Lucien Febvre 1929

The History of Doctrines

Source: Annales d'histoire économique et sociale, Année 1929, Volume 1, Numéro 1 ;
Translated: for by Mitchell Abidor.

The re-publication by Messrs C. Bouglé and A. Cuvillier of the abstruse treatise that P-J Proudhon published in 1843 under the title “On the Creation of Order in Humanity, or the Principle of Political Organization,” provides us with the occasion to note that the collection of complete works of P-J Proudhon, undertaken under the leadership of Messrs Bouglé and Moysset, by a group of qualified workers (among them Aimé Berthed, Maxime Leroy, Augé-Laribé, Roger Picard, Guy Grand, etc.) numbers six volumes, out of twenty that will appear.

The Creation of Order in Humanity is not one of Proudhon’s great books. It is even, if you will, a failed book. In any case, an ambitious book, of an immense ambition. But how strange it is to read! If a part of Proudhon’s developments are outside of our competence; if his chapters on religion, philosophy, and what he calls metaphysics, too clearly show that before being “infected by Hegelianism” by Marx, the future author of “Economic Contradictions” had already been touched by a virus that Karl Grun and Alexander Herzen quickly diagnosed him with, on the other hand, Chapters IV and V , respectively dedicated to “Political Economy” and “History” abound in new ideas, in visions of the future, which would often make the fortune of others than Pierre-Joseph. Political economy – an immense science, more capable than any philosophy of instructing us about man, his origins, his evolution, and his destiny, more qualified than any political power to exercise the governing of societies; finally, more able than any body of intellectual pedagogues to organize true public education, based on the apprenticeship in manual crafts. Already Proudhon, in this writing from 1843, shows political economy guiding past history through the play of economic laws, waiting for it to cast society into its later destiny with an uncontrollable force under the name of socialism. And if we find throughout these 400 pages the egalitarian and working class spirit of the son of the barrel maker from Besançon; if, notably, we read in twenty places apologies for manual labor, how can we not also think of all that was new that was presented by a book read by a select readership, when its author, outlining the “movement of society under the action of economic laws,” established that “from the point of view of organization, the laws of political society are the laws of history;” when he defines history as “the portrait, unfolding in time, of collective organization,” and even proclaimed, “no progress occurs without violence, force being, in the end, the sole means of manifestation of the Idea.” The book of a proud man, as my old friend Edmond Droz said, and in which will recognize themselves many who Pelloutier defined in 1900 in his “letter to Anarchists,” as “the irreconcilable enemy of every moral and material despotism, individual or collective, i.e., laws and dictatorships, including that of the proletariat, and the passionate lovers of the cultivation of the self.” The book, as well, of the creator of ideas that are fertile, daring, and often brilliant.