hostem aeterna auctertas esto.
Against the enemy, revendication is eternal.
OF THE TWELVE TABLES.
METHOD PURSUED IN THIS WORK. — THE
IDEA OF A REVOLUTION.
If I were asked
to answer the following question: What is
Slavery? and I should answer in one word, It
my meaning would be understood at once. No extended argument
would be required
to show that the power to take from a man his thought, his will,
his personality, is a power of life and death; and that to enslave
a man is to kill him. Why, then, to this other question: What
is property! may
I not likewise answer, It is robbery, without
the certainty of being misunderstood; the second proposition
being no other than a transformation of the first?
I undertake to discuss the vital principle of our government
and our institutions, property: I am in my right. I may be mistaken
in the conclusion which shall result from my investigations:
I am in my right. I think best to place the last thought of my
book first: still am I in my right.
author teaches that property is a civil right, born of occupation
and sanctioned by law; another maintains that it
is a natural right, originating in labor, — and both of
these doctrines, totally opposed as they may seem, are encouraged
applauded. I contend that neither labor, nor occupation, nor
law, can create property; that it is an effect without a cause:
am I censurable?
But murmurs arise!
Property is robbery!
That is the war-cry of '93! That is the signal of revolutions!
calm yourself: I am no agent of discord, no firebrand of sedition.
I anticipate history by a few days;
I disclose a
truth whose development we may try in vain to arrest; I write
the preamble of our future constitution. This proposition which
seems to you blasphemous — property is robbery — would,
if our prejudices allowed us to consider it, be recognized as
to shield us from the coming thunderbolt; but too many interests
stand in the way! . . . Alas! philosophy will not change the
course of events: destiny will fulfill itself regardless of prophecy.
Besides, must not justice be done and our education be finished?
Property is robbery! . . . What a revolution
in human ideas! Proprietor and robber have been
at all times expressions as contradictory
as the beings whom they designate are hostile; all languages
have perpetuated this opposition. On what authority, then, do
you venture to attack universal consent, and give the lie to
the human race? Who are you, that you should question the judgment
of the nations and the ages?
Of what consequence to you, reader, is my obscure
individuality? I live, like you, in a century in which reason
submits only to
fact and to evidence. My name, like yours, is truth-seeker.1My
mission is written in these words of the law: Speak without
hatred and without fear; tell that which thou knowest! The work of our race is to build the temple of science, and this
includes man and Nature. Now, truth reveals itself to all; to-day
to Newton and Pascal, tomorrow to the herdsman in the valley
and the journeyman in the shop. Each one contributes his stone
to the edifice; and, his task accomplished, disappears. Eternity
precedes us, eternity follows us: between two infinites, of what
account is one poor mortal that the century should inquire about
Disregard then, reader, my title and my character,
and attend only to my arguments. It is in accordance with universal
that I undertake to correct universal error; from the opinion of
the human race I appeal to its faith. Have the courage
to follow me; and, if your will is untrammelled, if your conscience
is free, if your mind can unite two propositions and deduce a
third therefrom, my ideas will inevitably become yours. In beginning
by giving you my last word, it was my purpose to warn you, not
to defy you; for I am certain that, if you read me, you will
be compelled to assent. The things of which I am to speak are
so simple and clear that you will be astonished at not having
perceived them before, and you will say: "I have neglected
to think." Others offer you the spectacle of genius wresting
Nature's secrets from her, and unfolding before you her sublime
messages; you will find here only a series of experiments upon justice and right a sort of verification of the
weights and measures of your conscience. The operations shall
very eyes; and you shall weigh the result.
Nevertheless, I build no system. I ask an end to privilege,
the abolition of slavery, equality of rights, and the reign of
law. Justice, nothing else; that is the alpha and omega of my
argument: to others I leave the business of governing the world.
I asked myself: Why is there so much sorrow and misery in society?
Must man always be wretched?
And not satisfied with
the explanations given by the reformers, — these attributing
the general distress to governmental cowardice and incapacity,
to conspirators and émeutes, still others to ignorance
and general corruption, — and weary of the interminable
quarrels of the tribune and the press, I sought to fathom the
matter myself. I have consulted
the masters of science; I have read a hundred volumes of philosophy,
law, political economy, and history: would to God that I had
lived in a century in which so much reading had been useless!
I have made every effort to obtain exact information, comparing
doctrines, replying to objections, continually constructing equations
and reductions from arguments, and weighing thousands of syllogisms
in the scales of the most rigorous logic. In this laborious work,
I have collected many interesting facts which I shall share with
my friends and the public as soon as I have leisure. But I must
say that I recognized at once that we had never understood the
meaning of these words, so common and yet so sacred: Justice,
equity, liberty; that concerning each of these
principles our ideas have been utterly obscure; and, in fact,
was the sole cause, both of the poverty that devours us, and
of all the calamities that have ever afflicted the human race.
My mind was frightened by this strange result: I doubted my
reason. What! said I, that which eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
nor insight penetrated, you have discovered! Wretch, mistake
not the visions of your diseased brain for the truths of science!
Do you not know (great philosophers have said so) that in points
of practical morality universal error is a contradiction?
I resolved then to test my arguments; and in entering upon this
new labor I sought an answer to the following questions: Is it
possible that humanity can have been so long and so universally
mistaken in the application of moral principles? How and why
could it be mistaken? How can its error, being universal, be
capable of correction?
on the solution of which depended the certainty of my conclusions,
offered no lengthy resistance to analysis.
