Sunday, May 30, 2010

A freethought gem from Multatuli

Though personally I am (notoriously, in some circles) a radical neo-christian, a "regular thoroughgoing heretic" much on the same model as William B. Greene, I'm a equal-opportunity historian and translator, and certainly enjoy a well-written freethought piece. After all, the institutions of Christendom seem to have trouble keeping their own basic doctrines straight, and pretty much beg for a good rebuttal. This short piece by Multatuli (Eduard Douwes Dekker, 1820-1887) is a translation of a French translation of a posthumously published letter, but I think the sense comes through loud and clear.



I don’t know if we have been created with a specific aim, or if we are here by chance.

Neither do we know if there is a God or Gods who takes pleasure in our anguishes and murmurs against the imperfections of our existence. If that was the case, it would be horrible.

Whose fault is it if the weak are weak, the sick are sick, and the stupid are stupid?

If we are made with an aim, and yet, by our imperfection, we cannot reach it, then the blame does not fall on us, the creatures, but on the creator!

Call him Zeus or Jupiter, Jehovah, Baal, or Djou, it matters not. But if he exists, he must be good and he must also pardon us for not understanding him.

It was up to him to reveal himself, and he has not done it.

If he had done it, he would have done it in a manner that no one could doubt, and everyone would have said: I feel, know it and understand it.

What others claim to know of this God does not serve me at all. For myself, I do not understand! I ask why he has revealed himself to others and not to me?

Is one child more favored by the father than the other?

As long as this God is not known to the sons of men, it is a calumny to believe in this God.

The child who appeals to his father in vain does no evil; but the father who allows his child to ask in vain acts cruelly. And it is better to believe that there is no father, than to believe that he would be deaf to the voice of his child.

Perhaps one day we will be wiser; perhaps one day we will sense that he exists, that he observed us and that his silence had cause and reason.

Well, as soon as we know it, it will be time to give praise, but not sooner, not now.

It would displease God to see that we adore him without reason, and it is folly to try to illuminate the dark ignorance of today by a light that does not yet shine.

To serve him?


If he had desired that we serve him, he would have revealed to us the way.

And it is absurd that he awaits adoration and praise from men when he leaves us in darkness.

If we do not serve him according to his desires, then it is his fault; his fault and not our own.

Until we are wiser, I ask: “Are good and evil identical?”

I do not understand what can serve a God to distinguish good from evil; au contraire! He that does good so that God will reward him is selfish, and, therefore, just does good for a bad reason. He makes a trade of it. He who acts mean from fear of the disfavor of this God, is a coward!

Oh! My God, I do not know you!

I invoked you, sought you, and begged you to respond to me, and you have stubbornly kept to yourself!

I would love to conform myself to your will, not from fear of being punished, not in the hope of being rewarded, but as the child conforms himself to the will of his father solely from love!

You have kept your silence, always silence. I always wander and I ardently desire the hour when I will know that you dpo indeed exist.

So I will demand: Father, why have you only know shown to your child that he possesses a father, and that he is not alone in the midst of the fighting, in the harsh combat for humanity and justice!

Or were you certain that I would do your will without knowing you?

That not knowing of your existence, I would serve you as you wished to be served?

Is this true

Answer, father. If you are there, answer! Do not leave your child to despair! Father do not remain deaf to the bloody lama sabacthani.

It is thus that the innocent moans on the cross that he has chose himself, it is thus that he writhes in pain and laments his thirst, the thirst for truth!

The wise man, the one who has the knowledge of God, mocks the fool, holds out to him the sponge soaked in venom and says:

“Listen, he calls his father!”

And hisses between his teeth:

“I thank thee, O Lord, I'm not like that one!”

And he intones: “Happy the one who, from his early years, was kept from the counsels of the wicked, who flees the sinners’ way!”

And the sage sneaks off to the Bourse to stock-job.

And the father is silent.

Oh! God! There is no God!


[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur; revised 3/18/2012]

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Joseph Leroux, Your Nationalities (1892)

[Here is one of three essays from a pamphlet on nationalism, by Pierre Leroux's son, Joseph.]


Extract from a letter published in the the arbitrator, a journal of the friends of peace, appearing in London under the direction of W[illiam] R[andall] Cremer, chevalier of the Legion of Honor, member of the English Parliament.
My dear Cremer,

It is always with the most lively interest that I follow the efforts made to give a solution to the problem of peace. I see that at Rome, at the Inter-Parliamentary Congress, one has thrown at you the disorganizing principle of nationalities, and that it was not without malice, for that one thought with a blow to destroy all the peaceful work elaborated, especially in the last few years. That one has cast trouble in your ranks.

The question of peace is, indeed, like all things, a question of organization. Now, if one shows you a disorganizing principle, a principle negating or destructive of all organization, it becomes difficult to conceive how one can create a harmony.

One paper has even said that it was truly a shame to have this enormous paving stone cast at you; that he should have waited until we were stronger in order to crush us definitively; that we were so weak that it was not worth the trouble. Assuredly, though assisting at the Inter-Parliamentary Congress, are not friends of peace but those who advocate such arms. But I find it very useful that our adversaries show us the difficulties of the problem, difficulties that we know well besides. But they do not believe that their argument for nationalities is an unanswerable argument and that our peaceful ideas are only a sort of vain utopia. They take ephemeral appearances for eternal realities a bit too much.

We will begin by remarking to them that their nationalities are not from creation, that it is not nature which had created the nationalities, but that it is a human invention. When human beings, men or women, come to the light of this world, they are born men or women and not Germans, French, English or Italians. The nationalists have sought something which characterizes their nationalities, and they have cried: It is language! another devilishly shallow argument. The human being, when it is born, speaks no language: raised with goats, he would articulate only sounds.

You see, dear Cremer, nationalities are not, as they believe, such a big deal; they are built on a very fragile and shifting soil. If the creation produced some Italians, some English, some Germans, some French (1), etc., the struggle would probably be as durable as these various creations of men; but nature produces only men, that is Humanity.

They make us laugh with their firm confidence in the famous principle of nationalities. Mr. Hubbard and Mr. Imbriani — so imbued with this beautiful principle which makes all of the divisions of Europe look daggers at each other in that moment, forming so many separate and hostile worlds — should recall, the one, Mr. Imbriani, that the least of circumstances would have made, of an irredentist Italian patriot, a French patriot. Such was Gambetta: a small voyage of his parents from Genoa in Italy to Cahors in France, made him from a Genoese into what one calls a great French patriot; and for M. Hubbard, from a French patriot, he would have been able to become Italian like the general Pelloux, from French family, who is presently minister of war in Italy.

Indeed, dear Cremer, these obvious, elementary facts, continuously escape our thought, so much do we take the costume for the man, nationality for a solid basis, when it is only a creation of human agglomerations constituted by time, circumstances, interests and chance.

Take the first child to come, born in France to French parents; carry it to England; what language will it speak? English. He will take in growing not only the English turn of phrase, but the English spirit, mind, physiognomy, and type. It will be the same as an English child born in England, who, carried Paris at the age of one year, surrounded only by Parisians, will speak only French and would have all that which constitutes the most parisiennant of the Parisian. Take the exalted French patriot Mr. Déroulède at the age of one year; take that child to Berlin; let him be surrounded only by Berliners until the age of eight: Mr. Déroulède will only speak German and, following the tendency of his mind, would probably become the most chauvinistic of Prussians.

These obvious truths show us the fragility of nationalities, result of successive agglomerations stemming from the work of time, but having no other virtuality than what the man has given it. We are all born men and women, human beings, belonging to Humanity. Nature has created us in a homogeneous manner. The problem is thus feasible, for there is no cause of disunion on the basis of nature.

For us, the question of nationalities is tied indisputably to the question of war. Nationalities as they exist today, exclusives and separated like worlds separate from one another, are an evil; they are the cause of evil, and the cause of war. A modification is necessary to these human groupings: it is necessary to decentralize the nations, to establish in each province, in each town an activity of its own; it is necessary to decentralize and federalize the nation, then federalize the nations among themselves. Federation of the nation, federation of nations, federal union, Federal Humanity.
That federal union will lead to peace and harmony among men; each having his center, his home, being himself, while being linked by the federal link to the rest of the world.
It is the Swiss confederation, it is the United States of America, many in one, E pluribus unum, applied progressively to the rest of the world.

As soon as that very simple modification in achieved in the present nationalities, selfish, exclusives, jealous and hostile, the cause of evil will disappear and war will be destroyed.

One of the great minds of this century, Pierre Leroux, has expressed this truth by saying:

"Humanity existed virtually before the nations, and it will exist after them; for the nations have for aim to constitute it," and in 1827, he announced in his great work on the European Union the formation of the United States of Europe.
We, the friends of peace, we respond to the cry of Mr. Hubbard, Mr. Imbriani and so many others: Nationalities; we respond: Federation of Peoples, Federal Humanity.

January 1892.

La Pervenche, Mougins (Alpes-Maritimes)

(1) It is not even necessary to go back very far in history in order to find the moment when these different nationalities did not exist. We propose to take up the subject that we raise in this letter and to treat it from a historical point of view. 

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Proudhon on Property (1846) - Part 5



[continued from Part 4]

Thus property, which should consummate the holy union of man and nature, leads only to an odious prostitution. The sultan uses and abuses his slave: the earth is for him an instrument of luxury... I find here more than a metaphor; I discover a profound analogy.

What is it that, in the relations of the sexes, distinguishes marriage from concubinage? Everyone senses the difference between these two things; few people would be in a state to render an account of it, so obscure has the question become by the license of the custom and insolence of the Romans.

