P. J. PROUDHON: HIS LIFE AND HIS WORKS.
The correspondence 1 of P. J. Proudhon, the first volumes of which we publish to-day, has been collected since his death by the faithful and intelligent labors of his daughter, aided by a few friends. It was incomplete when submitted to Sainte Beuve, but the portion with which the illustrious academician became acquainted was sufficient to allow him to estimate it as a whole with that soundness of judgment which characterized him as a literary critic.
He would, however, caution readers against accepting the biographer’s interpretation of the author’s views as in any sense authoritative; advising them, rather, to await the publication of the remainder of Proudhon’s writings, that they may form an opinion for themselves.—Translator.
In an important work, which his habitual readers certainly have not forgotten, although death did not allow him to finish it, Sainte Beuve thus judges the correspondence of the great publicist:—
“The letters of Proudhon, even outside the circle of his particular friends, will always be of value; we can always learn something from them, and here is the proper place to determine the general character of his correspondence.
“It has always been large, especially since he became so celebrated; and, to tell the truth, I am persuaded that, in the future, the correspondence of Proudhon will be his principal, vital work, and that most of his books will be only accessory to and corroborative of this. At any rate, his books can be well understood only by the aid of his letters and the continual explanations which he makes to those who consult him in their doubt, and request him to define more clearly his position.
“There are, among celebrated people, many methods of correspondence. There are those to whom letter-writing is a bore, and who, assailed with questions and compliments, reply in the greatest haste, solely that the job may be over with, and who return politeness for politeness, mingling it with more or less wit. This kind of correspondence, though coming from celebrated people, is insignificant and unworthy of collection and classification.
“After those who write letters in performance of a disagreeable duty, and almost side by side with them in point of insignificance, I should put those who write in a manner wholly external, wholly superficial, devoted only to flattery, lavishing praise like gold, without counting it; and those also who weigh every word, who reply formally and pompously, with a view to fine phrases and effects. They exchange words only, and choose them solely for their brilliancy and show. You think it is you, individually, to whom they speak; but they are addressing themselves in your person to the four corners of Europe. Such letters are empty, and teach as nothing but theatrical execution and the favorite pose of their writers.
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“I will not class among the latter the more prudent and sagacious authors who, when writing to individuals, keep one eye on posterity. We know that many who pursue this method have written long, finished, charming, flattering, and tolerably natural letters. Beranger furnishes us with the best example of this class.
“Proudhon, however, is a man of entirely different nature and habits. In writing, he thinks of nothing but his idea and the person whom he addresses: ad rem et ad hominem. A man of conviction and doctrine, to write does not weary him; to be questioned does not annoy him. When approached, he cares only to know that your motive is not one of futile curiosity, but the love of truth; he assumes you to be serious, he replies, he examines your objections, sometimes verbally, sometimes in writing; for, as he remarks, ‘if there be some points which correspondence can never settle, but which can be made clear by conversation in two minutes, at other times just the opposite is the case: an objection clearly stated in writing, a doubt well expressed, which elicits a direct and positive reply, helps things along more than ten hours of oral intercourse!’ In writing to you he does not hesitate to treat the subject anew; he unfolds to you the foundation and superstructure of his thought: rarely does he confess himself defeated—it is not his way; he holds to his position, but admits the breaks, the variations, in short, the EVOLUTION of his mind. The history of his mind is in his letters; there it must be sought.
“Proudhon, whoever addresses him, is always ready; he quits the page of the book on which he is at work to answer you with the same pen, and that without losing patience, without getting confused, without sparing or complaining of his ink; he is a public man, devoted to the propagation of his idea by all methods, and the best method, with him, is always the present one, the latest one. His very handwriting, bold, uniform, legible, even in the most tiresome passages, betrays no haste, no hurry to finish. Each line is accurate: nothing is left to chance; the punctuation, very correct and a little emphatic and decided, indicates with precision and delicate distinction all the links in the chain of his argument. He is devoted entirely to you, to his business and yours, while writing to you, and never to anything else. All the letters of his which I have seen are serious: not one is commonplace.
“But at the same time he is not at all artistic or affected; he does not CONSTRUCT his letters, he does not revise them, he spends no time in reading them over; we have a first draught, excellent and clear, a jet from the fountain-head, but that is all. The new arguments, which he discovers in support of his ideas and which opposition suggests to him, are an agreeable surprise, and shed a light which we should vainly search for even in his works. His correspondence differs essentially from his books, in that it gives you no uneasiness; it places you in the very heart of the man, explains him to you, and leaves you with an impression of moral esteem and almost of intellectual security. We feel his sincerity. I know of no one to whom he can be more fitly compared in this respect than George Sand, whose correspondence is large, and at the same time full of sincerity. His role and his nature correspond. If he is writing to a young man who unbosoms himself to him in sceptical anxiety, to a young woman who asks him to decide delicate questions of conduct for her, his letter takes the form of a short moral essay, of a father-confessor’s advice. Has he perchance attended the theatre (a rare thing for him) to witness one of Ponsart’s comedies, or a drama of Charles Edmond’s, he feels bound to give an account of his impressions to the friend to whom he is indebted for this pleasure, and his letter becomes a literary and philosophical criticism, full of sense, and like no other. His familiarity is suited to his correspondent; he affects no rudeness. The terms of civility or affection which he employs towards his correspondents are sober, measured, appropriate to each, and honest in their simplicity and cordiality. When he speaks of morals and the family, he seems at times like the patriarchs of the Bible. His command of language is complete, and he never fails to avail himself of it. Now and then a coarse word, a few personalities, too bitter and quite unjust or injurious, will have to be suppressed in printing; time, however, as it passes away, permits many things and renders them inoffensive. Am I right in saying that Proudhon’s correspondence, always substantial, will one day be the most accessible and attractive portion of his works?”
Almost the whole of Proudhon’s real biography is included in his correspondence. Up to 1837, the date of the first letter which we have been able to collect, his life, narrated by Sainte Beuve, from whom we make numerous extracts, may be summed up in a few pages.
Pierre Joseph Proudhon was born on the 15th of January, 1809, in a suburb of Besancon, called Mouillere. His father and mother were employed in the great brewery belonging to M. Renaud. His father, though a cousin of the jurist Proudhon, the celebrated professor in the faculty of Dijon, was a journeyman brewer. His mother, a genuine peasant, was a common servant. She was an orderly person of great good sense; and, as they who knew her say, a superior woman of HEROIC character,—to use the expression of the venerable M. Weiss, the librarian at Besancon. She it was especially that Proudhon resembled: she and his grandfather Tournesi, the soldier peasant of whom his mother told him, and whose courageous deeds he has described in his work on “Justice.” Proudhon, who always felt a great veneration for his mother Catharine, gave her name to the elder of his daughters. In 1814, when Besancon was blockaded, Mouillere, which stood in front of the walls of the town, was destroyed in the defence of the place; and Proudhon’s father established a cooper’s shop in a suburb of Battant, called Vignerons. Very honest, but simple-minded and short-sighted, this cooper, the father of five children, of whom Pierre Joseph was the eldest, passed his life in poverty. At eight years of age, Proudhon either made himself useful in the house, or tended the cattle out of doors. No one should fail to read that beautiful and precious page of his work on “Justice,” in which he describes the rural sports which he enjoyed when a neatherd. At the age of twelve, he was a cellar-boy in an inn. This, however, did not prevent him from studying.
His mother was greatly aided by M. Renaud, the former owner of the brewery, who had at that time retired from business, and was engaged in the education of his children.
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Proudhon entered school as a day-scholar in the sixth class. He was necessarily irregular in his attendance; domestic cares and restraints sometimes kept him from his classes. He succeeded nevertheless in his studies; he showed great perseverance. His family were so poor that they could not afford to furnish him with books; he was obliged to borrow them from his comrades, and copy the text of his lessons. He has himself told us that he was obliged to leave his wooden shoes outside the door, that he might not disturb the classes with his noise; and that, having no hat, he went to school bareheaded. One day, towards the close of his studies, on returning from the distribution of the prizes, loaded with crowns, he found nothing to eat in the house.
“In his eagerness for labor and his thirst for knowledge, Proudhon,” says Sainte Beuve, “was not content with the instruction of his teachers. From his twelfth to his fourteenth year, he was a constant frequenter of the town library. One curiosity led to another, and he called for book after book, sometimes eight or ten at one sitting. The learned librarian, the friend and almost the brother of Charles Nodier, M. Weiss, approached him one day, and said, smiling, ‘But, my little friend, what do you wish to do with all these books?’ The child raised his head, eyed his questioner, and replied: ‘What’s that to you?’ And the good M. Weiss remembers it to this day.”
Forced to earn his living, Proudhon could not continue his studies. He entered a printing-office in Besancon as a proof-reader. Becoming, soon after, a compositor, he made a tour of France in this capacity. At Toulon, where he found himself without money and without work, he had a scene with the mayor, which he describes in his work on “Justice.”
Sainte Beuve says that, after his tour of France, his service book being filled with good certificates, Proudhon was promoted to the position of foreman. But he does not tell us, for the reason that he had no knowledge of a letter written by Fallot, of which we never heard until six months since, that the printer at that time contemplated quitting his trade in order to become a teacher.
Towards 1829, Fallot, who was a little older than Proudhon, and who, after having obtained the Suard pension in 1832, died in his twenty-ninth year, while filling the position of assistant librarian at the Institute, was charged, Protestant though he was, with the revisal of a “Life of the Saints,” which was published at Besancon. The book was in Latin, and Fallot added some notes which also were in Latin.
“But,” says Sainte Beuve, “it happened that some errors escaped his attention, which Proudhon, then proof-reader in the printing office, did not fail to point out to him. Surprised at finding so good a Latin scholar in a workshop, he desired to make his acquaintance; and soon there sprung up between them a most earnest and intimate friendship: a friendship of the intellect and of the heart.”
Addressed to a printer between twenty-two and twenty-three years of age, and predicting in formal terms his future fame, Fallot’s letter seems to us so interesting that we do not hesitate to reproduce it entire.
“PARIS, December 5, 1831.
“MY DEAR PROUDHON,—YOU have a right to be surprised at, and even dissatisfied with, my long delay in replying to your kind letter; I will tell you the cause of it. It became necessary to forward an account of your ideas to M. J. de Gray; to hear his objections, to reply to them, and to await his definitive response, which reached me but a short time ago; for M. J. is a sort of financial king, who takes no pains to be punctual in dealing with poor devils like ourselves. I, too, am careless in matters of business; I sometimes push my negligence even to disorder, and the metaphysical musings which continually occupy my mind, added to the amusements of Paris, render me the most incapable man in the world for conducting a negotiation with despatch.
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“I have M. Jobard’s decision; here it is: In his judgment, you are too learned and clever for his children; he fears that you could not accommodate your mind and character to the childish notions common to their age and station. In short, he is what the world calls a good father; that is, he wants to spoil his children, and, in order to do this easily, he thinks fit to retain his present instructor, who is not very learned, but who takes part in their games and joyous sports with wonderful facility, who points out the letters of the alphabet to the little girl, who takes the little boys to mass, and who, no less obliging than the worthy Abbe P. of our acquaintance, would readily dance for Madame’s amusement. Such a profession would not suit you, you who have a free, proud, and manly soul: you are refused; let us dismiss the matter from our minds. Perhaps another time my solicitude will be less unfortunate. I can only ask your pardon for having thought of thus disposing of you almost without consulting you. I find my excuse in the motives which guided me; I had in view your well-being and advancement in the ways of this world.
“I see in your letter, my comrade, through its brilliant witticisms and beneath the frank and artless gayety with which you have sprinkled it, a tinge of sadness and despondency which pains me. You are unhappy, my friend: your present situation does not suit you; you cannot remain in it, it was not made for you, it is beneath you; you ought, by all means, to leave it, before its injurious influence begins to affect your faculties, and before you become settled, as they say, in the ways of your profession, were it possible that such a thing could ever happen, which I flatly deny. You are unhappy; you have not yet entered upon the path which Nature has marked out for you. But, faint-hearted soul, is that a cause for despondency? Ought you to feel discouraged? Struggle, morbleu, struggle persistently, and you will triumph. J. J. Rousseau groped about for forty years before his genius was revealed to him. You are not J. J Rousseau; but listen: I know not whether I should have divined the author of “Emile” when he was twenty years of age, supposing that I had been his contemporary, and had enjoyed the honor of his acquaintance. But I have known you, I have loved you, I have divined your future, if I may venture to say so; for the first time in my life, I am going to risk a prophecy. Keep this letter, read it again fifteen or twenty years hence, perhaps twenty-five, and if at that time the prediction which I am about to make has not been fulfilled, burn it as a piece of folly out of charity and respect for my memory. This is my prediction: you will be, Proudhon, in spite of yourself, inevitably, by the fact of your destiny, a writer, an author; you will be a philosopher; you will be one of the lights of the century, and your name will occupy a place in the annals of the nineteenth century, like those of Gassendi, Descartes, Malebranche, and Bacon in the seventeenth, and those of Diderot, Montesquieu, Helvetius. Locke, Hume, and Holbach in the eighteenth. Such will be your lot! Do now what you will, set type in a printing-office, bring up children, bury yourself in deep seclusion, seek obscure and lonely villages, it is all one to me; you cannot escape your destiny; you cannot divest yourself of your noblest feature, that active, strong, and inquiring mind, with which you are endowed; your place in the world has been appointed, and it cannot remain empty. Go where you please, I expect you in Paris, talking philosophy and the doctrines of Plato; you will have to come, whether you want to or not. I, who say this to you, must feel very sure of it in order to be willing to put it upon paper, since, without reward for my prophetic skill,—to which, I assure you, I make not the slightest claim,—I run the risk of passing for a hare-brained fellow, in case I prove to be mistaken: he plays a bold game who risks his good sense upon his cards, in return for the very trifling and insignificant merit of having divined a young man’s future.
“When I say that I expect you in Paris, I use only a proverbial phrase which you must not allow to mislead you as to my projects and plans. To reside in Paris is disagreeable to me, very much so; and when this fine-art fever which possesses me has left me, I shall abandon the place without regret to seek a more peaceful residence in a provincial town, provided always the town shall afford me the means of living, bread, a bed, books, rest, and solitude. How I miss, my good Proudhon, that dark, obscure, smoky chamber in which I dwelt in Besancon, and where we spent so many pleasant hours in the discussion of philosophy! Do you remember it? But that is now far away. Will that happy time ever return? Shall we one day meet again? Here my life is restless, uncertain, precarious, and, what is worse, indolent, illiterate, and vagrant. I do no work, I live in idleness, I ramble about; I do not read, I no longer study; my books are forsaken; now and then I glance over a few metaphysical works, and after a days walk through dirty, filthy, crowded streets. I lie down with empty head and tired body, to repeat the performance on the following day. What is the object of these walks, you will ask. I make visits, my friend; I hold interviews with stupid people. Then a fit of curiosity seizes me, the least inquisitive of beings: there are museums, libraries, assemblies, churches, palaces, gardens, and theatres to visit. I am fond of pictures, fond of music, fond of sculpture; all these are beautiful and good, but they cannot appease hunger, nor take the place of my pleasant readings of Bailly, Hume, and Tennemann, which I used to enjoy by my fireside when I was able to read.
“But enough of complaints. Do not allow this letter to affect you too much, and do not think that I give way to dejection or despondency; no, I am a fatalist, and I believe in my star. I do not know yet what my calling is, nor for what branch of polite literature I am best fitted; I do not even know whether I am, or ever shall be, fitted for any: but what matters it? I suffer, I labor, I dream, I enjoy, I think; and, in a word, when my last hour strikes, I shall have lived.
“Proudhon, I love you, I esteem you; and, believe me, these are not mere phrases. What interest could I have in flattering and praising a poor printer? Are you rich, that you may pay for courtiers? Have you a sumptuous table, a dashing wife, and gold to scatter, in order to attract them to your suite? Have you the glory, honors, credit, which would render your acquaintance pleasing to their vanity and pride? No; you are poor, obscure, abandoned; but, poor, obscure, and abandoned, you have a friend, and a friend who knows all the obligations which that word imposes upon honorable people, when they venture to assume it. That friend is myself: put me to the test.
It appears from this letter that if, at this period, Proudhon had already exhibited to the eyes of a clairvoyant friend his genius for research and investigation, it was in the direction of philosophical, rather than of economical and social, questions.
Having become foreman in the house of Gauthier & Co., who carried on a large printing establishment at Besancon, he corrected the proofs of ecclesiastical writers, the Fathers of the Church. As they were printing a Bible, a Vulgate, he was led to compare the Latin with the original Hebrew.
“In this way,” says Sainte Beuve, “he learned Hebrew by himself, and, as everything was connected in his mind, he was led to the study of comparative philology. As the house of Gauthier published many works on Church history and theology, he came also to acquire, through this desire of his to investigate everything, an extensive knowledge of theology, which afterwards caused misinformed persons to think that he had been in an ecclesiastical seminary.”
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Towards 1836, Proudhon left the house of Gauthier, and, in company with an associate, established a small printing-office in Besancon. His contribution to the partnership consisted, not so much in capital, as in his knowledge of the trade. His partner committing suicide in 1838, Proudhon was obliged to wind up the business, an operation which he did not accomplish as quickly and as easily as he hoped. He was then urged by his friends to enter the ranks of the competitors for the Suard pension. This pension consisted of an income of fifteen hundred francs bequeathed to the Academy of Besancon by Madame Suard, the widow of the academician, to be given once in three years to the young man residing in the department of Doubs, a bachelor of letters or of science, and not possessing a fortune, whom the Academy of Besancon SHOULD DEEM BEST FITTED FOR A LITERARY OR SCIENTIFIC CAREER, OR FOR THE STUDY OF LAW OR OF MEDICINE. The first to win the Suard pension was Gustave Fallot. Mauvais, who was a distinguished astronomer in the Academy of Sciences, was the second. Proudhon aspired to be the third. To qualify himself, he had to be received as a bachelor of letters, and was obliged to write a letter to the Academy of Besancon. In a phrase of this letter, the terms of which he had to modify, though he absolutely refused to change its spirit, Proudhon expressed his firm resolve to labor for the amelioration of the condition of his brothers, the working-men.
The only thing which he had then published was an “Essay on General Grammar,” which appeared without the author’s signature. While reprinting, at Besancon, the “Primitive Elements of Languages, Discovered by the Comparison of Hebrew roots with those of the Latin and French,” by the Abbe Bergier, Proudhon had enlarged the edition of his “Essay on General Grammar.”
The date of the edition, 1837, proves that he did not at that time think of competing for the Suard pension. In this work, which continued and completed that of the Abbe Bergier, Proudhon adopted the same point of view, that of Moses and of Biblical tradition. Two years later, in February, 1839, being already in possession of the Suard pension, he addressed to the Institute, as a competitor for the Volney prize, a memoir entitled: “Studies in Grammatical Classification and the Derivation of some French words.” It was his first work, revised and presented in another form. Four memoirs only were sent to the Institute, none of which gained the prize. Two honorable mentions were granted, one of them to memoir No. 4; that is, to P. J. Proudhon, printer at Besancon. The judges were MM. Amedde Jaubert, Reinaud, and Burnouf.
“The committee,” said the report presented at the annual meeting of the five academies on Thursday, May 2, 1839, “has paid especial attention to manuscripts No. 1 and No. 4. Still, it does not feel able to grant the prize to either of these works, because they do not appear to be sufficiently elaborated. The committee, which finds in No. 4 some ingenious analyses, particularly in regard to the mechanism of the Hebrew language, regrets that the author has resorted to hazardous conjectures, and has sometimes forgotten the special recommendation of the committee to pursue the experimental and comparative method.”
Proudhon remembered this. He attended the lectures of Eugene Burnouf, and, as soon as he became acquainted with the labors and discoveries of Bopp and his successors, he definitively abandoned an hypothesis which had been condemned by the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-lettres. He then sold, for the value of the paper, the remaining copies of the “Essay” published by him in 1837. In 1850, they were still lying in a grocer’s back-shop.
A neighboring publisher then placed the edition on the market, with the attractive name of Proudhon upon it. A lawsuit ensued, in which the author was beaten. His enemies, and at that time there were many of them, would have been glad to have proved him a renegade and a recanter. Proudhon, in his work on “Justice,” gives some interesting details of this lawsuit.
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In possession of the Suard pension, Proudhon took part in the contest proposed by the Academy of Besancon on the question of the utility of the celebration of Sunday. His memoir obtained honorable mention, together with a medal which was awarded him, in open session, on the 24th of August, 1839. The reporter of the committee, the Abbe Doney, since made Bishop of Montauban, called attention to the unquestionable superiority of his talent.