It will be seen, in chapter V. of this work, that in morals,
as in all other branches of knowledge, the gravest errors are
the dogmas of science; that, even in works of justice, to be
mistaken is a privilege which ennobles man; and that whatever
philosophical merit may attach to me is infinitely small. To
name a thing is easy: the difficulty is to discern it before
its appearance. In giving expression to the last stage of an
idea, — an idea which permeates all minds, which to-morrow will
be proclaimed by another if I fail to announce it to-day, — I
can claim no merit save that of priority of utterance. Do we
eulogize the man who first perceives the dawn?
Yes: all men believe and repeat that equality
of conditions is identical with equality of rights; that property
are synonymous terms; that every social advantage accorded, or
rather usurped, in the name of superior talent or service, is
iniquity and extortion. All men in their hearts, I say, bear
witness to these truths; they need only to be made to understand
Before entering directly upon the question before me, I must
say a word of the road that I shall traverse. When Pascal approached
a geometrical problem, he invented a method of solution; to solve
a problem in philosophy a method is equally necessary. Well,
by how much do the problems of which philosophy treats surpass
in the gravity of their results those discussed by geometry!
How much more imperatively, then, do they demand for their solution
a profound and rigorous analysis!
It is a fact placed for ever beyond doubt, say
the modern psychologists, that every perception received by
the mind is determined by certain
general laws which govern the mind; is moulded, so to speak,
in certain types pre-existing in our understanding, and which
constitutes its original condition. Hence, say they, if the mind
has no innate ideas, it has at least innate forms.
Thus, for example, every phenomenon is of necessity conceived
happening in time and space, — that compels
us to infer a cause of its occurrence; every thing which
of substance, mode, relation, number, &c.;
in a word, we form no idea which is not related to some one of
principles of reason, independent of which nothing exists.
These axioms of the understanding, add the psychologists,
these fundamental types, by which all our judgments and ideas
shaped, and which our sensations serve only to illuminate, are
known in the schools as catagories. Their primordial existence
in the mind is to-day demonstrated; they need only to be systematized
and catalogued. Aristotle recognized ten; Kant increased the
number to fifteen; M. Cousin has reduced it to three, to two,
to one; and the indisputable glory of this professor will be
due to the fact that, if he has not discovered the true theory
of categories, he has, at least, seen more clearly than any one
else the vast importance of this question, — the greatest
and perhaps the only one with which metaphysics has to deal.
I confess that I disbelieve in the innateness,
not only of ideas, but also of forms or laws of
our understanding; and I hold the
metaphysics of Reid and Kant to be still farther removed from
the truth than that of Aristotle. However, as I do not wish to
enter here into a discussion of the mind, a task which would
demand much labor and be of no interest to the public, I shall
admit the hypothesis that our most general and most necessary
ideas — such as time, space, substance, and cause — exist
originally in the mind; or, at least, are derived immediately
from its constitution.
But it is a psychological fact none the less
true, and one to which the philosophers have paid too little
attention, that habit,
like a second nature, has the power of fixing in the mind new
categorical forms derived from the appearances which impress
us, and by them usually stripped of objective reality, but whose
influence over our judgments is no less predetermining than that
of the original categories. Hence we reason by the eternal and
absolute laws of our mind, and at the same time by the
secondary rules, ordinarily faulty, which are suggested to us
observation. This is the most fecund source of false prejudices,
and the permanent and often invincible cause of a multitude of
errors. The bias resulting from these prejudices is so strong
that often, even when we are fighting against a principle which
our mind thinks false, which is repugnant to our reason, and
which our conscience disapproves, we defend it without knowing
it, we reason in accordance with it, and we obey it while attacking
it. Enclosed within a circle, our mind revolves about itself,
until a new observation, creating within us new ideas, brings
to view an external principle which delivers us from the phantom
by which our imagination is possessed.
Thus, we know to-day that, by the laws of a universal
magnetism whose cause is still unknown, two bodies (no obstacle
tend to unite by an accelerated impelling force which we call
gravitation. It is gravitation which causes unsupported
bodies to fall to the ground, which gives them weight, and
us to the earth on which we live. Ignorance of this cause was
the sole obstacle which prevented the ancients from believing
in the antipodes. "Can you not see," said St. Augustine
after Lactantius, "that, if there were men under our feet,
their heads would point downward, and that they would fall into
the sky?" The bishop of Hippo, who thought the earth flat
because it appeared so to the eye, supposed in consequence that,
if we should connect by straight lines the zenith with the nadir
in different places, these lines would be parallel with each
other; and in the direction of these lines he traced every movement
from above to below. Thence he naturally concluded that the stars
were rolling torches set in the vault of the sky; that, if left
to themselves, they would fall to the earth in a shower of fire;
that the earth was one vast plain, forming the lower portion
of the world, &c. If he had been asked by what the world
itself was sustained, he would have answered that he did not
know, but that to God nothing is impossible. Such were the ideas
of St. Augustine in regard to space and movement, ideas fixed
within him by a prejudice derived from an appearance, and which
had become with him a general and categorical rule of judgment.
Of the reason why bodies fall his mind knew nothing; he could
only say that a body falls because it falls.
