I have just finished reading Proudhon’s “What Is Property? An Inquiry into the Principle of Right and Government”. I am sorry I have left it so late in life to discover this book. Years misspent reading Marx and Engels gave me myopia for other contemporary authors who I’d argue are considerably more lucid and prescient.
We all know his call “WHAT IS PROPERTY! may I not likewise answer, IT IS ROBBERY” and the book is very persuasive with regard to the issues of property (not possessions, only property) and the problems that arise as a consequence. He also appears to consider very topical concerns of a universal wage or of Land Based taxation to counter these.
Though I had not read the book I was aware of these arguments but, I have to say, they are better expressed in the original text than by people who have subsequently summarised him.
He appears an interesting polymath and presents as a ‘Christian Atheist’. This was perhaps the most interesting part of the book. His call for a moral revolution. He hold the moral views of the Christian religion and has a clear grasp of theological issues but rejects any idea of a deity. He interestingly call for religious people to review their thoughts recognising that “To restore religion, gentlemen, it is necessary to condemn the Church.” He views religion as a tool that humanity evolved to deal with moral problems and dilemmas in justice and that the religious revolution had effected useful change for mankind. However, he feels further moral revolutions are required and thinks that the current religious organizations will not supply this.
“The need for a moral revolution is suggested by the recognition of the work of Jesus Christ and the early Christians the SEEDS SOWN BY THE SON OF MAN, having fallen into idolatrous hearts, had produced nothing save innumerable discords and a quasi-poetical mythology. Instead of developing into their practical consequences the principles of morality and government taught by The Word of God, his followers busied themselves in speculations as to his birth, his origin, his person, and his actions; they discussed his parables, and from the conflict of the most extravagant opinions upon unanswerable questions and texts which no one understood, was born THEOLOGY,—which may be defined as the SCIENCE OF THE INFINITELY ABSURD.”
Many current authors have tried to salvage the good from the wreckage of our religious bodies (e.g. Don Culpitt, Alain De Botton) but I feel few have managed so clearly. Well worth reading from this standpoint alone.