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Godwin and Proudhon
D. Allen Dalton
ECON 325 – Radical Economics
Boise State University
Fall 2011
William Godwin (1756-1836)
• Followed his father as a nonconformist minister
• early influence of Rousseau and
French materialists, Holbach and
• Turned to atheism and withdrew
from the ministry
• Supported himself by writing
(ficition, politics, newspaper
William Godwin (1756-1836)
• Married Mary Wollstonecraft
• Daughter Mary
– Married poet Percy Bysshe Shelley
– Author Frankenstein
• Enquiry Concerning Political
Justice (1793)
• Caleb Williams (1794)
• Of Population (1820)
“The first object of virtue is to contribute to the
welfare of mankind. The most essential attribute of
right conduct therefore is, that it shall have a
beneficent and salutary tendency. One further
characteristic it is usual t add. Men, in the exercise
of their rational faculties, are influenced by motives
and inducements apprehended by the intellect… A
beneficent action to which a man is incited by a
knowledge of its beneficent tendency, is an act of
virtue. The man who is in the frequent practice of
such actions, is a worthy, virtuous and excellent man.”
- Wm. Godwin, The Enquirer, p. 252
Godwin’s Teaching
• Basis – “the general welfare”
• On Law – Reason and arbitration rather
than law and legislation
• On the State – State is the suppression
of private judgment
• On Society – Society arises out of
mutual assistance; the State arises out
Godwin’s Teaching
• Organization of the Stateless Society –
“Government” by common deliberation in
small societies; federation in assemblies
• On Wealth – Inequality of wealth
(“Empire of Accumulated Property’) is
against the common welfare
– Hampers intellectual progress
– Hinders moral perfection
– Great cause of crime
Godwin’s Teaching
• On Rights – Active and Passive Rights
– All rights (actions) fall under the province
of morality; duty to act for the “general
– Active: “right to do as one wills” is a fiction
– Passive: “sphere of personal judgment”
– The “right to property” is founded on the
principle of private judgment
Godwin’s Teaching
• On Property – Classes of property and
their relation to inequality of wealth
– Subsistence and Means of intellectual and
moral improvement; Inexpensive
gratifications; Expensive gratifications
inessential to healthful and vigorous life
– Last which causes the “present system of
accumulated property,” augmenting the
hardships of the laboring classes and
reducing the general welfare
Godwin’s Teaching
• Economics – Labor as the source of all
value; labor as the measure of value;
classical view of the relation of
propertied classes and working classes
• On Transition – Reason and persuasion
not force; even for acts that are
against the general welfare, except in
cases of indispensable urgency (the
importance of “private judgment”)
P.J. Proudhon (1809-1865)
• Trained as printer, worked as
• Pamphleteer and activist
• 1848, elected to National
• Twice imprisoned for offenses
against the press laws
• 1849, founded People’s Bank
• Opponent of Bakunin and Marx
• First to adopt the description of
“Justice is respect, spontaneously felt and mutually
guaranteed, for human dignity, in whatever person
and under whatever circumstances we find it
compromised, and to whatever risk its defense may
expose us.”
- Proudhon, Of Justice, vol. I, p. 182
“All the most rational teachings of human wisdom about
justice are summed up in the famous adage: Do to
others what you would have done to you; Do not to
others what you would not have done to you.”
-Proudhon, What Is Property?, p. 18.
Proudhon’s Teaching
• Basis – Justice as the measure of all
human actions.
• On Law – Rejects state legislation in
favor of the legal norm of contracts
– Recognizes the variety and variability of
human interests
– Contracts more suitable to such a situation
than law
• On the State – “The government of man
by man is slavery.”
Proudhon’s Teaching
• On Society – Without the State, society
ruled by agreements; government of
man is replaced by the administration of
things- the social life is “anarchy,”
“federation,” “the Republic.”
• On Rights – makes a distinction between
rights under Justice and rights under
laws; only some existing individual rights
by law conform to rights under Justice
Proudhon’s Teaching
• On Property – “Property is Theft!”
“Property is Liberty!”
– The central question is relationship to
Justice – the balance of interests –
achievable only through contract
– Property by contract is to be substituted
for Property from law
– Evolution of position – property as abuse v.
possession as use to reciprocity and
mutualism as the foundation of justice in
Proudhon’s Teaching
• Economics – Labor is the source of all
production and value.
– Inequality arises from inequity in exchange.
– Under justice, products must exchange for
– Law of reciprocity as foundation of social
life under anarchy
• On Transition – “Popularize the idea.”
– Examples of anarchy within the current
regime – “The People’s Bank.”
Proudhon’s Teaching
• The People’s Bank
– Idea and Foundation
– History
• January – March 1849
• Membership of 27,000; receipts of 18,000 francs
• Never reached stage where it could actually begin
business under its charter
• “Never more than a project in search of finances…”
- Woodcock, Proudhon, p. 144
– Forerunner of credit unions and mutual banking