Brussels: Editions Aden, 2011, 556pp.; ISBN: 978-2930402949
The following defects habitually characterise dictionaries that concentrate on one single author. When you are not familiar with an author's work, such dictionaries often do not facilitate access to an understanding of the work. This is mainly due to their fragmentary nature: students and beginners are presented with a mass of information that lacks any internal logic. Specialists, on the other hand, find little or nothing that they do not already know, because there is seldom enough space to develop the content of the entries properly. It was therefore with a certain apprehension that I opened the Dictionnaire Proudhon. My uneasiness at the thought of consulting this work was further accentuated by the number of people that have contributed to it (nineteen). This, I feared, would do nothing if not highlight the book's disparate nature. I am glad to say that my fears were unfounded.
The editors rightly remark that some people will object to the seemingly paradoxical idea of imposing any type of structure (be it simply alphabetical) onto Proudhon's writings. After all, this was someone who fought sternly all assumptions that he had built something that could be qualified as a systematic theory. But Gaillard and Navet are just as correct to remind us that early in his life Proudhon had set himself an objective, the realisation of which he sought throughout his career. This objective was to 'be done with a society built on inequality and which is degrading for the majority of its members - notably those who belong to the "working classes"' (p.5). In other words, Proudhon was hoping to bring about a more just society.
Most of the dictionary's forty-six articles are approximately ten pages long. Lengthier articles (e.g. '?conomie politique; Federalisme; Propriete') discuss concepts that are most central in Proudhon's writings. Every notion in the dictionary fulfils the following two criteria: (1) the notions were used by Proudhon himself, and (2) each notion is of singular importance for a thorough understanding of what may inappropriately be labelled as Proudhon's 'doctrine'.
Discussions concerning authority, the state, socialism and economy are supplemented by other, more philosophical topics. It was toward the end of his life that Proudhon was drawn to problems concerning morals and morality ('Morale', p.334). In the early 1850s he...