Catherine Malabou: There was no revolution

Portrait of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-65) 1865 by Gustave Courbet (1819-77)

We learned from a recent interview with Catherine Malabou by the Lundi Matin collective (for their Lundi Soir series of video recorded interviews – see below) that she has published a new work centred on Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s essay, What is Property? (1840) and entitled Il n’y a pas eu de Révolution: Réflexions sur la propriété privé, le pouvoir et la condition servile en France (Éditions Payot & Rivages, Paris, 2024).

In this work, Malabou offers a close, careful and brilliant reading of Proudhon’s essay, from which she then moves on to contemporary debates around private property, democracy and anarchism.

Our enthusiasm for this, her new work, led us to venture an English language translation of the first chapter, because it is our belief that her interpretation of Proudhon’s essay is of considerable importance, not only for understanding Proudhon, but also for rethinking anarchism. And this essay comes in the wake of her earlier work, Au voleur! Anarchisme et Philosophie/Stop Thief! Anarchism and Philosophy (and it continues this earlier work), in which she critically analysed the appropriation of the concept “anarchy” by philosophers who however refused to consider the complex relations between that concept and anarchism.

What we offer below is of course no substitute for whatever English language translation-publication may be eventually forthcoming. Until then, let this stand as a modest introduction for those who are not entirely comfortable with French.

As for the significance of this more recent work and Malabou’s interpretation of Proudhon, a brief translator’s note is necessary on our part. We have left unchanged throughout the text the French words aubaine and aubain and let them stand as they are – however strange this may read -, because there is no obvious translation for these terms in English. And our reasons for doing so will, we hope, become evident (see Malabou’s footnote 15 below on this subject) in the reading of the chapter. Part of the significance of Malabou’s reading of Proudhon’s What is Property? lies precisely in fixing on the terms aubaine and aubain.

Property is the right of increase [the right of aubaine]. To us this axiom shall be like the name of the beast in the Apocalypse, a name which contains the whole mystery of this of this beast. It was known that he who solved the mystery of this name would obtain a knowledge of the whole prophecy, and would master the beast. Well, by the most probing interpretation of our axiom we shall kill the sphinx of property. Starting from this eminently characteristic fact, the right of increase [the right of aubaine], we shall follow the coils of the old serpent; we shall count the murderous entwinings of this frightful tænia, whose head, with its thousand suckers, is always hidden from the sword of its fiercest enemies, while abandoning to them immense fragments of its body.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, What is Property? (Cambridge University Press, 1994)

Chapter 1: The Right of Aubaine

In these reflections on property, power and the servile condition in France, I propose to walk with Pierre-Joseph Proudhon for a very free reading of his masterpiece, What is Property? The aim is to see how this text remains essential not only to the development of a contemporary critique of private property but also, which is inseparable from it, to an analysis of the French political situation more than two hundred years after the Revolution.

According to Proudhon, the Revolution, precisely, did not take place. 1789 only abolished privileges on the surface and the Ancien Régime continues to structure, secretly or not, the life of the country. What is Property? was written in 1840 under the July Monarchy. During his lifetime, Proudhon (1809-1865) experienced the first Empire, the first Restoration (Louis XVIII), the Hundred Days, the Second Restoration (Louis XVIII and Charles X), the July Monarchy, the second Republic and the beginning of the second Empire. He will therefore have been able to measure, through these constant transitions from the monarchy to the Republic, from the Republic to the Empire, the ambiguity, if not the obscurity, of the post-revolutionary political legacy, poorly extricated from feudal trappings.[1]

In his book, the criticism of property is immediately linked to the idea of the persistence of feudalism and one of its structuring axes, “servitude”, which in medieval law was called the “servile condition”. In 1789, the people, Proudhon asserts, believing they were free from this “condition”, “were mistaken”. They “fell back into privilege and servitude, always in imitation of the Ancien Régime. […] There has been progress in the attribution of rights; there was no revolution.”[2]

To what extent do these words still resonate strongly today? This is the question I try to answer.

