essays

Jun 1, 1982

Proudhon: History as Conspiracy

“Proudhon’s assessments of contemporary society were stamped with an emotional, personal mythology of conspiratorial plottings.”

Paul B. Crapo
The University of Michigan—Dearborn

“Proudhon’s Conspiratorial View of Society.” Journal of European Studies 11 (September 1981): 184–193.

Although a self-styled positivist who prided himself in his scientific method applied to political, social and economic theory, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s (1809–1865) conspiratorial view of society transcended empirical evidence and links him, in its imaginative mythic force, with the romantic literary figures of the nineteenth century, such as Balzac. The author believes that Proudhon’s belief in a “vaste conjuration” of government officials, capitalist bankers, and priests united to suppress the lower classes shows signs of paranoia.

Proudhon’s assessments of contemporary society were stamped with an emotional, personal mythology of conspiratorial plottings of “l’autel, le trône et le coffre-fort.” “Starting from certain demonstrable observations (the retrograde ideology shared by the clergy, the bourgeoisie, the Orleanist/Bonapartist regime in nineteenth-century France; the coalition European monarchs formed in Vienna to contain revolutionary ferment), Proudhon was quick to posit an intricate alliance of Church, capitalists, and governments by magnifying these observations far beyond the actual facts.” This private conspiratorial mythology became a conceptual framework to organize his world-view as a political analyst. Proudhon’s conspiratorial views on attempts to unify Italy and Poland (rather than allowing them to be federated groupings of autonomous units) are cited as proof that he was held in the grip of an emotional ideology resembling the romantics’ reshaping of history to fit their vision.