“But,” says Sainte Beuve, “he reproached him with having adopted dangerous theories, and with having touched upon questions of practical politics and social organization, where upright intentions and zeal for the public welfare cannot justify rash solutions.”
Was it policy, we mean prudence, which induced Proudhon to screen his ideas of equality behind the Mosaic law? Sainte Beuve, like many others, seems to think so. But we remember perfectly well that, having asked Proudhon, in August, 1848, if he did not consider himself indebted in some respects to his fellow-countryman, Charles Fourier, we received from him the following reply: “I have certainly read Fourier, and have spoken of him more than once in my works; but, upon the whole, I do not think that I owe anything to him. My real masters, those who have caused fertile ideas to spring up in my mind, are three in number: first, the Bible; next, Adam Smith; and last, Hegel.”
Freely confessed in the “Celebration of Sunday,” the influence of the Bible on Proudhon is no less manifest in his first memoir on property. Proudhon undoubtedly brought to this work many ideas of his own; but is not the very foundation of ancient Jewish law to be found in its condemnation of usurious interest and its denial of the right of personal appropriation of land?
The first memoir on property appeared in 1840, under the title, “What is Property? or an Inquiry into the Principle of Right and of Government.” Proudhon dedicated it, in a letter which served as the preface, to the Academy of Besancon. The latter, finding itself brought to trial by its pensioner, took the affair to heart, and evoked it, says Sainte Beuve, with all possible haste.
The pension narrowly escaped being immediately withdrawn from the bold defender of the principle of equality of conditions. M. Vivien, then Minister of Justice, who was earnestly solicited to prosecute the author, wished first to obtain the opinion of the economist, Blanqui, a member of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences. Proudhon having presented to this academy a copy of his book, M. Blanqui was appointed to review it. This review, though it opposed Proudhon’s views, shielded him. Treated as a savant by M. Blanqui, the author was not prosecuted. He was always grateful to MM. Blanqui and Vivien for their handsome conduct in the matter.
M. Blanqui’s review, which was partially reproduced by “Le Moniteur,” on the 7th of September, 1840, naturally led Proudhon to address to him, in the form of a letter, his second memoir on property, which appeared in April, 1841. Proudhon had endeavored, in his first memoir, to demonstrate that the pursuit of equality of conditions is the true principle of right and of government. In the “Letter to M. Blanqui,” he passes in review the numerous and varied methods by which this principle gradually becomes realized in all societies, especially in modern society.
In 1842, a third memoir appeared, entitled, “A Notice to Proprietors, or a Letter to M. Victor Considerant, Editor of ‘La Phalange,’ in Reply to a Defence of Property.” Here the influence of Adam Smith manifested itself, and was frankly admitted. Did not Adam Smith find, in the principle of equality, the first of all the laws which govern wages? There are other laws, undoubtedly; but Proudhon considers them all as springing from the principle of property, as he defined it in his first memoir. Thus, in humanity, there are two principles,—one which leads us to equality, another which separates us from it. By the former, we treat each other as associates; by the latter, as strangers, not to say enemies. This distinction, which is constantly met with throughout the three memoirs, contained already, in germ, the idea which gave birth to the “System of Economical Contradictions,” which appeared in 1846, the idea of antinomy or contre-loi.
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The “Notice to Proprietors” was seized by the magistrates of Besancon; and Proudhon was summoned to appear before the assizes of Doubs within a week. He read his written defence to the jurors in person, and was acquitted. The jury, like M. Blanqui, viewed him only as a philosopher, an inquirer, a savant.
In 1843, Proudhon published the “Creation of Order in Humanity,” a large volume, which does not deal exclusively with questions of social economy. Religion, philosophy, method, certainty, logic, and dialectics are treated at considerable length.
Released from his printing-office on the 1st of March of the same year, Proudhon had to look for a chance to earn his living. Messrs. Gauthier Bros., carriers by water between Mulhouse and Lyons, the eldest of whom was Proudhon’s companion in childhood, conceived the happy thought of employing him, of utilizing his ability in their business, and in settling the numerous points of difficulty which daily arose. Besides the large number of accounts which his new duties required him to make out, and which retarded the publication of the “System of Economical Contradictions,” until October, 1846, we ought to mention a work, which, before it appeared in pamphlet form, was published in the “Revue des Economistes,”—”Competition between Railroads and Navigable Ways.”
“Le Miserere, or the Repentance of a King,” which he published in March, 1845, in the “Revue Independante,” during that Lenten season when Lacordaire was preaching in Lyons, proves that, though devoting himself with ardor to the study of economical problems, Proudhon had not lost his interest in questions of religious history. Among his writings on these questions, which he was unfortunately obliged to leave unfinished, we may mention a nearly completed history of the early Christian heresies, and of the struggle of Christianity against Caesarism.
We have said that, in 1848, Proudhon recognized three masters. Having no knowledge of the German language, he could not have read the works of Hegel, which at that time had not been translated into French. It was Charles Grun, a German, who had come to France to study the various philosophical and socialistic systems, who gave him the substance of the Hegelian ideas. During the winter of 1844-45, Charles Grun had some long conversations with Proudhon, which determined, very decisively, not the ideas, which belonged exclusively to the bisontin thinker, but the form of the important work on which he labored after 1843, and which was published in 1846 by Guillaumin.
Hegel’s great idea, which Proudhon appropriated, and which he demonstrates with wonderful ability in the “System of Economical Contradictions,” is as follows: Antinomy, that is, the existence of two laws or tendencies which are opposed to each other, is possible, not only with two different things, but with one and the same thing. Considered in their thesis, that is, in the law or tendency which created them, all the economical categories are rational,—competition, monopoly, the balance of trade, and property, as well as the division of labor, machinery, taxation, and credit. But, like communism and population, all these categories are antinomical; all are opposed, not only to each other, but to themselves. All is opposition, and disorder is born of this system of opposition. Hence, the sub-title of the work,—”Philosophy of Misery.” No category can be suppressed; the opposition, antinomy, or contre-tendance, which exists in each of them, cannot be suppressed.
Where, then, lies the solution of the social problem? Influenced by the Hegelian ideas, Proudhon began to look for it in a superior synthesis, which should reconcile the thesis and antithesis. Afterwards, while at work upon his book on “Justice,” he saw that the antinomical terms do not cancel each other, any more than the opposite poles of an electric pile destroy each other; that they are the procreative cause of motion, life, and progress; that the problem is to discover, not their fusion, which would be death, but their equilibrium,—an equilibrium for ever unstable, varying with the development of society.
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On the cover of the “System of Economical Contradictions,” Proudhon announced, as soon to appear, his “Solution of the Social Problem.” This work, upon which he was engaged when the Revolution of 1848 broke out, had to be cut up into pamphlets and newspaper articles. The two pamphlets, which he published in March, 1848, before he became editor of “Le Representant du Peuple,” bear the same title,—”Solution of the Social Problem.” The first, which is mainly a criticism of the early acts of the provisional government, is notable from the fact that in it Proudhon, in advance of all others, energetically opposed the establishment of national workshops. The second, “Organization of Credit and Circulation,” sums up in a few pages his idea of economical progress: a gradual reduction of interest, profit, rent, taxes, and wages. All progress hitherto has been made in this manner; in this manner it must continue to be made. Those workingmen who favor a nominal increase of wages are, unconsciously following a back-track, opposed to all their interests.
After having published in “Le Representant du Peuple,” the statutes of the Bank of Exchange,—a bank which was to make no profits, since it was to have no stockholders, and which, consequently, was to discount commercial paper with out interest, charging only a commission sufficient to defray its running expenses,—Proudhon endeavored, in a number of articles, to explain its mechanism and necessity. These articles have been collected in one volume, under the double title, “Resume of the Social Question; Bank of Exchange.” His other articles, those which up to December, 1848, were inspired by the progress of events, have been collected in another volume,—”Revolutionary Ideas.”
Almost unknown in March, 1848, and struck off in April from the list of candidates for the Constituent Assembly by the delegation of workingmen which sat at the Luxembourg, Proudhon had but a very small number of votes at the general elections of April. At the complementary elections, which were held in the early days of June, he was elected in Paris by seventy-seven thousand votes.
After the fatal days of June, he published an article on le terme, which caused the first suspension of “Le Representant du Peuple.” It was at that time that he introduced a bill into the Assembly, which, being referred to the Committee on the Finances, drew forth, first, the report of M. Thiers, and then the speech which Proudhon delivered, on the 31st of July, in reply to this report. “Le Representant du Peuple,” reappearing a few days later, he wrote, a propos of the law requiring journals to give bonds, his famous article on “The Malthusians” (August 10, 1848).
Ten days afterwards, “Le Representant du Peuple,” again suspended, definitively ceased to appear. “Le Peuple,” of which he was the editor-in-chief, and the first number of which was issued in the early part of September, appeared weekly at first, for want of sufficient bonds; it afterwards appeared daily, with a double number once a week. Before “Le Peuple” had obtained its first bond, Proudhon published a remarkable pamphlet on the “Right to Labor,”—a right which he denied in the form in which it was then affirmed. It was during the same period that he proposed, at the Poissonniere banquet, his Toast to the Revolution.
Proudhon, who had been asked to preside at the banquet, refused, and proposed in his stead, first, Ledru-Rollin, and then, in view of the reluctance of the organizers of the banquet, the illustrious president of the party of the Mountain, Lamennais. It was evidently his intention to induce the representatives of the Extreme Left to proclaim at last with him the Democratic and Social Republic. Lamennais being accepted by the organizers, the Mountain promised to be present at the banquet. The night before, all seemed right, when General Cavaignac replaced Minister Senart by Minister Dufaure-Vivien. The Mountain, questioning the government, proposed a vote of confidence in the old minister, and, tacitly, of want of confidence in the new. Proudhon abstained from voting on this proposition. The Mountain declared that it would not attend the banquet, if Proudhon was to be present. Five Montagnards, Mathieu of Drome at their head, went to the temporary office of “Le Peuple” to notify him of this. “Citizen Proudhon,” said they to the organizers in his presence, “in abstaining from voting to-day on the proposition of the Mountain, has betrayed the Republican cause.” Proudhon, vehemently questioned, began his defence by recalling, on the one hand, the treatment which he had received from the dismissed minister; and, on the other, the impartial conduct displayed towards him in 1840 by M. Vivien, the new minister. He then attacked the Mountain by telling its delegates that it sought only a pretext, and that really, in spite of its professions of Socialism in private conversation, whether with him or with the organizers of the banquet, it had not the courage to publicly declare itself Socialist.
On the following day, in his Toast to the Revolution, a toast which was filled with allusions to the exciting scene of the night before, Proudhon commenced his struggle against the Mountain. His duel with Felix Pyat was one of the episodes of this struggle, which became less bitter on Proudhon’s side after the Mountain finally decided to publicly proclaim the Democratic and Social Republic. The campaign for the election of a President of the Republic had just begun. Proudhon made a very sharp attack on the candidacy of Louis Bonaparte in a pamphlet which is regarded as one of his literary chefs-d’oeuvre: the “Pamphlet on the Presidency.” An opponent of this institution, against which he had voted in the Constituent Assembly, he at first decided to take no part in the campaign. But soon seeing that he was thus increasing the chances of Louis Bonaparte, and that if, as was not at all probable, the latter should not obtain an absolute majority of the votes, the Assembly would not fail to elect General Cavaignac, he espoused, for the sake of form, the candidacy of Raspail, who was supported by his friends in the Socialist Committee. Charles Delescluze, the editor-in-chief of “La Revolution Democratique et Sociale,” who could not forgive him for having preferred Raspail to Ledru-Rollin, the candidate of the Mountain, attacked him on the day after the election with a violence which overstepped all bounds. At first, Proudhon had the wisdom to refrain from answering him. At length, driven to an extremity, he became aggressive himself, and Delescluze sent him his seconds. This time, Proudhon positively refused to fight; he would not have fought with Felix Pyat, had not his courage been called in question.
On the 25th of January, 1849, Proudhon, rising from a sick bed, saw that the existence of the Constituent Assembly was endangered by the coalition of the monarchical parties with Louis Bonaparte, who was already planning his coup d’Etat. He did not hesitate to openly attack the man who had just received five millions of votes. He wanted to break the idol; he succeeded only in getting prosecuted and condemned himself. The prosecution demanded against him was authorized by a majority of the Constituent Assembly, in spite of the speech which he delivered on that occasion. Declared guilty by the jury, he was sentenced, in March, 1849, to three years’ imprisonment and the payment of a fine of ten thousand francs.
Proudhon had not abandoned for a single moment his project of a Bank of Exchange, which was to operate without capital with a sufficient number of merchants and manufacturers for adherents. This bank, which he then called the Bank of the People, and around which he wished to gather the numerous working-people’s associations which had been formed since the 24th of February, 1848, had already obtained a certain number of subscribers and adherents, the latter to the number of thirty-seven thousand. It was about to commence operations, when Proudhon’s sentence forced him to choose between imprisonment and exile. He did not hesitate to abandon his project and return the money to the subscribers. He explained the motives which led him to this decision in an article in “Le Peuple.”
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Having fled to Belgium, he remained there but a few days, going thence to Paris, under an assumed name, to conceal himself in a house in the Rue de Chabrol. From his hiding-place he sent articles almost every day, signed and unsigned, to “Le Peuple.” In the evening, dressed in a blouse, he went to some secluded spot to take the air. Soon, emboldened by habit, he risked an evening promenade upon the Boulevards, and afterwards carried his imprudence so far as to take a stroll by daylight in the neighborhood of the Gare du Nord. It was not long before he was recognized by the police, who arrested him on the 6th of June, 1849, in the Rue du Faubourg-Poissonniere.
Taken to the office of the prefect of police, then to Sainte-Pelagie, he was in the Conciergerie on the day of the 13th of June, 1849, which ended with the violent suppression of “Le Peuple.” He then began to write the “Confessions of a Revolutionist,” published towards the end of the year. He had been again transferred to Sainte-Pelagie, when he married, in December, 1849, Mlle. Euphrasie Piegard, a young working girl whose hand he had requested in 1847. Madame Proudhon bore him four daughters, of whom but two, Catherine and Stephanie, survived their father. Stephanie died in 1873.
In October, 1849, “Le Peuple” was replaced by a new journal, “La Voix du Peuple,” which Proudhon edited from his prison cell. In it were published his discussions with Pierre Leroux and Bastiat.
The political articles which he sent to “La Voix du Peuple” so displeased the government finally, that it transferred him to Doullens, where he was secretly confined for some time. Afterwards taken back to Paris, to appear before the assizes of the Seine in reference to an article in “La Voix du Peuple,” he was defended by M. Cremieux and acquitted. From the Conciergerie he went again to Sainte-Pelagie, where he ended his three years in prison on the 6th of June, 1852.
“La Voix du Peuple,” suppressed before the promulgation of the law of the 31st of May, had been replaced by a weekly sheet, “Le Peuple” of 1850. Established by the aid of the principal members of the Mountain, this journal soon met with the fate of its predecessors.
In 1851, several months before the coup d’Etat, Proudhon published the “General Idea of the Revolution of the Nineteenth Century,” in which, after having shown the logical series of unitary governments,—from monarchy, which is the first term, to the direct government of the people, which is the last,—he opposes the ideal of an-archy or self-government to the communistic or governmental ideal.
At this period, the Socialist party, discouraged by the elections of 1849, which resulted in a greater conservative triumph than those of 1848, and justly angry with the national representative body which had just passed the law of the 31st of May, 1850, demanded direct legislation and direct government. Proudhon, who did not want, at any price, the plebiscitary system which he had good reason to regard as destructive of liberty, did not hesitate to point out, to those of his friends who expected every thing from direct legislation, one of the antinomies of universal suffrage. In so far as it is an institution intended to achieve, for the benefit of the greatest number, the social reforms to which landed suffrage is opposed, universal suffrage is powerless; especially if it pretends to legislate or govern directly. For, until the social reforms are accomplished, the greatest number is of necessity the least enlightened, and consequently the least capable of understanding and effecting reforms. In regard to the antinomy, pointed out by him, of liberty and government,—whether the latter be monarchic, aristocratic, or democratic in form,—Proudhon, whose chief desire was to preserve liberty, naturally sought the solution in the free contract. But though the free contract may be a practical solution of purely economical questions, it cannot be made use of in politics. Proudhon recognized this ten years later, when his beautiful study on “War and Peace” led him to find in the FEDERATIVE PRINCIPLE the exact equilibrium of liberty and government.
“The Social Revolution Demonstrated by the Coup d’ Etat” appeared in 1852, a few months after his release from prison. At that time, terror prevailed to such an extent that no one was willing to publish his book without express permission from the government. He succeeded in obtaining this permission by writing to Louis Bonaparte a letter which he published at the same time with the work. The latter being offered for sale, Proudhon was warned that he would not be allowed to publish any more books of the same character. At that time he entertained the idea of writing a universal history entitled “Chronos.” This project was never fulfilled.
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Already the father of two children, and about to be presented with a third, Proudhon was obliged to devise some immediate means of gaining a living; he resumed his labors, and published, at first anonymously, the “Manual of a Speculator in the Stock-Exchange.” Later, in 1857, after having completed the work, he did not hesitate to sign it, acknowledging in the preface his indebtedness to his collaborator, G. Duchene.
Meantime, he vainly sought permission to establish a journal, or review. This permission was steadily refused him. The imperial government always suspected him after the publication of the “Social Revolution Demonstrated by the Coup d’Etat.”
Towards the end of 1853, Proudhon issued in Belgium a pamphlet entitled “The Philosophy of Progress.” Entirely inoffensive as it was, this pamphlet, which he endeavored to send into France, was seized on the frontier. Proudhon’s complaints were of no avail.
The empire gave grants after grants to large companies. A financial society, having asked for the grant of a railroad in the east of France, employed Proudhon to write several memoirs in support of this demand. The grant was given to another company. The author was offered an indemnity as compensation, to be paid (as was customary in such cases) by the company which received the grant. It is needless to say that Proudhon would accept nothing. Then, wishing to explain to the public, as well as to the government, the end which he had in view, he published the work entitled “Reforms to be Effected in the Management of Railroads.”
Towards the end of 1854, Proudhon had already begun his book on “Justice,” when he had a violent attack of cholera, from which he recovered with great difficulty. Ever afterwards his health was delicate.
At last, on the 22d of April, 1858, he published, in three large volumes, the important work upon which he had labored since 1854. This work had two titles: the first, “Justice in the Revolution and in the Church;” the second, “New Principles of Practical Philosophy, addressed to His Highness Monseigneur Mathieu, Cardinal-Archbishop of Besancon.” On the 27th of April, when there had scarcely been time to read the work, an order was issued by the magistrate for its seizure; on the 28th the seizure was effected. To this first act of the magistracy, the author of the incriminated book replied on the 11th of May in a strongly-motived petition, demanding a revision of the concordat of 1802; or, in other words, a new adjustment of the relations between Church and State. At bottom, this petition was but the logical consequence of the work itself. An edition of a thousand copies being published on the 17th of May, the “Petition to the Senate” was regarded by the public prosecutor as an aggravation of the offence or offences discovered in the body of the work to which it was an appendix, and was seized in its turn on the 23d. On the first of June, the author appealed to the Senate in a second “Petition,” which was deposited with the first in the office of the Secretary of the Assembly, the guardian and guarantee, according to the constitution of 1852, of the principles of ’89. On the 2d of June, the two processes being united, Proudhon appeared at the bar with his publisher, the printer of the book, and the printer of the petition, to receive the sentence of the police magistrate, which condemned him to three years’ imprisonment, a fine of four thousand francs, and the suppression of his work. It is needless to say that the publisher and printers were also condemned by the sixth chamber.
Proudhon lodged an appeal; he wrote a memoir which the law of 1819, in the absence of which he would have been liable to a new prosecution, gave him the power to publish previous to the hearing. Having decided to make use of the means which the law permitted, he urged in vain the printers who were prosecuted with him to lend him their aid. He then demanded of Attorney-General Chaix d’Est Ange a statement to the effect that the twenty-third article of the law of the 17th of May, 1819, allows a written defence, and that a printer runs no risk in printing it. The attorney-general flatly refused. Proudhon then started for Belgium, where he printed his defence, which could not, of course, cross the French frontier. This memoir is entitled to rank with the best of Beaumarchais’s; it is entitled: “Justice prosecuted by the Church; An Appeal from the Sentence passed upon P. J. Proudhon by the Police Magistrate of the Seine, on the 2d of June, 1858.” A very close discussion of the grounds of the judgment of the sixth chamber, it was at the same time an excellent resume of his great work.