The challenge is of course to determine the meaning of the term “servitude” and its relationship to property. Proudhon posits from the outset a strict identity between two questions: “what is property?” and “what is slavery?” At the very beginning of the book, after asking “What is property?”, he immediately declares: “If I had to answer the following question: What is slavery? And that in one word, I answer, “It is murder”, my thought would be understood immediately. I would not need a long speech to show that the power to remove from man thought, will, personality, is a power of life and death, and that to make of man a slave, is to assassinate her/him. Why then to this other question, “What is property?“, can I not answer in the same way: “It is theft”, without having the certainty of not being understood, even though  this second proposition is only the first transformed?”[3] Further on: “Besides, I make no system: I ask for the end of privilege, the abolition of slavery, the equality of rights, the reign of law.”

Why this assimilation of property to servitude? That is the guiding question of the text; a question all the more difficult to render audible as the French Revolution seems to have marked the answer to it as impossible. Was not the invention of private property, which is one of the major achievements of the revolution, precisely synonymous with equality and freedom? Did it not end absolute dependence on lords, their fiefs and their banns? Did it not release bodies from chains and the glebe?

Proudhon remains intractable. Property is only the other name of domination. From one regime to another, from feudalism to Revolution, from one understanding of property to the other, enslavement has changed its countenance, but it persists. And in such a way that with the Revolution, this is the “change”, that the reality of the servile condition is both justified and obfuscated by a theft. Private property is first of all a theft of memory and meaning that transforms servility – immemorial and continuous – into an assurance of emancipation. And it is to this specific problem that Proudhon turns, marking for the first time the specificity of the anarchist criticism of property in relation to all the others, that of Marx of course but also, a posteriori, those of his contemporaries. “I am an anarchist”,[4] he concludes.

It is not certain that this specificity was analysed with all of the attention it required. Consequently, it is also not certain that the famous cry, “Property is theft!” was properly understood. Limited to a narrowly and naively economic perspective, it has never been envisaged in its true political dimension as the spoliation of memory.  What is Property? undertakes in fact to explore the structures of modern domination as the legitimating of a process of forgetting.

“Property” and “private property”

Establishing a direct relationship between private property and the persistence of feudalism in revolutionary France, however, is not self-evident. Again, the juridical concept of “private property”, also sometimes called “absolute property”, came to be only after 1789.

Its legal and economic meaning will be fixed a little later by article 544 of the Civil Code: “Property is the right to enjoy and to dispose of things in the most absolute way, provided that it is not used in a way prohibited by laws or by regulations.”

Proudhon employs “property” and “private property” from one context to another (ante- and post-revolution) indistinctly. “Property” therefore means, for him, both “private property” – in the late, historical sense of the term – and feudal property, inseparable from the political edifice of lordship and the monarchy. He discerns continuity between the two “properties” which, legally and economically, have nothing to do with each other. The paradoxical vision of this unity in the rupture of revolution structures the ensemble of the argument herein development.

Proudhon analyses “private property” proper in the “economic” part of the book, which covers chapters III and IV and concerns the work and exploitation of proletarians. As for the first chapter, it starts from the feudal meaning of property[5] and moves covertly, like an underlying rhythm, through the rest of the work.

Marx’s objection: Defining property as theft supposes the existence of property

The asymmetrical coexistence between the two “properties” seems to immediately justify Marx’s famous critical conclusion. Proudhon’s text is incoherent because property seems to precede itself. Feudal property, poorly defined, appears without scientific justification as the direct ancestor of post-revolutionary property. The double use that Proudhon makes of the word “property” reveals according to Marx its inability to deal scientifically with the real problem: the birth of capitalism, which precisely marks a decisive break with the feudal mode of production, even if it guards traces. By defining property as theft, Proudhon falls into an insoluble contradiction: property must precede theft; it is then the theft of something and the property of someone, at the same time. Therefore property pre-exists property. This is the conclusion that Marx formulates in his famous letter to Schweizer. “Because theft, as a violation of property, presupposes property, Proudhon allows himself to be caught in all kinds of confused ramblings on the real nature of bourgeois property.”[6]

Theft as a point of junction

This reading is unfair. Proudhon’s dual use of “property” in fact corresponds to two very distinct levels of analysis. For him, the post-revolutionary meaning of “private property” is primarily economic, the meaning of “property”, in the feudal context, is primarily political.