With us the idea of a fall is more complex: to
the general ideas of space and movement which it implies, we
add that of attraction
or direction towards a centre, which gives us the higher idea
of cause. But if physics has fully corrected our judgment in
this respect, we still make use of the prejudice of St. Augustine;
and when we say that a thing has fallen, we do not mean
simply and in general that there has been an effect of gravitation,
but specially and in particular that it is towards the earth,
and from above to below, that this movement
has taken place. Our mind is enlightened in vain; the imagination
our language remains forever incorrigible. To descend from
heaven is as incorrect an expression as to
mount to heaven; and yet this expression will
live as long as men use language.
phrases — from above to below;
to descend from heaven; to fall from the clouds, &c. — are
henceforth harmless, because we know how to rectify them in
but let us deign to
consider for a moment how much they have retarded the progress
of science. If, indeed, it be a matter of little importance to
statistics, mechanics, hydrodynamics, and ballistics, that the
true cause of the fall of bodies should be known, and that our
ideas of the general movements in space should be exact, it is
quite otherwise when we undertake to explain the system of the
universe, the cause of tides, the shape of the earth, and its
position in the heavens: to understand these things we must leave
the circle of appearances. In all ages there have been ingenious
mechanicians, excellent architects, skilful artillerymen: any
error, into which it was possible for them to fall in regard
to the rotundity of the earth and gravitation, in no wise retarded
the development of their art; the solidity of their buildings
and accuracy of their aim was not affected by it. But sooner
or later they were forced to grapple with phenomena, which the
supposed parallelism of all perpendiculars erected from the earth's
surface rendered inexplicable: then also commenced a struggle
between the prejudices, which for centuries had sufficed in daily
practice, and the unprecedented opinions which the testimony
of the eyes seemed to contradict.
the one hand, the falsest judgments, whether based on isolated
facts or only on appearances, always
truths whose sphere, whether large or small, affords room for
a certain number of inferences, beyond which we fall into absurdity.
The ideas of St. Augustine, for example, contained the following
truths: that bodies fall towards the earth, that they fall in
a straight line, that either the sun or the earth moves, that
either the sky or the earth turns, &c. These general facts
always have been true; our science has added nothing to them.
But, on the other hand, it being necessary to account for every
thing, we are obliged to seek for principles more and more comprehensive:
that is why we have had to abandon successively, first the opinion
that the world was flat, then the theory which regards it as
the stationary centre of the universe, &c.
If we pass now from physical nature to the moral world, we still
find ourselves subject to the same deceptions of appearance,
to the same influences of spontaneity and habit. But the distinguishing
feature of this second division of our knowledge is, on the one
hand, the good or the evil which we derive from our opinions;
and, on the other, the obstinacy with which we defend the prejudice
which is tormenting and killing us.
Whatever theory we embrace in regard to the shape of the earth
and the cause of its weight, the physics of the globe does not
suffer; and, as for us, our social economy can derive therefrom
neither profit nor damage. But it is in us and through us that
the laws of our moral nature work; now, these laws cannot be
executed without our deliberate aid, and, consequently, unless
we know them. If, then, our science of moral laws is false, it
is evident that, while desiring our own good, we are accomplishing
our own evil; if it is only incomplete, it may suffice for a
time for our social progress, but in the long run it will lead
us into a wrong road, and will finally precipitate us into an
abyss of calamities.
Then it is that we need to exercise our highest judgments; and,
be it said to our glory, they are never found wanting: but then
also commences a furious struggle between old prejudices and
new ideas. Days of conflagration and anguish! We are told of
the time when, with the same beliefs, with the same institutions,
all the world seemed happy: why complain of these beliefs; why
banish these institutions? We are slow to admit that that happy
age served the precise purpose of developing the principle of
evil which lay dormant in society; we accuse men and gods, the
powers of earth and the forces of Nature. Instead of seeking
the cause of the evil in his mind and heart, man blames his masters,
his rivals, his neighbors, and himself; nations arm themselves,
and slay and exterminate each other, until equilibrium is restored
by the vast depopulation, and peace again arises from the ashes
of the combatants. So loath is humanity to touch the customs
of its ancestors, and to change the laws framed by the founders
of communities, and confirmed by the faithful observance of the
Nihil motum ex antiquo probabile est: Distrust
all innovations, wrote Titus Livius. Undoubtedly it would be
better were man not
compelled to change: but what! because he is born ignorant, because
he exists only on condition of gradual self- instruction, must
he abjure the light, abdicate his reason, and abandon himself
to fortune? Perfect health is better than convalescence: should
the sick man, therefore, refuse to be cured? Reform, reform!
cried, ages since, John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. Reform,
reform! cried our fathers, fifty years ago; and for a long time
to come we shall shout, Reform, reform!
Seeing the misery of my age, I said to myself: Among the principles
that support society, there is one which it does not understand,
which its ignorance has vitiated, and which causes all the evil
that exists. This principle is the most ancient of all; for it
is a characteristic of revolutions to tear down the most modern
principles, and to respect those of long-standing. Now the evil
by which we suffer is anterior to all revolutions. This principle,
impaired by our ignorance, is honored and cherished; for if it
were not cherished it would harm nobody, it would be without
But this principle, right in its purpose, but misunderstood:
this principle, as old as humanity, what is it? Can it be religion?
All men believe in God: this dogma belongs at once to their
conscience and their mind. To humanity God is a fact as primitive,
an idea as inevitable, a principle as necessary as are the categorical
ideas of cause, substance, time, and space to our understanding.
God is proven to us by the conscience prior to any inference
of the mind; just as the sun is proven to us by the testimony
of the senses prior to all the arguments of physics. We discover
phenomena and laws by observation and experience; only this deeper
sense reveals to us existence. Humanity believes that God is;
but, in believing in God, what does it believe? In a word, what
of this notion of Divinity, — this primitive, universal
notion, born in the race, — the human mind has not yet fathomed.
