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Proudhon 1840

Chapter I.  The Idea of a Revolution

If I were asked to answer the following question: What is slavery? and I should answer in one word, It is murder, my meaning would be understood at once. No extended argument would be required to show that the power to take from a man his thought, his will, his personality, is a power of life and death; and that to enslave a man is to kill him. 

Why, then, to this other question: What is property! may I not likewise answer, It is robbery, without the certainty of being misunderstood; the second proposition being no other than a transformation of the first?

I undertake to discuss the vital principle of our government and our institutions, property: I am in my right. I may be mistaken in the conclusion which shall result from my investigations: I am in my right. 

I think best to place the last thought of my book first: still am I in my right.

Such an author teaches that property is a civil right, born of occupation and sanctioned by law; another maintains that it is a natural right, originating in labor, — and both of these doctrines, totally opposed as they may seem, are encouraged and applauded. 

I contend that neither labor, nor occupation, nor law, can create property; that it is an effect without a cause: am I censurable?

But murmurs arise!

Property is robbery! That is the war-cry of ’93! That is the signal of revolutions!

Reader, calm yourself: I am no agent of discord, no firebrand of sedition. I anticipate history by a few days; I disclose a truth whose development we may try in vain to arrest; I write the preamble of our future constitution. 

This proposition which seems to you blasphemous — property is robbery — would, if our prejudices allowed us to consider it, be recognized as the lightning-rod to shield us from the coming thunderbolt; but too many interests stand in the way! 

… Alas! philosophy will not change the course of events: destiny will fulfill itself regardless of prophecy. 

Besides, must not justice be done and our education be finished?

Property is robbery
! … What a revolution in human ideas! 

Proprietor and robber have been at all times expressions as contradictory as the beings whom they designate are hostile; all languages have perpetuated this opposition. 

On what authority, then, do you venture to attack universal consent, and give the lie to the human race? 

Who are you, that you should question the judgment of the nations and the ages?