Is it the progeny? One sees some illicit affairs produce as much and as well as the most fecund of legitimate unions. — Is it the duration? Quite a number of bachelors keep for eighteen years a mistress, who, first humiliated and shamed, subjugates in her turn and demeans her disgraceful lover. Moreover, the perpetuity of the marriage can very well change from obligatory to optional by means of divorce, without the marriage losing any of its character. Perpetuity is doubtless the wish of love and the hope of the family: but it is not at all essential to the marriage; it can always, without offending the sacrament, be, for certain causes, interrupted. — Is it, finally, the wedding ceremony, four words pronounced in front of a deputy and a priest? What virtue can such a formality have for love, steadfastness, devotion? Marat, like Jean-Jacques, had married his governess in the woods, with the sun as his witness. The holy man had contracted in very good faith, and did not doubt that his alliance was as decent and respectable as if it had been counter-signed by the municipal clerk. Marat, in the most important act of his life, had judged it proper to do without the intervention of the Republic: he put, in accordance with the ideas of M. Louis Blanc, the natural fact above the convention. Who then prevents us from all doing as Marat did? And what is meant by this word marriage?

What constitutes marriage is the fact that society is present there, not only at the instant of the promises, but as long as the cohabitation of the spouses lasts. Society, I say, alone receives for each of the espoused the oath of the other; it alone gives them their rights, since it alone can make these rights authentic; and while seeming only to impose some mutual duties on the contracting parties, actually specifies for itself. “We are united in God,” said Tobias to Sarah, “before we are between ourselves; the children of the saints cannot be joined in the manner of the beasts and barbarians.” In that union consecrated by the magistrate, visible organ of society, and in the presence of witnesses who represent it, the love is supposed free and reciprocal, and the posterity predicted as in the accidental unions; the perpetuity of the love is wished for, evoked, but not guaranteed; even voluptuousness is permitted: the only difference, but that difference is an abyss, is that in concubinage egoism alone presides over the union, while in marriage the intervention of society purifies that egoism.

And see the consequences. Society, which takes revenge on the adulterer and punishes the perjurer, does not receive the plaint of the man against his concubine: it thinks no more of such amours than it does of the couplings of dogs, foris canes et impudici! It turns away in disgust. Society rejects his widow and orphan, and does not allow them the succession; in its eyes the mother is a prostitute; the child is a bastard. It is as if it said to the one: You have given birth without me; you can defend yourself and provide for yourself without me. To the other: Your father has sired you for his pleasure; it does not please me to adopt you. That which does injury to marriage cannot claim the guarantee of marriage: such is the social law, a law that is rigorous, but just, which it is only for the socialist hypocrisy,—to those who want a love that is at once chaste and lewd,—to calumniate.

This feeling for social intervention in the most personal and most self-willed act of man, this indefinable respect for a present God, which increases love by rending it chaste, is for the spouses a source of mysterious affections, unknown apart from it. In marriage, man is the lover of all women, because in marriage alone he feels the true love, which unites him sympathetically to all of the sex; but he knows only his spouse, and by knowing only her, he loves more, because without that carnal exclusion, the marriage would disappear, and love with it. The platonic community, asked for increasingly by contemporary reformers, does not give love, it only shows its caput mortuum; because, in this communism of bodies and souls, love, not determining itself, remains in a state of abstraction and dream.

Marriage is the true community of loves and the type of all individual possession. In all his relations with persons and things, man truly contracts only with society, which is to say, at the end of the day, with himself, with the ideal and holy being which lives in him. Destroy that respect of the self, of society, that fear of God, as the Bible says, which is present in all our actions, in all our thoughts; and man, abusing his soul, his mind, his faculties, abusing nature, man, sullied and polluted, becomes, by an irresistible degradation, libertine, tyrant, scoundrel.

Now, just as by the mystical intervention of society, impure love becomes chaste love, so that wild fornication is transformed into a peaceful and holy marriage; just so, in the economic order and in the forecasts of society, property, the prostitution of capital, is only the first moment of a social and legitimate possession. Until then the proprietor abuses rather than enjoys; his happiness is a lewd dream: he embraces, but does not possess. Property is always that abominable droit du seigneur which in times past stirred up the outraged serf, and which the French Revolution was not able to abolish. Under the empire of that right, all the products of labor are filthy: competition is a mutual incitement to debauchery; the privileges accorded to talent are the wage of prostitution. In vain, by its police, the State would like to oblige fathers to recognize their children, and to sign for the shameful fruits of their works. The stain is indelible: the bastard, conceived in iniquity, heralds the turpitude of his creator. Commerce is no longer anything but a traffic in slaves destined, these to the pleasure of the rich, those to the cult of the Vénus populaire; and society is a vast system of procuring where each, discouraged from love, the honest man because his love is betrayed, the man of good fortunes because the variety of intrigues is for him an appurtenance of love, dashes and rolls in the orgy.

Abuse! Cry the jurists, perversity of man. It is not property that makes us envious and greedy, which makes our passions spring up, and arms with its sophisms our bad faith. It is our passions, our vices, on the contrary, which sully and corrupt property.

I would like it as well if one says to me that it is not concubinage that sullies man, but that it is man who, by his passions and vices, sullies and corrupts concubinage. But, doctors, the facts that I denounce, are they, or are they not, of the essence of property? Are they not, from the legal point of view, irreprehensible, placed in the shelter of every judiciary action? Can I remand to the judge, summon to appear before the tribunals this journalist who prostitutes his pen for money? That advocate, that priest, who sells to iniquity, the one his speech, the other his prayers? This doctor who allows the poor man to perish, if he does not submit in advance the fee demanded? This old satyr who deprives his children for a courtesan? Can I prevent a licitation that will abolish the memory of my forefathers, and render their posterity without ancestors, as if it was of incestuous or adulterine stock? Can I restrain the proprietor, without compensating him beyond what he possesses, that is without wrecking society, for heeding the needs of society?...

Property, you say, is innocent of the crime of the proprietor; property is good and useful in itself: it is our passions and our vices which deprave it.

Thus, in order to save property, you distinguish it from morals! Why not distinguish it right away from society? That was precisely the reasoning of the economists. Political economy, said M. Rossi, is in itself good and useful; but it is not moral: it proceeds, setting aside all morality; it is for us not to abuse its theories, to profit from its teachings, according to the higher laws of morality. As if he said: Political economy, the economy of society is not society; the economy of society proceeds without regard to any society; it is up to us not to abuse its theories, to profit from its teachings, according to the higher laws of society! What chaos!

I not only maintain with the economists that property is neither morals nor society; but more that it is by its principle directly contrary to morals and to society, just as political economy is anti-social, because its theories are diametrically opposed to the social interest.

According to the definition, property is the right of use and abuse, which is to say the absolute, irresponsible domain, of man over his person and his goods. If property ceased to be the right of abuse, it would cease to be property. I have taken my examples from the category of abusive acts permitted to the proprietor: what happens here that is not of an unimpeachable legality and propriety? Hasn’t the proprietor the right to give his goods to whomever seems good to him, to leave his neighbor to burn without crying fire, to oppose himself to the public good, to squander his patrimony, to exploit and fleece the worker, to produce badly and sell badly? Can the proprietor be judicially constrained to use his property well? Can he be disturbed in the abuse? What am I saying? Isn’t property, precisely because it is abusive, that which is most sacred for the legislator? Can one conceive of a property for which police would determine the use, and suppress the abuse? And is it not evident, finally, that if one wanted to introduce justice into property, one would destroy property; as the law, by introducing honesty into concubinage, has destroyed concubinage?

Thus, property, in principle and in essence, is immoral: that proposition is soon reached by critique. Consequently the Code, which, in determining the right of the proprietor, has not reserved those of morals, is a code of immorality; jurisprudence, that alleged science of right, which is nothing other than the collection of the proprietary rubrics, is immoral, and justice, is instituted in order protect the free and peaceful abuse of property; justice, which orders us to come to the aid against those who would oppose themselves to that abuse; which afflicts and marks with infamy whoever is so daring as to claim to mend the outrages of property, justice is infamous. If child, supplanted in the paternal affection by an unworthy mistress, should destroy the document which disinherits and dishonors him, he would respond before justice. Accused, convicted, condemned, he would go to the penal colony to make honorable amends to property, while the prostitute will be sent off in possession. Where then is the immorality here? Where is the infamy? Is it not on the side of justice? Let us continue to unwind this chain, and we will soon know the whole truth that we seek. Not only is justice, instituted to protect property, itself abusive, itself immoral, infamous; but the penal sanction is infamous, the police are infamous, the executioner and the gallows, infamous, and property, which embraces that whole series, property, from which this odious lineage come, property is infamous.

Judges armed to defend it, magistrates whose zeal is a permanent threat to those accused by it, I question you. What have you seen in property which has been able in this way to subjugate your conscience and corrupt your judgment? What principle, superior without doubt to property, more worthy of your respect than property, makes it so precious to you? When its works declare it infamous, how do you proclaim it holy and sacred? What consideration, what prejudice affects you?

Is it the majestic order of human societies, that you do not understand, but of which you suppose that property is the unshakeable foundation?—No, since property, as it is, is for you order itself; since first it is proven that property is by nature abusive, that is to say disorderly and anti-social.

Is it Necessity or Providence, the laws of which we do not understand, but the designs of which we adore? —No, since, according to the analysis, property being contradictory and corruptible, it is for that very reason a negation of Necessity, an injury to Providence.

Is it a superior philosophy considering human miseries from on high, and seeking by evil to obtain the good? — No, since philosophy is the agreement of reason and experience, and in the judgment of reason as in that of experience, property is condemned.

Would this not be religion? — Perhaps!....

[to be continued...]

Proudhon on Property (1846) - Part 4



[continued from Part 3]
Of all the forms of property, the most detestable is that which has talent for a pretext.

Prove to an artist, by the comparison of times and men, that the inequality of works of art, in the different centuries, above all stems from the oscillating movements of society, from the changing of beliefs and of the state of minds; that whatever a society is worth, so much is the worth of the artist; that between the artist and his contemporaries there exists a community of needs and ideas, from which results the system of their obligations and their relations, so that merit, like wages, can always be rigorously defined; that a time will come when the rules of taste, the laws of invention, composition and execution being discovered, art will lose its divinatory character and cease to be the privilege of a few exceptional natures: all of these ideas will appear excessively ridiculous to the artist.