At each step that we take in our investigation of Nature and
of causes, the idea of God is extended and exalted; the farther
science advances, the more God seems to grow and broaden. Anthropomorphism
and idolatry constituted of necessity the faith of the mind in
its youth, the theology of infancy and poesy. A harmless error,
if they had not endeavored to make it a rule of conduct, and
if they had been wise enough to respect the liberty of thought.
But having made God in his own image, man wished to appropriate
him still farther; not satisfied with disfiguring the Almighty,
he treated him as his patrimony, his goods, his possessions.
God, pictured in monstrous forms, became throughout the world
the property of man and of the State. Such was the origin of
the corruption of morals by religion, and the source of pious
feuds and holy wars. Thank Heaven! we have learned to allow every
one his own beliefs; we seek for moral laws outside the pale
of religion. Instead of legislating as to the nature and attributes
of God, the dogmas of theology, and the destiny of our souls,
we wisely wait for science to tell us what to reject and what
to accept. God, soul, religion, — eternal objects of our unwearied
thought and our most fatal aberrations, terrible problems whose
solution, for ever attempted, for ever remains unaccomplished, — concerning
all these questions we may still be mistaken, but at least our
error is harmless. With liberty in religion, and the separation
of the spiritual from the temporal power, the influence of religious
ideas upon the progress of society is purely negative; no law,
no political or civil institution being founded on religion.
Neglect of duties imposed by religion may increase the general
corruption, but it is not the primary cause; it is only an auxiliary
or result. It is universally admitted, and especially in the
matter which now engages our attention, that the cause of the
inequality of conditions among men — of pauperism, of universal
misery, and of governmental embarrassments — can no longer
be traced to religion: we must go farther back, and dig still
But what is there in man older and deeper than the religious
There is man himself; that is, volition and conscience, free-will
and law, eternally antagonistic. Man is at war with himself:
"Man," say the theologians, "transgressed
in the beginning; our race is guilty of an ancient offence.
this transgression humanity has fallen; error and ignorance have
become its sustenance. Read history, you will find universal
proof of this necessity for evil in the permanent misery of nations.
Man suffers and always will suffer; his disease is hereditary
and constitutional. Use palliatives, employ emollients; there
is no remedy."
Nor is this argument peculiar to the theologians;
we find it expressed in equivalent language in the philosophical
of the materialists, believers in infinite perfectibility. Destutt
de Tracy teaches formally that poverty, crime, and war are the
inevitable conditions of our social state; necessary evils, against
which it would be folly to revolt. So, call it necessity of
evil or original depravity,
it is at bottom the same philosophy.
"The first man transgressed." If
the votaries of the Bible interpreted it faithfully, they would
say: man originally transgressed, that is, made
a mistake; for to transgress, to fail, to
make a mistake,
all mean the same thing.
"The consequences of Adam's transgression are inherited
by the race; the first is ignorance." Truly, the race, like
the individual, is born ignorant; but, in regard to a multitude
of questions, even in the moral and political spheres, this ignorance
of the race has been dispelled: who says that it will not depart
altogether? Mankind makes continual progress toward truth, and
light ever triumphs over darkness. Our disease is not, then,
absolutely incurable, and the theory of the theologians is worse
than inadequate; it is ridiculous, since it is reducible to this
tautology: "Man errs, because he errs." While the true
statement is this: "Man errs, because he learns."
Now, if man arrives at a knowledge of all that he needs to know,
it is reasonable to believe that, ceasing to err, he will cease
But if we
question the doctors as to this law, said to be engraved upon
the heart of man, we shall immediately
see that they dispute
about a matter of which they know nothing; that, concerning the
most important questions, there are almost as many opinions as
authors; that we find no two agreeing as to the best form of
government, the principle of authority, and the nature of right;
that all sail hap-hazard upon a shoreless and bottomless sea,
abandoned to the guidance of their private opinions which they
modestly take to be right reason. And, in view of this medley
of contradictory opinions, we say: "The object of our investigations
is the law, the determination of the social principle. Now, the
politicians, that is, the social scientists, do not understand
each other; then the error lies in themselves; and, as every
error has a reality for its object, we must look in their books
to find the truth which they have unconsciously deposited there."
Now, of what do the lawyers and the publicists
treat? Of justice, equity, liberty, natural
law, civil laws, &c. But what is justice? What is its principle, its character,
its formula? To
this question our doctors evidently have no reply; for otherwise
their science, starting with a principle clear and well defined,
would quit the region of probabilities, and all disputes would
justice? The theologians answer: "All justice comes
from God." That is true; but we know no more than before.
ought to be better informed: they have argued so much about
justice and injustice! Unhappily,
proves that their knowledge amounts to nothing, and that with
them — as with the savages whose every prayer to the sun
is simply O! O! — it is a cry of admiration, love,
and enthusiasm; but who does not know that the sun attaches little
meaning to the
interjection O! That is exactly our position toward the philosophers
in regard to justice. Justice, they say, is a daughter of
Heaven; a light which illumines every man that comes into the
world; the most beautiful prerogative of our nature; that
which distinguishes us from the beasts and likens us to God — and
a thousand other similar things. What, I ask, does this pious
To the prayer of the savages: O!
All the most reasonable teachings of human wisdom
concerning justice are summed up in that famous adage: Do
unto others that which you would that others should do unto
you; Do not unto others that which you would not that
others should do unto you. But
this rule of moral practice is unscientific: what have I a right
to wish that others should do or not do to me? It is of no use
to tell me that my duty is equal to my right, unless I am told
at the same time what my right is.
