Natural Right in the Political Philosophy of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Journal of Libertarian Studies 4 (1):77-91 (1980)
When Professor Georges Gurvitch, the highly esteemed occupant of the chair of philosophy at the University of Strausbourg before World War ll and the author of a series of brilliant studies in the pluralist philosophy of law, referred to Pierre—Joseph Proudhon as the central figure in the development of modern social and judicial philosophy, the basis of his highly flattering judgment was the philosophy of law that serves as the basis of Proudhon’s mutualism, a socio-legal conceptualization that had not only greatly infiuenced Gurvitch’s own thinking but which had exerted tremendous infiuence as well over the thought of such outstanding social theorists as Herzen, Tolstoi, and Kropotkinl To state, therefore, that Proudhon was not only the first to call himself an anarchist but also “the most important" anarchist thinker of the modern period} is to establish his right to be heard. We are not entitled to skip lightly over his conception of law and justice as past generations have done. After outlining Proudhon’s legal theory and his conception of natural right, this paper will attempt to demonstrate that Proudhon’s thinking on law is an outstanding contribution to modern political theory. It is not too much to say, in fact, that his philosophy of law and natural right stands as a highly suggestive antidote to the hopeless confusion in contemporary political theory, a confusion that stems not only from the cloudy conception of justice posited by the social contract theorists but from the defective conception of justice advanced by the advocates of state socialism as well.
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