Tell him: You have made a statue, and you propose that I buy it. Gladly. But this statue, in order to be truly a statue and for me to give the price for it, must meet certain conditions of poetry and formal beauty that I can recognize, although I have never seen a statue, and I am entirely incapable of making one. If these conditions are not met, whatever difficulties you have overcome, however superior to my profession seems your art, you have made a useless work. Your labor is WORTH nothing: it does not accomplish the goal, and only serves to excite my regrets by showing your weakness. For it is not a comparison between you and me that it is a question of establishing; it is a comparison between your labor and your ideal. Do you ask me, after this, what price you should claim if successful? I answer you that this price is necessarily commensurate with my faculties, and determined as aliquot part of my outlay. However, what proportion? Just the equivalent of what the statue has cost you.

If it was possible that the artist to whom one addressed such language would have sensed its strength and accuracy, it would be because reason had replaced imagination in him; he would begin to no longer be an artist.

What particularly shocks this class of men is that one dares to put a price on their talents. As they understand it, weights and measures are incompatible with the dignity of art: the mania for bargaining over everything is the sign of a decadent society, which will produce no more masterpieces, because one will not know how to recognize them. And this is what I want to enlighten the minds of men of art about, not with arguments and theories they could not follow, but with facts.

At the last exposition, 4,200 objects of art were sent by close to 1,800 artists. By taking at 300 francs, on average, the commercial value of each of these objects (statues, tableaux, portraits, gravures, etc.), one is certain not to remain too far below the truth. There is then a total value of 1,260,000 francs, the product of 1,800 artists. Supposing that the disbursement for marble, fabric, gilding, frame, models, studies, exercises, meditations, etc.., was 100 francs on average, and the labor at three months, there remains a net 840,000 francs, that is 466 fr. 65 c. per head per 90 days.

But if one reflects that the 4,200 articles sent to the exposition, and of which nearly half have been eliminated by the jury, form in the judgment of the authors themselves, the best and most beautiful of the artistic production during the year; that a great part of these products consists of portraits, of which the very gracious recompense greatly surpasses the current price for objects of art; that a considerable quantity of the values exhibited have remained unsold; that outside of that fair a crowd of fabricants work at prices much inferior to those on the price list of the exposition; that some analogous observations apply to music, to dance, and to all the categories of art: one will find that the average salary of the artist does not reach 1,200 francs, and that, for the artistic population as for the industrial, the level of well-being is expressed by the crushing formula of M. Chevalier, fifty-six centimes per day and per head.

And as poverty stands out more by contrast, and as the function of the artist is all for luxury, it has become a proverb that no poverty is equal to his: Si est dolor, sicut dolor meus!

And why is there this equality before the social economy of the labors of art and of industry? It is because apart from the proportionality of products, there is no wealth, and because art, sovereign expression of that wealth which is essentially equality and proportion, is for that reason the symbol of equality and of human fraternity. In vain pride revolts, and creates everywhere its distinctions and privileges: the proportion remains inflexible. The laborers remain solidary among themselves, and nature is charged with punishing their infractions. If society consumes five percent of its product in luxury goods, it will occupy in that production a twentieth of its laborers. The share of the artists, in the society, will then be necessarily equal to that of the manufacturers. As for individual division, society abandons it to the corporations: for the society which accomplishes everything through the individual, can do nothing for the individual without his consent. So when an artist takes for himself alone one hundred shares of the general remuneration, there are ninety-nine of his fellows who prostitute themselves for him or die penniless: this calculation is as certain, as tried and proven, as a liquidation of the stock market..

Let the artists know it then: it is not, as they say, the grocer who haggles, it is necessity itself which has fixed the price of things. If, in some eras, the products of art have been on the rise, as in the centuries of Leon X, the Roman emperors and Pericles, it was due to special causes, to a favoritism which has ceased to exist. It was gold or Christianity, the tribute of indulgences, which paid the Italian artists; it was the gold of the vanquished nations which, under the emperors, paid the Greek artists; it was the labor of the slaves which paid them under Pericles. Equality has come: do the liberal arts want to bring back slavery, and abdicate their name?

Talent is usually the attribute of a disgraced nature, in which the disharmony of aptitudes produces an extraordinary, monstrous specialty. A man having no hands writes with his stomach, there is the image of talent. Also, we are all born artists: our soul, like our face, always strays more or less from its ideal; our schools are orthopedic institutions where, by directing growth, one corrects the deformities of nature. That is why education tends more and more to universality, that is to say, to the equilibrium of talents and knowledges; why also the artist is only possible surrounded by a society in community of luxury with him. In matters of art, society does nearly everything: the artist is much more in the mind of the amateur than in the maimed being that excites his admiration.

Under the influence of property, the artist, depraved in his reason, dissolute in his morals, full of contempt for his colleagues whose publicity alone give him value, venal and without dignity, is the impure image of selfishness. For him, good morals are only a matter of convention, a matter of figures. The idea of the just and of the honest slides over his heart without taking root; and of all the classes of society, that of the artists is the poorest in strong souls and noble characters. If one ranked the social professions according to the influence that they have exercised on civilization by the energy of will, the greatness of feelings, the power of the passions, the enthusiasm for truth and justice, and set aside the value of the doctrines: the priests and philosophers would appear at the first rank; next the men of State and the captains; then the merchants, the industrialists and the laborers; finally, the scientists and artists. While the priest, in his poetic language, is regarded as the living temple of God, the philosopher speaks of himself in the same way: Act in such a way that each of the actions could serve as model and rule. But the artist remains indifferent to the meaning of his work; he does not seek to personify in it the type that he wants to render, he abstracts it; he uses the beautiful and the sublime, but he does not love them; he puts Christ on the canvas, but he does not carry him, like Saint Ignatius, in his chest.

The people, whose instincts are always so sure, preserve the memories of legislators and heroes; they trouble themselves little with the names of artists. For a long time even, in its rude innocence, it felt for them only repulsion and contempt, as if it had recognized in these illuminators of human life the instigators of its vices, the accomplices of its oppression. The philosopher has recorded in his books that mistrust of the people the for the arts of luxury; the legislator has denounced them to the magistrate; religion, obeying the same sentiment, has struck them with its anathemas. Art, that is to say luxury, pleasure, voluptuousness, is the works and pomps of Satan, which delivers the Christian to eternal damnation. And without wanting to incriminate a class of men that the general corruption has rendered as estimable as any other, and who after all make use of their rights, I dare say that the Christian myth is vindicated. More than ever, art is a perpetual outrage to public misery, a mask for debauchery. By property, that which is best in man shortly becomes that which is worst in him, corruptio optimi pessima.

Work, the economists repeat ceaselessly to the people; work, save, capitalize, become proprietors in your turn. As they said: Workers, you are the recruits of property. Each of you carries in his sack the switch which serves to correct you, and which can serve one day to correct the others. Raise yourself up to property by labor; and when you have the taste for human flesh, you will no longer want any other meat, and you will make up for your long abstinences.

To fall from the proletariat into property! From slavery into tyranny, which is to say, following Plato, always into slavery! What a perspective! And though it is inevitable, the condition of the slave is no more tenable. In order to advance, to free yourself from the salariat, it is necessary to become a capitalist, to become a tyrant! It is necessary; do you understand, proletarians? Property is not an optional thing for humanity, it is the absolute order of destiny. You will only be free after you are redeemed by the subjugation of your masters, from the servitude that they have made weigh on you.

One beautiful Sunday in summer, the people of the great cities leave their somber and damp residences, and go to seek the vigorous and pure air of the country. But what has happened! There is no more countryside! The land, divided in a thousand closed cells, traversed by long galleries, the land is no longer found; the sight of the fields exists for the people of the towns only in the theater and the museum: the birds alone contemplate the real landscape from high in the air. The proprietor, who pays very dearly for a lodge on this hacked-up earth, enjoys, selfish and solitary, some strip of turf that he calls his country: except for this corner, he is exiled from the soil like the poor. Some people can boast of never having seen the land of their birth! It is necessary to go far, into the wilderness, in order to find again that poor nature, that we violate in a brutal manner, instead of enjoying, as chaste spouses, its heavenly embraces.

Thus, property, which should make us free, makes us prisoners. What am I saying? It degrades us, by making us servants and tyrants to one another.

Does we know well what his is but the salariat? To work under such a master, jealous of his prejudices as much and more than of his command; whose dignity consists above all in wanting, sic volo, sic jubeo, and never explaining; that often one underrates, and for which one is mocked! Not to have any thought of his own, to study without ceasing the thought of others, to know of stimulus only the daily bread, and the fear of losing a job!

The wage-worker is a man to whom the proprietor who praises his services directs this discourse: What you have to do does not concern you at all: you do not have to control it, you do not answer for it. Every observation is forbidden to you; there is no profit for you to hope for save from your wage, no risk to run, no blame to fear.

Thus one says to the journalist: Lend us your columns, and even, if that suits you, your ministry. Here is what you have to say, and here is what you have to do. Whatever you think of our ideas, of our ends and of our means, always defend our party, emphasize our opinions. That cannot compromise you, and must not disturb you: the character of the journalist, it is anonymous. Here is, for your fee, ten thousand francs and a hundred subscriptions. What are you going to do? And the journalist, like the Jesuit, responds by sighing: I must live!

One says to the advocate: This matter presents some pros and cons; there is a party whose luck I have decided to try, and for this I have need of a man of your profession. If it is not you, it will be your colleague, your rival; and there are a thousand crowns for the advocate if I win my case, and five hundred francs if I lose it. And the advocate bows with respect, saying to his conscience, which murmurs: I must live!

One says to the priest: Here is some money for three hundred masses. You don’t have to worry yourself about the morality of the deceased: it is probable that he will never see God, being dead in hypocrisy, his hands full of the goods of other, and laden with the curses of the people. These are not your affairs: we pay, fire away! And the priest, raising his eyes to heaven, says: Amen, I must live.