Let us try to arrive at something more precise and positive.
Justice is the central star which governs societies,
the pole around which the political world revolves, the principle
the regulator of all transactions. Nothing takes place between
men save in the name of right; nothing without the invocation
of justice. Justice is not the work of the law: on the contrary,
the law is only a declaration and application of justice in all
circumstances where men are liable to come in contact. If, then,
the idea that we form of justice and right were ill-defined,
if it were imperfect or even false, it is clear that all our
legislative applications would be wrong, our institutions vicious,
our politics erroneous: consequently there would be disorder
and social chaos.
This hypothesis of the perversion of justice in our minds, and,
as a necessary result, in our acts, becomes a demonstrated fact
when it is shown that the opinions of men have not borne a constant
relation to the notion of justice and its applications; that
at different periods they have undergone modifications: in a
word, that there has been progress in ideas. Now, that is what
history proves by the most overwhelming testimony.
Hundred years ago, the world, under the rule of the Caesars,
exhausted itself in slavery, superstition,
The people — intoxicated and, as it were, stupefied by their long-continued
orgies — had lost the very notion of right and duty: war and dissipation
by turns swept them away; usury and the labor of machines (that
is of slaves), by depriving them of the means of subsistence,
hindered them from continuing the species. Barbarism sprang up
again, in a hideous form, from this mass of corruption, and spread
like a devouring leprosy over the depopulated provinces. The
wise foresaw the downfall of the empire, but could devise no
remedy. What could they think indeed? To save this old society
it would have been necessary to change the objects of public
esteem and veneration, and to abolish the rights affirmed by
a justice purely secular; they said: "Rome has conquered
through her politics and her gods; any change in theology and
public opinion would be folly and sacrilege. Rome, merciful toward
conquered nations, though binding them in chains, spared their
lives; slaves are the most fertile source of her wealth; freedom
of the nations would be the negation of her rights and the ruin
of her finances. Rome, in fact, enveloped in the pleasures and
gorged with the spoils of the universe, is kept alive by victory
and government; her luxury and her pleasures are the price of
her conquests: she can neither abdicate nor dispossess herself." Thus
Rome had the facts and the law on her side. Her pretensions were
justified by universal custom and the law of nations. Her institutions
were based upon idolatry in religion, slavery in the State, and
epicurism in private life; to touch those was to shake society
to its foundations, and, to use our modern expression, to open
the abyss of revolutions. So the idea occurred to no one; and
yet humanity was dying in blood and luxury.
All at once a man appeared, calling himself The
Word of God.
It is not known to this day who he was, whence he came, nor what
suggested to him his ideas. He went about proclaiming everywhere
that the end of the existing society was at hand, that the world
was about to experience a new birth; that the priests were vipers,
the lawyers ignoramuses, and the philosophers hypocrites and
liars; that master and slave were equals, that usury and every
thing akin to it was robbery, that proprietors and idlers would
one day burn, while the poor and pure in heart would find a haven
This man — The Word of God — was
denounced and arrested as a public enemy by the priests and
the lawyers, who well understood how
to induce the people to demand his death. But this judicial murder,
though it put the finishing stroke to their crimes, did not destroy
the doctrinal seeds which The Word of God had sown. After
his death, his original disciples travelled about in all directions,
preaching what they called the good news, creating in
millions of missionaries; and, when their task seemed to be accomplished,
dying by the sword of Roman justice. This persistent agitation,
the war of the executioners and martyrs, lasted nearly three
centuries, ending in the conversion of the world. Idolatry was
destroyed, slavery abolished, dissolution made room for a more
austere morality, and the contempt for wealth was sometimes pushed
almost to privation.
Society was saved by the negation of its own principles, by
a revolution in its religion, and by violation of its most sacred
rights. In this revolution, the idea of justice spread to an
extent that had not before been dreamed of, never to return to
its original limits. Heretofore justice had existed only for
the masters;2 it
then commenced to exist for the slaves.
Nevertheless, the new religion at that time had
borne by no means all its fruits. There was a perceptible improvement
the public morals, and a partial release from oppression; but,
other than that, the seeds sown by the Son of Man, having
fallen into idolatrous hearts, had produced nothing save innumerable
discords and a quasi-poetical mythology. Instead of developing
into their practical consequences the principles of morality
and government taught by The Word of God, his followers busied
themselves in speculations as to his birth, his origin, his person,
and his actions; they discussed his parables, and from the conflict
of the most extravagant opinions upon unanswerable questions
and texts which no one understood, was born theology, — which
may be defined as the science of the infinitely absurd.
The truth of Christianity did not survive
the age of the apostles; the Gospel, commented upon
and symbolized by
Greeks and Latins,
loaded with pagan fables, became literally a mass of contradictions;
and to this day the reign of the infallible Church has
been a long era of darkness. It is said that the gates of
not always prevail, that The Word of God will return, and that
one day men will know truth and justice; but that will be the
death of Greek and Roman Catholicism, just as in the light of
science disappeared the caprices of opinion.
