rights ” of the Strong Man, his “masculine liberty” to do what he pleases – against women. To upgrade women would “degrade masculinity.”

This anarchist-type Freedom is the freedom to be a despot over others, the right to be the Strong Man glorified by Proudhon. In this case it is explicitly the freedom of the man to enserf the woman.

Now in real society not every man can really be an autocrat, an untrammeled Strong Man. This reality is the difficulty that makes childish fantasy out of much of anarchist literature. That is, not every man can be an autocrat as against other men. But every man can become an autocrat as against the rest of his family. Behold one way of realizing the anarchist dream: the family is the only social context where this anarchist ideal of untrammeled despotism can be achieved. By the men.

This was the meaning of the phrase “masculine liberty” that came off Proudhon’s pen. Here in the family microcosm of society, Freedom and Despotism could and did exist as two faces of the same medal. Proudhon’s view of the enserfment of the woman in the family was the only anarchist utopia ever put on paper that was entirely workable – as long as the women cringed properly before their Master.

Proudhon was quite sincere when, in his own jargon, he raged against women’s liberation as a profanation of “Justice.” You must not think of justice to women because that is Against Nature. You must think of it in Proudhon’s way, as he addressed advocates of women’s emancipation:

You attack everything I love and revere, the only one of our old institutions for which I have kept any respect [the family] because in it I see an incarnation of justice.

This was why any impairment of the patriarchal marriage institution and the family was “destructive to society and the state.” Marriage and the family formed the “natural organ of justice” (which meant: justice as dealt out by the Strong Man), the fountainhead of “liberty and the Republic.” Pages of rhetoric can be quoted from Proudhon asserting that any infringement of the Master’s rights over the family was “a profanation of Justice,” but the crux was an aphorism that he wrote into his notebook one day: “The family is the subjection of women.”

Within this anarchist stronghold of Freedom, the family despotism, the full powers of police authority had to be used against any “insurrection” by the subjects. Violent, and if necessary bloodthirsty, repression of dissent was a necessity for the preservation of “masculine liberty.” Proudhon’s savage calls for violence against women can now be understood in their anarchist context.

It was a question of preserving the Freedom of the despot. All contrary doctrine, wrote our libertarian, “must be prosecuted and punished.” For it was the nature of woman to want domination over us men, and in this they were merely testing us to see if we are “worthy of their love.” The test of masculinity was passed by beating them down.

This forcible domination had to be socialized. The heavy hand of the police were a proper instrument for men to “prosecute and punish” those pretensions by women which were exploratory tests of masculinity or (when they went beyond this) degenerate expressions of prostitution.

We have seen Proudhon’s pattern of dichotomies: “courtesan or housekeeper – nothing in between,” and so on. In the same way, the political choice he presented was between his Liberty-Justice-Anarchism and, on the other hand, what he labeled pornocracy. This pleasant invention, meaning “government by whores, was exhumed by Proudhon from the days of the Byzantine empress Theodora.

There is no use looking for a reasoned explanation, though Proudhon himself thought that spewing out this cussword was a “profound” political thought. He wrote that “pornocracy” had been destroying “public decency” in France since the 1830s. The date was telltale: it marked the end of the Bourbon restoration and the installation of the “bourgeois monarchy” of Louis Philippe. More to the point, it marked a great leap forward of the most distinctively modern ideas of society, including the advance of democratic tendencies and the first lasting socialist movements. For Proudhon it meant the “end of society,” the reign of all imaginable vices, the rule of the “secret power” of women, domination by a new ruling party he called the “bohemians,” promiscuity holding sway over all, and the apotheosis of a terrible maxim, “Work very little, consume very much, and make love” – a summary of horror. Everything was now “vice, immorality, political degradation, that is, pornocracy.” The tone was not that of Jeremiah but rather of our right-wing Fundamentalists.

Perhaps Proudhon’s views should be dismissed as a psycho-pathological aberration? Perhaps he merely had a “blind spot” on this question, as we have been told many times? The “spot” was much larger than the apologists seem to know. This libertarian was capable of decreeing despotism for half the human race: well, what of it? In the first place, the figure should be immediately raised from half of humanity to perhaps as much as three-quarters if we include the patriarchal oppression of children. In the next place, we should not be surprised to find Proudhon extending the same view of social authority to other sectors of the human race,.