One says to the purveyor of arms: We need thirty thousand rifles, ten thousand swords, a thousand quintals of shot, and a hundred barrels of powder. What we can do with it is not your concern; it is possible that all will pass to the enemy: but there will be two thousand francs of profit. That’s good, responds the purveyor: each to his craft, everyone must live!... Make the tour of society; and after having noticed the universal absolutism, you will have recognized the universal indignity. What immorality in this system of valetage! What stigma in this mechanization!

The more the man approaches the tomb, the more the proprietor shows himself irreconcilable. This is what Christianity has represented in its frightening myth of the final impenitence.

Say to this old man, libidinous or devout, that the governess that he intends benefit to the detriment of his closest relatives is unworthy of his cares; that the Church is wealthy enough, and that an honest man has no need of prayers; that his relation is poor, laborious, honest; that there are young men to establish, and young women to endow; that in leaving his fortune, to them his insures their gratitude, and does good for several generations; that it is the spirit of the law that the testaments serve the union and the prosperity of the families. I do not want it! the proprietor responds drily. And the scandal of the testaments surpasses the immorality of the fortunes. Now, try to modify that right to privilege and transmit, which is a dismemberment of the sovereign authority, and you fall back immediately into monopoly. You change property into usufruct, and the rent into a pension for life; you replace the despotism of the proprietor by the absolutism of the State, and then one of two things occurs: either, slipping back to feudal and inalienable property, you stop the circulation of capital and make society regress; or you fall into community, into nothingness

The proprietary contradiction does not end for man at the testament, it passes to the succession. The dead seize the living, says the law; thus the fatal influence of property passes from the testator to the heir.

The father of a family leaves on dying seven sons, raised by him in the ancient manor. How will the transmission of his goods take place? Two systems present themselves, tried by turns, corrected, modified, but always without success. The formidable enigma has yet to be resolved.

Under primogeniture, the property is assigned to the eldest: the six the six other brothers receive a trousseau, and are expelled from the paternal domain. The father dead, they are strangers on the land, without assets and without credit. From ease, they pass without transition to poverty: as children, they had in their father a nourisher: as brothers, they can see in their eldest brother only an enemy... Everything has been said against primogeniture: let us see the reverse of the system.

With equal division, all the children are called to the preservation of the patrimony, to the perpetuity of the family. But how can seven possess what only suffices for one? The licitation takes place, the inheriting family is dispossessed. It is a stranger who, by means of cash, finds himself the inheritor. Instead of the patrimony, each of the children receives some money, with ninety-nine chances against one of soon having nothing. As long as the father lived, there was a family; now, there is nothing more than some adventurers. Primogeniture insured at least the perpetuity of the name: that was for the old man a guarantee that the monument founded by his fathers and preserved by his hands will remain in his race. The equality of division has destroyed the temple of the family; there are no more household gods. With sedentary property, the civilized have found the secret of living as nomads: what then was the use of heredity?

Let us suppose that instead of selling the succession, the heirs divide it. The land is parceled out, truncated, cut up. One plants boundary posts, one digs moats, one builds barricades; one makes a seedbed of trials and hatreds. With property cut into pieces, the unity is disrupted: however you look at it, property leads to the negation of society, to the negation of its own ends.

[to be continued...]

Proudhon on Property (1846) - Part 3


[continued from Part 2]

§ III. — How property is corrupted.

By means of property, society has realized a thought that is useful, laudable, and even inevitable: I am going to prove that by obeying an invincible necessity, it has cast itself into an impossible hypothesis. I believe that I have not forgotten or diminished any of the motives which have presided over the establishment of property; I even dare say that I have given these motives a unity and an obviousness unknown until this moment. Let the reader fill in, moreover, what I may have accidentally omitted: I accept in advance all his reasons, and propose nothing to contradict him. But let him then tell me, with his hand on his conscience, what he finds to reply to the cross-check that I am going to make.

Doubtless the collective reason, obeying the order of destiny that prescribed it, by a series of providential institutions, to consolidate monopoly, has done its duty: its conduct is irreproachable, and I do not blame it. It is the triumph of humanity to know how to recognize what is inevitable, as the greatest effort of its virtue is to know how to submit to it. If then the collective reason, in instituting property, has followed its orders, it has earned no blame: its responsibility is covered.

But that property, that society, forced and constrained, if I dare put it thus, has unearthed, who guarantees that it will last? Not society, which has conceived it from on high, and has not been able to add to it, subtract from it, or modify it in any way. In conferring property on man, it has left to it its qualities and its defects; it has taken no precaution against its constitutive vices, or against the superior forces which could destroy it. If property in itself is corruptible, society knows nothing of it, and can do nothing about it. If property is exposed to the attacks of a more powerful principle, society can do nothing more. How, indeed, will society cure the vice proper to property, since property the daughter of destiny? And how will it protect it against a higher idea, when it only subsists by means of property, and conceives of nothing above property?

Here then is the proprietary theory.

Property is of necessity providential; the collective reason has received it from God and given it to man. But if not property is corruptible by nature, or assailable by force majeure, society is irresponsible; and whoever, armed with that force, will present themselves to combat property, society owes them submission and obeisance.

Thus it is a question of knowing, first, if property is in itself a corruptible thing, which gives rise to destruction; in second place, if there exists somewhere, in the economic arsenal, an instrument which can defeat it.

I will treat the first question in this section; we will seek later to discover what the enemy is which threatens to devour property.

Property is the right to use and abuse, in a word, DESPOTISM. Not that the despot is presumed ever to have the intention of destroying the thing: that is not what must be understood by the right to use and abuse. Destruction for its own sake is not assumed on the part of the proprietor; one always supposes some use that he will make of his goods, and that there is for him a motive convenience and utility. By abuse, the legislator has meant that the proprietor has the right to be mistaken in the use of his goods, without ever being subject to investigation for that poor use, without being responsible to anyone for his error. The proprietor is always supposed to act in his own best interest; and it is in order to allow him more liberty in the pursuit of that interest, that society has conferred on him the right of use and abuse of his monopoly. Up to this point, then, the domain of property is irreprehensible.

But let us recall that this domain has not been conceded solely in respect for the individual: there exist, in the account of the motives for the concession, some entirely social considerations; the contract is synallagmatic between society and man. That is so true, so admitted even by the proprietors, that every time someone comes to attack their privilege, it is in the name, and only in the name, of society that they defend it.

Now, does the proprietary despotism give satisfaction to society? For if it was otherwise, reciprocity being illusory, the pact would be null, and sooner or later either property or society will perish. I reiterate then my question. Does the proprietary despotism fulfill its obligation toward society? Is the proprietary despotism a prudent administrator? Is it, in its essence, just, social, humane? There is the question.

And this is what I respond without fear of refutation:

If it is indubitable, from the point of view of individual liberty, that the concession of property had been necessary; from the juridical point of view, the concession of property is radically null, because it implies on the part of the concessionaire certain obligations that it is optional for him to fulfill or not fulfill. Now, by virtue of the principle that every convention founded on the accomplishment of a non-obligatory condition does not compel, the tacit contract of property, passed between the privileged and the State, to the ends that we have previously established, is clearly illusory; it is annulled by the non-reciprocity, by the injury of one of the parties. And as, with regard to property, the accomplishment of the obligation cannot be due unless the concession itself is by that alone revoked, it follows that there is a contradiction in the definition and incoherence in the pact. Let the contracting parties, after that, persist in maintaining their treaty, the force of things is charged with proving to them that they do useless work: despite the fact that they have it, the inevitability of their antagonism restores discord between them.

All the economists indicate the disadvantages for agricultural production of the parceling of the territory. In agreement on this with the socialists, they would see with joy a joint exploitation which, operating on a large scale, applying the powerful processes of the art and making important economies on the material, would double, perhaps quadruple product. But the proprietor says, Veto, I do not want it. And as he is within his rights, as no one in the world knows the means of changing these rights other than by expropriation, and since expropriation is nothingness, the legislator, the economist and the proletarian recoil in fright before the unknown, and content themselves to expect nowhere near the harvests promised. The proprietor is, by character, envious of the public good: he could purge himself of this vice only by losing property.

Thus, property becomes an obstacle to labor and wealth, an obstacle to the social economy: these days, there is hardly anyone but the economists and the men of law that this astonishes. I seek a way to make it enter into their minds all at once, without commentary...

Isn’t it true that we are poor, each having only fifty-six and a half centimes to spend each day? — Yes, is the response of M. Chevalier.

Isn’t it true that a better agricultural system will save nine-tenths on the costs of material, and will give quadruple product? — Yes, is the response of M. Arthur Young.

Isn’t it true that there are in France six million proprietors, eleven million land assessments, and one hundred twenty-three millions plots of terrain? — Yes, is the response of M. Dunoyer.

Thus there are close to six millions de proprietors, eleven millions land assessments, and a hundred twenty-three million plots, but order does not reign in agriculture, and yet instead of fifty-six and a half centimes per head and per day, we should have 2 francs 25 centimes, which would make us all wealthy.

And why these hundred and forty millions of oppositions to the public wealth? Because cooperation in labor would destroy the spell of property; because apart from property our eyes have seen nothing, our ears have heard nothing, our heart has understood nothing; because, in the end, we are proprietors.

Let us suppose that the proprietor, by a chivalrous liberality, yields to the invitation of science, allows labor to improve and multiply its products. An immense good will result for the laborers and peasants, whose fatigues, reduced by half, will still find themselves, by the lowering of the price of goods, paid double.

But the proprietor: I would be pretty silly, he says, to abandon a profit so clear! Instead of a hundred days of labor, I would not have to pay more than fifty: it is not the proletarian who would profit, but me. — But then, observe, the proletarian will be still more miserable than before, since he will be idle once more. — That does not matter to me, replies the proprietor. I exercise my right. Let the others buy well, if they can, or let them go to other parts to seek their fortune, in their thousands and millions!

Every proprietor nourishes, in his heart of hearts, this homicidal thought. And as by competition, monopoly and credit, the invasion always grows, the laborers find themselves incessantly eliminated from the soil: property is the depopulation of the earth.