Once in Belgium, Proudhon did not fail to remain there. In 1859, after the general amnesty which followed the Italian war, he at first thought himself included in it. But the imperial government, consulted by his friends, notified him that, in its opinion, and in spite of the contrary advice of M. Faustin Helie, his condemnation was not of a political character. Proudhon, thus classed by the government with the authors of immoral works, thought it beneath his dignity to protest, and waited patiently for the advent of 1863 to allow him to return to France.
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In Belgium, where he was not slow in forming new friendships, he published in 1859-60, in separate parts, a new edition of his great work on “Justice.” Each number contained, in addition to the original text carefully reviewed and corrected, numerous explanatory notes and some “Tidings of the Revolution.” In these tidings, which form a sort of review of the progress of ideas in Europe, Proudhon sorrowfully asserts that, after having for a long time marched at the head of the progressive nations, France has become, without appearing to suspect it, the most retrogressive of nations; and he considers her more than once as seriously threatened with moral death.
The Italian war led him to write a new work, which he published in 1861, entitled “War and Peace.” This work, in which, running counter to a multitude of ideas accepted until then without examination, he pronounced for the first time against the restoration of an aristocratic and priestly Poland, and against the establishment of a unitary government in Italy, created for him a multitude of enemies. Most of his friends, disconcerted by his categorical affirmation of a right of force, notified him that they decidedly disapproved of his new publication. “You see,” triumphantly cried those whom he had always combated, “this man is only a sophist.”
Led by his previous studies to test every thing by the question of right, Proudhon asks, in his “War and Peace,” whether there is a real right of which war is the vindication, and victory the demonstration. This right, which he roughly calls the right of the strongest or the right of force, and which is, after all, only the right of the most worthy to the preference in certain definite cases, exists, says Proudhon, independently of war. It cannot be legitimately vindicated except where necessity clearly demands the subordination of one will to another, and within the limits in which it exists; that is, without ever involving the enslavement of one by the other. Among nations, the right of the majority, which is only a corollary of the right of force, is as unacceptable as universal monarchy. Hence, until equilibrium is established and recognized between States or national forces, there must be war. War, says Proudhon, is not always necessary to determine which side is the strongest; and he has no trouble in proving this by examples drawn from the family, the workshop, and elsewhere. Passing then to the study of war, he proves that it by no means corresponds in practice to that which it ought to be according to his theory of the right of force. The systematic horrors of war naturally lead him to seek a cause for it other than the vindication of this right; and then only does the economist take it upon himself to denounce this cause to those who, like himself, want peace. The necessity of finding abroad a compensation for the misery resulting in every nation from the absence of economical equilibrium, is, according to Proudhon, the ever real, though ever concealed, cause of war. The pages devoted to this demonstration and to his theory of poverty, which he clearly distinguishes from misery and pauperism, shed entirely new light upon the philosophy of history. As for the author’s conclusion, it is a very simple one. Since the treaty of Westphalia, and especially since the treaties of 1815, equilibrium has been the international law of Europe. It remains now, not to destroy it, but, while maintaining it, to labor peacefully, in every nation protected by it, for the equilibrium of economical forces. The last line of the book, evidently written to check imperial ambition, is: “Humanity wants no more war.”
In 1861, after Garibaldi’s expedition and the battle of Castelfidardo, Proudhon immediately saw that the establishment of Italian unity would be a severe blow to European equilibrium. It was chiefly in order to maintain this equilibrium that he pronounced so energetically in favor of Italian federation, even though it should be at first only a federation of monarchs. In vain was it objected that, in being established by France, Italian unity would break European equilibrium in our favor. Proudhon, appealing to history, showed that every State which breaks the equilibrium in its own favor only causes the other States to combine against it, and thereby diminishes its influence and power. He added that, nations being essentially selfish, Italy would not fail, when opportunity offered, to place her interest above her gratitude.
To maintain European equilibrium by diminishing great States and multiplying small ones; to unite the latter in organized federations, not for attack, but for defence; and with these federations, which, if they were not republican already, would quickly become so, to hold in check the great military monarchies,—such, in the beginning of 1861, was the political programme of Proudhon.
The object of the federations, he said, will be to guarantee, as far as possible, the beneficent reign of peace; and they will have the further effect of securing in every nation the triumph of liberty over despotism. Where the largest unitary State is, there liberty is in the greatest danger; further, if this State be democratic, despotism without the counterpoise of majorities is to be feared. With the federation, it is not so. The universal suffrage of the federal State is checked by the universal suffrage of the federated States; and the latter is offset in its turn by PROPERTY, the stronghold of liberty, which it tends, not to destroy, but to balance with the institutions of MUTUALISM.
All these ideas, and many others which were only hinted at in his work on “War and Peace,” were developed by Proudhon in his subsequent publications, one of which has for its motto, “Reforms always, Utopias never.” The thinker had evidently finished his evolution.
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The Council of State of the canton of Vaud having offered prizes for essays on the question of taxation, previously discussed at a congress held at Lausanne, Proudhon entered the ranks and carried off the first prize. His memoir was published in 1861 under the title of “The Theory of Taxation.”
About the same time, he wrote at Brussels, in “L’Office de Publicite,” some remarkable articles on the question of literary property, which was discussed at a congress held in Belgium, These articles must not be confounded with “Literary Majorats,” a more complete work on the same subject, which was published in 1863, soon after his return to France.
Arbitrarily excepted from the amnesty in 1859, Proudhon was pardoned two years later by a special act. He did not wish to take advantage of this favor, and seemed resolved to remain in Belgium until the 2d of June, 1863, the time when he was to acquire the privilege of prescription, when an absurd and ridiculous riot, excited in Brussels by an article published by him on federation and unity in Italy, induced him to hasten his return to France. Stones were thrown against the house in which he lived, in the Faubourg d’Ixelles. After having placed his wife and daughters in safety among his friends at Brussels, he arrived in Paris in September, 1862, and published there, “Federation and Italian Unity,” a pamphlet which naturally commences with the article which served as a pretext for the rioters in Brussels.
Among the works begun by Proudhon while in Belgium, which death did not allow him to finish, we ought to mention a “History of Poland,” which will be published later; and, “The Theory of Property,” which appeared in 1865, before “The Gospels Annotated,” and after the volume entitled “The Principle of Art and its Social Destiny.”
The publications of Proudhon, in 1863, were: 1. “Literary Majorats: An Examination of a Bill having for its object the Creation of a Perpetual Monopoly for the Benefit of Authors, Inventors, and Artists;” 2. “The Federative Principle and the Necessity of Re-establishing the Revolutionary party;” 3. “The Sworn Democrats and the Refractories;” 4. “Whether the Treaties of 1815 have ceased to exist? Acts of the Future Congress.”
The disease which was destined to kill him grew worse and worse; but Proudhon labored constantly!… A series of articles, published in 1864 in “Le Messager de Paris,” have been collected in a pamphlet under the title of “New Observations on Italian Unity.” He hoped to publish during the same year his work on “The Political Capacity of the Working Classes,” but was unable to write the last chapter…. He grew weaker continually. His doctor prescribed rest. In the month of August he went to Franche-Comte, where he spent a month. Having returned to Paris, he resumed his labor with difficulty…. From the month of December onwards, the heart disease made rapid progress; the oppression became insupportable, his legs were swollen, and he could not sleep….
On the 19th of January, 1865, he died, towards two o’clock in the morning, in the arms of his wife, his sister-in-law, and the friend who writes these lines….
The publication of his correspondence, to which his daughter Catherine is faithfully devoted, will tend, no doubt, to increase his reputation as a thinker, as a writer, and as an honest man.
J. A. LANGLOIS.
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The following letter served as a preface to the first edition of this memoir:—
“To the Members of the Academy of Besancon
“PARIS, June 30, 1840.
“GENTLEMEN,—In the course of your debate of the 9th of May, 1833, in regard to the triennial pension established by Madame Suard, you expressed the following wish:—
“‘The Academy requests the titulary to present it annually, during the first fortnight in July, with a succinct and logical statement of the various studies which he has pursued during the year which has just expired.’
“I now propose, gentlemen, to discharge this duty.
“When I solicited your votes, I boldly avowed my intention to bend my efforts to the discovery of some means of AMELIORATING THE PHYSICAL, MORAL, AND INTELLECTUAL CONDITION OF THE MERE NUMEROUS AND POORER CLASSES. This idea, foreign as it may have seemed to the object of my candidacy, you received favorably; and, by the precious distinction with which it has been your pleasure to honor me, you changed this formal offer into an inviolable and sacred obligation. Thenceforth I understood with how worthy and honorable a society I had to deal: my regard for its enlightenment, my recognition of its benefits, my enthusiasm for its glory, were unbounded.
“Convinced at once that, in order to break loose from the beaten paths of opinions and systems, it was necessary to proceed in my study of man and society by scientific methods, and in a rigorous manner, I devoted one year to philology and grammar; linguistics, or the natural history of speech, being, of all the sciences, that which was best suited to the character of my mind, seemed to bear the closest relation to the researches which I was about to commence. A treatise, written at this period upon one of the most interesting questions of comparative grammar,2 if it did not reveal the astonishing success, at least bore witness to the thoroughness, of my labors.
“Since that time, metaphysics and moral science have been my only studies; my perception of the fact that these sciences, though badly defined as to their object and not confined to their sphere, are, like the natural sciences, susceptible of demonstration and certainty, has already rewarded my efforts.
“But, gentlemen, of all the masters whom I have followed, to none do I owe so much as to you. Your co-operation, your programmes, your instructions, in agreement with my secret wishes and most cherished hopes, have at no time failed to enlighten me and to point out my road; this memoir on property is the child of your thought.
“In 1838, the Academy of Besancon proposed the following question: TO WHAT CAUSES MUST WE ATTRIBUTE THE CONTINUALLY INCREASING NUMBER OF SUICIDES, AND WHAT ARE THE PROPER MEANS FOR ARRESTING THE EFFECTS OF THIS MORAL CONTAGION?
“Thereby it asked, in less general terms, what was the cause of the social evil, and what was its remedy? You admitted that yourselves, gentlemen when your committee reported that the competitors had enumerated with exactness the immediate and particular causes of suicide, as well as the means of preventing each of them; but that from this enumeration, chronicled with more or less skill, no positive information had been gained, either as to the primary cause of the evil, or as to its remedy.
“In 1839, your programme, always original and varied in its academical expression, became more exact. The investigations of 1838 had pointed out, as the causes or rather as the symptoms of the social malady, the neglect of the principles of religion and morality, the desire for wealth, the passion for enjoyment, and political disturbances. All these data were embodied by you in a single proposition: THE UTILITY OF THE CELEBRATION OF SUNDAY AS REGARDS HYGIENE, MORALITY, AND SOCIAL AND POLITICAL RELATION.
“In a Christian tongue you asked, gentlemen, what was the true system of society. A competitor 3 dared to maintain, and believed that he had proved, that the institution of a day of rest at weekly intervals is inseparably bound up with a political system based on the equality of conditions; that without equality this institution is an anomaly and an impossibility: that equality alone can revive this ancient and mysterious keeping of the seventh day. This argument did not meet with your approbation, since, without denying the relation pointed out by the competitor, you judged, and rightly gentlemen, that the principle of equality of conditions not being demonstrated, the ideas of the author were nothing more than hypotheses.
“Finally, gentlemen, this fundamental principle of equality you presented for competition in the following terms: THE ECONOMICAL AND MORAL CONSEQUENCES IN FRANCE UP TO THE PRESENT TIME, AND THOSE WHICH SEEM LIKELY TO APPEAR IN FUTURE, OF THE LAW CONCERNING THE EQUAL DIVISION OF HEREDITARY PROPERTY BETWEEN THE CHILDREN.
“Instead of confining one to common places without breadth or significance, it seems to me that your question should be developed as follows:—
“If the law has been able to render the right of heredity common to all the children of one father, can it not render it equal for all his grandchildren and great-grandchildren?
“If the law no longer heeds the age of any member of the family, can it not, by the right of heredity, cease to heed it in the race, in the tribe, in the nation?
“Can equality, by the right of succession, be preserved between citizens, as well as between cousins and brothers? In a word, can the principle of succession become a principle of equality?
“To sum up all these ideas in one inclusive question: What is the principle of heredity? What are the foundations of inequality? What is property?
“Such, gentlemen, is the object of the memoir that I offer you to day.
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“If I have rightly grasped the object of your thought; if I succeed in bringing to light a truth which is indisputable, but, from causes which I am bold enough to claim to have explained, has always been misunderstood; if by an infallible method of investigation, I establish the dogma of equality of conditions; if I determine the principle of civil law, the essence of justice, and the form of society; if I annihilate property forever,—to you, gentlemen, will redound all the glory, for it is to your aid and your inspiration that I owe it.
“My purpose in this work is the application of method to the problems of philosophy; every other intention is foreign to and even abusive of it.
“I have spoken lightly of jurisprudence: I had the right; but I should be unjust did I not distinguish between this pretended science and the men who practise it. Devoted to studies both laborious and severe, entitled in all respects to the esteem of their fellow-citizens by their knowledge and eloquence our legists deserve but one reproach, that of an excessive deference to arbitrary laws.
“I have been pitiless in my criticism of the economists: for them I confess that, in general, I have no liking. The arrogance and the emptiness of their writings, their impertinent pride and their unwarranted blunders, have disgusted me. Whoever, knowing them, pardons them, may read them.
“I have severely blamed the learned Christian Church: it was my duty. This blame results from the facts which I call attention to: why has the Church decreed concerning things which it does not understand? The Church has erred in dogma and in morals; physics and mathematics testify against her. It may be wrong for me to say it, but surely it is unfortunate for Christianity that it is true. To restore religion, gentlemen, it is necessary to condemn the Church.
“Perhaps you will regret, gentlemen, that, in giving all my attention to method and evidence, I have too much neglected form and style: in vain should I have tried to do better. Literary hope and faith I have none. The nineteenth century is, in my eyes, a genesic era, in which new principles are elaborated, but in which nothing that is written shall endure. That is the reason, in my opinion, why, among so many men of talent, France to-day counts not one great writer. In a society like ours, to seek for literary glory seems to me an anachronism. Of what use is it to invoke an ancient sibyl when a muse is on the eve of birth? Pitiable actors in a tragedy nearing its end, that which it behooves us to do is to precipitate the catastrophe. The most deserving among us is he who plays best this part. Well, I no longer aspire to this sad success!
“Why should I not confess it, gentlemen? I have aspired to your suffrages and sought the title of your pensioner, hating all which exists and full of projects for its destruction; I shall finish this investigation in a spirit of calm and philosophical resignation. I have derived more peace from the knowledge of the truth, than anger from the feeling of oppression; and the most precious fruit that I could wish to gather from this memoir would be the inspiration of my readers with that tranquillity of soul which arises from the clear perception of evil and its cause, and which is much more powerful than passion and enthusiasm. My hatred of privilege and human authority was unbounded; perhaps at times I have been guilty, in my indignation, of confounding persons and things; at present I can only despise and complain; to cease to hate I only needed to know.
“It is for you now, gentlemen, whose mission and character are the proclamation of the truth, it is for you to instruct the people, and to tell them for what they ought to hope and what they ought to fear. The people, incapable as yet of sound judgment as to what is best for them, applaud indiscriminately the most opposite ideas, provided that in them they get a taste of flattery: to them the laws of thought are like the confines of the possible; to-day they can no more distinguish between a savant and a sophist, than formerly they could tell a physician from a sorcerer. ‘Inconsiderately accepting, gathering together, and accumulating everything that is new, regarding all reports as true and indubitable, at the breath or ring of novelty they assemble like bees at the sound of a basin.’ 4
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“May you, gentlemen, desire equality as I myself desire it; may you, for the eternal happiness of our country, become its propagators and its heralds; may I be the last of your pensioners! Of all the wishes that I can frame, that, gentlemen, is the most worthy of you and the most honorable for me.
“I am, with the profoundest respect and the most earnest gratitude,
“P. J. PROUDHON.”
Two months after the receipt of this letter, the Academy, in its debate of August 24th, replied to the address of its pensioner by a note, the text of which I give below:—
“A member calls the attention of the Academy to a pamphlet, published last June by the titulary of the Suard pension, entitled, “What is property?” and dedicated by the author to the Academy. He is of the opinion that the society owes it to justice, to example, and to its own dignity, to publicly disavow all responsibility for the anti-social doctrines contained in this publication. In consequence he demands:
“1. That the Academy disavow and condemn, in the most formal manner, the work of the Suard pensioner, as having been published without its assent, and as attributing to it opinions diametrically opposed to the principles of each of its members;
“2. That the pensioner be charged, in case he should publish a second edition of his book, to omit the dedication;
“3. That this judgment of the Academy be placed upon the records.
“These three propositions, put to vote, are adopted.”
After this ludicrous decree, which its authors thought to render powerful by giving it the form of a contradiction, I can only beg the reader not to measure the intelligence of my compatriots by that of our Academy.
While my patrons in the social and political sciences were fulminating anathemas against my brochure, a man, who was a stranger to Franche-Comte, who did not know me, who might even have regarded himself as personally attacked by the too sharp judgment which I had passed upon the economists, a publicist as learned as he was modest, loved by the people whose sorrows he felt, honored by the power which he sought to enlighten without flattering or disgracing it, M. Blanqui—member of the Institute, professor of political economy, defender of property—took up my defence before his associates and before the ministry, and saved me from the blows of a justice which is always blind, because it is always ignorant.
It seems to me that the reader will peruse with pleasure the letter which M. Blanqui did me the honor to write to me upon the publication of my second memoir, a letter as honorable to its author as it is flattering to him to whom it is addressed.
“PARIS, May 1, 1841.
“MONSIEUR,—I hasten to thank you for forwarding to me your second memoir upon property. I have read it with all the interest that an acquaintance with the first would naturally inspire. I am very glad that you have modified somewhat the rudeness of form which gave to a work of such gravity the manner and appearance of a pamphlet; for you quite frightened me, sir, and your talent was needed to reassure me in regard to your intentions. One does not expend so much real knowledge with the purpose of inflaming his country. This proposition, now coming into notice—PROPERTY IS ROBBERY!—was of a nature to repel from your book even those serious minds who do not judge by appearances, had you persisted in maintaining it in its rude simplicity. But if you have softened the form, you are none the less faithful to the ground-work of your doctrines; and although you have done me the honor to give me a share in this perilous teaching, I cannot accept a partnership which, as far as talent goes, would surely be a credit to me, but which would compromise me in all other respects.
“I agree with you in one thing only; namely, that all kinds of property get too frequently abused in this world. But I do not reason from the abuse to the abolition,—an heroic remedy too much like death, which cures all evils. I will go farther: I will confess that, of all abuses, the most hateful to me are those of property; but once more, there is a remedy for this evil without violating it, all the more without destroying it. If the present laws allow abuse, we can reconstruct them. Our civil code is not the Koran; it is not wrong to examine it. Change, then, the laws which govern the use of property, but be sparing of anathemas; for, logically, where is the honest man whose hands are entirely clean? Do you think that one can be a robber without knowing it, without wishing it, without suspecting it? Do you not admit that society in its present state, like every man, has in its constitution all kinds of virtues and vices inherited from our ancestors? Is property, then, in your eyes a thing so simple and so abstract that you can re-knead and equalize it, if I may so speak, in your metaphysical mill? One who has said as many excellent and practical things as occur in these two beautiful and paradoxical improvisations of yours cannot be a pure and unwavering utopist. You are too well acquainted with the economical and academical phraseology to play with the hard words of revolutions. I believe, then, that you have handled property as Rousseau, eighty years ago, handled letters, with a magnificent and poetical display of wit and knowledge. Such, at least, is my opinion.
“That is what I said to the Institute at the time when I presented my report upon your book. I knew that they wished to proceed against you in the courts; you perhaps do not know by how narrow a chance I succeeded in preventing them. 5 What chagrin I should always have felt, if the king’s counsel, that is to say, the intellectual executioner, had followed in my very tracks to attack your book and annoy your person! I actually passed two terrible nights, and I succeeded in restraining the secular arm only by showing that your book was an academical dissertation, and not the manifesto of an incendiary. Your style is too lofty ever to be of service to the madmen who in discussing the gravest questions of our social order, use paving-stones as their weapons. But see to it, sir, that ere long they do not come, in spite of you, to seek for ammunition in this formidable arsenal, and that your vigorous metaphysics falls not into the hands of some sophist of the market-place, who might discuss the question in the presence of a starving audience: we should have pillage for conclusion and peroration.