It happens that in the midst of one of his tirades on “pornocracy” we run across one of the many examples of the virulent racism that went with Proudhon’s sexism. If “nature” decreed male superiority, was it a startling leap to adopt the equally common notion that the same benevolent “nature ” also issued a decree guaranteeing the superiority of the white race?

White-superiority racism was as deep-rooted in Proudhon’s mind as sexism. “The Hottentot Venus never gave birth to love. The strong, beautiful races will absorb or eliminate the others; it is inevitable ...” His writings were peppered with expressions of white-racism, stated as an eternal verity, like all his other opinions.

His response to the American Civil War, for example, was that the black race was fated to remain in slavery and should remain in slavery. In fact, if his ideas on women eliminated half the human race from the benefits of anarchist Liberty, his racist views removed nine-tenths of the planet’s population even from the delights of his “masculine liberty.”

Well then, at least white Europe will enjoy the libertarian Eden? Not so fast. This libertarian was also a fire-eating French chauvinist, who virtually foamed at the mouth when he thought of Britain’s power, who would have gladly put the civilizing Gallic yoke around every English (or German, etc.) neck.

Perhaps then, at least, he would vouchsafe the blessings of Freedom to everyone with guaranteed French blood and certified male gonads? Well, we will be disabused of this notion in the next section, but besides, there was a long list, literally pages long in his Notebooks, detailing the countless types of political enemies and evil persons for whom, comes the Proudhonian revolution, he decreed death, jail, or forced-labor camps. By his own count, this added up to “millions. ” This didn’t leave very many Free people – maybe one.

But when Proudhon wrote his declamations about Liberty, he meant every word quite sincerely. All you have to do to agree is use the same vocabulary. He meant the Liberty whose visage we have seen: the untrammeled liberty of the Patriarch, the Strong Man, to rule his autonomous horde as a despot unrestrained by evil Authority.

7. The “Libertarian” Negation

In a remarkable passage of self-revelation, Proudhon himself erected a bridge between his frank program for the total subjection of women and his submerged program for the total subjection of society to the libertarian Strong Man.

This occurred in the midst of his disquisition on “pornocracy,” beginning with the aphoristic statement, “The French people are a feminine people” – un peuple femme (a “woman-people”). A long passage then “proved” the proposition in the usual thin-spun Proudhonian manner. As it went along, it pointed in a clear direction:

... it is positive that the French, always prompt to do things and get stirred up, to run riot and emancipate themselves, like women, do not have a lofty sentiment of liberty, of civil and political liberty. They do not understand it and are not very much concerned about it, like women.

The French people easily “wallow in prostitution, like women.” They have to be kept in line by “caresses and authority, like children and women.” And so on and on. Conclusions:

Napoleon ... could say that the French people were not ripe for liberty; they were no more ripe in 1814, or 1830, or 1848; they do not appear to be any more ripe in 1860: they will never be ripe ... France will never become free. She is incapable of it, her democracy forbids it.

How does “democracy” forbid it? “Democracy” makes liberty impossible, because the rule of the people means the rule of these hopeless degenerates who can do nothing without the Strong Man, like women. Proudhon’s views on the subjection of women could not remain in a watertight compartment unrelated to his views on power in society, as his acolytes have sometimes claimed. In this passage Proudhon made a notable effort to weld them together.

On record is his meditations on how to improve this degenerate breed of French people. It occurred in the manuscript of his posthumous book, and it was of a piece with many passages in his Notebooks where he fantasized on how he would transform society with an iron hand as soon as he got power. The passage began with a program of extermination, not unlike his Notebook plan for the total extermination of the Jews.

It is necessary to exterminate all the bad-natured ones, and to renovate the [female] sex, by eliminating vicious individuals, just as the English remake a race of oxen, sheep or pigs, by nutrition ...

It is necessary to study races and find those that produce better wives, the most useful housekeepers: the Flemish, Swiss, English, Russian woman, etc. – It is from this standpoint above all that cross-breeding has to be studied.

Discard mercilessly the creatures that are insolent, given to vice, lazy, made for luxury, dressing-up and love.

Here the peasant patriarch was worrying about improving the breed of his barnyard fowl. Its overtones are familiar to us from some of the manifestations of Nazism. The Nazis thought along these lines with respect to Jews, “degenerates,” etc., but the Nazi prescription of Kinder, Küche, Kirche for women was not enough for the Father of Anarchism.