Thus then the rent of the proprietor, combined with the progress of industry, changes into an abyss the pit dug beneath the feet of the laborer by monopoly; the evil is aggravated by privilege. The rent of the proprietor is no longer the patrimony of the poor,—I mean that portion of the agricultural product which remains after the costs of culture have been paid off, and which must always serve as a new material for the use of labor, according to that fine theory which shows us accumulated capital as a land unceasingly offered to production, and which, the more one works it, the more it seems to extend. The rent has become for the proprietor the token of his lechery, the instrument of his solitary pleasures. And note that the proprietor who abuses, guilty before charity and morality, remains blameless before the law, unassailable in political economy. To eat up his income! What could be more beautiful, more noble, more legitimate? In the opinion of the common people as in that of the great, unproductive consumption is the virtue par excellence of the proprietor. Every trouble in society comes from this indelible selfishness.

In order to facilitate the exploitation of the soil, and put the different localities in relation, a route, a canal is necessary. Already the plan is made; one will sacrifice an edge on that side, a strip on the other; some hectares of poor terrain, and the way is open. But the proprietor cries out with his booming voice: I do not want it! And before this formidable veto, the would-be lender dares not go through with it. Still, in the end, the State has dared to reply: I want it! But what hesitations, what frights, what trouble, before taking that heroic resolution! What trade-offs! What trials! The people have paid dearly for this act of authority, by which the promoters were still more stunned than the proprietors. For it came to establish a precedent the consequences of which appeared incalculable!... One promised themselves that after having passed this Rubicon, the bridges were broken, and they would stay that way. To do violence to property, what could this portend! The shadow of Spartacus would have appeared less terrible.

In the depths of a naturally poor soil, chance, and then science, born of chance, discovers some treasure troves of fuel. It is a free gift of nature, deposited under the soil of the common habitation, of which each has a right to claim his share. But the proprietor arrives, the proprietor to whom the concession of the soil has been made solely with a view to cultivation. You shall not pass, he says; you will not violate my property! At this unexpected summons, great debate arises among the learned. Some say that the mine is not the same thing as the arable land, and must belong to the State; others maintain that the proprietor has the property above and below, cujus est soluw, ejus est usque ad inferos. For if the proprietor, a new Cerberus posted as the guard of dark kingdoms, can put a ban on entry, the right of the State is only a fiction. It would be necessary to return to expropriation, and where would that lead? The State gives in: “Let us affirm it boldly,” it says through the mouth of M. Dunoyer, supported by M. Troplong; “it is no more just and reasonable to say that the mines are the property of the nation, than it once was to claim that it was the property of the king. The mines are essentially part of the soil. It is with a perfect good sense that the common law has said that the property in what is above implies property in what is below. Where, indeed, would we make the separation?”

M. Dunoyer is troubled by very little. Who hesitates to separate the mine from the surface, just as we sometimes separate, in a succession, the ground floor from the first floor? That is what is done very well by the proprietors of the coal-mining fields in the department of the Loire, where the property in the depths has been nearly everywhere separated from the surface property, and transformed into a sort of circulating value like the actions of an anonymous society. Who still hesitates to regard the mine as a new earth which requires an access road?... But what! Napoleon, the inventor of the juste-milieu, the prince of the doctrinaires, had wanted it otherwise; the counsel of State, M. Troplong and M. Dunoyer applaud: there is nothing more to consider. A transaction has taken place under who-knows-what insignificant reservations; the proprietors have been rewarded by the imperial munificence: how have they acknowledged that favor?

I have already had more than one occasion to speak of the coalition of the mines of the Loire. I return to it for the last time. In that department, the richest in the kingdom in coal deposits, the exploitation was first conducted in the most expensive and most absurd manner. The interest of the mines, that of the consumers and of the proprietors, demanded that the extraction was made jointly: We do not want it, the proprietors have repeated for who knows how many years, and they have engaged in a horrible competition, of which the devastation of the mines has paid the first costs. Were they within their rights? So much so, that one will see the State find it ill if they are taken away.

Finally the proprietors, at least the majority, managed to get along: they associated. Doubtless they have given in to reason, to motives of conservation, of good order, of general as much as private interest. From then on, the consumers would have fuel at a good price, the miners a regular labor and guaranteed wages. What thunder of acclamations in the public! What praise in the academies! What decorations for that fine devotion! We will not inquire whether the gathering is consistent with the text and to the spirit of the law, which forbids the joining of the concessions; we will only see the advantage of the union, and we will have proven that the legislator has neither wanted, nor been able to want, anything but the well-being of the people: Salus populi suprema lex esta.

Deception! First, it is not reason that the proprietors followed in coming together: they submitted only to force. To the extent that competition ruins them, they range themselves on the side of the victor, and accelerate by their growing mass the rout of the dissidents. Then, the association constitutes itself in a collective monopoly: the price of the merchandise increases, so much for consumption; wages are reduced, so much for labor. Then, the public complains; the legislature thinks of intervening; the heavens threaten with a bolt of lightning; the prosecution invokes article 419 of the Penal Code which forbids the coalitions, but which permits every monopolist to combine, and stipulates no measure for the price of the merchandise; the administration appeals to the law of 1810 which, wishing to encourage exploitation, while dividing the concessions, is rather more favorable than opposed to unity; and the advocates prove by dissertations, writs and arguments, these that the coalition is within its rights, those that it is not. Meanwhile the consumer says: Is it just that I pay the costs of agiotage and of competition? Is it just that what has been given for nothing to the proprietor in my greatest interest comes back to me at such as expense? Let one establish a tariff! We do not want it, respond the proprietors. And I defy the State to defeat their resistance other than by an act of authority, which resolves nothing; or else by an indemnity, which is to abandon all.

Property is unsocial, not only in possession, but also in production. Absolute mistress of the instruments of labor, she renders only imperfect, fraudulent, detestable products. The consumer is no longer served, he is robbed of his money. — Shouldn’t you have known, one said to the rural proprietor, wait some days to gather these fruits, to reap this wheat, dry this hay; do not put water in this milk, rinse your barrels, care more for your harvests, bite off less and do better. You are overloaded: put back a part of your inheritance.—A fool! responds the proprietor with a mocking air. Twenty badly worked acres always render more than ten which take us so much time, and will double the costs. With your system, the earth will feed men once more: but what is it to me if there are more men? It is a question of my profit. As to the quality of my products, they will always be good enough for those who lack. You believe yourself skilled, my dear counselor, and you are only a child. What’s the use of being a proprietor, if one only sells what is worth carrying to market, and at a just price, at that?... I do not want it.

Well, you say, let the police do their duty!... The police! You forget that its action only begins when the evil is finished. The police, instead of watching over production, inspects the product: after having allowed the proprietor to cultivate, harvest, manufacture without conscience, it appears to lay hands on the green fruit, spill the terrines of watered milk, the casks of adulterated beer and wine, to throw the prohibited meats into the road: all to the applause of the economists and the populace, who want property to be respected, but will not put up with trade being free. Heh! Barbarians! It is the poverty of the consumer which provokes the flow of these impurities. Why, if you cannot stop the proprietor from acting badly, do you stop the poor from living badly? Isn’t it better if they have colic than if they die of hunger?

Say to that industrialist that it is a cowardly, immoral thing, to speculate on the distress of the poor, on the inexperience of children and of young girls: he simply will not understand you. Prove to him that by a reckless overproduction, by badly calculated enterprises, he compromises, along with his own fortune, the existence of his workers; that if his interests are not touched, those of so many families, grouped around him, merit consideration; that by the arbitrariness of his favors he creates around him discouragement, servility, hatred. The proprietor takes offense: Am I not the master? says he in parody of the legend; and because I am good to a few, do you claim to make of my kindness a right for all? Must I render account to those who should obey me? That home is mine; what I should do regarding the direction of my affairs, I alone am the judge of it. Are my workers my slaves? If my conditions offend them, and they find better, let them go! I will be the first to compliment them. Very excellent philanthropists, who then prevents you from laboring in the workshops? Act, give the example; instead of that delightful life that you lead by preaching virtue, set up a factory, put yourself to work. Let us see finally through you association on the earth! As for me, I reject with all my strength such a servitude. Associates! Rather the bankrupt, rather the dead!

Thus property separates man from man a hundred times more than monopoly did. The legislator, in an eminently social view, had believed to be able to give to possession some stronger guarantees: and he found that he had taken all hope from the laborer, by guaranteeing to the monopolist, in perpetuity, the daily fruit of his pillages. What great proprietor does not abuse the small with his power to restrain? What scientist, settled in dignity, does not withdrawn some lucre from his influence and his patronage? What philosopher, accredited in his counsels, does not find means, under pretext of translation, revision or commentary, to levy a tax on philosophy? What inspector of schools is not a merchant of primers? Is political economy pure of all commerce in actions, and religion of all simony? I have had the honor to be head of a printing-house, and I sold a dozen catechisms, five sheets in-12, for thirty sous. Since, the bishop of the place has been granted the monopoly on religious books, and the price of the catechism has increased from fifteen centimes to forty: monseigneur realizes each year, on this article alone, a net profit of 30,000 francs. Such a question has been put posed by the academy only in order give the occasion for a triumph to M. So-and-So; such a composition has obtained the prize only because it came from M. Such-and-Such, professing the right doctrines, that is to say practicing the art of toadying alongside MM. Such, Such, and Such. Titled science bars the road to common science; the oak compels the reed to bow to it; religion and morals are used by privilege, like plaster and coal; privilege reaches up to the price of virtue, and the crowns awarded at the Mazarin Theater, for the encouragement of the young and the progress of science, are no longer anything but the badges of academic feudalism.

