Proudhon on What Democracy Cannot Answer

Proudhon

What astonishes me in the midst of the confusion of ideas, is that faith in the sovereignty of the People, far from dwindling, seems by this very confusion to reach its own climax. In this obstinant belief of the multitude in the intelligence which exists within it I see a sort of manifestation of the People which affirms itself, like Jehovah, and says, “I AM.” I cannot then deny, on the contrary, I am forced to confess the sovereignty of the People. But beyond this initial affirmation, and when it is a question of going from the subject of the thought to its object, when in other words it is a question of applying the criterion to acts of Government, let someone tell me, where is the People?

In principle then, I admit that the People exists, that it is sovereign, that it is predicated in the consciousness of the masses. But nothing yet has proven to me that it can perform an overt act of sovereignty, that an explicit revelation of the People is possible. For, in view of the dominance of prejudices, of the contradiction of ideas and interests, of the variability of opinion, and of the impulsiveness of the multitude, I shall always ask what establishes the authenticity and legitimacy of such a revelation-and this is what democracy cannot answer.

References:

1. Proudhon, P.-J, Charles A. Dana, William Batchelder Greene, and Henry Cohen. Proudhon’s Solution of the Social Problem. New York: Vanguard, 1927. Print.

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Filed under Notes on History, Philosophy

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