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“I feel as deeply as you, sir, the abuses which you point out; but I have so great an affection for order,—not that common and strait-laced order with which the police are satisfied, but the majestic and imposing order of human societies,—that I sometimes find myself embarrassed in attacking certain abuses. I like to rebuild with one hand when I am compelled to destroy with the other. In pruning an old tree, we guard against destruction of the buds and fruit. You know that as well as any one. You are a wise and learned man; you have a thoughtful mind. The terms by which you characterize the fanatics of our day are strong enough to reassure the most suspicious imaginations as to your intentions; but you conclude in favor of the abolition of property! You wish to abolish the most powerful motor of the human mind; you attack the paternal sentiment in its sweetest illusions; with one word you arrest the formation of capital, and we build henceforth upon the sand instead of on a rock. That I cannot agree to; and for that reason I have criticised your book, so full of beautiful pages, so brilliant with knowledge and fervor!
“I wish, sir, that my impaired health would permit me to examine with you, page by page, the memoir which you have done me the honor to address to me publicly and personally; I think I could offer some important criticisms. For the moment, I must content myself with thanking you for the kind words in which you have seen fit to speak of me. We each possess the merit of sincerity; I desire also the merit of prudence. You know how deep-seated is the disease under which the working-people are suffering; I know how many noble hearts beat under those rude garments, and I feel an irresistible and fraternal sympathy with the thousands of brave people who rise early in the morning to labor, to pay their taxes, and to make our country strong. I try to serve and enlighten them, whereas some endeavor to mislead them. You have not written directly for them. You have issued two magnificent manifestoes, the second more guarded than the first; issue a third more guarded than the second, and you will take high rank in science, whose first precept is calmness and impartiality.
“Farewell, sir! No man’s esteem for another can exceed mine for you.
I should certainly take some exceptions to this noble and eloquent letter; but I confess that I am more inclined to realize the prediction with which it terminates than to augment needlessly the number of my antagonists. So much controversy fatigues and wearies me. The intelligence expended in the warfare of words is like that employed in battle: it is intelligence wasted. M. Blanqui acknowledges that property is abused in many harmful ways; I call PROPERTY the sum these abuses exclusively. To each of us property seems a polygon whose angles need knocking off; but, the operation performed, M. Blanqui maintains that the figure will still be a polygon (an hypothesis admitted in mathematics, although not proven), while I consider that this figure will be a circle. Honest people can at least understand one another.
For the rest, I allow that, in the present state of the question, the mind may legitimately hesitate before deciding in favor of the abolition of property. To gain the victory for one’s cause, it does not suffice simply to overthrow a principle generally recognized, which has the indisputable merit of systematically recapitulating our political theories; it is also necessary to establish the opposite principle, and to formulate the system which must proceed from it. Still further, it is necessary to show the method by which the new system will satisfy all the moral and political needs which induced the establishment of the first. On the following conditions, then, of subsequent evidence, depends the correctness of my preceding arguments:—
The discovery of a system of absolute equality in which all existing institutions, save property, or the sum of the abuses of property, not only may find a place, but may themselves serve as instruments of equality: individual liberty, the division of power, the public ministry, the jury system, administrative and judicial organization, the unity and completeness of instruction, marriage, the family, heredity in direct and collateral succession, the right of sale and exchange, the right to make a will, and even birthright,—a system which, better than property, guarantees the formation of capital and keeps up the courage of all; which, from a superior point of view, explains, corrects, and completes the theories of association hitherto proposed, from Plato and Pythagoras to Babeuf, Saint Simon, and Fourier; a system, finally, which, serving as a means of transition, is immediately applicable.
A work so vast requires, I am aware, the united efforts of twenty Montesquieus; nevertheless, if it is not given to a single man to finish, a single one can commence, the enterprise. The road that he shall traverse will suffice to show the end and assure the result.
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WHAT IS PROPERTY? OR,
AN INQUIRY INTO THE PRINCIPLE OF RIGHT AND OF GOVERNMENT.
Adversus hostem aeterna auctertas esto. Against the enemy, revendication is eternal. LAW OF THE TWELVE TABLES.
CHAPTER I. METHOD PURSUED IN THIS WORK.—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?
Of what consequence to you, reader, is my obscure individuality? I live, like you, in a century in which reason submits only to fact and to evidence. My name, like yours, is TRUTH-SEEKER. 6 My mission is written in these words of the law: SPEAK WITHOUT HATRED AND WITHOUT FEAR; TELL THAT WHICH THOU KNOWEST! The work of our race is to build the temple of science, and this science includes man and Nature. Now, truth reveals itself to all; to-day to Newton and Pascal, tomorrow to the herdsman in the valley and the journeyman in the shop. Each one contributes his stone to the edifice; and, his task accomplished, disappears. Eternity precedes us, eternity follows us: between two infinites, of what account is one poor mortal that the century should inquire about him?
Disregard then, reader, my title and my character, and attend only to my arguments. It is in accordance with universal consent that I undertake to correct universal error; from the OPINION of the human race I appeal to its FAITH. Have the courage to follow me; and, if your will is untrammelled, if your conscience is free, if your mind can unite two propositions and deduce a third therefrom, my ideas will inevitably become yours. In beginning by giving you my last word, it was my purpose to warn you, not to defy you; for I am certain that, if you read me, you will be compelled to assent. The things of which I am to speak are so simple and clear that you will be astonished at not having perceived them before, and you will say: “I have neglected to think.” Others offer you the spectacle of genius wresting Nature’s secrets from her, and unfolding before you her sublime messages; you will find here only a series of experiments upon JUSTICE and RIGHT a sort of verification of the weights and measures of your conscience. The operations shall be conducted under your very eyes; and you shall weigh the result.
Nevertheless, I build no system. I ask an end to privilege, the abolition of slavery, equality of rights, and the reign of law. Justice, nothing else; that is the alpha and omega of my argument: to others I leave the business of governing the world.
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One day I asked myself: Why is there so much sorrow and misery in society? Must man always be wretched? And not satisfied with the explanations given by the reformers,—these attributing the general distress to governmental cowardice and incapacity, those to conspirators and emeutes, still others to ignorance and general corruption,—and weary of the interminable quarrels of the tribune and the press, I sought to fathom the matter myself. I have consulted the masters of science; I have read a hundred volumes of philosophy, law, political economy, and history: would to God that I had lived in a century in which so much reading had been useless! I have made every effort to obtain exact information, comparing doctrines, replying to objections, continually constructing equations and reductions from arguments, and weighing thousands of syllogisms in the scales of the most rigorous logic. In this laborious work, I have collected many interesting facts which I shall share with my friends and the public as soon as I have leisure. But I must say that I recognized at once that we had never understood the meaning of these words, so common and yet so sacred: JUSTICE, EQUITY, LIBERTY; that concerning each of these principles our ideas have been utterly obscure; and, in fact, that this ignorance was the sole cause, both of the poverty that devours us, and of all the calamities that have ever afflicted the human race.
My mind was frightened by this strange result: I doubted my reason. What! said I, that which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor insight penetrated, you have discovered! Wretch, mistake not the visions of your diseased brain for the truths of science! Do you not know (great philosophers have said so) that in points of practical morality universal error is a contradiction?
I resolved then to test my arguments; and in entering upon this new labor I sought an answer to the following questions: Is it possible that humanity can have been so long and so universally mistaken in the application of moral principles? How and why could it be mistaken? How can its error, being universal, be capable of correction?
These questions, on the solution of which depended the certainty of my conclusions, offered no lengthy resistance to analysis. It will be seen, in chapter V. of this work, that in morals, as in all other branches of knowledge, the gravest errors are the dogmas of science; that, even in works of justice, to be mistaken is a privilege which ennobles man; and that whatever philosophical merit may attach to me is infinitely small. To name a thing is easy: the difficulty is to discern it before its appearance. In giving expression to the last stage of an idea,—an idea which permeates all minds, which to-morrow will be proclaimed by another if I fail to announce it to-day,—I can claim no merit save that of priority of utterance. Do we eulogize the man who first perceives the dawn?
Yes: all men believe and repeat that equality of conditions is identical with equality of rights; that PROPERTY and ROBBERY are synonymous terms; that every social advantage accorded, or rather usurped, in the name of superior talent or service, is iniquity and extortion. All men in their hearts, I say, bear witness to these truths; they need only to be made to understand it.
Before entering directly upon the question before me, I must say a word of the road that I shall traverse. When Pascal approached a geometrical problem, he invented a method of solution; to solve a problem in philosophy a method is equally necessary. Well, by how much do the problems of which philosophy treats surpass in the gravity of their results those discussed by geometry! How much more imperatively, then, do they demand for their solution a profound and rigorous analysis!
It is a fact placed for ever beyond doubt, say the modern psychologists, that every perception received by the mind is determined by certain general laws which govern the mind; is moulded, so to speak, in certain types pre-existing in our understanding, and which constitutes its original condition. Hence, say they, if the mind has no innate IDEAS, it has at least innate FORMS. Thus, for example, every phenomenon is of necessity conceived by us as happening in TIME and SPACE,—that compels us to infer a CAUSE of its occurrence; every thing which exists implies the ideas of SUBSTANCE, MODE, RELATION, NUMBER, &C.; in a word, we form no idea which is not related to some one of the general principles of reason, independent of which nothing exists.
These axioms of the understanding, add the psychologists, these fundamental types, by which all our judgments and ideas are inevitably shaped, and which our sensations serve only to illuminate, are known in the schools as CATEGORIES. Their primordial existence in the mind is to-day demonstrated; they need only to be systematized and catalogued. Aristotle recognized ten; Kant increased the number to fifteen; M. Cousin has reduced it to three, to two, to one; and the indisputable glory of this professor will be due to the fact that, if he has not discovered the true theory of categories, he has, at least, seen more clearly than any one else the vast importance of this question,—the greatest and perhaps the only one with which metaphysics has to deal.
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I confess that I disbelieve in the innateness, not only of IDEAS, but also of FORMS or LAWS of our understanding; and I hold the metaphysics of Reid and Kant to be still farther removed from the truth than that of Aristotle. However, as I do not wish to enter here into a discussion of the mind, a task which would demand much labor and be of no interest to the public, I shall admit the hypothesis that our most general and most necessary ideas—such as time, space, substance, and cause—exist originally in the mind; or, at least, are derived immediately from its constitution.
But it is a psychological fact none the less true, and one to which the philosophers have paid too little attention, that habit, like a second nature, has the power of fixing in the mind new categorical forms derived from the appearances which impress us, and by them usually stripped of objective reality, but whose influence over our judgments is no less predetermining than that of the original categories. Hence we reason by the ETERNAL and ABSOLUTE laws of our mind, and at the same time by the secondary rules, ordinarily faulty, which are suggested to us by imperfect observation. This is the most fecund source of false prejudices, and the permanent and often invincible cause of a multitude of errors. The bias resulting from these prejudices is so strong that often, even when we are fighting against a principle which our mind thinks false, which is repugnant to our reason, and which our conscience disapproves, we defend it without knowing it, we reason in accordance with it, and we obey it while attacking it. Enclosed within a circle, our mind revolves about itself, until a new observation, creating within us new ideas, brings to view an external principle which delivers us from the phantom by which our imagination is possessed.
Thus, we know to-day that, by the laws of a universal magnetism whose cause is still unknown, two bodies (no obstacle intervening) tend to unite by an accelerated impelling force which we call GRAVITATION. It is gravitation which causes unsupported bodies to fall to the ground, which gives them weight, and which fastens us to the earth on which we live. Ignorance of this cause was the sole obstacle which prevented the ancients from believing in the antipodes. “Can you not see,” said St. Augustine after Lactantius, “that, if there were men under our feet, their heads would point downward, and that they would fall into the sky?” The bishop of Hippo, who thought the earth flat because it appeared so to the eye, supposed in consequence that, if we should connect by straight lines the zenith with the nadir in different places, these lines would be parallel with each other; and in the direction of these lines he traced every movement from above to below. Thence he naturally concluded that the stars were rolling torches set in the vault of the sky; that, if left to themselves, they would fall to the earth in a shower of fire; that the earth was one vast plain, forming the lower portion of the world, &c. If he had been asked by what the world itself was sustained, he would have answered that he did not know, but that to God nothing is impossible. Such were the ideas of St. Augustine in regard to space and movement, ideas fixed within him by a prejudice derived from an appearance, and which had become with him a general and categorical rule of judgment. Of the reason why bodies fall his mind knew nothing; he could only say that a body falls because it falls.
With us the idea of a fall is more complex: to the general ideas of space and movement which it implies, we add that of attraction or direction towards a centre, which gives us the higher idea of cause. But if physics has fully corrected our judgment in this respect, we still make use of the prejudice of St. Augustine; and when we say that a thing has FALLEN, we do not mean simply and in general that there has been an effect of gravitation, but specially and in particular that it is towards the earth, and FROM ABOVE TO BELOW, that this movement has taken place. Our mind is enlightened in vain; the imagination prevails, and our language remains forever incorrigible. To DESCEND FROM HEAVEN is as incorrect an expression as to MOUNT TO HEAVEN; and yet this expression will live as long as men use language.
All these phrases—FROM ABOVE TO BELOW; TO DESCEND FROM HEAVEN; TO FALL FROM THE CLOUDS, &C.—are henceforth harmless, because we know how to rectify them in practice; but let us deign to consider for a moment how much they have retarded the progress of science. If, indeed, it be a matter of little importance to statistics, mechanics, hydrodynamics, and ballistics, that the true cause of the fall of bodies should be known, and that our ideas of the general movements in space should be exact, it is quite otherwise when we undertake to explain the system of the universe, the cause of tides, the shape of the earth, and its position in the heavens: to understand these things we must leave the circle of appearances. In all ages there have been ingenious mechanicians, excellent architects, skilful artillerymen: any error, into which it was possible for them to fall in regard to the rotundity of the earth and gravitation, in no wise retarded the development of their art; the solidity of their buildings and accuracy of their aim was not affected by it. But sooner or later they were forced to grapple with phenomena, which the supposed parallelism of all perpendiculars erected from the earth’s surface rendered inexplicable: then also commenced a struggle between the prejudices, which for centuries had sufficed in daily practice, and the unprecedented opinions which the testimony of the eyes seemed to contradict.
Thus, on the one hand, the falsest judgments, whether based on isolated facts or only on appearances, always embrace some truths whose sphere, whether large or small, affords room for a certain number of inferences, beyond which we fall into absurdity. The ideas of St. Augustine, for example, contained the following truths: that bodies fall towards the earth, that they fall in a straight line, that either the sun or the earth moves, that either the sky or the earth turns, &c. These general facts always have been true; our science has added nothing to them. But, on the other hand, it being necessary to account for every thing, we are obliged to seek for principles more and more comprehensive: that is why we have had to abandon successively, first the opinion that the world was flat, then the theory which regards it as the stationary centre of the universe, &c.
If we pass now from physical nature to the moral world, we still find ourselves subject to the same deceptions of appearance, to the same influences of spontaneity and habit. But the distinguishing feature of this second division of our knowledge is, on the one hand, the good or the evil which we derive from our opinions; and, on the other, the obstinacy with which we defend the prejudice which is tormenting and killing us.
Whatever theory we embrace in regard to the shape of the earth and the cause of its weight, the physics of the globe does not suffer; and, as for us, our social economy can derive therefrom neither profit nor damage. But it is in us and through us that the laws of our moral nature work; now, these laws cannot be executed without our deliberate aid, and, consequently, unless we know them. If, then, our science of moral laws is false, it is evident that, while desiring our own good, we are accomplishing our own evil; if it is only incomplete, it may suffice for a time for our social progress, but in the long run it will lead us into a wrong road, and will finally precipitate us into an abyss of calamities.
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Then it is that we need to exercise our highest judgments; and, be it said to our glory, they are never found wanting: but then also commences a furious struggle between old prejudices and new ideas. Days of conflagration and anguish! We are told of the time when, with the same beliefs, with the same institutions, all the world seemed happy: why complain of these beliefs; why banish these institutions? We are slow to admit that that happy age served the precise purpose of developing the principle of evil which lay dormant in society; we accuse men and gods, the powers of earth and the forces of Nature. Instead of seeking the cause of the evil in his mind and heart, man blames his masters, his rivals, his neighbors, and himself; nations arm themselves, and slay and exterminate each other, until equilibrium is restored by the vast depopulation, and peace again arises from the ashes of the combatants. So loath is humanity to touch the customs of its ancestors, and to change the laws framed by the founders of communities, and confirmed by the faithful observance of the ages.
Nihil motum ex antiquo probabile est: Distrust all innovations, wrote Titus Livius. Undoubtedly it would be better were man not compelled to change: but what! because he is born ignorant, because he exists only on condition of gradual self-instruction, must he abjure the light, abdicate his reason, and abandon himself to fortune? Perfect health is better than convalescence: should the sick man, therefore, refuse to be cured? Reform, reform! cried, ages since, John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. Reform, reform! cried our fathers, fifty years ago; and for a long time to come we shall shout, Reform, reform!
Seeing the misery of my age, I said to myself: Among the principles that support society, there is one which it does not understand, which its ignorance has vitiated, and which causes all the evil that exists. This principle is the most ancient of all; for it is a characteristic of revolutions to tear down the most modern principles, and to respect those of long-standing. Now the evil by which we suffer is anterior to all revolutions. This principle, impaired by our ignorance, is honored and cherished; for if it were not cherished it would harm nobody, it would be without influence.
But this principle, right in its purpose, but misunderstood: this principle, as old as humanity, what is it? Can it be religion?
All men believe in God: this dogma belongs at once to their conscience and their mind. To humanity God is a fact as primitive, an idea as inevitable, a principle as necessary as are the categorical ideas of cause, substance, time, and space to our understanding. God is proven to us by the conscience prior to any inference of the mind; just as the sun is proven to us by the testimony of the senses prior to all the arguments of physics. We discover phenomena and laws by observation and experience; only this deeper sense reveals to us existence. Humanity believes that God is; but, in believing in God, what does it believe? In a word, what is God?
The nature of this notion of Divinity,—this primitive, universal notion, born in the race,—the human mind has not yet fathomed. At each step that we take in our investigation of Nature and of causes, the idea of God is extended and exalted; the farther science advances, the more God seems to grow and broaden. Anthropomorphism and idolatry constituted of necessity the faith of the mind in its youth, the theology of infancy and poesy. A harmless error, if they had not endeavored to make it a rule of conduct, and if they had been wise enough to respect the liberty of thought. But having made God in his own image, man wished to appropriate him still farther; not satisfied with disfiguring the Almighty, he treated him as his patrimony, his goods, his possessions. God, pictured in monstrous forms, became throughout the world the property of man and of the State. Such was the origin of the corruption of morals by religion, and the source of pious feuds and holy wars. Thank Heaven! we have learned to allow every one his own beliefs; we seek for moral laws outside the pale of religion. Instead of legislating as to the nature and attributes of God, the dogmas of theology, and the destiny of our souls, we wisely wait for science to tell us what to reject and what to accept. God, soul, religion,—eternal objects of our unwearied thought and our most fatal aberrations, terrible problems whose solution, for ever attempted, for ever remains unaccomplished,—concerning all these questions we may still be mistaken, but at least our error is harmless. With liberty in religion, and the separation of the spiritual from the temporal power, the influence of religious ideas upon the progress of society is purely negative; no law, no political or civil institution being founded on religion. Neglect of duties imposed by religion may increase the general corruption, but it is not the primary cause; it is only an auxiliary or result. It is universally admitted, and especially in the matter which now engages our attention, that the cause of the inequality of conditions among men—of pauperism, of universal misery, and of governmental embarrassments—can no longer be traced to religion: we must go farther back, and dig still deeper.
But what is there in man older and deeper than the religious sentiment?
There is man himself; that is, volition and conscience, free-will and law, eternally antagonistic. Man is at war with himself: why?
“Man,” say the theologians, “transgressed in the beginning; our race is guilty of an ancient offence. For this transgression humanity has fallen; error and ignorance have become its sustenance. Read history, you will find universal proof of this necessity for evil in the permanent misery of nations. Man suffers and always will suffer; his disease is hereditary and constitutional. Use palliatives, employ emollients; there is no remedy.”
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Nor is this argument peculiar to the theologians; we find it expressed in equivalent language in the philosophical writings of the materialists, believers in infinite perfectibility. Destutt de Tracy teaches formally that poverty, crime, and war are the inevitable conditions of our social state; necessary evils, against which it would be folly to revolt. So, call it NECESSITY OF EVIL or ORIGINAL DEPRAVITY, it is at bottom the same philosophy.