And all these abuses of authority, these misappropriations, these base acts, come, not from illegal abuse, but from legal, very legal usage of property. Without doubt the functionary whose inspection is required for the free circulation of a merchandise, or the acceptance of provisions, does not have the right to traffic in that control. But isn’t that just what they try? A similar act would repulse the virtue of the agents of authority, would fall under the prosecution of the Penal Code, and I will not occupy myself with it. But we agree that those who approve, cannot approve of anything better than what he can do, since his approval is necessary only because of his ability. Now, it is not forbidden to the inspectors and regulators of authority to do by themselves what they are charged with approving in others, and even more so to take part and interest themselves in what must be submitted for their approval, and as in every sort of service, wages and profits are legitimate, it follows that the mission granted, for example, to the university and to the bishops, to approve or disapprove certain works, constitutes a monopoly for the profit of the bishops and academics. And if the law, contradicting itself, claims to stop it, the force of things, more powerful than the law, restores it constantly, and instead of a government, we no longer have anything but venality and fiction...

A poor worker having his wife in childbirth, the midwife, in despair, must ask assistance of a physician.—I must have 200 francs, says the doctor, I won’t budge.—My God! replies the worker, my household is not worth 200 francs; it will be necessary that my wife die, or else we will all go naked, the child, her and me!

That obstetrician, let God rejoice! was yet a worthy man, benevolent, melancholic and mild, member of several scientific and charitable societies: on his mantle, a bronze of Hippocrates, refusing the presents of Artaxerce. He was incapable of saddening a child, and would have sacrificed himself for his cat. His refusal did not come from hardness; that was tactical. For a physician who understands business, devotion has only a season: the clientele acquired, the reputation once made, he reserves himself for the wealthy, and, save for ceremonial occasions, he rejects the indiscreet. Where would we be, if it was necessary to heal the sick indiscriminately? Talent and reputation are precious properties, that one must make the most of, not squander.

The trait that I have just cited is one of the most benign; what horrors, if I should penetrate to the bottom of this medical matter! Let no one tell me that these are exceptions: I except everyone. I criticize property, not men. Property, in Vincent de Paul as in Harpagon, is always monstrous; and until the service of medicine is organized, it will be for the physician as for the scientist, for the advocate as for the artist: he will be a being degraded by his own title, by the title of proprietor.

This is what this judge did not understand, too good a man for his time, who, yielding to the indignation of his conscience, decided one day to express public criticism of the corporation council. It was something immoral, according to him, scandalous, that the ease with which these gentlemen welcome all sorts of causes. If this blame, starting so high, had been supported and commented on by the press, it was made perhaps for the legal profession. But the honorable company could not perish by the censure, any more than property can die from a diatribe, any more than the press can die of its own venom. Besides, isn't the judiciary solidary with the corporation counsel? Isn’t the one, like the other, established by and for property? What would Perrin-Dandin become, if he was forbidden to judge? And what would we argue about, without property? The Bar Association has therefore been raised; journalism, the pettifoggery of the pen, came to the rescue of the pettifoggery of speeches: the riot went rumbling and swelling until that imprudent magistrate, involuntary organ of the public conscience, had made an apology to sophistry, and retracted by the truth that had arisen spontaneously through him.

One day, a minister announces that he is going to reform the notary profession (notariat).—We do not want anyone to reform us, cry the lawyers. We are not the pettifoggers; speak to the advocates. The notary is, par excellence, a man upright and without reproach. Stranger to usury, guardian of deposits, faithful interpreter of the will of the dying, impartial arbitrator in all contracts, his study is the sanctuary of property. And it is by him that property will be violated! No, no...—and the government, in the person of its minister, has denied it to them.

You want, another says timidly, to reimburse the creditors to whom I pay 5 percent of interest, and replace them by others to whom I will only pay 4. — What are you thinking? shout the stockholders in dread. The interests of which you speak are RENTS; they have been constituted as RENTS; and when you propose to reduce them, it is as if you proposed an expropriation without indemnity. Expropriate, if you please; but there must be a law, plus the prior indemnity. What then! When it is known that money continually loses value; when 10,000 francs of rent today is worth no more than 8,000 at the time of the registration; when, by an irrefutable consequence, that would be to demand for the rentier, whose property diminishes every day, an increase in income, in order to preserve his rent, since that rent does not represent a metallic capital, but real estate, it is thus that one speaks of conversion! Conversion—that is bankruptcy! And the government, convinced, on the one hand, that it had the right, like every debtor, to liberate itself by repayment, but uncertain, on the other, of the nature of its debt and intimidated by the clamor of the proprietors, could only settle it.

Thus property becomes more antisocial to the extent that it is distributed on a greater number of heads. What seems necessary to soften, and to humanize property, collective privilege, is precisely what shows property in its hideousness: property divided, impersonal property, is the worst of properties. Who does not realize today that France is covered with great companies, more formidable, more eager for booty, than the famous bands with which the brave Duguesclin delivered France!...

Be careful not to take community of property for association. The individual proprietor can still show himself accessible to mercy, justice, and shame; le proprietor-corporation is heartless, without remorse. It is a fantastic, inflexible being, freed from every passion and all love, which moves in the circle of its ideas as the millstone in its revolutions crushes grain. It is not by becoming common that property can become social: one does not relieve rabies by biting everyone. Property will end by the transformation of its principle, not by an indefinite co-participation. And that is why the democracy, or system of universal property, that some men, as hard-nosed as they are blind, insist on preaching to the people, is powerless to create society.

[to be continued...]

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Proudhon on Property (1846) - Part 2



[continued from Part 1]


The organization of common sense presupposes the solution of another problem, the problem of certainty, which divides into two correlative species, certainty of subject and certainty of object. In other words, before searching for the laws of thought, one must assure oneself of the reality of the being that thinks as well as that of the being that is thought, without which one runs the risk of researching the laws of nothing.

The first moment of that great polemic is thus that in which the self proceeds to the recognition of itself, feels itself, so to speak, and seeks the point of departure of its judgments. “Who am I,” it asks; or rather, “Am I something? Am I certain that I am?” That is the first question to which the common sense had to respond.

And it is that question to which it has effectively responded by that much-admired judgment: I think, therefore I am.

I think, and that is enough. I have only to make a thought in order to be certain of my existence, since all that I can understand in that regard is that no being is proven if I do not affirm it, and that consequently without me nothing exists. The self is the point of departure for the common sense, and its response to the first question of philosophy.

Thus the common sense,—or rather the unknown, impenetrable nature, which thinks and speaks, the self finally,—is not proven; it is posited. Its first judgment is an act of belief in itself: the reality of thought is declared by it as a first, necessary principle, an AXIOM, finally, outside of which there is no place to reason. But, either through lack of judgment, or subtlety of ideas, certain thinkers will find this affirmation of common sense already too bold. They want common sense to produce its titles. Who guarantees us, they say, that we think, that we are? What is the authority of the inner sense? What is an affirmation of which all the value comes from its very spontaneity?...

Some long debates will be started in this connection. The common sense puts an end to them by this famous judgment: Given that doubt which bears on doubt itself if absurd; that investigation which has for object the legitimacy of investigation is contradictory; that such a skepticism is anti-skeptical, and only refutes itself; that it is a fact that we think and that we desire to know; that it would not be possible to dispute this fact which embraces the universe and the eternal; consequently, that the only thing that remains to do is to know where thought can lead: Pyrrhon and his sect would be recognized by philosophy for an absurdity which reassures the self on its existence; for the surplus, their opinion being convicted, by its own terms, of contradiction to common sense, it is excommunicated from common sense.

Despite the energy of these grounds, some people believe it necessary to protest still, and engage in reconsideration. The true skeptics, they will claim, are not those who doubt the reality of their doubt, for such a skepticism is ridiculous; it is those who doubt the reality of the content of doubt, and for stronger reason means to verify if that content is real: which is very different....

It is then as if you said, replied the common sense, for example, that you do not doubt the existence of religions,—since religion is a phenomenon of thought, an accident of the self,—but only of the reality of the object of religions, and for stronger reason of the possibility of determining that object;—or rather that you do not doubt the oscillation of value, since that oscillation is a phenomenon of the general thought, an accident of the collective self, but instead doubt the very reality of values, and for greater reason of their measure. But if, in relation to man, the reality of things is not distinguished by the law of things, like, for example, the reality of the values which is and can only be the law of values, and if the law of things is nothing without the self which determines and creates it, as you are forced to agree, your distinction of the reality of doubt and of the reality of the content of doubt, as well as the a fortiori which comes with it, is absurd. The universe and the self become, by thought, identical and adequate. Thus, once again, our task is to discover if, in relation to itself, the self can be misled, and if, in the exercise of its faculties, it is subject to perturbations; what are the cause of these perturbations; what is the common measure of our ideas; and above all, what is the value of this concept of the non-self, which grasps the self as soon as it enters into action, and from which it is impossible for the self to separate itself.

Thus, in the judgment of common sense, the metaphysical theory of certainty is analogous to the economic theory of value, or, to put it better, these two theories are only one; and the skeptics who, while admitting the reality of doubt, still deny the reality of the content of doubt, and therefore the possibility of determining that content, resemble the economists who, affirming the oscillations of value, reject the possibility of determining these oscillations, and consequently the very reality of value. We have dealt with that contradiction of the economists, and we will show soon that as value is determined in society by a series of oscillations between supply and demand, just so, truth is constituted in us by a series of fluctuations between the reason that affirms and the experience that confirms, and that from doubt itself certainty is formed bit by bit.

The certainty of the subject thus obtained and determined, it remains then, before passing to the investigation of the laws of knowledge, to determine the certainty of the object, basis of all of our relations with the universe. That is the second conquest of common sense, the second moment of philosophical labor.

We cannot feel, love, reason, act, or exist, finally, as long as we remain shut up in ourselves: the self must give development to its faculties, must unfold its being, and depart in some way from its nullity. After being posed, must oppose, that is, it must put itself in relations with something—no matter what—which is or which seems to it to be other than it, in a word, with a non-self.