Theft plays the role of a paradoxical connection between the two. This is a connection which, far from establishing a simple linear succession between old and new regimes, connects them and keeps them separate, at the same time.

Proudhon had obviously anticipated the objection that defining property as theft presupposed the existence of property. In a sense, this objection is valid since for him it is indeed a question of demonstrating the persistence of feudalism and the Ancien Régime in the post-revolutionary period. The theft that is private property continues, realises, a situation that pre-existed it. But at the same time, as we have said, theft transforms this situation in such a way that it disappears and suggests a renewal – a revolution. Contrary to what Marx affirms, theft, in Proudhon, is first and foremost a symbolic theft. Hence the affirmations, very mysterious to begin with, according to which: property steals while stealing “nothing”[7], “property is impossible, because from nothing, it demands something”.[8] Theft, once again, is the theft of the memory of domination, inscribed at the heart of feudalism and allegedly erased by the Revolution. Theft volatilizes what it maintains. And this operation gives a whole new dimension to the search for the causes of capitalism.

The double key to the right of aubaine

To highlight this complex relationship of persistence and disappearance, Proudhon will create a hermeneutic instrument in the form of a key with two historical extremities: the right of aubaine.

There are no less than 65 occurrences of this expression in What is Property? For example: “Property is the right of aubaine.”[9] The right of aubaine establishes “definitively [the] identity [of property] with the theft”.[10] “Without the right of aubaine, there is no property […].”[11] Further on: “The right of aubaine, let us not hesitate to call it by its name, [is] the right of theft.”[12] Or again: “The right of aubaine is truly inherent, so intimate, to property, that where it does not exist, property is null.”[13]

The right of aubaine, like property and like the theft with which it is synonymous, has two meanings. A modern meaning: “aubaine” designates an unexpected advantage, often obtained by chance, without any merit (“it’s a godsend!”). A medieval meaning: the right of aubaine is a feudal right, a fact too often forgotten in readings of What is Property?, including those of Marx. In medieval law, the right of aubaine is the name of the right of seizure by lords first, then of the king alone later, of the property of foreigners established on French soil and who died on the territory. This reference to foreigners will prove decisive for the understanding of the text.

If the aubaine can play the role of a medieval-modern exchanger – which in Proudhon articulates economics and politics, capitalism and feudalism –, it is to the extent that it allows one to see the structural link that exists between property and foreignness. Property, in all its ages, creates foreigners, creates the improper and that is why it is domination, that is why it enslaves. This link between property owner and foreigner, which constitutes the centre of the problem, deployed here, leads precisely to the heart of the study of the servile condition and its “subjects” – from “aubaines” to proletarians.

The modern meaning of aubaine

The right of aubaine, in its modern sense, is an economic reality, and its study serves as a guiding principle for the analysis of salaried work. Theft, in this part of the book, is more immediately understandable, which explains why all readers focused on it. The right of aubaine is defined by Proudhon as “the power to produce without working”,[14] to profit from the labour of others without doing anything.[15] Aubaine thus characterizes the added value of land or industrial capital, produced by the work of proletarians and which the owner improperly attributes to him/herself in order to then make it grow on the stock market. A good bargain! [Bonne Aubaine!]