The monsters which the successors of the apostles were bent
on destroying, frightened for a moment, reappeared gradually,
thanks to the crazy fanaticism, and sometimes the deliberate
connivance, of priests and theologians. The history of the enfranchisement
of the French communes offers constantly the spectacle of the
ideas of justice and liberty spreading among the people, in spite
of the combined efforts of kings, nobles, and clergy. In the
year 1789 of the Christian era, the French nation, divided by
caste, poor and oppressed, struggled in the triple net of royal
absolutism, the tyranny of nobles and parliaments, and priestly
intolerance. There was the right of the king and the right of
the priest, the right of the patrician and the right of the plebeian;
there were the privileges of birth, province, communes, corporations,
and trades; and, at the bottom of all, violence, immorality,
and misery. For some time they talked of reformation; those who
apparently desired it most favoring it only for their own profit,
and the people who were to be the gainers expecting little and
saying nothing. For a long time these poor people, either from
distrust, incredulity, or despair, hesitated to ask for their
rights: it is said that the habit of serving had taken the courage
away from those old communes, which in the middle ages were so
Finally a book appeared, summing up the whole
matter in these two propositions: What is thee third estate? — Nothing.
What ought it to be? — Every thing. Some one
added by way of comment: What is the king? — The servant
of the people.
a sudden revelation: the veil was torn aside, a thick bandage
fell from all eyes. The people commenced
to reason thus: —
If the king is our servant, he ought to report to us;
If he ought to report to us, he is subject to control;
If he can be controlled, he is responsible;
If he is responsible, he is punishable;
If he is punishable, he ought to be punished according to his
If he ought to be punished according to his merits, he can be
punished with death.
Five years after the publication of the brochure of Sieyes, the third estate was every thing; the king, the
clergy, were no more. In 1793, the nation, without stopping at
the constitutional fiction of the inviolability of the sovereign,
conducted Louis XVI. to the scaffold; in 1830, it accompanied
Charles X. to Cherbourg. In each case, it may have erred, in
fact, in its judgment of the offence; but, in right, the logic
which led to its action was irreproachable. The people, in punishing
their sovereign, did precisely that which the government of July
was so severely censured for failing to do when it refused to
execute Louis Bonaparte after the affair of Strasburg: they struck
the true culprit. It was an application of the common law, a
solemn decree of justice enforcing the penal laws.3
The spirit which gave rise to the movement of '89 was a spirit
of negation; that, of itself, proves that the order of things
which was substituted for the old system was not methodical or
well- considered; that, born of anger and hatred, it could not
have the effect of a science based on observation and study;
that its foundations, in a word, were not derived from a profound
knowledge of the laws of Nature and society. Thus the people
found that the republic, among the so-called new institutions,
was acting on the very principles against which they had fought,
and was swayed by all the prejudices which they had intended
to destroy. We congratulate ourselves, with inconsiderate enthusiasm,
on the glorious French Revolution, the regeneration of 1789,
the great changes that have been effected, and the reversion
of institutions: a delusion, a delusion!
When our ideas on any subject, material, intellectual,
or social, undergo a thorough change in consequence of new
I call that movement of the mind revolution. If the ideas
are simply extended or modified, there is only progress.
Thus the system of Ptolemy was a step in astronomical progress,
Copernicus was a revolution. So, in 1789, there was struggle
and progress; revolution there was none. An examination of the
reforms which were attempted proves this.
The nation, so long a victim of monarchical selfishness, thought
to deliver itself for ever by declaring that it alone was sovereign.
But what was monarchy? The sovereignty of one man. What is democracy?
The sovereignty of the nation, or, rather, of the national majority.
But it is, in both cases, the sovereignty of man instead of the
sovereignty of the law, the sovereignty of the will instead of
the sovereignty of the reason; in one word, the passions instead
of justice. Undoubtedly, when a nation passes from the monarchical
to the democratic state, there is progress, because in multiplying
the sovereigns we increase the opportunities of the reason to
substitute itself for the will; but in reality there is no revolution
in the government, since the principle remains the same. Now,
we have the proof to-day that, with the most perfect democracy,
we cannot be free.4
Nor is that all. The nation-king cannot exercise its sovereignty
itself; it is obliged to delegate it to agents: this is constantly
reiterated by those who seek to win its favor. Be these agents
five, ten, one hundred, or a thousand, of what consequence is
the number; and what matters the name? It is always the government
of man, the rule of will and caprice. I ask what this pretended
revolution has revolutionized?
We know, too, how this sovereignty was exercised; first by the
Convention, then by the Directory, afterwards confiscated by
the Consul. As for the Emperor, the strong man so much adored
and mourned by the nation, he never wanted to be dependent on
it; but, as if intending to set its sovereignty at defiance,
he dared to demand its suffrage: that is, its abdication, the
abdication of this inalienable sovereignty; and he obtained it.
But what is sovereignty? It is, they say, the
power to make law.5 Another
absurdity, a relic of despotism. The nation had
long seen kings issuing their commands in this form: for such
is our pleasure; it wished to taste in its turn the pleasure
of making laws. For fifty years it has brought them forth by
myriads; always, be it understood, through the agency of representatives.
The play is far from ended.
The definition of sovereignty was derived from
the definition of the law. The law, they said, is the expression
of the will of the sovereign: then, under a monarchy, the law
is the expression
of the will of the king; in a republic, the law is the expression
of the will of the people. Aside from the difference in the number
of wills, the two systems are exactly identical: both share the
same error, namely, that the law is the expression of a will;
it ought to be the expression of a fact. Moreover they followed
good leaders: they took the citizen of Geneva for their prophet,
and the contrat social for their Koran.
Bias and prejudice are apparent in all the phrases
of the new legislators. The nation had suffered from a multitude
and privileges; its representatives issued the following declaration:
All men are equal by nature and before the law; an ambiguous
and redundant declaration. Men are equal by nature: does
that mean that they are equal in size, beauty, talents, and virtue?