God, infinite being, that our reason, once consolidated on its double base, will suppose invincibly—God, I say, because his essence embraces all, has no need to come out from himself in order to live and to know himself. His being is deployed entirely in himself. His thought is introspective. In him the self does not grasp the non-self as like itself, because both are infinite. But the infinite is necessarily unique, and in God, consequently, time is identical with eternity, movement identical with repose, action synonymous with will, love without another object, without determining cause apart from him. God is perfect egoism, absolute solitude, supreme concentration. In all these regards, God, opposite nature of man, exists by himself and without opposition, or rather he produces the non-self from within himself instead of seeking it outside. While he is distinguished, he is always himself; his life rests on nothing else. As soon as he knows himself, he lives, and all exists, all is proven for him: Ego sum qui sum, he says. God is truly the incomprehensible, ineffable, and therefore necessary being: let reason be averse to say it, it is nonetheless forced to do so.

It is otherwise for men, for finite beings. Man exists neither by himself nor in himself; his individuality requires an ambient environment in which his reason is reflected, his life is stimulated, and his from which his soul, like his organs, draws its subsistence. Such at least is manner in which we conceive the development of our being: this point is admitted by all those who do not persist in the contradiction of the pyrrhonians.

It is a question thus of recognizing the sense of this phenomenon and of determining the quality of that non-self, that consciousness present to us as an external reality, necessary to our existence, but independent of it.

Now, say the skeptics, let us admit that the self could not reasonably doubt that it exists: by what right will it affirm an external reality, a reality which is not itself, which remains impenetrable to it, and that it describes as non-self? Are the objects that we see outside of ourselves truly outside of us? And if they exist outside of us, are they as we see them? Does what our senses report of the laws of nature come from nature, or is it instead only a product of the activity of thinking, which shows us outside of us what we projects from within ourselves? Does experience add something to reason, or is it only reason manifested to itself? What means, finally, do we have to verify the reality or non-reality of this non-self?...

That singular question, that the common sense alone would never had asked, presented by the most profound geniuses that have honored our race, and developed with an eloquence, a sagacity, a variety of marvelous forms, has given rise to an infinity of systems and conjectures, which it is very difficult to understand in the voluminous writings of so many authors, but of which we can give an idea, by reducing them to a few lines.

Some have at first pretended that the non-self does not exist. It was natural, and one should have expected it. A non-self which is opposed to the self, is like a man who comes to trouble another in his possession: the first movement of that one is to deny such a proximity. There is no body, they have said, no nature, no apparitions apart from the self, no other essence than the self. Everything happens in the mind; matter is an abstraction, and what we see and affirm as the tenant of we know not what experience, is purely the product of our activity, which, in determining itself, imagines that it receives from outside that which it is of its essence to create, or, to speak more justly, to become, since, relative to the soul, to be, to produce and to become, are synonyms.

But, observes the common sense, we distinguish, for good or ill, two modes of cognition, deduction and acquisition. By the first, the mind seems indeed to create all that it learns: such is mathematics. By the second, on the contrary, the mind, ceaselessly arrested in its scientific progress, no longer advances except with the aid of a perpetual excitation, of which the cause is fully involuntary and apart from the sovereignty of the self. How then, in spiritualism, are we to make sense of this phenomenon, which it is impossible to be unaware of? How, if all science comes from the self alone, is it not spontaneous, complete from the origin, equal in all individuals, and in the same individual at all moments of existence? How finally to explain error and progress? Instead of resolving the problem, spiritualism rejected it; it was mistaken about the best established, the most indubitable facts, namely the experimental discoveries of the self; it tortures reason; it is forced, in order to sustain itself, to revoke in doubt its own principle, by denying the negative testimony of the mind. Spiritualism is contradictory, inadmissible.

Others then presented themselves, who maintained that only matter exists, and that it is mind that is an abstraction. Nothing is true, they have said, nothing is real outside of nature; nothing exists but what we can see, touch, count, weight, measure, transform; nothing exists but bodies and their infinite modifications. We are ourselves bodies, living and organized bodies; what we call soul, mind, consciousness, or self, is only an entity serving to represent the harmony of that organism. It is the object which by the movement inherent in matter engenders the subject: thought is a modification matter; intelligence, will, virtue, progress, are only determinations of a certain order, of the attributes of matter, of which the essence, moreover, is unknown to us:

But, replies the common sense, si Satanas in seipsum divisus est, quomodo stabit? The materialist hypothesis presents a double impossiblity. If the self is nothing other than the result of the organization of the non-self; if man is the high point, the leader of nature; if it is nature itself raised to its highest power, how does it have the faculty to contradict nature, to torment it and remake it? How to explain that reaction of nature on itself, a reaction which produces industry, the sciences, the arts, all a world apart from nature, and which has as its sole end to vanquish nature? How to reduce, finally, to a few material modifications, that which, according to the testimony of our senses, to which alone the materialists give faith, is produced outside of the laws of matter?

On the other hand, if man is only matter organized, his thought is the reflection of nature: how then does matter, how does nature know itself so badly? From whence comes religion, philosophy, doubt? What! Matter is all, mind nothing. And when that matter has come to its highest manifestation, to its supreme evolution; when it is made man, finally, it no longer knows itself; it loses the memory of itself; it wanders, and advances only with the aid of experience, as if it was not matter,—was not experience itself! What then is this nature forgetful of itself, which needs to learn to know itself as soon as it attains the fullness of its being, which becomes intelligent only by ignoring itself, and loses its infallibility at the precise instant that it acquires reason?

Spiritualism, denying the facts, succumbed to its own powerlessness; the facts crush the materialism of their testimony: the more these systems work to establish themselves, they more they show their contradiction.

Then came the mystics, with a devout air and a rapt countenance.—Mind and matter, thought and extent, they have said, both exist. But we do not know it by ourselves: it is God who, by his revelation, vouches for their reality. And as all things have been created by God, as all exist in God, it is still in God, infinite mind, from which intelligence proceeds, that our intelligence can see them. Thus is explained the passage from the self to the non-self, and the relations of mind and matter become intelligible.

It was a question of God for the first time: the attention of the listeners redoubled.

Doubtless, says common sense, the mind being able to put itself in communication only with mind, it is clever of us to make appear in God, who is mind, the corporal things which are his works. Sadly this system rests on a vicious circle and a begging of the question. On one hand, before believing in God, we need to believe in ourselves: now, we sense ourselves, we are assured of our existence, only insofar as an external reaction makes us feel it, that it to say, only insofar as we admit a non-self, which is precisely the question. As for revelation, it has been made, according to its partisans, by miracles, by signs, the instruments of which are taken from nature. Now, how to judge the miracle and believe in revelation, if we are not assured beforehand of the existence of the world, of the constancy of its laws, of the reality of its phenomena?

Thus, mysticism has this importance, that after having recognized the necessity of the subject and of the object, it sought to explain both by their origin. But that origin, which would be God, according to the mystics, that is to say a third term, intelligent like the self, and real like the non-self, was not defined, was not proved, and was not explained; on the contrary, by separating it from the world and from man, in was rendered inaccessible to the intelligence, therefore untrue. Mysticism is a mystification.

This was the controversy. Theists and unbelievers, spiritualists and materialists, skeptics and mystics, being unable to agree, the world could only believe. One watched speechless, when, with a grave air and a modest spirit, without grandiloquence, a philosopher, the most wily and the most clever who ever was, entered the conversation.

He began by recognizing the reality of the self and of the non-self, as well as the existence of God: but he alleged that it is radically impossible for the self to be assured, by way of reasoning or experience, of that which is outside of it, and that moreover it could not help but admit this. Yes, he said, bodies exist: the manner in which knowledge is formed in us proves it. But we do not know these bodies, this non-self, in themselves, and all that experience reports to us in this regard, arises only from our own core. It is the proper fruit of our mind, which, solicited by its outward apperceptions, applies to things its own laws, its categories, and then imagines that the form that it gives to nature is the form of nature. Yes, again, we must believe in the existence of God, in a sovereign essence, which serves as sanction of morals and counterpart to our life. But that belief in a Supreme Being is also only a postulate of our reason, an entirely subjective hypothesis, imagined to serve our ignorance, and to which nothing, besides the necessity of our dialectic, gives testimony.

At these words a long murmur was raised. Some resigned themselves to believe that they are condemned to never be demonstrated; others will claimed that there are motives for belief superior to reason; these rejected a belief that had for itself only its spontaneity, and the object of which could be reduced to a simple formality of reason; those openly accused the critical philosopher of inconsequence. Nearly all fell again, into spiritualism, or materialism, or mysticism, each taking advantage, for the system that best agreed with them, of the confessions of that philosopher. Finally a man, magnanimous at heart, with a passionate soul, managed to overcome the noise and to turn attention to himself.

That philosophy, he observed with bitterness, which claims to have found the key to our judgments, and claims to represent pure reason, absolutely lacks unity and shines only by its incoherence. What is this God, that nothing, one says, demonstrates, but which nonetheless arrives just in time for the denouement? What is this objectivity which has no other function than to excite thought, without furnishing it with materials? If the self, nature and God exist, as we appears to believe, they are in direct and reciprocal relations, and in that case we can know them. What, then, are these relations? If, on the contrary, these relations are nil, or if they are purely subjective, as some still claim, how do we dare to affirm the reality of the non-self, and the existence of God?

The self is essentially active: it has no need of any stimulation. It possesses the principles of science; it knows and performs it; it possesses the creative power, and what you name “experience” in it is a veritable ejaculation. As the worker who, by making the experiment of a new idea, creates the very object of his experience, and produces thus a value adequate to his own thought: thus in the universe the self is the creator of the non-self; consequently he carries his sanction in himself, and has nothing to make from the testimony of nature, nor from an intervention of divinity. Nature is no chimera, since it is the work which manifests the worker; the non-self, as real as the self, is the product and the expression of that self; and God is nothing more than the abstract relation which unites the self and the non-self in an identical phenomenality: everything makes sense, everything is linked and explained. Experience is written science, the thought of the subject manifested, and regained by the subject.

For the first time, philosophy came to give a system. Until that moment it had only oscillated from one contradiction to the other, proceeding by negation and exclusion, suppressing that with which it could not agree. More, it had attempted to affirm simultaneously its different theses, but without hope, and without being able to resolve them. That stage had passed: a new period of investigation was going to begin.