“The first man transgressed.” If the votaries of the Bible interpreted it faithfully, they would say: MAN ORIGINALLY TRANSGRESSED, that is, made a mistake; for TO TRANSGRESS, TO FAIL, TO MAKE A MISTAKE, all mean the same thing.
“The consequences of Adam’s transgression are inherited by the race; the first is ignorance.” Truly, the race, like the individual, is born ignorant; but, in regard to a multitude of questions, even in the moral and political spheres, this ignorance of the race has been dispelled: who says that it will not depart altogether? Mankind makes continual progress toward truth, and light ever triumphs over darkness. Our disease is not, then, absolutely incurable, and the theory of the theologians is worse than inadequate; it is ridiculous, since it is reducible to this tautology: “Man errs, because he errs.” While the true statement is this: “Man errs, because he learns.”
Now, if man arrives at a knowledge of all that he needs to know, it is reasonable to believe that, ceasing to err, he will cease to suffer.
But if we question the doctors as to this law, said to be engraved upon the heart of man, we shall immediately see that they dispute about a matter of which they know nothing; that, concerning the most important questions, there are almost as many opinions as authors; that we find no two agreeing as to the best form of government, the principle of authority, and the nature of right; that all sail hap-hazard upon a shoreless and bottomless sea, abandoned to the guidance of their private opinions which they modestly take to be right reason. And, in view of this medley of contradictory opinions, we say: “The object of our investigations is the law, the determination of the social principle. Now, the politicians, that is, the social scientists, do not understand each other; then the error lies in themselves; and, as every error has a reality for its object, we must look in their books to find the truth which they have unconsciously deposited there.”
Now, of what do the lawyers and the publicists treat? Of JUSTICE, EQUITY, LIBERTY, NATURAL LAW, CIVIL LAWS, &c. But what is justice? What is its principle, its character, its formula? To this question our doctors evidently have no reply; for otherwise their science, starting with a principle clear and well defined, would quit the region of probabilities, and all disputes would end.
What is justice? The theologians answer: “All justice comes from God.” That is true; but we know no more than before.
The philosophers ought to be better informed: they have argued so much about justice and injustice! Unhappily, an examination proves that their knowledge amounts to nothing, and that with them—as with the savages whose every prayer to the sun is simply O! O!—it is a cry of admiration, love, and enthusiasm; but who does not know that the sun attaches little meaning to the interjection O! That is exactly our position toward the philosophers in regard to justice. Justice, they say, is a DAUGHTER OF HEAVEN; A LIGHT WHICH ILLUMINES EVERY MAN THAT COMES INTO THE WORLD; THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PREROGATIVE OF OUR NATURE; THAT WHICH DISTINGUISHES US FROM THE BEASTS AND LIKENS US TO GOD—and a thousand other similar things. What, I ask, does this pious litany amount to? To the prayer of the savages: O!
All the most reasonable teachings of human wisdom concerning justice are summed up in that famous adage: DO UNTO OTHERS THAT WHICH YOU WOULD THAT OTHERS SHOULD DO UNTO YOU; DO NOT UNTO OTHERS THAT WHICH YOU WOULD NOT THAT OTHERS SHOULD DO UNTO YOU. But this rule of moral practice is unscientific: what have I a right to wish that others should do or not do to me? It is of no use to tell me that my duty is equal to my right, unless I am told at the same time what my right is.
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Let us try to arrive at something more precise and positive.
Justice is the central star which governs societies, the pole around which the political world revolves, the principle and the regulator of all transactions. Nothing takes place between men save in the name of RIGHT; nothing without the invocation of justice. Justice is not the work of the law: on the contrary, the law is only a declaration and application of JUSTICE in all circumstances where men are liable to come in contact. If, then, the idea that we form of justice and right were ill-defined, if it were imperfect or even false, it is clear that all our legislative applications would be wrong, our institutions vicious, our politics erroneous: consequently there would be disorder and social chaos.
This hypothesis of the perversion of justice in our minds, and, as a necessary result, in our acts, becomes a demonstrated fact when it is shown that the opinions of men have not borne a constant relation to the notion of justice and its applications; that at different periods they have undergone modifications: in a word, that there has been progress in ideas. Now, that is what history proves by the most overwhelming testimony.
Eighteen Hundred years ago, the world, under the rule of the Caesars, exhausted itself in slavery, superstition, and voluptuousness. The people—intoxicated and, as it were, stupefied by their long-continued orgies—had lost the very notion of right and duty: war and dissipation by turns swept them away; usury and the labor of machines (that is of slaves), by depriving them of the means of subsistence, hindered them from continuing the species. Barbarism sprang up again, in a hideous form, from this mass of corruption, and spread like a devouring leprosy over the depopulated provinces. The wise foresaw the downfall of the empire, but could devise no remedy. What could they think indeed? To save this old society it would have been necessary to change the objects of public esteem and veneration, and to abolish the rights affirmed by a justice purely secular; they said: “Rome has conquered through her politics and her gods; any change in theology and public opinion would be folly and sacrilege. Rome, merciful toward conquered nations, though binding them in chains, spared their lives; slaves are the most fertile source of her wealth; freedom of the nations would be the negation of her rights and the ruin of her finances. Rome, in fact, enveloped in the pleasures and gorged with the spoils of the universe, is kept alive by victory and government; her luxury and her pleasures are the price of her conquests: she can neither abdicate nor dispossess herself.” Thus Rome had the facts and the law on her side. Her pretensions were justified by universal custom and the law of nations. Her institutions were based upon idolatry in religion, slavery in the State, and epicurism in private life; to touch those was to shake society to its foundations, and, to use our modern expression, to open the abyss of revolutions. So the idea occurred to no one; and yet humanity was dying in blood and luxury.
All at once a man appeared, calling himself The Word of God. It is not known to this day who he was, whence he came, nor what suggested to him his ideas. He went about proclaiming everywhere that the end of the existing society was at hand, that the world was about to experience a new birth; that the priests were vipers, the lawyers ignoramuses, and the philosophers hypocrites and liars; that master and slave were equals, that usury and every thing akin to it was robbery, that proprietors and idlers would one day burn, while the poor and pure in heart would find a haven of peace.
This man—The Word of God—was denounced and arrested as a public enemy by the priests and the lawyers, who well understood how to induce the people to demand his death. But this judicial murder, though it put the finishing stroke to their crimes, did not destroy the doctrinal seeds which The Word of God had sown. After his death, his original disciples travelled about in all directions, preaching what they called the GOOD NEWS, creating in their turn millions of missionaries; and, when their task seemed to be accomplished, dying by the sword of Roman justice. This persistent agitation, the war of the executioners and martyrs, lasted nearly three centuries, ending in the conversion of the world. Idolatry was destroyed, slavery abolished, dissolution made room for a more austere morality, and the contempt for wealth was sometimes pushed almost to privation.
Society was saved by the negation of its own principles, by a revolution in its religion, and by violation of its most sacred rights. In this revolution, the idea of justice spread to an extent that had not before been dreamed of, never to return to its original limits. Heretofore justice had existed only for the masters; 7 it then commenced to exist for the slaves.
Nevertheless, the new religion at that time had borne by no means all its fruits. There was a perceptible improvement of the public morals, and a partial release from oppression; but, other than that, 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.
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The truth of CHRISTIANITY did not survive the age of the apostles; the GOSPEL, commented upon and symbolized by the Greeks and Latins, loaded with pagan fables, became literally a mass of contradictions; and to this day the reign of the INFALLIBLE CHURCH has been a long era of darkness. It is said that the GATES OF HELL will not always prevail, that THE WORD OF GOD will return, and that one day men will know truth and justice; but that will be the death of Greek and Roman Catholicism, just as in the light of science disappeared the caprices of opinion.
The monsters which the successors of the apostles were bent on destroying, frightened for a moment, reappeared gradually, thanks to the crazy fanaticism, and sometimes the deliberate connivance, of priests and theologians. The history of the enfranchisement of the French communes offers constantly the spectacle of the ideas of justice and liberty spreading among the people, in spite of the combined efforts of kings, nobles, and clergy. In the year 1789 of the Christian era, the French nation, divided by caste, poor and oppressed, struggled in the triple net of royal absolutism, the tyranny of nobles and parliaments, and priestly intolerance. There was the right of the king and the right of the priest, the right of the patrician and the right of the plebeian; there were the privileges of birth, province, communes, corporations, and trades; and, at the bottom of all, violence, immorality, and misery. For some time they talked of reformation; those who apparently desired it most favoring it only for their own profit, and the people who were to be the gainers expecting little and saying nothing. For a long time these poor people, either from distrust, incredulity, or despair, hesitated to ask for their rights: it is said that the habit of serving had taken the courage away from those old communes, which in the middle ages were so bold.
Finally a book appeared, summing up the whole matter in these two propositions: WHAT IS THE THIRD ESTATE?—NOTHING. WHAT OUGHT IT TO BE?—EVERY THING. Some one added by way of comment: WHAT IS THE KING?—THE SERVANT OF THE PEOPLE.
This was a sudden revelation: the veil was torn aside, a thick bandage fell from all eyes. The people commenced to reason thus:—
If the king is our servant, he ought to report to us;
If he ought to report to us, he is subject to control;
If he can be controlled, he is responsible;
If he is responsible, he is punishable;
If he is punishable, he ought to be punished according to his merits;
If he ought to be punished according to his merits, he can be punished with death.
Five years after the publication of the brochure of Sieyes, the third estate was every thing; the king, the nobility, the clergy, were no more. In 1793, the nation, without stopping at the constitutional fiction of the inviolability of the sovereign, conducted Louis XVI. to the scaffold; in 1830, it accompanied Charles X. to Cherbourg. In each case, it may have erred, in fact, in its judgment of the offence; but, in right, the logic which led to its action was irreproachable. The people, in punishing their sovereign, did precisely that which the government of July was so severely censured for failing to do when it refused to execute Louis Bonaparte after the affair of Strasburg: they struck the true culprit. It was an application of the common law, a solemn decree of justice enforcing the penal laws. 8
The spirit which gave rise to the movement of ’89 was a spirit of negation; that, of itself, proves that the order of things which was substituted for the old system was not methodical or well-considered; that, born of anger and hatred, it could not have the effect of a science based on observation and study; that its foundations, in a word, were not derived from a profound knowledge of the laws of Nature and society. Thus the people found that the republic, among the so-called new institutions, was acting on the very principles against which they had fought, and was swayed by all the prejudices which they had intended to destroy. We congratulate ourselves, with inconsiderate enthusiasm, on the glorious French Revolution, the regeneration of 1789, the great changes that have been effected, and the reversion of institutions: a delusion, a delusion!
When our ideas on any subject, material, intellectual, or social, undergo a thorough change in consequence of new observations, I call that movement of the mind REVOLUTION. If the ideas are simply extended or modified, there is only PROGRESS. Thus the system of Ptolemy was a step in astronomical progress, that of Copernicus was a revolution. So, in 1789, there was struggle and progress; revolution there was none. An examination of the reforms which were attempted proves this.
The nation, so long a victim of monarchical selfishness, thought to deliver itself for ever by declaring that it alone was sovereign. But what was monarchy? The sovereignty of one man. What is democracy? The sovereignty of the nation, or, rather, of the national majority. But it is, in both cases, the sovereignty of man instead of the sovereignty of the law, the sovereignty of the will instead of the sovereignty of the reason; in one word, the passions instead of justice. Undoubtedly, when a nation passes from the monarchical to the democratic state, there is progress, because in multiplying the sovereigns we increase the opportunities of the reason to substitute itself for the will; but in reality there is no revolution in the government, since the principle remains the same. Now, we have the proof to-day that, with the most perfect democracy, we cannot be free. 9
Nor is that all. The nation-king cannot exercise its sovereignty itself; it is obliged to delegate it to agents: this is constantly reiterated by those who seek to win its favor. Be these agents five, ten, one hundred, or a thousand, of what consequence is the number; and what matters the name? It is always the government of man, the rule of will and caprice. I ask what this pretended revolution has revolutionized?
We know, too, how this sovereignty was exercised; first by the Convention, then by the Directory, afterwards confiscated by the Consul. As for the Emperor, the strong man so much adored and mourned by the nation, he never wanted to be dependent on it; but, as if intending to set its sovereignty at defiance, he dared to demand its suffrage: that is, its abdication, the abdication of this inalienable sovereignty; and he obtained it.
But what is sovereignty? It is, they say, the POWER TO MAKE LAW. 10 Another absurdity, a relic of despotism. The nation had long seen kings issuing their commands in this form: FOR SUCH IS OUR PLEASURE; it wished to taste in its turn the pleasure of making laws. For fifty years it has brought them forth by myriads; always, be it understood, through the agency of representatives. The play is far from ended.
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The definition of sovereignty was derived from the definition of the law. The law, they said, is THE EXPRESSION OF THE WILL OF THE SOVEREIGN: then, under a monarchy, the law is the expression of the will of the king; in a republic, the law is the expression of the will of the people. Aside from the difference in the number of wills, the two systems are exactly identical: both share the same error, namely, that the law is the expression of a will; it ought to be the expression of a fact. Moreover they followed good leaders: they took the citizen of Geneva for their prophet, and the contrat social for their Koran.
Bias and prejudice are apparent in all the phrases of the new legislators. The nation had suffered from a multitude of exclusions and privileges; its representatives issued the following declaration: ALL MEN ARE EQUAL BY NATURE AND BEFORE THE LAW; an ambiguous and redundant declaration. MEN ARE EQUAL BY NATURE: does that mean that they are equal in size, beauty, talents, and virtue? No; they meant, then, political and civil equality. Then it would have been sufficient to have said: ALL MEN ARE EQUAL BEFORE THE LAW.
But what is equality before the law? Neither the constitution of 1790, nor that of ’93, nor the granted charter, nor the accepted charter, have defined it accurately. All imply an inequality in fortune and station incompatible with even a shadow of equality in rights. In this respect it may be said that all our constitutions have been faithful expressions of the popular will: I am going, to prove it.
Formerly the people were excluded from civil and military offices; it was considered a wonder when the following high-sounding article was inserted in the Declaration of Rights: “All citizens are equally eligible to office; free nations know no qualifications in their choice of officers save virtues and talents.”
They certainly ought to have admired so beautiful an idea: they admired a piece of nonsense. Why! the sovereign people, legislators, and reformers, see in public offices, to speak plainly, only opportunities for pecuniary advancement. And, because it regards them as a source of profit, it decrees the eligibility of citizens. For of what use would this precaution be, if there were nothing to gain by it? No one would think of ordaining that none but astronomers and geographers should be pilots, nor of prohibiting stutterers from acting at the theatre and the opera. The nation was still aping the kings: like them it wished to award the lucrative positions to its friends and flatterers. Unfortunately, and this last feature completes the resemblance, the nation did not control the list of livings; that was in the hands of its agents and representatives. They, on the other hand, took care not to thwart the will of their gracious sovereign.
This edifying article of the Declaration of Rights, retained in the charters of 1814 and 1830, implies several kinds of civil inequality; that is, of inequality before the law: inequality of station, since the public functions are sought only for the consideration and emoluments which they bring; inequality of wealth, since, if it had been desired to equalize fortunes, public service would have been regarded as a duty, not as a reward; inequality of privilege, the law not stating what it means by TALENTS and VIRTUES. Under the empire, virtue and talent consisted simply in military bravery and devotion to the emperor; that was shown when Napoleon created his nobility, and attempted to connect it with the ancients. To-day, the man who pays taxes to the amount of two hundred francs is virtuous; the talented man is the honest pickpocket: such truths as these are accounted trivial.
The people finally legalized property. God forgive them, for they knew not what they did! For fifty years they have suffered for their miserable folly. But how came the people, whose voice, they tell us, is the voice of God, and whose conscience is infallible,—how came the people to err? How happens it that, when seeking liberty and equality, they fell back into privilege and slavery? Always through copying the ancient regime.
Formerly, the nobility and the clergy contributed towards the expenses of the State only by voluntary aid and gratuitous gift; their property could not be seized even for debt,—while the plebeian, overwhelmed by taxes and statute-labor, was continually tormented, now by the king’s tax-gatherers, now by those of the nobles and clergy. He whose possessions were subject to mortmain could neither bequeath nor inherit property; he was treated like the animals, whose services and offspring belong to their master by right of accession. The people wanted the conditions of OWNERSHIP to be alike for all; they thought that every one should ENJOY AND FREELY DISPOSE OF HIS POSSESSIONS HIS INCOME AND THE FRUIT OF HIS LABOR AND INDUSTRY. The people did not invent property; but as they had not the same privileges in regard to it, which the nobles and clergy possessed, they decreed that the right should be exercised by all under the same conditions. The more obnoxious forms of property—statute-labor, mortmain, maitrise, and exclusion from public office—have disappeared; the conditions of its enjoyment have been modified: the principle still remains the same. There has been progress in the regulation of the right; there has been no revolution.
These, then, are the three fundamental principles of modern society, established one after another by the movements of 1789 and 1830: 1. SOVEREIGNTY OF THE HUMAN WILL; in short, DESPOTISM. 2. INEQUALITY OF WEALTH AND RANK. 3. PROPERTY—above JUSTICE, always invoked as the guardian angel of sovereigns, nobles, and proprietors; JUSTICE, the general, primitive, categorical law of all society.
We must ascertain whether the ideas of DESPOTISM, CIVIL INEQUALITY and PROPERTY, are in harmony with the primitive notion of JUSTICE, and necessarily follow from it,—assuming various forms according to the condition, position, and relation of persons; or whether they are not rather the illegitimate result of a confusion of different things, a fatal association of ideas. And since justice deals especially with the questions of government, the condition of persons, and the possession of things, we must ascertain under what conditions, judging by universal opinion and the progress of the human mind, government is just, the condition of citizens is just, and the possession of things is just; then, striking out every thing which fails to meet these conditions, the result will at once tell us what legitimate government is, what the legitimate condition of citizens is, and what the legitimate possession of things is; and finally, as the last result of the analysis, what JUSTICE is.
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Is the authority of man over man just?
Everybody answers, “No; the authority of man is only the authority of the law, which ought to be justice and truth.” The private will counts for nothing in government, which consists, first, in discovering truth and justice in order to make the law; and, second, in superintending the execution of this law. I do not now inquire whether our constitutional form of government satisfies these conditions; whether, for example, the will of the ministry never influences the declaration and interpretation of the law; or whether our deputies, in their debates, are more intent on conquering by argument than by force of numbers: it is enough for me that my definition of a good government is allowed to be correct. This idea is exact. Yet we see that nothing seems more just to the Oriental nations than the despotism of their sovereigns; that, with the ancients and in the opinion of the philosophers themselves, slavery was just; that in the middle ages the nobles, the priests, and the bishops felt justified in holding slaves; that Louis XIV. thought that he was right when he said, “The State! I am the State;” and that Napoleon deemed it a crime for the State to oppose his will. The idea of justice, then, applied to sovereignty and government, has not always been what it is to-day; it has gone on developing and shaping itself by degrees, until it has arrived at its present state. But has it reached its last phase? I think not: only, as the last obstacle to be overcome arises from the institution of property which we have kept intact, in order to finish the reform in government and consummate the revolution, this very institution we must attack.
Is political and civil inequality just?
Some say yes; others no. To the first I would reply that, when the people abolished all privileges of birth and caste, they did it, in all probability, because it was for their advantage; why then do they favor the privileges of fortune more than those of rank and race? Because, say they, political inequality is a result of property; and without property society is impossible: thus the question just raised becomes a question of property. To the second I content myself with this remark: If you wish to enjoy political equality, abolish property; otherwise, why do you complain?
Is property just?
Everybody answers without hesitation, “Yes, property is just.” I say everybody, for up to the present time no one who thoroughly understood the meaning of his words has answered no. For it is no easy thing to reply understandingly to such a question; only time and experience can furnish an answer. Now, this answer is given; it is for us to understand it. I undertake to prove it.
We are to proceed with the demonstration in the following order:—
I. We dispute not at all, we refute nobody, we deny nothing; we accept as sound all the arguments alleged in favor of property, and confine ourselves to a search for its principle, in order that we may then ascertain whether this principle is faithfully expressed by property. In fact, property being defensible on no ground save that of justice, the idea, or at least the intention, of justice must of necessity underlie all the arguments that have been made in defence of property; and, as on the other hand the right of property is only exercised over those things which can be appreciated by the senses, justice, secretly objectifying itself, so to speak, must take the shape of an algebraic formula.