No; they meant, then, political and civil equality. Then it would
have been sufficient to have said: All men are equal before
But what is equality before the law? Neither the constitution
of 1790, nor that of '93, nor the granted charter, nor the accepted
charter, have defined it accurately. All imply an inequality
in fortune and station incompatible with even a shadow of equality
in rights. In this respect it may be said that all our constitutions
have been faithful expressions of the popular will: I am going,
to prove it.
the people were excluded from civil and military offices; it
was considered a wonder when the following
article was inserted in the Declaration of Rights: "All
citizens are equally eligible to office; free nations know no
qualifications in their choice of officers save virtues and talents."
They certainly ought to have admired so beautiful an idea: they
admired a piece of nonsense. Why! the sovereign people, legislators,
and reformers, see in public offices, to speak plainly, only
opportunities for pecuniary advancement. And, because it regards
them as a source of profit, it decrees the eligibility of citizens.
For of what use would this precaution be, if there were nothing
to gain by it? No one would think of ordaining that none but
astronomers and geographers should be pilots, nor of prohibiting
stutterers from acting at the theatre and the opera. The nation
was still aping the kings: like them it wished to award the lucrative
positions to its friends and flatterers. Unfortunately, and this
last feature completes the resemblance, the nation did not control
the list of livings; that was in the hands of its agents and
representatives. They, on the other hand, took care not to thwart
the will of their gracious sovereign.
article of the Declaration of Rights, retained in the charters
of 1814 and 1830, implies several
kinds of civil
inequality; that is, of inequality before the law: inequality
of station, since the public functions are sought only for the
consideration and emoluments which they bring; inequality of
wealth, since, if it had been desired to equalize fortunes, public
service would have been regarded as a duty, not as a reward;
inequality of privilege, the law not stating what it means by
talents and virtues. Under the empire, virtue
and talent consisted simply in military bravery and devotion
was shown when Napoleon created his nobility, and attempted to
connect it with the ancients. To-day, the man who pays taxes
to the amount of two hundred francs is virtuous; the talented
man is the honest pickpocket: such truths as these are accounted
finally legalized property. God forgive them, for they knew
not what they did! For fifty years they have suffered
for their miserable folly. But how came the people, whose voice,
they tell us, is the voice of God, and whose conscience is infallible, — how
came the people to err? How happens it that, when seeking liberty
and equality, they fell back into privilege and slavery? Always
through copying the ancient régime.
the nobility and the clergy contributed towards the expenses
of the State only by voluntary aid and
their property could not be seized even for debt, — while
the plebeian, overwhelmed by taxes and statute-labor, was continually
tormented, now by the king's tax-gatherers, now by those of the
nobles and clergy. He whose possessions were subject to mortmain
could neither bequeath nor inherit property; he was treated like
the animals, whose services and offspring belong to their master
by right of accession. The people wanted the conditions of ownership to be alike for all; they thought that every one should enjoy
and freely dispose of his possessions his income and the fruit
of his labor and industry. The people did not invent property;
but as they had not the same privileges in regard to it, which
the nobles and clergy possessed, they decreed that the right
should be exercised by all under the same conditions. The more
obnoxious forms of property — statute-labor, mortmain, maîtrise,
and exclusion from public office — have disappeared;
the conditions of its enjoyment have been modified: the principle
the same. There has been progress in the regulation of the right;
there has been no revolution.
These, then, are the three fundamental principles
of modern society, established one after another by the movements
and 1830: 1. Sovereignty of the human will; in short, despotism.
2. Inequality of wealth and rank. 3. Property — above justice, always invoked as the guardian angel of sovereigns,
proprietors; justice, the general, primitive, categorical law
of all society.
We must ascertain whether the ideas of despotism,
civil inequality and property, are in harmony
with the primitive notion of justice, and necessarily
follow from it, — assuming various forms according
to the condition, position, and relation of persons; or whether
they are not rather the illegitimate result of a confusion of
different things, a fatal association of ideas. And since justice
deals especially with the questions of government, the condition
of persons, and the possession of things, we must ascertain under
what conditions, judging by universal opinion and the progress
of the human mind, government is just, the condition of citizens
is just, and the possession of things is just; then, striking
out every thing which fails to meet these conditions, the result
will at once tell us what legitimate government is, what the
legitimate condition of citizens is, and what the legitimate
possession of things is; and finally, as the last result of the
analysis, what justice is.
Is the authority of man over man just?
answers, "No; the authority of man is only the
authority of the law, which ought to be justice and truth." The
private will counts for nothing in government, which consists,
first, in discovering truth and justice in order to make the
law; and, second, in superintending the execution of this law.
I do not now inquire whether our constitutional form of government
satisfies these conditions; whether, for example, the will of
the ministry never influences the declaration and interpretation
of the law; or whether our deputies, in their debates, are more
intent on conquering by argument than by force of numbers: it
is enough for me that my definition of a good government is allowed
to be correct. This idea is exact. Yet we see that nothing seems
more just to the Oriental nations than the despotism of their
sovereigns; that, with the ancients and in the opinion of the
philosophers themselves, slavery was just; that in the middle
ages the nobles, the priests, and the bishops felt justified
in holding slaves; that Louis XIV. thought that he was right
when he said, "The State! I am the State;" and that
Napoleon deemed it a crime for the State to oppose his will.
The idea of justice, then, applied to sovereignty and government,
has not always been what it is to-day; it has gone on developing
and shaping itself by degrees, until it has arrived at its present
state. But has it reached its last phase? I think not: only,
as the last obstacle to be overcome arises from the institution
of property which we have kept intact, in order to finish the
reform in government and consummate the revolution, this very
institution we must attack.