To the conclusions that we just heard, someone responds, there would have been nothing to say, and the system that they summarize would be unassailable, if it was demonstrated,—and this is what is always in question,—that man knows something a priori, that there exists in him a single idea prior to experience. One could conceive then what it teaches, he only deduces it; what he experiences, he remembers. But it is not true that the self has by itself any idea; it is not true that it can create science a priori; and I challenge the proponent to lay the foundation stone of his edifice.

Here is, added an inspired voice, what reason and experience have taught me. The relation which unites the self and the non-self is not at all, as one has said, a relation of filiation and causality; it is a relation of coexistence. The self and the non-self exist vis-à-vis one another, equal and inseparable, but irreducible, unless it is in a higher principle, subject-object, which engenders them both,—in a word, in the absolute. That absolute is God, creator of the self and non-self, or, as the Nicene Creed said, of all things visible and invisible. That God, that absolute, embraces in his essence man and nature, thought and understanding: for he alone has the fullness of being, he alone is All. The laws of reason and the forms of nature are thus identical: no thought manifests itself except with the aid of a reality; and reciprocally no reality is shown that penetrates except with intelligence. That is the source of that marvelous agreement of experience and reason, which has made you take by turns mind as a modification of nature, and nature as a modification of mind; the self and the non-self, humanity and nature, are equally enduring and real; humanity and nature are contemporary in the absolute; the only thing that distinguishes them is that in humanity the absolute develops with consciousness, while in nature it develops without consciousness. Thought and matter are inseparable and irreducible: they are manifested, in various beings, in unequal proportions, each of the constitutive principles of the absolute showing itself in creatures by turns in inferiority or in predominance. It is an infinite evolution, a perpetual emission of forms, essences, lives, wills, powers, virtues, etc.

One moment this system appeared to remove suffrages. The fusion of the self and the non-self in the absolute; that distinction and that inseparability at the same time of thought and being, which constitutes creation; the incessant development of the mind, and the progression of beings on a endless scale, delighted everyone. That enthusiasm passed like lightning. A new dialectician, rising up suddenly, said: This system needs only one thing, and that is proof. The self and the non-self are confounded in the absolute: what is that absolute? What is its nature? What proof can we have of its existence, since it does not manifest itself, and since it is even impossible that in its absolute character it could manifest itself?... Thought and being, one adds, identical in the absolute, are irreducible in creation, as well as inseparable and homologous: How do we know that? How does the identity of the laws imply the identity of essences, the identity of realities, since it is recognized that the only thing real for us is the law? And what use is it to appeal to a mystical and impenetrable absolute, to reproduce that old chimera of God, in order to reconcile two terms which, by the declared identity of their laws, are completely reconciled?... Nature and humanity are the development of the absolute: why does the absolute develop? By virtue of what principle and according to what law? Where is the science of that development? What is your ontology, your logic? And if the same rules regulate matter and thought, it suffices to study the one in order to know the other: science, whatever you say is possible, according to you, a priori: why then do you deny science and give us only experience, which explains nothing by itself, since it is not science?

Well! he added, I charge myself, without appealing to the absolute, and holding myself to the identity of thought and being, with constructing that science of development which escapes you, and that you have not been able to find, because you distinguish that which cannot be admitted as distinct, mind and matter, that is the double face of the idea.

And we see that this Titan of philosophy attempts to reverse the eternal dualism by dualism itself; to establish identity on contradiction; to draw the being from nothing, and, with the aid of this sole logic, to explain, prophesy,—what should I say?—to create nature and man! No other, before him, had penetrated so deeply the innermost laws of being; none had illuminated with so lively a light the mysteries of reason. He succeeded in giving a formula which, if it is not all of science, nor even all logic, is at least the key to science and logic. But we have glimpsed quite quickly that even its author had only been able to construct that logic by constantly mixing in experience and taking from it his materials. All his formulas followed observation, but never preceded it, and since, according to the system of the identity of thought and being, there was no longer anything to await from philosophy, the circle was closed, and it was demonstrated once and for all that science without experience is impossible; that if the self and the non-self are correlates, necessary to one another, inconceivable without one another, they are not identical; that their identity, as well as their reduction in an elusive absolute, is only a view of our intelligence, a postulate of reason, useful in certain cases for reasoning, but without the least reality; finally that the theory of contraries, of an incomparable power in order to control our opinions, to discover our errors and to determine the essential character of the true, is not however the unique form of nature, the sole revelation of experience, and consequently the sole law of the mind.

Beginning with the cogito of Descartes, we are thus brought back, by an uninterrupted series of systems, to cogito of Hegel. The philosophical revolution is accomplished; a new movement will begin: it is for common sense to make its conclusions and render its verdict.

Now, what says common sense?

With regard to knowledge: Since the being is revealed to itself only in two indissolubly linked moments that we call, first, consciousness of self, and second, revelation of the non-self, it follows that each step subsequently accomplished in knowledge always involves these two moments together; that this dualism is perpetual and irreducible; that outside of it, there no longer exists either subject or object; that the reality of one partakes essentially of the presence of the other; that it is as absurd to isolate them as to attempt to reduce them, since, in both cases, it is to deny truth entirely and abolish science: we will conclude first that the character of science is invincibly this: Agreement of reason and experience.

With regard to certainty: Since, despite the duality of origin of knowledge, the certainty of the object is at base the same as the certainty of the subject, it follows that that has been put beyond doubt against the anti-skeptical Pyrrhonians; that in that regard there is a force of the thing judged; that experience is as much a determination of the self as an appreciation of the non-self: it is enough for the satisfaction of reason. What more can we wish for than to be as assured of the existence of bodies as we are of our own? And of what use is it to ask if the subject and the object are identical or only adequate; if, in science, it is we who lend our ideas to nature, or if it is nature which gives us its own; while, by that distinction, one always supposes that the self and the non-self can exist in isolation, which is not the case; or that they are resolvable, which implies contradiction?

Finally, with regard to God: Since it is a law of our soul and of nature, or, in order to incorporate these two ideas into one alone, of creation, let it be ordered according to a progression which goes from existence to consciousness, from spontaneity to reflection, for instinct to analysis, from infallibility to error, from genus to species, from eternity to time, from the infinite to the finite, from the ideal to the real, etc.; it follows, from a logical necessity, that the chain of beings, all invariably constituted, but in different proportions, in self and non-self, is contained between two antithetical terms, the one, that the vulgar call creator, or God, and which reunites all the characteristics of infinity, spontaneity, eternity, infallibility, etc.; the other, which is man, assembling all the opposed characteristics of an existence that is evolutionary, reflective, temporary, subject to perturbation and error, and the foresight of which forms the principal attribute, as the absolute science, that is instinct at its highest power, is the essential attribute of Divinity.

But man is known to us at once by reason and experience; God on the contrary is still only revealed to us as a postulate of reason: in short, man is, God is possible.

Such has been, on the works of philosophy, the second judgment of common sense; a judgment of which the reasons are drawn from the materials furnished by philosophy itself, a judgment without appeal, and which was clearly produced the day when philosophy recognized that reason could do nothing without experience; that with regard to God, we lack nothing but the evidence of fact, the experimental demonstration; and where covering its face with its mantle, it has said goodbye to the world, and pronounced on it the consommatum est.

Is it possible to deny dualism, that we see burst everywhere into the world?—No.

Is it possible to deny the progression of beings?—Not any more. Now, the law of that progression being known, and the last term given, it is a necessity of reason that a first term exists, and that that term be the antipode of the last. Thus the infinite being, the great All, in quo vivimus, movemur and sumus, the supreme Genus, from which man tends incessantly to free himself and to which it opposes itself as to its antagonist, that eternal Essence, finally, will not be the absolute of the philosophers: like man, its adversary; it also exists only by its distinction into self and non-self, subject and object, soul and body, spirit and matter, that is to say under two generic aspects, also in diametrical opposition. Moreover, the attributes, faculties and manifestations of God will be the inverse of the attributes, faculties and determinations of man, as logic, as well as the infinite, inevitably leads us to believe: from then on, the proof of the hypothesis no longer lacks anything but its realization, the proof of fact. But all that deduction is ineluctable in itself: and if it was possible that it could be demonstrated false by the primordial dualism would have disappeared, man would no longer be man, reason would no longer be reason, pyrrhonism would become wisdom, and the absurd would be truth.

That is, however, what makes the humanitary philosophy tremble. It is so badly given over to the absolute, as to all its pantheistic fantasies; it has felt so great a joy, in believing to have discovered that man is all at once God and the absolute; it is so exhausted, so breathless after so many systems, that is does not have the courage to draw, against God and against man, the conclusion of its own doctrines. It dares not admit, this somnambulant philosophy, that the means necessarily suppose the extremes; that the last calls for a first, the finite an infinite, the species a genus:—that this infinite, as real as the finite that divides it; this supreme genus, which becomes a species in its turn by the contrast of the progressive creation which emanates from its heart; this God, finally, antagonist of man, cannot be the absolute; that this is precisely that which makes it possible; that if it is possible, it is necessary to seek what fact it corresponds to, and that to deny it under the pretext of resolving it in man, is to misunderstand our militant nature, and to create above, below and entirely outside of man an incomprehensible void, that philosophy is held to fill, under pain of annihilating man and seeing its idol perish.

For me,—I regret to say it, since I sense that such a declaration separates me from the most intelligent party of socialists,—it is impossible for me, the more I think about it, to subscribe to that definition of our species, which is only at base, among the new atheists, an echo of religious terrors; which, in the name of humanism rehabilitating and consecrating mysticism, lead to prejudice in science, habit in morals, communism in social economy, that is to say atony and misery; in logic, the absolute and the absurd. It is impossible for me, I say, to welcome that new religion, in which one seeks in vain to interest me by saying that I am its god. And it because I am forced to repudiate, in the name of logic and experience, that religion as well as all its predecessors, that it is necessary for me to still admit as plausible the hypothesis of an infinite, but not absolute, being, in which liberty and intelligence, the self and the non-self exist in a special form, inconceivable but necessary, and against which my destiny is to struggle, like Israel against Jehovah, until death.

[to be continued...]