It may perhaps be thought that Proudhon’s red-eyed hostility at least distinguished between upper-class women idlers and workingwomen. For he was some kind of radical or leftist, wasn’t he?

He often did make such a distinction: workingwomen were necessarily worse than their upper-class sisters.

To begin with, for Proudhon workingwomen had no more right to equal pay than to any other principle of equality. Reason: they were inherently incapable of equal work. Besides, women who worked should also have to “feel the superiority of the man” rather than independence; she must have “the feeling of receiving protection.”

For the rest, nature [and] universal practice have thus willed it. Women’s wages are generally much below those of men ... It would be impossible to go back on this practice.

A Notebook entry as early as November 1846 stated:

Woman. – It is a law of nature that the labor of women is less productive than men’s, and consequently must be paid less (about half or one-third): because women give nothing and always receive, consume less in every way, and save better.

This was the “scientific” side of the matter, that is, the decrees of “nature.” What stirred Proudhon to raging vituperation was the “moral” side. Immediately after the extract cited above, he added: “The woman worker, like the woman author, the woman of the theater, and the public woman [prostitute], is a whore.”

Why? Above all, because a woman in the working world was forced into associations that were inherently unclean, disgusting, immoral, vile and degraded – namely, the whole world outside the kitchen and the home. The most disgusting and shameless feature of all this is that the workingwoman is forced to associate with men.

There were some specially horrible occupations for women: midwifery, for example! A hospital that trained midwives was “a veritable school of prostitution and pimpery.” He asked, “Really now, how can you expect a young woman to entertain certain subjects in her brain without her imagination taking fire and her poor head getting stirred up?” Could any “man of taste” ever marry such a one? Physicians should carry on “this scabrous science,” it should not be taught to young peasant girls.

Midwifery was an especially shameful occupation because it involved the indecent subject of reproduction. His thoughts went back to his farm days, back to farm girls whose fathers owned stud bulls. In their father’s absence, they did the job

without the least embarrassment. Honni soit qui mal y pense. What these country virgins did with their hands is indescribable. Curious thing: they did not seem to get the least bit aroused by it; on the contrary. As for me, a young fellow, I can tell you I never felt a thing for these hussies.

He excused himself for bringing up such indecencies with the observation that he merely wanted to illustrate cases where “the woman goes outside the bounds assigned her by nature” and thereby became vile and depraved. In another fast sentence he wrapped this case up with the market woman worker, the courtesan, and the learned woman. The female market workers “are more terrible than their husbands”; and we already know what he thought of learned women.

He shuddered just as much at any work done by women outside the home. Since the “real” woman was weak by nature, she was too weak to work at a real job. Proudhon stresses that, in the barbarous spheres and societies where women work, and work hard, they become ugly and unsexed. By “nature” women cannot run well; they even walk badly; how could they do anything useful?

Now note how far Proudhon had moved from the simple peasant mentality! It was in peasant societies that women typically worked as hard as men or harder – this was a law of “nature,” to use Proudhon’s favorite all-purpose proof. In fact, hadn’t he admired his own mother, who had worked like a horse?

But our ex-peasant-artisan had long been away from any contact with the earth, which keeps peasants sane. Anarchist notions did not arise from normal peasant conditions; they arose, most typically, as a distorted reflection of the uprooting of the peasant-artisan mind from the conditions that once gave it a solid reality, when everything residually healthy in peasant life had withered, and what was left was exposed to the blasts of an alien bourgeois society. Divorced from the real world of the soil, it combined with reminiscences of the bourgeoisie’s early hostility to state power (which meant the power of the absolutist state) and yearning for cheap government. The combination fed on the cancerous growth of bureaucracy in the state which accompanied the consolidation of the bourgeoisie, nowhere more virulently than in France. Being essentially a negation and a snarl of impotence, it had some possibility of appeal to social elements that were being excreted from modern society, like the early artisanate, or that otherwise had no future before them.

* * *


1. The basic study of Proudhon’s authoritarian ideology was published by the liberal historian J. Salwyn Schapiro, first in the American Historical Review, then as a chapter in his Liberalism and the Challenge of Fascism (1949). After four decades, no one has even tried to refute it. Schapiro did not know Proudhon’s Carnets (Notebooks), which were first published in the 1960s, with intimate proof of what this great “libertarian” really thought. Schapiro, then, should be supplemented with chapter 5 of vol. 4 of my Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution.

Last updated on 12 September 2020