Lettre autographe signée de 4 pages rédigée depuis la prison de Sainte-Pélagie
Paris, Prison de Sainte-Pélagie 12 Novembre 1851, 13x20,5cm, une feuille.
Signed handwritten 4-page letter written from the Sainte-Pélagie prison
Paris | Prison of Sainte-Pélagie 12 November 1851 | 13 x 20.5 cm | single sheet«I still appear to many people as only the pure and simple negation of what is.»
Handwritten signed 4-page letter dated 12 November 1851. 124 lines in black ink.
his letter is presented in a chemise and case with paper boards decorated with abstract motifs, the spine of the chemise in green morocco, pastedowns and endpapers of green suede, slipcase signed by Thomas Boichot.Unpublished handwritten letter on progress, signed by Pierre-Joseph-Marie Proudhon, major figure in French social thought, and «the father of anarchy» according to the president of the French Republic, Armand Fallières.
he philosopher, imprisoned since 1849, develops his socialist convictions in a virulent and combative style and he condemns the absolutisms of his time.
Extraordinary declaration of philosophical, political and social faith from a marginal thinker, whose critical fortune and influence are taken from the likes of Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Benjamin Tucker.
he letter is written in a fast and dense handwriting, comprising several underlined passages supporting certain philosophical concepts. The first page presents a heading from the newspaper Le Peuple
in 1850, one of the four newspapers run by Proudhon under the second Republic, which resulted in him being imprisoned for «inciting hatred of the government,» «provoking the civil war» and «attacking the Constitution and property.»
his unpublished letter, dated 12 November 1851, is a passionate and unpublished reflection, close to a letter entitled «De l'Idée de Progrès,» written around ten days later, that Proudhon published with another ("De la Certitude et de son criterium") in the work Philosophie du progrès
. This set of texts was composed only two weeks before the final assumption of power from Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, which he immediately opposed. Once released from prison in 1852, Proudhon published the two letters at Lebègue in Brussels in order to escape censorship, which had prohibited the sale of the booklet on French territory.
Already having been detained for two years in the jails of the future French emperor, Proudhon writes to Romain-Cornut from Sainte-Pélagie prison, a journalist from La Presse
, who had just finished a series of articles on Auguste Comte's positivism (Etudes critiques sur le socialisme
, October-November 1851). This letter must be viewed as an admirable four-page plea, or more a confession of his socialist vision of progress, a «social positivism» which is based on the reconsideration of the ancient order: «we withdraw in the face of an intellectual negation, which is the sine qua non condition of further progress.» In this letter, Proudhon attempts to convince his reader of the merits of his convictions, and does not hesitate to employ flattery that contrasts strangely with his usual verve ( «Do not take my word for it, [...] that I have the least desire to influence your opinion, whatever desire I have to conquer a mind as judicious as yours"). During the course of the letter he establishes a balance between his polemical soul and his desire for legitimacy, aspiring to be recognised by his peers no longer as a mere agitator, but as a true philosopher. We are indeed reminded of his famous wit ( «Property is theft!"), his sympathy for the 1848 uprisings as well as his acerbic pamphlets in Le Peuple
that consecrated his radical reputation: «I have been, until this day, so foolishly judged, even by the socialists [...] Because I led the criticism of the old principles as far as it could go [...] I still appear to many people as only the pure and simple negation of what is.» Proudhon, however maintains his intention to leave the shields of criticism ("leaving the argument of circumstance for the moment in my new studies") and thus implies the writing of a new, deeper work, which will, in 1853, result in La Philosophie du progrès
dedicated to the same Romain-Cornut.
Proudhon, an anarchist in favour of the abolition of the State and of its double, the government, does not however renounce the criticism of the «system,» which is by definition anti-progressive «Yet, it is unquestionable, from this progressive point of view, that our society as a whole, monarchists, democrats, Catholics, philosophers, is still absolutist: what everyone wants, is a charter, a constitution, a system, a fixed and definitive legislation, finally.» In addition to political systems, Proudhon picks up this same idealism in the philosophical thinking of his elders and does not refrain from giving a violent condemnation: «Like Pascal, like the Germans, we want the absolute! [...] Spinoza, Malebranche, Leibnitz, etc., all of whom, operating on the categories of substance causality, eternity, unity, plurality, etc. have arrived at politically and intellectually immobile systems, at the absolute.» He noted the harmful effects of the political regimes and of the philosophies that were insensitive to the vicissitudes of history, shaken in spite of everything by the changes that the 1848 revolution had signalled. By taking into consideration the instability inherent in human society, he offers his own definition of an anarchist and «non-interventionalist» progress: «The social system only exists in the series of ages: it is an historic ensemble, not a current one. This is why it is never given to a generation, let alone to a man, to perceive to predict the small portion of progress to be carried out in the following age: all that we can do, is propose an ideal aim, that is to say, to assert in general the direction of movement, and to note some laws, never to assert anything complete, definitive, absolute.» Proudhon places himself as a prophet, at the same time as announcer and denouncer of the blindness of French scholars still caught up in their ideas of the absolute: «There is no man, in the entire universe, who perceives this revolution, which is on the brink of happening in philosophy by the recent introduction of the idea of progress in metaphysics.»
his epistolary philosophical essay does not overlook Proudhon's condition, a political prisoner for whom the verb is the only proof of good faith; he
is trying to obtain an interview with Romain-Cornut in order to clarify his words orally: «I will be happy, Sir, talking with you about all of these things, to explain to you what I want, what I am.» The print media, that Proudhon hopes to reach through his reader, serves as a court of ideas, in which the public is the judge: «this is the strong and the weak, as you like, of my socialism; it is on this that I should be condemned or absolved.»Unpublished letter by one of the most important French philosophers of the 19th century to the journalist Romain-Cornut, to whom he will dedicate his Philosophie du progrès (1853). Proudhon featured some weeks later among the ranks of opponents exiled from the Empire of Napoleon III, alongside Victor Hugo and Louis Blanc.
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