The owner only remunerates this surplus, the product of collective effort, on the basis of individual work. “The capitalist, it is said, has paid as many times a day as he has employed workers each day, which is not at all the same thing,” writes Proudhon. “Because this immense force which results from the union and harmony of the workers, from the convergence and simultaneity of their efforts, s/he has not paid for it. Two hundred grenadiers erected the Luxor obelisk on its base in a few hours; do we suppose that a single man, in a single day, would have overcome it? However, due to the capitalist, the sum of wages would have been the same. And so, a desert to cultivate, a house to build, a factory to exploit, the obelisk to lift, they are mountains to move. The smallest fortune, the smallest establishment, the setting up of the frailest industry, requires a combination of work and talents so diverse that the same man would never be enough. It is surprising that economists have not noticed this. Let us therefore weigh up what the capitalist received and what he paid.”[16]

Or again: “The recognition that the owner demands for the provision of his right is expressed either in monetary signs or by a dividend in kind of the presumed product. So that […] by the right of aubaine, the owner harvests and does not plow, harvests and does not cultivate, consumes and does not produce, enjoys and exercises nothing. Very different from the idols of the Psalmist are the gods of property: these had hands and did not touch; these, on the contrary, manus habent et palpabunt.”[17]

The right of aubaine is therefore indeed a “theft”, since the owner pockets the difference between collective work and individual work – thus making the proletarians strangers to the fruit of their labour.

But this alienation has older and not directly economic origins.

The medieval meaning of aubaine

The “right of aubaine” is not, in any case, a concept of economic science.[18] Its use therefore belongs solely to Proudhon, who plays on the intentional anachronism. What exactly does its medieval meaning say? The word “aubaine” comes from the old French “aubain”, which therefore means “foreigner”, not born on national soil. The jurisconsult Jacques Cujas, in the 16th century, derived it from the Latin advena, “foreign”, while his disciple Antoine Loysel believed it to come from the vulgar Latin alibi natus, “born elsewhere”. Today it is agreed that the term comes from the Frankish alibani, “which belongs to another ban”, the ban being the “territory subject to the jurisdiction of a sovereign”.[19] “Aubain” is opposed to “régnicole”, which designates the subject of the Crown residing in the kingdom. The term “aubain” was for the first time precisely and officially encountered in the expression right of aubaine, which made the lord the heir of foreigners who die on her/his territory, that is to say, within the perimeter of her/his ban. This right extended under the Ancien Régime to each holder of a fief, whether secular or religious.

But foreignness does not refer only to extraterritoriality. The aubain was in a state of “civil incapacity” on French soil: s/he could not hold political office or testify in trial. But, above all, s/he could both neither write a will, bequeath property, nor inherit it. This is why her/his property fell to the lord. “Auber,” says Nicot in the Thresor de la langue française, “means moving from one place to another. And because such adventitious subjects [foreigners] cannot enjoy the rights and advantages of the natives of the country where they live without being naturalised, […] their property falls to the tax authorities after their death, for this reason one says Aubain.”[20] The estate of a beneficiary falls into the hands of the lord due to the incapacity of the foreigner. Foreigner therefore not only means coming from elsewhere, but also, and at the same time, suspended from genealogy, outside inheritance.

It will not be surprising to see Proudhon extend the right of aubaine, in What is Property?, to serfs and bastards. All of them, aubains, serfs and bastards, shared in the feudal era the same “condition”, the same civil incapacity, that is to say the inability to bequeath and inherit. In this sense, they are all foreigners. The property of the serf and the bastard, at the time of their death, also returns to the lord. Two fundamental works, the Précis  de  droit  coutumier  français[21][the Summary of French Customary Law], by Charles Giraud and l’Essai  historique  sur  le  droit  d’aubaine  en  France [the Historical Essay on the right of aubaine in France], by Louis Lütz,[22] exhibit the strong links that exist between aubaine, being a bastard and serfdom due to the fact that these three conditions are called “non-free”. Giraud, in his Précis, places all three, according to medieval language, under the “servile condition”.