By this method of investigation, we soon see that every argument which has been invented in behalf of property, WHATEVER IT MAY BE, always and of necessity leads to equality; that is, to the negation of property.
The first part covers two chapters: one treating of occupation, the foundation of our right; the other, of labor and talent, considered as causes of property and social inequality.
The first of these chapters will prove that the right of occupation OBSTRUCTS property; the second that the right of labor DESTROYS it.
II. Property, then, being of necessity conceived as existing only in connection with equality, it remains to find out why, in spite of this necessity of logic, equality does not exist. This new investigation also covers two chapters: in the first, considering the fact of property in itself, we inquire whether this fact is real, whether it exists, whether it is possible; for it would imply a contradiction, were these two opposite forms of society, equality and inequality, both possible. Then we discover, singularly enough, that property may indeed manifest itself accidentally; but that, as an institution and principle, it is mathematically impossible. So that the axiom of the school—ab actu ad posse valet consecutio: from the actual to the possible the inference is good—is given the lie as far as property is concerned.
Finally, in the last chapter, calling psychology to our aid, and probing man’s nature to the bottom, we shall disclose the principle of JUSTICE—its formula and character; we shall state with precision the organic law of society; we shall explain the origin of property, the causes of its establishment, its long life, and its approaching death; we shall definitively establish its identity with robbery. And, after having shown that these three prejudices—THE SOVEREIGNTY OF MAN, THE INEQUALITY OF CONDITIONS, AND PROPERTY—are one and the same; that they may be taken for each other, and are reciprocally convertible,—we shall have no trouble in inferring therefrom, by the principle of contradiction, the basis of government and right. There our investigations will end, reserving the right to continue them in future works.
The importance of the subject which engages our attention is recognized by all minds.
“Property,” says M. Hennequin, “is the creative and conservative principle of civil society. Property is one of those basic institutions, new theories concerning which cannot be presented too soon; for it must not be forgotten, and the publicist and statesman must know, that on the answer to the question whether property is the principle or the result of social order, whether it is to be considered as a cause or an effect, depends all morality, and, consequently, all the authority of human institutions.”
These words are a challenge to all men of hope and faith; but, although the cause of equality is a noble one, no one has yet picked up the gauntlet thrown down by the advocates of property; no one has been courageous enough to enter upon the struggle. The spurious learning of haughty jurisprudence, and the absurd aphorisms of a political economy controlled by property have puzzled the most generous minds; it is a sort of password among the most influential friends of liberty and the interests of the people that EQUALITY IS A CHIMERA! So many false theories and meaningless analogies influence minds otherwise keen, but which are unconsciously controlled by popular prejudice. Equality advances every day—fit aequalitas. Soldiers of liberty, shall we desert our flag in the hour of triumph?
A defender of equality, I shall speak without bitterness and without anger; with the independence becoming a philosopher, with the courage and firmness of a free man. May I, in this momentous struggle, carry into all hearts the light with which I am filled; and show, by the success of my argument, that equality failed to conquer by the sword only that it might conquer by the pen!
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CHAPTER II. PROPERTY CONSIDERED AS A NATURAL RIGHT
PROPERTY CONSIDERED AS A NATURAL RIGHT.—OCCUPATION AND CIVIL LAW AS EFFICIENT BASES OF PROPERTY. DEFINITIONS.
The Roman law defined property as the right to use and abuse one’s own within the limits of the law—jus utendi et abutendi re sua, quatenus juris ratio patitur. A justification of the word ABUSE has been attempted, on the ground that it signifies, not senseless and immoral abuse, but only absolute domain. Vain distinction! invented as an excuse for property, and powerless against the frenzy of possession, which it neither prevents nor represses. The proprietor may, if he chooses, allow his crops to rot under foot; sow his field with salt; milk his cows on the sand; change his vineyard into a desert, and use his vegetable-garden as a park: do these things constitute abuse, or not? In the matter of property, use and abuse are necessarily indistinguishable.
According to the Declaration of Rights, published as a preface to the Constitution of ’93, property is “the right to enjoy and dispose at will of one’s goods, one’s income, and the fruit of one’s labor and industry.”
Code Napoleon, article 544: “Property is the right to enjoy and dispose of things in the most absolute manner, provided we do not overstep the limits prescribed by the laws and regulations.”
These two definitions do not differ from that of the Roman law: all give the proprietor an absolute right over a thing; and as for the restriction imposed by the code,—PROVIDED WE DO NOT OVERSTEP THE LIMITS PRESCRIBED BY THE LAWS AND REGULATIONS,—its object is not to limit property, but to prevent the domain of one proprietor from interfering with that of another. That is a confirmation of the principle, not a limitation of it.
There are different kinds of property: 1. Property pure and simple, the dominant and seigniorial power over a thing; or, as they term it, NAKED PROPERTY. 2. POSSESSION. “Possession,” says Duranton, “is a matter of fact, not of right.” Toullier: “Property is a right, a legal power; possession is a fact.” The tenant, the farmer, the commandite, the usufructuary, are possessors; the owner who lets and lends for use, the heir who is to come into possession on the death of a usufructuary, are proprietors. If I may venture the comparison: a lover is a possessor, a husband is a proprietor.
This double definition of property—domain and possession—is of the highest importance; and it must be clearly understood, in order to comprehend what is to follow.
From the distinction between possession and property arise two sorts of rights: the jus in re, the right in a thing, the right by which I may reclaim the property which I have acquired, in whatever hands I find it; and the jus ad rem, the right TO a thing, which gives me a claim to become a proprietor. Thus the right of the partners to a marriage over each other’s person is the jus in re; that of two who are betrothed is only the jus ad rem. In the first, possession and property are united; the second includes only naked property. With me who, as a laborer, have a right to the possession of the products of Nature and my own industry,—and who, as a proletaire, enjoy none of them,—it is by virtue of the jus ad rem that I demand admittance to the jus in re.
This distinction between the jus in re and the jus ad rem is the basis of the famous distinction between possessoire and petitoire,—actual categories of jurisprudence, the whole of which is included within their vast boundaries. Petitoire refers to every thing relating to property; possessoire to that relating to possession. In writing this memoir against property, I bring against universal society an action petitoire: I prove that those who do not possess to-day are proprietors by the same title as those who do possess; but, instead of inferring therefrom that property should be shared by all, I demand, in the name of general security, its entire abolition. If I fail to win my case, there is nothing left for us (the proletarian class and myself) but to cut our throats: we can ask nothing more from the justice of nations; for, as the code of procedure (art 26) tells us in its energetic style, THE PLAINTIFF WHO HAS BEEN NON-SUITED IN AN ACTION PETITOIRE, IS DEBARRED THEREBY FROM BRINGING AN ACTION POSSESSOIRE. If, on the contrary, I gain the case, we must then commence an action possessoire, that we may be reinstated in the enjoyment of the wealth of which we are deprived by property. I hope that we shall not be forced to that extremity; but these two actions cannot be prosecuted at once, such a course being prohibited by the same code of procedure.
Before going to the heart of the question, it will not be useless to offer a few preliminary remarks.
% 1.—Property as a Natural Right.
The Declaration of Rights has placed property in its list of the natural and inalienable rights of man, four in all: LIBERTY, EQUALITY, PROPERTY, SECURITY. What rule did the legislators of ’93 follow in compiling this list? None. They laid down principles, just as they discussed sovereignty and the laws; from a general point of view, and according to their own opinion. They did every thing in their own blind way.
If we can believe Toullier: “The absolute rights can be reduced to three: SECURITY, LIBERTY, PROPERTY.” Equality is eliminated by the Rennes professor; why? Is it because LIBERTY implies it, or because property prohibits it? On this point the author of “Droit Civil Explique” is silent: it has not even occurred to him that the matter is under discussion.
Nevertheless, if we compare these three or four rights with each other, we find that property bears no resemblance whatever to the others; that for the majority of citizens it exists only potentially, and as a dormant faculty without exercise; that for the others, who do enjoy it, it is susceptible of certain transactions and modifications which do not harmonize with the idea of a natural right; that, in practice, governments, tribunals, and laws do not respect it; and finally that everybody, spontaneously and with one voice, regards it as chimerical.
Liberty is inviolable. I can neither sell nor alienate my liberty; every contract, every condition of a contract, which has in view the alienation or suspension of liberty, is null: the slave, when he plants his foot upon the soil of liberty, at that moment becomes a free man. When society seizes a malefactor and deprives him of his liberty, it is a case of legitimate defence: whoever violates the social compact by the commission of a crime declares himself a public enemy; in attacking the liberty of others, he compels them to take away his own. Liberty is the original condition of man; to renounce liberty is to renounce the nature of man: after that, how could we perform the acts of man?
Likewise, equality before the law suffers neither restriction nor exception. All Frenchmen are equally eligible to office: consequently, in the presence of this equality, condition and family have, in many cases, no influence upon choice. The poorest citizen can obtain judgment in the courts against one occupying the most exalted station. Let the millionaire, Ahab, build a chateau upon the vineyard of Naboth: the court will have the power, according to the circumstances, to order the destruction of the chateau, though it has cost millions; and to force the trespasser to restore the vineyard to its original state, and pay the damages. The law wishes all property, that has been legitimately acquired, to be kept inviolate without regard to value, and without respect for persons.
The charter demands, it is true, for the exercise of certain political rights, certain conditions of fortune and capacity; but all publicists know that the legislator’s intention was not to establish a privilege, but to take security. Provided the conditions fixed by law are complied with, every citizen may be an elector, and every elector eligible. The right, once acquired, is the same for all; the law compares neither persons nor votes. I do not ask now whether this system is the best; it is enough that, in the opinion of the charter and in the eyes of every one, equality before the law is absolute, and, like liberty, admits of no compromise.
It is the same with the right of security. Society promises its members no half-way protection, no sham defence; it binds itself to them as they bind themselves to it. It does not say to them, “I will shield you, provided it costs me nothing; I will protect you, if I run no risks thereby.” It says, “I will defend you against everybody; I will save and avenge you, or perish myself.”
The whole strength of the State is at the service of each citizen; the obligation which binds them together is absolute.
How different with property! Worshipped by all, it is acknowledged by none: laws, morals, customs, public and private conscience, all plot its death and ruin.
To meet the expenses of government, which has armies to support, tasks to perform, and officers to pay, taxes are needed. Let all contribute to these expenses: nothing more just. But why should the rich pay more than the poor? That is just, they say, because they possess more. I confess that such justice is beyond my comprehension.
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Why are taxes paid? To protect all in the exercise of their natural rights—liberty, equality, security, and property; to maintain order in the State; to furnish the public with useful and pleasant conveniences.
Now, does it cost more to defend the rich man’s life and liberty than the poor man’s? Who, in time of invasion, famine, or plague, causes more trouble,—the large proprietor who escapes the evil without the assistance of the State, or the laborer who sits in his cottage unprotected from danger?
Is public order endangered more by the worthy citizen, or by the artisan and journeyman? Why, the police have more to fear from a few hundred laborers, out of work, than from two hundred thousand electors!
Does the man of large income appreciate more keenly than the poor man national festivities, clean streets, and beautiful monuments?
Why, he prefers his country-seat to all the popular pleasures; and when he wants to enjoy himself, he does not wait for the greased pole!
One of two things is true: either the proportional tax affords greater security to the larger tax-payers, or else it is a wrong.
Because, if property is a natural right, as the Declaration of ’93 declares, all that belongs to me by virtue of this right is as sacred as my person; it is my blood, my life, myself: whoever touches it offends the apple of my eye. My income of one hundred thousand francs is as inviolable as the grisette’s daily wage of seventy-five centimes; her attic is no more sacred than my suite of apartments. The tax is not levied in proportion to strength, size, or skill: no more should it be levied in proportion to property.
If, then, the State takes more from me, let it give me more in return, or cease to talk of equality of rights; for otherwise, society is established, not to defend property, but to destroy it. The State, through the proportional tax, becomes the chief of robbers; the State sets the example of systematic pillage: the State should be brought to the bar of justice at the head of those hideous brigands, that execrable mob which it now kills from motives of professional jealousy.
But, they say, the courts and the police force are established to restrain this mob; government is a company, not exactly for insurance, for it does not insure, but for vengeance and repression. The premium which this company exacts, the tax, is divided in proportion to property; that is, in proportion to the trouble which each piece of property occasions the avengers and repressers paid by the government.
This is any thing but the absolute and inalienable right of property. Under this system the poor and the rich distrust, and make war upon, each other. But what is the object of the war? Property. So that property is necessarily accompanied by war upon property. The liberty and security of the rich do not suffer from the liberty and security of the poor; far from that, they mutually strengthen and sustain each other. The rich man’s right of property, on the contrary, has to be continually defended against the poor man’s desire for property. What a contradiction! In England they have a poor-rate: they wish me to pay this tax. But what relation exists between my natural and inalienable right of property and the hunger from which ten million wretched people are suffering? When religion commands us to assist our fellows, it speaks in the name of charity, not in the name of law. The obligation of benevolence, imposed upon me by Christian morality, cannot be imposed upon me as a political tax for the benefit of any person or poor-house. I will give alms when I see fit to do so, when the sufferings of others excite in me that sympathy of which philosophers talk, and in which I do not believe: I will not be forced to bestow them. No one is obliged to do more than comply with this injunction: IN THE EXERCISE OF YOUR OWN RIGHTS DO NOT ENCROACH UPON THE RIGHTS OF ANOTHER; an injunction which is the exact definition of liberty. Now, my possessions are my own; no one has a claim upon them: I object to the placing of the third theological virtue in the order of the day.
Everybody, in France, demands the conversion of the five per cent. bonds; they demand thereby the complete sacrifice of one species of property. They have the right to do it, if public necessity requires it; but where is the just indemnity promised by the charter? Not only does none exist, but this indemnity is not even possible; for, if the indemnity were equal to the property sacrificed, the conversion would be useless.
The State occupies the same position to-day toward the bondholders that the city of Calais did, when besieged by Edward III, toward its notables. The English conqueror consented to spare its inhabitants, provided it would surrender to him its most distinguished citizens to do with as he pleased. Eustache and several others offered themselves; it was noble in them, and our ministers should recommend their example to the bondholders. But had the city the right to surrender them? Assuredly not. The right to security is absolute; the country can require no one to sacrifice himself. The soldier standing guard within the enemy’s range is no exception to this rule. Wherever a citizen stands guard, the country stands guard with him: to-day it is the turn of the one, to-morrow of the other. When danger and devotion are common, flight is parricide. No one has the right to flee from danger; no one can serve as a scapegoat. The maxim of Caiaphas—IT IS RIGHT THAT A MAN SHOULD DIE FOR HIS NATION—is that of the populace and of tyrants; the two extremes of social degradation.
It is said that all perpetual annuities are essentially redeemable. This maxim of civil law, applied to the State, is good for those who wish to return to the natural equality of labor and wealth; but, from the point of view of the proprietor, and in the mouth of conversionists, it is the language of bankrupts. The State is not only a borrower, it is an insurer and guardian of property; granting the best of security, it assures the most inviolable possession. How, then, can it force open the hands of its creditors, who have confidence in it, and then talk to them of public order and security of property? The State, in such an operation, is not a debtor who discharges his debt; it is a stock-company which allures its stockholders into a trap, and there, contrary to its authentic promise, exacts from them twenty, thirty, or forty per cent. of the interest on their capital.
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That is not all. The State is a university of citizens joined together under a common law by an act of society. This act secures all in the possession of their property; guarantees to one his field, to another his vineyard, to a third his rents, and to the bondholder, who might have bought real estate but who preferred to come to the assistance of the treasury, his bonds. The State cannot demand, without offering an equivalent, the sacrifice of an acre of the field or a corner of the vineyard; still less can it lower rents: why should it have the right to diminish the interest on bonds? This right could not justly exist, unless the bondholder could invest his funds elsewhere to equal advantage; but being confined to the State, where can he find a place to invest them, since the cause of conversion, that is, the power to borrow to better advantage, lies in the State? That is why a government, based on the principle of property, cannot redeem its annuities without the consent of their holders.
The money deposited with the republic is property which it has no right to touch while other kinds of property are respected; to force their redemption is to violate the social contract, and outlaw the bondholders.
The whole controversy as to the conversion of bonds finally reduces itself to this:—
QUESTION. Is it just to reduce to misery forty-five thousand families who derive an income from their bonds of one hundred francs or less?
ANSWER. Is it just to compel seven or eight millions of tax-payers to pay a tax of five francs, when they should pay only three? It is clear, in the first place, that the reply is in reality no reply; but, to make the wrong more apparent, let us change it thus: Is it just to endanger the lives of one hundred thousand men, when we can save them by surrendering one hundred heads to the enemy? Reader, decide!
All this is clearly understood by the defenders of the present system. Yet, nevertheless, sooner or later, the conversion will be effected and property be violated, because no other course is possible; because property, regarded as a right, and not being a right, must of right perish; because the force of events, the laws of conscience, and physical and mathematical necessity must, in the end, destroy this illusion of our minds.
To sum up: liberty is an absolute right, because it is to man what impenetrability is to matter,—a sine qua non of existence; equality is an absolute right, because without equality there is no society; security is an absolute right, because in the eyes of every man his own liberty and life are as precious as another’s. These three rights are absolute; that is, susceptible of neither increase nor diminution; because in society each associate receives as much as he gives,—liberty for liberty, equality for equality, security for security, body for body, soul for soul, in life and in death.
But property, in its derivative sense, and by the definitions of law, is a right outside of society; for it is clear that, if the wealth of each was social wealth, the conditions would be equal for all, and it would be a contradiction to say: PROPERTY IS A MAN’S RIGHT TO DISPOSE AT WILL OF SOCIAL PROPERTY. Then if we are associated for the sake of liberty, equality, and security, we are not associated for the sake of property; then if property is a NATURAL right, this natural right is not SOCIAL, but ANTI-SOCIAL. Property and society are utterly irreconcilable institutions. It is as impossible to associate two proprietors as to join two magnets by their opposite poles. Either society must perish, or it must destroy property.
If property is a natural, absolute, imprescriptible, and inalienable right, why, in all ages, has there been so much speculation as to its origin?—for this is one of its distinguishing characteristics. The origin of a natural right! Good God! who ever inquired into the origin of the rights of liberty, security, or equality? They exist by the same right that we exist; they are born with us, they live and die with us. With property it is very different, indeed. By law, property can exist without a proprietor, like a quality without a subject. It exists for the human being who as yet is not, and for the octogenarian who is no more. And yet, in spite of these wonderful prerogatives which savor of the eternal and the infinite, they have never found the origin of property; the doctors still disagree. On one point only are they in harmony: namely, that the validity of the right of property depends upon the authenticity of its origin. But this harmony is their condemnation. Why have they acknowledged the right before settling the question of origin?
Certain classes do not relish investigation into the pretended titles to property, and its fabulous and perhaps scandalous history. They wish to hold to this proposition: that property is a fact; that it always has been, and always will be. With that proposition the savant Proudhon 11 commenced his “Treatise on the Right of Usufruct,” regarding the origin of property as a useless question. Perhaps I would subscribe to this doctrine, believing it inspired by a commendable love of peace, were all my fellow-citizens in comfortable circumstances; but, no! I will not subscribe to it.
The titles on which they pretend to base the right of property are two in number: OCCUPATION and LABOR. I shall examine them successively, under all their aspects and in detail; and I remind the reader that, to whatever authority we appeal, I shall prove beyond a doubt that property, to be just and possible, must necessarily have equality for its condition.
% 2.—Occupation, as the Title to Property.
It is remarkable that, at those meetings of the State Council at which the Code was discussed, no controversy arose as to the origin and principle of property. All the articles of Vol. II., Book 2, concerning property and the right of accession, were passed without opposition or amendment. Bonaparte, who on other questions had given his legists so much trouble, had nothing to say about property. Be not surprised at it: in the eyes of that man, the most selfish and wilful person that ever lived, property was the first of rights, just as submission to authority was the most holy of duties.
The right of OCCUPATION, or of the FIRST OCCUPANT, is that which results from the actual, physical, real possession of a thing. I occupy a piece of land; the presumption is, that I am the proprietor, until the contrary is proved. We know that originally such a right cannot be legitimate unless it is reciprocal; the jurists say as much.
Cicero compares the earth to a vast theatre: Quemadmodum theatrum cum commune sit, recte tamen dici potest ejus esse eum locum quem quisque occuparit.
This passage is all that ancient philosophy has to say about the origin of property.