Is political and civil inequality just?
Some say yes; others no. To the first I would reply that, when
the people abolished all privileges of birth and caste, they
did it, in all probability, because it was for their advantage;
why then do they favor the privileges of fortune more than those
of rank and race? Because, say they, political inequality is
a result of property; and without property society is impossible:
thus the question just raised becomes a question of property.
To the second I content myself with this remark: If you wish
to enjoy political equality, abolish property; otherwise, why
do you complain?
Is property just?
answers without hesitation, "Yes, property is
just." I say everybody, for up to the present time no one
who thoroughly understood the meaning of his words has answered
no. For it is no easy thing to reply understandingly to such
a question; only time and experience can furnish an answer. Now,
this answer is given; it is for us to understand it. I undertake
to prove it.
We are to
proceed with the demonstration in the following order: —
I. We dispute not at all, we refute nobody, we deny nothing;
we accept as sound all the arguments alleged in favor of property,
and confine ourselves to a search for its principle, in order
that we may then ascertain whether this principle is faithfully
expressed by property. In fact, property being defensible on
no ground save that of justice, the idea, or at least the intention,
of justice must of necessity underlie all the arguments that
have been made in defence of property; and, as on the other hand
the right of property is only exercised over those things which
can be appreciated by the senses, justice, secretly objectifying
itself, so to speak, must take the shape of an algebraic formula.
By this method of investigation, we soon see
that every argument which has been invented in behalf of property,
whatever it may be, always and of necessity leads to equality;
that is, to the
negation of property.
The first part covers two chapters: one treating of occupation,
the foundation of our right; the other, of labor and talent,
considered as causes of property and social inequality.
The first of these chapters will prove that the
right of occupation obstructs property; the second that
the right of labor destroys it.
then, being of necessity conceived as existing only in connection
with equality, it remains to find out why,
in spite of this necessity of logic, equality does not exist.
This new investigation also covers two chapters: in the first,
considering the fact of property in itself, we inquire whether
this fact is real, whether it exists, whether it is possible;
for it would imply a contradiction, were these two opposite forms
of society, equality and inequality, both possible. Then we discover,
singularly enough, that property may indeed manifest itself accidentally;
but that, as an institution and principle, it is mathematically
impossible. So that the axiom of the school — ab actu
ad posse valet consecutio: from the actual to the possible
the inference is good — is given the lie as far as property
Finally, in the last chapter, calling psychology
to our aid, and probing man's nature to the bottom, we shall
principle of justice — its formula and character;
we shall state with precision the organic law of society; we
origin of property, the causes of its establishment, its long
life, and its approaching death; we shall definitively establish
its identity with robbery. And, after having shown that these
three prejudices — the sovereignty of man, the inequality
of conditions, and property — are one and the same; that
they may be taken for each other, and are reciprocally convertible, — we
shall have no trouble in inferring therefrom, by the principle
the basis of government and right. There our investigations will
end, reserving the right to continue them in future works.
The importance of the subject which engages our attention is
recognized by all minds.
"Property," says M. Hennequin, "is
the creative and conservative principle of civil society. Property
of those basic institutions, new theories concerning which cannot
be presented too soon; for it must not be forgotten, and the
publicist and statesman must know, that on the answer to the
question whether property is the principle or the result of social
order, whether it is to be considered as a cause or an effect,
depends all morality, and, consequently, all the authority of
These words are a challenge to all men of hope
and faith; but, although the cause of equality is a noble one,
no one has yet
picked up the gauntlet thrown down by the advocates of property;
no one has been courageous enough to enter upon the struggle.
The spurious learning of haughty jurisprudence, and the absurd
aphorisms of a political economy controlled by property have
puzzled the most generous minds; it is a sort of password among
the most influential friends of liberty and the interests of
the people that equality is a chimera! So many false theories
and meaningless analogies influence minds otherwise keen, but
which are unconsciously controlled by popular prejudice. Equality
advances every day — fit aequalitas. Soldiers of liberty, shall
we desert our flag in the hour of triumph?
A defender of equality, I shall speak without bitterness and
without anger; with the independence becoming a philosopher,
with the courage and firmness of a free man. May I, in this momentous
struggle, carry into all hearts the light with which I am filled;
and show, by the success of my argument, that equality failed
to conquer by the sword only that it might conquer by the pen!
In Greek, skeptikos — examiner;
a philosopher whose business is to seek the truth.
laws, marriage, were the privileges of freemen, and, in
of nobles only. Dii majorum gentium — gods
of the patrician families; jus gentium — right
of nations; that is, of families or nobles. The slave and
their children were treated as the offspring of animals.
Beasts they were born, beasts they must live.
If the chief of
the executive power is responsible, so must the deputies
be also. It is astonishing that this idea has never occurred
to any one; it might be made the subject of an interesting
essay. But I declare that I would not, for all the world,
maintain it; the people are yet much too logical for me
to furnish them with arguments.
De Tocqueville, "Democracy in the
United States;" and Michel Chevalier, "Letters
on North America." Plutarch tells us, "Life of
Pericles," that in Athens honest people were obliged
to conceal themselves while studying, fearing they would
be regarded as aspirants for office.
"Sovereignty," according to
Toullier, "is human omnipotence." A materialistic
definition: if sovereignty is any thing, it is a RIGHT
not a FORCE or a faculty. And what is human omnipotence?