Proudhon insists on the similarities that exist between the three species of “conditions”. “The right of aubaine is exercised over the foreigner,”[23] he declares. The serf, “placed in the rank of things”, “could neither bequeath nor become an heir; he was like an animal, whose service and growth belong to the master by right of accession.”[24] Certain subjects, finally, “find themselves treated as elders [of a family]” and some “as bastards”.[25]

Of inheritance

But what precise relationship – other than metaphorical – does Proudhon establish between the aubain, the serf and the bastard, and the proletarian? We can certainly see an analogy between the seizure of property by the lord and the appropriation of the fruit of the work of the proletarians by the capitalist. Foreigners were often merchants, at the head of a substantial heritage. And the appropriation of the property of serfs and bastards was also a significant source of income, as is unpaid work. A “bonne aubaine” [“good bargain”], therefore, in any case.

Despite everything, apart from the historical incongruity of the intervention of feudal law in the economic world of the 19th century, we do not immediately grasp the meaning of the rapprochement between workers and foreigners deprived of the right to bequeath and inherit. Yet this is where Proudhon wants to come to. From aubains to proletarians, property continues to write, as its indispensable sub-text, the story of disinherited children.

Proudhon, once again, does not limit the category of aubain to foreigners “born elsewhere”. He extends it to all subjects incapable of inheritance. Property can only exist on the condition of excluding the “unsuitable” from the logic of legatee transfer, while concealing this very exclusion.

The question What is Property? is actually an answer, a response to the subject proposed by the Academy of Besançon in 1840, which is precisely not “what is property?”, but “On the economic and moral consequences that the law on the equal sharing of property between children has had until now in France, and which it seems likely to produce in the future.”[26] The subject therefore concerns the consequences of the abolition of the rights of age [of older over younger] (in 1790) and initiates a reflection on the notions of affiliation, succession and inheritance.[27]

Proudhon will transform the subject doubly: firstly, by moving from the question of inheritance to that of property; secondly, by extending the notion of “child” to citizens. Should they not all, equally, be considered heirs? “If the law was able to make the right of inheritance common to all the children of the same father, cannot it make it equal for all grandchildren and great-grandchildren? If the law no longer recognises the younger in the family [as separate in terms of rights], can it not, through the right of heredity, ensure that there are no longer any in the race, in the tribe, in the nation? Can equality, through the right of inheritance, be preserved between citizens, as well as between cousins and brothers? In a word, can the principle of succession become a principle of equality?” And it is then that “property” appears: “By summarising all these facts under a general expression: What is the principle of heredity? What are the foundations of inequality? What is ownership?”[28]

From the initial question posed by the Academy to its reinterpretation by Proudhon, the concept of inheritance moves from the idea of an equal distribution of material goods between children to that of an equal distribution between citizens, considered up to now as excluded from the will. But from which will? Why, once again, consider that the proletarians, and more generally the “people”, are deprived – like the aubains, the serfs and the bastards – of the possibility of bequeathing as well as that of inheriting? It is clear that the answer cannot be simply economic. The “theft” which is property, more than material goods once again, is a prohibition of inheritance.

A change of the lines

The invention of private property, the work of the French Revolution, transformed the meaning of heredity. Genealogical continuity is now guaranteed by the sole transmission of heritage and replaces the aristocratic lineage ensured by the legacy of the family name and arms. After the Revolution, the “dynasty” of owners succeeded the “branch” of ancestry. Behind the destitution of the aristocracy, it is the misuse of family capital which is stigmatised by the revolutionaries.

From one regime to another, however, it is still and always the capacity to inherit and bequeath which objectively places individuals in political and social time and space. Inheritance remains a legal form (of affiliation) which respects a symbolic grammar (of genealogy). However, in the same way that aubains, serfs and bastards are excluded from the lineage, proletarians, dispossessed of their work, are excluded from the transmission of capital. They neither succeed nor precede it. It is to this extent, in the form of a symbolic, legal and material deficit of legacy that the “people”, after the Revolution, persist in the “servile condition”. To enslave is to deprive someone of soil, land, of inscription in a tradition, of a succession, a chain of transmission, such that the only outcome is to belong to someone, to become oneself a thing, a transferable good. All forms of servitude presuppose a genealogical erasure. And it is the progressive study of this erasure through the condition of the aubains, the serfs, the bastards and the proletarians which will ultimately allow me – which Proudhon does not do – to consider the specific situation of slavery, only mentioned at the beginning of the text.