The theatre, says Cicero, is common to all; nevertheless, the place that each one occupies is called HIS OWN; that is, it is a place POSSESSED, not a place APPROPRIATED. This comparison annihilates property; moreover, it implies equality. Can I, in a theatre, occupy at the same time one place in the pit, another in the boxes, and a third in the gallery? Not unless I have three bodies, like Geryon, or can exist in different places at the same time, as is related of the magician Apollonius.
According to Cicero, no one has a right to more than he needs: such is the true interpretation of his famous axiom—suum quidque cujusque sit, to each one that which belongs to him—an axiom that has been strangely applied. That which belongs to each is not that which each MAY possess, but that which each HAS A RIGHT to possess. Now, what have we a right to possess? That which is required for our labor and consumption; Cicero’s comparison of the earth to a theatre proves it. According to that, each one may take what place he will, may beautify and adorn it, if he can; it is allowable: but he must never allow himself to overstep the limit which separates him from another. The doctrine of Cicero leads directly to equality; for, occupation being pure toleration, if the toleration is mutual (and it cannot be otherwise) the possessions are equal.
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Grotius rushes into history; but what kind of reasoning is that which seeks the origin of a right, said to be natural, elsewhere than in Nature? This is the method of the ancients: the fact exists, then it is necessary, then it is just, then its antecedents are just also. Nevertheless, let us look into it.
“Originally, all things were common and undivided; they were the property of all.” Let us go no farther. Grotius tells us how this original communism came to an end through ambition and cupidity; how the age of gold was followed by the age of iron, &c. So that property rested first on war and conquest, then on treaties and agreements. But either these treaties and agreements distributed wealth equally, as did the original communism (the only method of distribution with which the barbarians were acquainted, and the only form of justice of which they could conceive; and then the question of origin assumes this form: how did equality afterwards disappear?)—or else these treaties and agreements were forced by the strong upon the weak, and in that case they are null; the tacit consent of posterity does not make them valid, and we live in a permanent condition of iniquity and fraud.
We never can conceive how the equality of conditions, having once existed, could afterwards have passed away. What was the cause of such degeneration? The instincts of the animals are unchangeable, as well as the differences of species; to suppose original equality in human society is to admit by implication that the present inequality is a degeneration from the nature of this society,—a thing which the defenders of property cannot explain. But I infer therefrom that, if Providence placed the first human beings in a condition of equality, it was an indication of its desires, a model that it wished them to realize in other forms; just as the religious sentiment, which it planted in their hearts, has developed and manifested itself in various ways. Man has but one nature, constant and unalterable: he pursues it through instinct, he wanders from it through reflection, he returns to it through judgment; who shall say that we are not returning now? According to Grotius, man has abandoned equality; according to me, he will yet return to it. How came he to abandon it? Why will he return to it? These are questions for future consideration.
Reid writes as follows:—
“The right of property is not innate, but acquired. It is not grounded upon the constitution of man, but upon his actions. Writers on jurisprudence have explained its origin in a manner that may satisfy every man of common understanding.
“The earth is given to men in common for the purposes of life, by the bounty of Heaven. But to divide it, and appropriate one part of its produce to one, another part to another, must be the work of men who have power and understanding given them, by which every man may accommodate himself, WITHOUT HURT TO ANY OTHER.
“This common right of every man to what the earth produces, before it be occupied and appropriated by others, was, by ancient moralists, very properly compared to the right which every citizen had to the public theatre, where every man that came might occupy an empty seat, and thereby acquire a right to it while the entertainment lasted; but no man had a right to dispossess another.
“The earth is a great theatre, furnished by the Almighty, with perfect wisdom and goodness, for the entertainment and employment of all mankind. Here every man has a right to accommodate himself as a spectator, and to perform his part as an actor; but without hurt to others.”
Consequences of Reid’s doctrine.
1. That the portion which each one appropriates may wrong no one, it must be equal to the quotient of the total amount of property to be shared, divided by the number of those who are to share it;
2. The number of places being of necessity equal at all times to that of the spectators, no spectator can occupy two places, nor can any actor play several parts;
3. Whenever a spectator comes in or goes out, the places of all contract or enlarge correspondingly: for, says Reid, “THE RIGHT OF PROPERTY IS NOT INNATE, BUT ACQUIRED;” consequently, it is not absolute; consequently, the occupancy on which it is based, being a conditional fact, cannot endow this right with a stability which it does not possess itself. This seems to have been the thought of the Edinburgh professor when he added:—
“A right to life implies a right to the necessary means of life; and that justice, which forbids the taking away the life of an innocent man, forbids no less the taking from him the necessary means of life. He has the same right to defend the one as the other. To hinder another man’s innocent labor, or to deprive him of the fruit of it, is an injustice of the same kind, and has the same effect as to put him in fetters or in prison, and is equally a just object of resentment.”
Thus the chief of the Scotch school, without considering at all the inequality of skill or labor, posits a priori the equality of the means of labor, abandoning thereafter to each laborer the care of his own person, after the eternal axiom: WHOSO DOES WELL, SHALL FARE WELL.
The philosopher Reid is lacking, not in knowledge of the principle, but in courage to pursue it to its ultimate. If the right of life is equal, the right of labor is equal, and so is the right of occupancy. Would it not be criminal, were some islanders to repulse, in the name of property, the unfortunate victims of a shipwreck struggling to reach the shore? The very idea of such cruelty sickens the imagination. The proprietor, like Robinson Crusoe on his island, wards off with pike and musket the proletaire washed overboard by the wave of civilization, and seeking to gain a foothold upon the rocks of property. “Give me work!” cries he with all his might to the proprietor: “don’t drive me away, I will work for you at any price.” “I do not need your services,” replies the proprietor, showing the end of his pike or the barrel of his gun. “Lower my rent at least.” “I need my income to live upon.” “How can I pay you, when I can get no work?” “That is your business.” Then the unfortunate proletaire abandons himself to the waves; or, if he attempts to land upon the shore of property, the proprietor takes aim, and kills him.
We have just listened to a spiritualist; we will now question a materialist, then an eclectic: and having completed the circle of philosophy, we will turn next to law.
According to Destutt de Tracy, property is a necessity of our nature. That this necessity involves unpleasant consequences, it would be folly to deny. But these consequences are necessary evils which do not invalidate the principle; so that it is as unreasonable to rebel against property on account of the abuses which it generates, as to complain of life because it is sure to end in death. This brutal and pitiless philosophy promises at least frank and close reasoning. Let us see if it keeps its promise.
“We talk very gravely about the conditions of property,… as if it was our province to decide what constitutes property…. It would seem, to hear certain philosophers and legislators, that at a certain moment, spontaneously and without cause, people began to use the words THINE and MINE; and that they might have, or ought to have, dispensed with them. But THINE and MINE were never invented.”
A philosopher yourself, you are too realistic. THINE and MINE do not necessarily refer to self, as they do when I say your philosophy, and my equality; for your philosophy is you philosophizing, and my equality is I professing equality. THINE and MINE oftener indicate a relation,—YOUR country, YOUR parish, YOUR tailor, YOUR milkmaid; MY chamber, MY seat at the theatre, MY company and MY battalion in the National Guard. In the former sense, we may sometimes say MY labor, MY skill, MY virtue; never MY grandeur nor MY majesty: in the latter sense only, MY field, MY house, MY vineyard, MY capital,—precisely as the banker’s clerk says MY cash-box. In short, THINE and MINE are signs and expressions of personal, but equal, rights; applied to things outside of us, they indicate possession, function, use, not property.
It does not seem possible, but, nevertheless, I shall prove, by quotations, that the whole theory of our author is based upon this paltry equivocation.
“Prior to all covenants, men are, not exactly, as Hobbes says, in a state of HOSTILITY, but of ESTRANGEMENT. In this state, justice and injustice are unknown; the rights of one bear no relation to the rights of another. All have as many rights as needs, and all feel it their duty to satisfy those needs by any means at their command.”
Grant it; whether true or false, it matters not. Destutt de Tracy cannot escape equality. On this theory, men, while in a state of ESTRANGEMENT, are under no obligations to each other; they all have the right to satisfy their needs without regard to the needs of others, and consequently the right to exercise their power over Nature, each according to his strength and ability. That involves the greatest inequality of wealth. Inequality of conditions, then, is the characteristic feature of estrangement or barbarism: the exact opposite of Rousseau’s idea.
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But let us look farther:—
“Restrictions of these rights and this duty commence at the time when covenants, either implied or expressed, are agreed upon. Then appears for the first time justice and injustice; that is, the balance between the rights of one and the rights of another, which up to that time were necessarily equal.”
Listen: RIGHTS WERE EQUAL; that means that each individual had the right to SATISFY HIS NEEDS WITHOUT REFERENCE TO THE NEEDS OF OTHERS. In other words, that all had the right to injure each other; that there was no right save force and cunning. They injured each other, not only by war and pillage, but also by usurpation and appropriation. Now, in order to abolish this equal right to use force and stratagem,—this equal right to do evil, the sole source of the inequality of benefits and injuries,—they commenced to make COVENANTS EITHER IMPLIED OR EXPRESSED, and established a balance. Then these agreements and this balance were intended to secure to all equal comfort; then, by the law of contradictions, if isolation is the principle of inequality, society must produce equality. The social balance is the equalization of the strong and the weak; for, while they are not equals, they are strangers; they can form no associations,—they live as enemies. Then, if inequality of conditions is a necessary evil, so is isolation, for society and inequality are incompatible with each other. Then, if society is the true condition of man’s existence, so is equality also. This conclusion cannot be avoided.
This being so, how is it that, ever since the establishment of this balance, inequality has been on the increase? How is it that justice and isolation always accompany each other? Destutt de Tracy shall reply:—
“NEEDS and MEANS, RIGHTS and DUTIES, are products of the will. If man willed nothing, these would not exist. But to have needs and means, rights and duties, is to HAVE, to POSSESS, something. They are so many kinds of property, using the word in its most general sense: they are things which belong to us.”
Shameful equivocation, not justified by the necessity for generalization! The word PROPERTY has two meanings: 1. It designates the quality which makes a thing what it is; the attribute which is peculiar to it, and especially distinguishes it. We use it in this sense when we say THE PROPERTIES OF THE TRIANGLE or of NUMBERS; THE PROPERTY OF THE MAGNET, &c. 2. It expresses the right of absolute control over a thing by a free and intelligent being. It is used in this sense by writers on jurisprudence. Thus, in the phrase, IRON ACQUIRES THE PROPERTY OF A MAGNET, the word PROPERTY does not convey the same idea that it does in this one: I HAVE ACQUIRED THIS MAGNET AS MY PROPERTY. To tell a poor man that he HAS property because he HAS arms and legs,—that the hunger from which he suffers, and his power to sleep in the open air are his property,—is to play upon words, and to add insult to injury.
“The sole basis of the idea of property is the idea of personality. As soon as property is born at all, it is born, of necessity, in all its fulness. As soon as an individual knows HIMSELF,—his moral personality, his capacities of enjoyment, suffering, and action,—he necessarily sees also that this SELF is exclusive proprietor of the body in which it dwells, its organs, their powers, faculties, &c…. Inasmuch as artificial and conventional property exists, there must be natural property also; for nothing can exist in art without its counterpart in Nature.”
We ought to admire the honesty and judgment of philosophers! Man has properties; that is, in the first acceptation of the term, faculties. He has property; that is, in its second acceptation, the right of domain. He has, then, the property of the property of being proprietor. How ashamed I should be to notice such foolishness, were I here considering only the authority of Destutt de Tracy! But the entire human race, since the origination of society and language, when metaphysics and dialectics were first born, has been guilty of this puerile confusion of thought. All which man could call his own was identified in his mind with his person. He considered it as his property, his wealth; a part of himself, a member of his body, a faculty of his mind. The possession of things was likened to property in the powers of the body and mind; and on this false analogy was based the right of property,—THE IMITATION OF NATURE BY ART, as Destutt de Tracy so elegantly puts it.
But why did not this ideologist perceive that man is not proprietor even of his own faculties? Man has powers, attributes, capacities; they are given him by Nature that he may live, learn, and love: he does not own them, but has only the use of them; and he can make no use of them that does not harmonize with Nature’s laws. If he had absolute mastery over his faculties, he could avoid hunger and cold; he could eat unstintedly, and walk through fire; he could move mountains, walk a hundred leagues in a minute, cure without medicines and by the sole force of his will, and could make himself immortal. He could say, “I wish to produce,” and his tasks would be finished with the words; he could say. “I wish to know,” and he would know; “I love,” and he would enjoy. What then? Man is not master of himself, but may be of his surroundings. Let him use the wealth of Nature, since he can live only by its use; but let him abandon his pretensions to the title of proprietor, and remember that he is called so only metaphorically.
To sum up: Destutt de Tracy classes together the external PRODUCTIONS of nature and art, and the POWERS or FACULTIES of man, making both of them species of property; and upon this equivocation he hopes to establish, so firmly that it can never be disturbed, the right of property. But of these different kinds of property some are INNATE, as memory, imagination, strength, and beauty; while others are ACQUIRED, as land, water, and forests. In the state of Nature or isolation, the strongest and most skilful (that is, those best provided with innate property) stand the best chance of obtaining acquired property. Now, it is to prevent this encroachment and the war which results therefrom, that a balance (justice) has been employed, and covenants (implied or expressed) agreed upon: it is to correct, as far as possible, inequality of innate property by equality of acquired property. As long as the division remains unequal, so long the partners remain enemies; and it is the purpose of the covenants to reform this state of things. Thus we have, on the one hand, isolation, inequality, enmity, war, robbery, murder; on the other, society, equality, fraternity, peace, and love. Choose between them!
M. Joseph Dutens—a physician, engineer, and geometrician, but a very poor legist, and no philosopher at all—is the author of a “Philosophy of Political Economy,” in which he felt it his duty to break lances in behalf of property. His reasoning seems to be borrowed from Destutt de Tracy. He commences with this definition of property, worthy of Sganarelle: “Property is the right by which a thing is one’s own.” Literally translated: Property is the right of property.
After getting entangled a few times on the subjects of will, liberty, and personality; after having distinguished between IMMATERIAL-NATURAL property, and MATERIAL-NATURAL property, a distinction similar to Destutt de Tracy’s of innate and acquired property,—M. Joseph Dutens concludes with these two general propositions: 1. Property is a natural and inalienable right of every man; 2. Inequality of property is a necessary result of Nature,—which propositions are convertible into a simpler one: All men have an equal right of unequal property.
He rebukes M. de Sismondi for having taught that landed property has no other basis than law and conventionality; and he says himself, speaking of the respect which people feel for property, that “their good sense reveals to them the nature of the ORIGINAL CONTRACT made between society and proprietors.”
He confounds property with possession, communism with equality, the just with the natural, and the natural with the possible. Now he takes these different ideas to be equivalents; now he seems to distinguish between them, so much so that it would be infinitely easier to refute him than to understand him. Attracted first by the title of the work, “Philosophy of Political Economy,” I have found, among the author’s obscurities, only the most ordinary ideas. For that reason I will not speak of him.
M. Cousin, in his “Moral Philosophy,” page 15, teaches that all morality, all laws, all rights are given to man with this injunction: “FREE BEING, REMAIN FREE.” Bravo! master; I wish to remain free if I can. He continues:—
“Our principle is true; it is good, it is social. Do not fear to push it to its ultimate.
“1. If the human person is sacred, its whole nature is sacred; and particularly its interior actions, its feelings, its thoughts, its voluntary decisions. This accounts for the respect due to philosophy, religion, the arts industry, commerce, and to all the results of liberty. I say respect, not simply toleration; for we do not tolerate a right, we respect it.”
I bow my head before this philosophy.
“2. My liberty, which is sacred, needs for its objective action an instrument which we call the body: the body participates then in the sacredness of liberty; it is then inviolable. This is the basis of the principle of individual liberty.
“3. My liberty needs, for its objective action, material to work upon; in other words, property or a thing. This thing or property naturally participates then in the inviolability of my person. For instance, I take possession of an object which has become necessary and useful in the outward manifestation of my liberty. I say, ‘This object is mine since it belongs to no one else; consequently, I possess it legitimately.’ So the legitimacy of possession rests on two conditions. First, I possess only as a free being. Suppress free activity, you destroy my power to labor. Now it is only by labor that I can use this property or thing, and it is only by using it that I possess it. Free activity is then the principle of the right of property. But that alone does not legitimate possession. All men are free; all can use property by labor. Does that mean that all men have a right to all property? Not at all. To possess legitimately, I must not only labor and produce in my capacity of a free being, but I must also be the first to occupy the property. In short, if labor and production are the principle of the right of property, the fact of first occupancy is its indispensable condition.
“4. I possess legitimately: then I have the right to use my property as I see fit. I have also the right to give it away. I have also the right to bequeath it; for if I decide to make a donation, my decision is as valid after my death as during my life.”
In fact, to become a proprietor, in M. Cousin’s opinion, one must take possession by occupation and labor. I maintain that the element of time must be considered also; for if the first occupants have occupied every thing, what are the new comers to do? What will become of them, having an instrument with which to work, but no material to work upon? Must they devour each other? A terrible extremity, unforeseen by philosophical prudence; for the reason that great geniuses neglect little things.
Notice also that M. Cousin says that neither occupation nor labor, taken separately, can legitimate the right of property; and that it is born only from the union of the two. This is one of M. Cousin’s eclectic turns, which he, more than any one else, should take pains to avoid. Instead of proceeding by the method of analysis, comparison, elimination, and reduction (the only means of discovering the truth amid the various forms of thought and whimsical opinions), he jumbles all systems together, and then, declaring each both right and wrong, exclaims: “There you have the truth.”
But, adhering to my promise, I will not refute him. I will only prove, by all the arguments with which he justifies the right of property, the principle of equality which kills it. As I have already said, my sole intent is this: to show at the bottom of all these positions that inevitable major, EQUALITY; hoping hereafter to show that the principle of property vitiates the very elements of economical, moral, and governmental science, thus leading it in the wrong direction.
Well, is it not true, from M. Cousin’s point of view, that, if the liberty of man is sacred, it is equally sacred in all individuals; that, if it needs property for its objective action, that is, for its life, the appropriation of material is equally necessary for all; that, if I wish to be respected in my right of appropriation, I must respect others in theirs; and, consequently, that though, in the sphere of the infinite, a person’s power of appropriation is limited only by himself, in the sphere of the finite this same power is limited by the mathematical relation between the number of persons and the space which they occupy? Does it not follow that if one individual cannot prevent another—his fellow-man—from appropriating an amount of material equal to his own, no more can he prevent individuals yet to come; because, while individuality passes away, universality persists, and eternal laws cannot be determined by a partial view of their manifestations? Must we not conclude, therefore, that whenever a person is born, the others must crowd closer together; and, by reciprocity of obligation, that if the new comer is afterwards to become an heir, the right of succession does not give him the right of accumulation, but only the right of choice?
I have followed M. Cousin so far as to imitate his style, and I am ashamed of it. Do we need such high-sounding terms, such sonorous phrases, to say such simple things? Man needs to labor in order to live; consequently, he needs tools to work with and materials to work upon. His need to produce constitutes his right to produce. Now, this right is guaranteed him by his fellows, with whom he makes an agreement to that effect. One hundred thousand men settle in a large country like France with no inhabitants: each man has a right to 1/100,000 of the land. If the number of possessors increases, each one’s portion diminishes in consequence; so that, if the number of inhabitants rises to thirty-four millions, each one will have a right only to 1/34,000,000. Now, so regulate the police system and the government, labor, exchange, inheritance, &c., that the means of labor shall be shared by all equally, and that each individual shall be free; and then society will be perfect.
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Of all the defenders of property, M. Cousin has gone the farthest. He has maintained against the economists that labor does not establish the right of property unless preceded by occupation, and against the jurists that the civil law can determine and apply a natural right, but cannot create it. In fact, it is not sufficient to say, “The right of property is demonstrated by the existence of property; the function of the civil law is purely declaratory.” To say that, is to confess that there is no reply to those who question the legitimacy of the fact itself. Every right must be justifiable in itself, or by some antecedent right; property is no exception. For this reason, M. Cousin has sought to base it upon the SANCTITY of the human personality, and the act by which the will assimilates a thing. “Once touched by man,” says one of M. Cousin’s disciples, “things receive from him a character which transforms and humanizes them.” I confess, for my part, that I have no faith in this magic, and that I know of nothing less holy than the will of man. But this theory, fragile as it seems to psychology as well as jurisprudence, is nevertheless more philosophical and profound than those theories which are based upon labor or the authority of the law. Now, we have just seen to what this theory of which we are speaking leads,—to the equality implied in the terms of its statement.