The finding

Let us state for the moment, before continuing, the finding to which Proudhon comes: the “revolutionary” and “republican” French people, descendants for the most part from slaves, serfs, bastards, foreigners and very few from nobles, has in fact lost the memory of its origins: bastard origins, foreign origins, subjugated origins. Once again, the revolutionary invention of private property steals the memory of the servile condition by presenting the new terms of inheritance and transmission as guarantees of emancipation. You can all become owners, put an end to incapacity, to foreignness, you are finally at home.

Legacy of the impossibility of inheriting, non-datable origin of enslavement, paradoxically historical dissimulation of memory: by playing on the ellipse of times, by mixing the contributions of sharp historical and legal knowledge with the manipulation of anachronisms, by peppering the contemporary lexicon with medieval terms, Proudhon asks fundamental questions which are still the burden of historians today and they reach far beyond, due to their very particular formulation, the “national” context. His book is aimed at the whole world, since there was no Revolution anywhere.

The approach

This is then is, without further explanation, the problematic density of the text, for which no simply economic or “economist” reading can explain.

I will start precisely from this usual, economic understanding of private property and the usual readings of Proudhon which are derived from it, to then extract the political reading from this framework. I will therefore first outline the current neoliberal context and contemporary criticisms of private property, focusing on two of them, the most important: the theory of the commons and de-colonial approaches to dispossession. These criticisms recognise their debt to Proudhon, but reject anarchism and ultimately remain dependent on the path traced by Marx. I will then come to a reading of Marx himself, who criticises the way in which Proudhon thinks about the relationship between feudalism and capitalism and questions the exorbitant etiological role given to theft.

It is precisely to theft that I will devote the whole of the remaining argument: the medieval meaning of the aubain, analysis of the servile condition and the fate of the aubains, serfs, bastards, then proletarians; the invention of private property and the transformation of the concept of inheritance, the forms of the right of aubaine today, neo-feudalism and the construction of the usual image of France as a “land of freedom”.

Through all of these moments of reflection, it will be a question of gradually questioning, with Proudhon and beyond him, the general amnesia which strikes the origin of the servile condition, the way in which the republican discourse continues to obscure the memory of the various traditions of enslavement from which the vast majority of the people come. What is one to make, in particular, of the relationship between slavery and serfdom? To what extent has this relationship weighed and does it still weigh on the world of work? How did it underpin the colonial enterprise and does it continue to support migration policies? These are so many questions which remain unexplored by contemporary criticisms of private property and which remain a fundamental problem for historians.

What locks does the right of aubaine still open?

[1] It is quite common to speak indiscriminately, as did Proudhon, of feudalism and the Ancien Régime. The feudal political system existed in the kingdom of France principally between the 9th and 13th centuries. The Ancien Régime designates the social and political regime of France from the reign of Francis I (1515-1547) to the proclamation of the National Assembly on the 17th of June 1789 and the abolition of aristocratic privileges on the night of the 4th of August. What interests Proudhon is the survival of feudalism in the Ancien Régime and in revolutionary and post-revolutionary France. I may also then sometimes employ feudalism and the Ancien Régime interchangeably.   

[2] Qu’est-ce que la propriété?, Paris, Payot, coll. «Petite Bibliothèque Payot», 2024, p. 50-51.

[3] Ibid., p. 25, emphasis mine.

[4] Ibid., p. 297.

[5] Chapter entitled, «Méthode suivie dans cet ouvrage – Idée d’une révolution».

[6] Karl Marx, «Lettre à J.B. Schweitzer», 24 janvier 1865, Marxists Internet Archive.

[7] Qu’est-ce que la propriété?, op. cit., p. 246, «C’est une negation, un mensonge, RIEN».

[8] Ibid., p. 181.

[9] Ibid., p. 178.

[10] Ibid., p. 55.

[11] Ibid., p. 199.

[12] Ibid., p. 199

[13] Ibid., p. 176.

[14] Ibid., p. 178.

[15] The English translations of Qu’est-ce que la propriété? all give right of increase for “droit d’aubaine”, which limits the meaning of this right to the economic phenomena of profit and surplus-value, completely leaving aside its Medieval meaning. Yet in English, a distinction is made between windfall (which means in French “la bonne aubaine” and “l’effet d’aubaine” [“good fortune”, “godsend”, “bonus”]) and escheat, closer to the [French] Medieval “aubaine”, that refers to the process of transfer to the state of abandoned properties or properties left without inheritors. [Trans. Note: This issue also comes up in translations of Proudhon’s work to other languages than English, that we have been able to review – for example, in Portuguese editions -, something which Spanish language translations seem to have been able to avoid.]

[16] Qu’est-ce que la propriété?, op. cit., p. 136-137.

[17] Ibid., p. 176-177.

[18] It has little to do with the “effet d’aubaine”. There is an “effet d’aubaine” when an economic actor endeavours to incite other actors to behave in a particular manner. S/he lures them in general by offering them an advantage if they behave in the desired way: for example, by a reduction in prices, bonuses, gifts, etc. If the actor who benefits from this advantage had the intention, either way, of behaving in this way even in the absence of the said advantage, there is an “effet de aubaine”. The “effet d’aubaine” concerns essentially public policies. For example, if, to motivate companies to hire, the state awards those that do so a bonus for doing so, this measure will have an “effet d’aubaine” for all of the companies that were in fact on the point of hiring.

[19] This term is also at the origin of the [French] word “banlieue”, which originally referred to the territory extending to a place [a “lieu”] around the city over which a lord exercised her/his “ban”, that is, jurisdiction.

[20] Jean Nicot, Thresor de la langue française, 1606. The Dictionnaire de l’Académie francaise specifies: “Aubain is not the only name designating a foreigner. This is also the case for forain, a word from the Latin foranus, “foreigner” [étranger], and this is also the meaning it has when it appears in French in the 12th century. But, from the 14th century onwards, it faced competition from foreigner [étranger], and as the fair merchants went from fair to fair, it was wrongly believed that forain – while the English words which came from it, foreign and foreigner, have well preserved this sense of “foreign” — was derived from fair. The adjective foranus is itself derived from foris, “outside” [“dehors”], a form which is linked to fores, but also to the Greek thura, the English door and the German Tür, all words meaning “door” [“porte”]. It is from foris that our [French] prepositions fors and hors will be drawn, more or less directly. From the latter is derived, on the model of forain, the name horsain, which designates, in Cauchois country, one who was not born in the region, or even in the village, and who, as Father Alexandre showed in his book aptly titled Le Horsain, seems condemned to having to forever maintain her/his status as a foreigner.” («L’aubaine, l’aubain, le forain et le horsain», Académie française, «Dire, ne pas dire», édition électronique, 2015).

[21] Charles Giraud, Précis de l’ancien droit coutumier français, Paris, Librairie Durand, 1852. 

[22] Luis Lütz, Essai historique sur le droit d’aubaine en France, Genève, Ramboz et Shuschardt, 1866.

[23] Qu’est-ce que la propriété?, op. cit., p. 180.

[24] Ibid., p. 51.

[25] Ibid., p. 108.

[26] Cited in Ibid., p. 320.

[27] Mentioned by Proudhon in Ibid., p. 95.

[28] Ibid., p. 320.

 lundimatin,#420, 19/03/2024

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