But perhaps philosophy views things from too lofty a standpoint, and is not sufficiently practical; perhaps from the exalted summit of speculation men seem so small to the metaphysician that he cannot distinguish between them; perhaps, indeed, the equality of conditions is one of those principles which are very true and sublime as generalities, but which it would be ridiculous and even dangerous to attempt to rigorously apply to the customs of life and to social transactions. Undoubtedly, this is a case which calls for imitation of the wise reserve of moralists and jurists, who warn us against carrying things to extremes, and who advise us to suspect every definition; because there is not one, they say, which cannot be utterly destroyed by developing its disastrous results—Omnis definitio in jure civili periculosa est: parum est enim ut non subverti possit. Equality of conditions,—a terrible dogma in the ears of the proprietor, a consoling truth at the poor-man’s sick-bed, a frightful reality under the knife of the anatomist,—equality of conditions, established in the political, civil, and industrial spheres, is only an alluring impossibility, an inviting bait, a satanic delusion.
It is never my intention to surprise my reader. I detest, as I do death, the man who employs subterfuge in his words and conduct. From the first page of this book, I have expressed myself so plainly and decidedly that all can see the tendency of my thought and hopes; and they will do me the justice to say, that it would be difficult to exhibit more frankness and more boldness at the same time. I do not hesitate to declare that the time is not far distant when this reserve, now so much admired in philosophers—this happy medium so strongly recommended by professors of moral and political science—will be regarded as the disgraceful feature of a science without principle, and as the seal of its reprobation. In legislation and morals, as well as in geometry, axioms are absolute, definitions are certain; and all the results of a principle are to be accepted, provided they are logically deduced. Deplorable pride! We know nothing of our nature, and we charge our blunders to it; and, in a fit of unaffected ignorance, cry out, “The truth is in doubt, the best definition defines nothing!” We shall know some time whether this distressing uncertainty of jurisprudence arises from the nature of its investigations, or from our prejudices; whether, to explain social phenomena, it is not enough to change our hypothesis, as did Copernicus when he reversed the system of Ptolemy.
But what will be said when I show, as I soon shall, that this same jurisprudence continually tries to base property upon equality? What reply can be made?
% 3.—Civil Law as the Foundation and Sanction of Property.
Pothier seems to think that property, like royalty, exists by divine right. He traces back its origin to God himself—ab Jove principium. He begins in this way:—
“God is the absolute ruler of the universe and all that it contains: Domini est terra et plenitudo ejus, orbis et universi qui habitant in eo. For the human race he has created the earth and all its creatures, and has given it a control over them subordinate only to his own. ‘Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet,’ says the Psalmist. God accompanied this gift with these words, addressed to our first parents after the creation: ‘Be fruitful, and multiply and replenish the earth,'” &c.
After this magnificent introduction, who would refuse to believe the human race to be an immense family living in brotherly union, and under the protection of a venerable father? But, heavens! are brothers enemies? Are fathers unnatural, and children prodigal?
GOD GAVE THE EARTH TO THE HUMAN RACE: why then have I received none? HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS UNDER MY FEET,—and I have not where to lay my head! MULTIPLY, he tells us through his interpreter, Pothier. Ah, learned Pothier! that is as easy to do as to say; but you must give moss to the bird for its nest.
“The human race having multiplied, men divided among themselves the earth and most of the things upon it; that which fell to each, from that time exclusively belonged to him. That was the origin of the right of property.”
Say, rather, the right of possession. Men lived in a state of communism; whether positive or negative it matters little. Then there was no property, not even private possession. The genesis and growth of possession gradually forcing people to labor for their support, they agreed either formally or tacitly,—it makes no difference which,—that the laborer should be sole proprietor of the fruit of his labor; that is, they simply declared the fact that thereafter none could live without working. It necessarily followed that, to obtain equality of products, there must be equality of labor; and that, to obtain equality of labor, there must be equality of facilities for labor. Whoever without labor got possession, by force or by strategy, of another’s means of subsistence, destroyed equality, and placed himself above or outside of the law. Whoever monopolized the means of production on the ground of greater industry, also destroyed equality. Equality being then the expression of right, whoever violated it was UNJUST.
Thus, labor gives birth to private possession; the right in a thing—jus in re. But in what thing? Evidently IN THE PRODUCT, not IN THE SOIL. So the Arabs have always understood it; and so, according to Caesar and Tacitus, the Germans formerly held. “The Arabs,” says M. de Sismondi, “who admit a man’s property in the flocks which he has raised, do not refuse the crop to him who planted the seed; but they do not see why another, his equal, should not have a right to plant in his turn. The inequality which results from the pretended right of the first occupant seems to them to be based on no principle of justice; and when all the land falls into the hands of a certain number of inhabitants, there results a monopoly in their favor against the rest of the nation, to which they do not wish to submit.”
Well, they have shared the land. I admit that therefrom results a more powerful organization of labor; and that this method of distribution, fixed and durable, is advantageous to production: but how could this division give to each a transferable right of property in a thing to which all had an inalienable right of possession? In the terms of jurisprudence, this metamorphosis from possessor to proprietor is legally impossible; it implies in the jurisdiction of the courts the union of possessoire and petitoire; and the mutual concessions of those who share the land are nothing less than traffic in natural rights. The original cultivators of the land, who were also the original makers of the law, were not as learned as our legislators, I admit; and had they been, they could not have done worse: they did not foresee the consequences of the transformation of the right of private possession into the right of absolute property. But why have not those, who in later times have established the distinction between jus in re and jus ad rem, applied it to the principle of property itself?
Let me call the attention of the writers on jurisprudence to their own maxims.
The right of property, provided it can have a cause, can have but one—Dominium non potest nisi ex una causa contingere. I can possess by several titles; I can become proprietor by only one—Non ut ex pluribus causis idem nobis deberi potest, ita ex pluribus causis idem potest nostrum esse. The field which I have cleared, which I cultivate, on which I have built my house, which supports myself, my family, and my livestock, I can possess: 1st. As the original occupant; 2d. As a laborer; 3d. By virtue of the social contract which assigns it to me as my share.
But none of these titles confer upon me the right of property. For, if I attempt to base it upon occupancy, society can reply, “I am the original occupant.” If I appeal to my labor, it will say, “It is only on that condition that you possess.” If I speak of agreements, it will respond, “These agreements establish only your right of use.” Such, however, are the only titles which proprietors advance. They never have been able to discover any others. Indeed, every right—it is Pothier who says it—supposes a producing cause in the person who enjoys it; but in man who lives and dies, in this son of earth who passes away like a shadow, there exists, with respect to external things, only titles of possession, not one title of property. Why, then, has society recognized a right injurious to itself, where there is no producing cause? Why, in according possession, has it also conceded property? Why has the law sanctioned this abuse of power?
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The German Ancillon replies thus:—
“Some philosophers pretend that man, in employing his forces upon a natural object,—say a field or a tree,—acquires a right only to the improvements which he makes, to the form which he gives to the object, not to the object itself. Useless distinction! If the form could be separated from the object, perhaps there would be room for question; but as this is almost always impossible, the application of man’s strength to the different parts of the visible world is the foundation of the right of property, the primary origin of riches.”
Vain pretext! If the form cannot be separated from the object, nor property from possession, possession must be shared; in any case, society reserves the right to fix the conditions of property. Let us suppose that an appropriated farm yields a gross income of ten thousand francs; and, as very seldom happens, that this farm cannot be divided. Let us suppose farther that, by economical calculation, the annual expenses of a family are three thousand francs: the possessor of this farm should be obliged to guard his reputation as a good father of a family, by paying to society ten thousand francs,—less the total costs of cultivation, and the three thousand francs required for the maintenance of his family. This payment is not rent, it is an indemnity.
What sort of justice is it, then, which makes such laws as this:—
“Whereas, since labor so changes the form of a thing that the form and substance cannot be separated without destroying the thing itself, either society must be disinherited, or the laborer must lose the fruit of his labor; and
“Whereas, in every other case, property in raw material would give a title to added improvements, minus their cost; and whereas, in this instance, property in improvements ought to give a title to the principal;
“Therefore, the right of appropriation by labor shall never be admitted against individuals, but only against society.”
In such a way do legislators always reason in regard to property.
The law is intended to protect men’s mutual rights,—that is, the rights of each against each, and each against all; and, as if a proportion could exist with less than four terms, the law-makers always disregard the latter. As long as man is opposed to man, property offsets property, and the two forces balance each other; as soon as man is isolated, that is, opposed to the society which he himself represents, jurisprudence is at fault: Themis has lost one scale of her balance.
Listen to the professor of Rennes, the learned Toullier:—
“How could this claim, made valid by occupation, become stable and permanent property, which might continue to stand, and which might be reclaimed after the first occupant had relinquished possession?
“Agriculture was a natural consequence of the multiplication of the human race, and agriculture, in its turn, favors population, and necessitates the establishment of permanent property; for who would take the trouble to plough and sow, if he were not certain that he would reap?”
To satisfy the husbandman, it was sufficient to guarantee him possession of his crop; admit even that he should have been protected in his right of occupation of land, as long as he remained its cultivator. That was all that he had a right to expect; that was all that the advance of civilization demanded. But property, property! the right of escheat over lands which one neither occupies nor cultivates,—who had authority to grant it? who pretended to have it?
“Agriculture alone was not sufficient to establish permanent property; positive laws were needed, and magistrates to execute them; in a word, the civil State was needed.
“The multiplication of the human race had rendered agriculture necessary; the need of securing to the cultivator the fruit of his labor made permanent property necessary, and also laws for its protection. So we are indebted to property for the creation of the civil State.”
Yes, of our civil State, as you have made it; a State which, at first, was despotism, then monarchy, then aristocracy, today democracy, and always tyranny.
“Without the ties of property it never would have been possible to subordinate men to the wholesome yoke of the law; and without permanent property the earth would have remained a vast forest. Let us admit, then, with the most careful writers, that if transient property, or the right of preference resulting from occupation, existed prior to the establishment of civil society, permanent property, as we know it to-day, is the work of civil law. It is the civil law which holds that, when once acquired, property can be lost only by the action of the proprietor, and that it exists even after the proprietor has relinquished possession of the thing, and it has fallen into the hands of a third party.
“Thus property and possession, which originally were confounded, became through the civil law two distinct and independent things; two things which, in the language of the law, have nothing whatever in common. In this we see what a wonderful change has been effected in property, and to what an extent Nature has been altered by the civil laws.”
Thus the law, in establishing property, has not been the expression of a psychological fact, the development of a natural law, the application of a moral principle. It has literally CREATED a right outside of its own province. It has realized an abstraction, a metaphor, a fiction; and that without deigning to look at the consequences, without considering the disadvantages, without inquiring whether it was right or wrong.
It has sanctioned selfishness; it has indorsed monstrous pretensions; it has received with favor impious vows, as if it were able to fill up a bottomless pit, and to satiate hell! Blind law; the law of the ignorant man; a law which is not a law; the voice of discord, deceit, and blood! This it is which, continually revived, reinstated, rejuvenated, restored, re-enforced—as the palladium of society—has troubled the consciences of the people, has obscured the minds of the masters, and has induced all the catastrophes which have befallen nations.
This it is which Christianity has condemned, but which its ignorant ministers deify; who have as little desire to study Nature and man, as ability to read their Scriptures.
But, indeed, what guide did the law follow in creating the domain of property? What principle directed it? What was its standard?
Would you believe it? It was equality.
Agriculture was the foundation of territorial possession, and the original cause of property. It was of no use to secure to the farmer the fruit of his labor, unless the means of production were at the same time secured to him. To fortify the weak against the invasion of the strong, to suppress spoliation and fraud, the necessity was felt of establishing between possessors permanent lines of division, insuperable obstacles. Every year saw the people multiply, and the cupidity of the husbandman increase: it was thought best to put a bridle on ambition by setting boundaries which ambition would in vain attempt to overstep. Thus the soil came to be appropriated through need of the equality which is essential to public security and peaceable possession. Undoubtedly the division was never geographically equal; a multitude of rights, some founded in Nature, but wrongly interpreted and still more wrongly applied, inheritance, gift, and exchange; others, like the privileges of birth and position, the illegitimate creations of ignorance and brute force,—all operated to prevent absolute equality. But, nevertheless, the principle remained the same: equality had sanctioned possession; equality sanctioned property.
The husbandman needed each year a field to sow; what more convenient and simple arrangement for the barbarians,—instead of indulging in annual quarrels and fights, instead of continually moving their houses, furniture, and families from spot to spot,—than to assign to each individual a fixed and inalienable estate?
It was not right that the soldier, on returning from an expedition, should find himself dispossessed on account of the services which he had just rendered to his country; his estate ought to be restored to him. It became, therefore, customary to retain property by intent alone—nudo animo; it could be sacrificed only with the consent and by the action of the proprietor.
It was necessary that the equality in the division should be kept up from one generation to another, without a new distribution of the land upon the death of each family; it appeared therefore natural and just that children and parents, according to the degree of relationship which they bore to the deceased, should be the heirs of their ancestors. Thence came, in the first place, the feudal and patriarchal custom of recognizing only one heir; then, by a quite contrary application of the principle of equality, the admission of all the children to a share in their father’s estate, and, very recently also among us, the definitive abolition of the right of primogeniture.
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But what is there in common between these rude outlines of instinctive organization and the true social science? How could these men, who never had the faintest idea of statistics, valuation, or political economy, furnish us with principles of legislation?
“The law,” says a modern writer on jurisprudence, “is the expression of a social want, the declaration of a fact: the legislator does not make it, he declares it. ‘This definition is not exact. The law is a method by which social wants must be satisfied; the people do not vote it, the legislator does not express it: the savant discovers and formulates it.” But in fact, the law, according to M. Ch. Comte, who has devoted half a volume to its definition, was in the beginning only the EXPRESSION OF A WANT, and the indication of the means of supplying it; and up to this time it has been nothing else. The legists—with mechanical fidelity, full of obstinacy, enemies of philosophy, buried in literalities—have always mistaken for the last word of science that which was only the inconsiderate aspiration of men who, to be sure, were well-meaning, but wanting in foresight.
They did not foresee, these old founders of the domain of property, that the perpetual and absolute right to retain one’s estate,—a right which seemed to them equitable, because it was common,—involves the right to transfer, sell, give, gain, and lose it; that it tends, consequently, to nothing less than the destruction of that equality which they established it to maintain. And though they should have foreseen it, they disregarded it; the present want occupied their whole attention, and, as ordinarily happens in such cases, the disadvantages were at first scarcely perceptible, and they passed unnoticed.
They did not foresee, these ingenuous legislators, that if property is retainable by intent alone—nudo animo—it carries with it the right to let, to lease, to loan at interest, to profit by exchange, to settle annuities, and to levy a tax on a field which intent reserves, while the body is busy elsewhere.
They did not foresee, these fathers of our jurisprudence, that, if the right of inheritance is any thing other than Nature’s method of preserving equality of wealth, families will soon become victims of the most disastrous exclusions; and society, pierced to the heart by one of its most sacred principles, will come to its death through opulence and misery. 12
Under whatever form of government we live, it can always be said that le mort saisit le vif; that is, that inheritance and succession will last for ever, whoever may be the recognized heir. But the St. Simonians wish the heir to be designated by the magistrate; others wish him to be chosen by the deceased, or assumed by the law to be so chosen: the essential point is that Nature’s wish be satisfied, so far as the law of equality allows.
To-day the real controller of inheritance is chance or caprice; now, in matters of legislation, chance and caprice cannot be accepted as guides. It is for the purpose of avoiding the manifold disturbances which follow in the wake of chance that Nature, after having created us equal, suggests to us the principle of heredity; which serves as a voice by which society asks us to choose, from among all our brothers, him whom we judge best fitted to complete our unfinished work.
They did not foresee…. But why need I go farther?
The consequences are plain enough, and this is not the time to criticise the whole Code.
The history of property among the ancient nations is, then, simply a matter of research and curiosity. It is a rule of jurisprudence that the fact does not substantiate the right. Now, property is no exception to this rule: then the universal recognition of the right of property does not legitimate the right of property. Man is mistaken as to the constitution of society, the nature of right, and the application of justice; just as he was mistaken regarding the cause of meteors and the movement of the heavenly bodies. His old opinions cannot be taken for articles of faith. Of what consequence is it to us that the Indian race was divided into four classes; that, on the banks of the Nile and the Ganges, blood and position formerly determined the distribution of the land; that the Greeks and Romans placed property under the protection of the gods; that they accompanied with religious ceremonies the work of partitioning the land and appraising their goods? The variety of the forms of privilege does not sanction injustice. The faith of Jupiter, the proprietor, 13 proves no more against the equality of citizens, than do the mysteries of Venus, the wanton, against conjugal chastity.
The authority of the human race is of no effect as evidence in favor of the right of property, because this right, resting of necessity upon equality, contradicts its principle; the decision of the religions which have sanctioned it is of no effect, because in all ages the priest has submitted to the prince, and the gods have always spoken as the politicians desired; the social advantages, attributed to property, cannot be cited in its behalf, because they all spring from the principle of equality of possession.
What means, then, this dithyramb upon property?
“The right of property is the most important of human institutions.”…
Yes; as monarchy is the most glorious.
“The original cause of man’s prosperity upon earth.”
Because justice was supposed to be its principle.
“Property became the legitimate end of his ambition, the hope of his existence, the shelter of his family; in a word, the corner-stone of the domestic dwelling, of communities, and of the political State.”
Possession alone produced all that.
Property is eternal, like every negation,—
“Of all social and civil institutions.”
For that reason, every institution and every law based on property will perish.
“It is a boon as precious as liberty.”
For the rich proprietor.
“In fact, the cause of the cultivation of the habitable earth.”
If the cultivator ceased to be a tenant, would the land be worse cared for?
“The guarantee and the morality of labor.”
Under the regime of property, labor is not a condition, but a privilege.
“The application of justice.”
What is justice without equality of fortunes? A balance with false weights.
A famished stomach knows no morality,—
“All public order,—”
Certainly, the preservation of property,—
“Rest on the right of property.” 14
Corner-stone of all which is, stumbling-block of all which ought to be,—such is property.
To sum up and conclude:—
Not only does occupation lead to equality, it PREVENTS property. For, since every man, from the fact of his existence, has the right of occupation, and, in order to live, must have material for cultivation on which he may labor; and since, on the other hand, the number of occupants varies continually with the births and deaths,—it follows that the quantity of material which each laborer may claim varies with the number of occupants; consequently, that occupation is always subordinate to population. Finally, that, inasmuch as possession, in right, can never remain fixed, it is impossible, in fact, that it can ever become property.
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Every occupant is, then, necessarily a possessor or usufructuary,—a function which excludes proprietorship. Now, this is the right of the usufructuary: he is responsible for the thing entrusted to him; he must use it in conformity with general utility, with a view to its preservation and development; he has no power to transform it, to diminish it, or to change its nature; he cannot so divide the usufruct that another shall perform the labor while he receives the product. In a word, the usufructuary is under the supervision of society, submitted to the condition of labor and the law of equality.
Thus is annihilated the Roman definition of property—THE RIGHT OF USE AND ABUSE—an immorality born of violence, the most monstrous pretension that the civil laws ever sanctioned. Man receives his usufruct from the hands of society, which alone is the permanent possessor. The individual passes away, society is deathless.
What a profound disgust fills my soul while discussing such simple truths! Do we doubt these things to-day? Will it be necessary to again take arms for their triumph? And can force, in default of reason, alone introduce them into our laws?
ALL HAVE AN EQUAL RIGHT OF OCCUPANCY.
THE AMOUNT OCCUPIED BEING MEASURED, NOT BY THE WILL, BUT BY THE VARIABLE CONDITIONS OF SPACE AND NUMBER, PROPERTY CANNOT EXIST.
This no code has ever expressed; this no constitution can admit! These are axioms which the civil law and the law of nations deny!…..
But I hear the exclamations of the partisans of another system: “Labor, labor! that is the basis of property!”
Reader, do not be deceived. This new basis of property is worse than the first, and I shall soon have to ask your pardon for having demonstrated things clearer, and refuted pretensions more unjust, than any which we have yet considered.
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CHAPTER III. LABOR AS THE EFFICIENT CAUSE OF THE DOMAIN OF PROPERTY.
Nearly all the modern writers on jurisprudence, taking their cue from the economists, have abandoned the theory of first occupancy as a too dangerous one, and have adopted that which regards property as born of labor. In this they are deluded; they reason in a circle. To labor it is necessary to occupy, says M. Cousin.