hostem aeterna auctertas esto.
Against the enemy, revendication is eternal.
OF THE TWELVE TABLES.
LABOR AS THE EFFICIENT CAUSE OF THE
DOMAIN OF PROPERTY.
Nearly all the modern writers on jurisprudence, taking their
cue from the economists, have abandoned the theory of first occupancy
as a too dangerous one, and have adopted that which regards property
as born of labor. In this they are deluded; they reason in a
circle. To labor it is necessary to occupy, says M. Cousin.
I have added in my turn, all having an equal right of occupancy,
to labor it is necessary to submit
to equality. "The
rich," exclaims Jean Jacques, "have the arrogance to
say, `I built this wall; I earned this land by my labor.' Who
set you the tasks? we may reply, and by what right do you demand
payment from us for labor which we did not impose upon you?" All
sophistry falls to the ground in the presence of this argument.
But the partisans of labor do not see that their system is an
absolute contradiction of the Code, all the articles and provisions
of which suppose property to be based upon the fact of first
occupancy. If labor, through the appropriation which results
from it, alone gives birth to property, the Civil Code lies,
the charter is a falsehood, our whole social system is a violation
of right. To this conclusion shall we come, at the end of the
discussion which is to occupy our attention in this chapter and
the following one, both as to the right of labor and the fact
of property. We shall see, on the one hand, our legislation in
opposition to itself; and, on the other hand, our new jurisprudence
in opposition both to its own principle and to our legislation.
I have asserted that the system which bases property upon labor
implies, no less than that which bases it upon occupation, the
equality of fortunes; and the reader must be impatient to learn
how I propose to deduce this law of equality from the inequality
of skill and faculties: directly his curiosity shall be satisfied.
But it is proper that I should call his attention for a moment
to this remarkable feature of the process; to wit, the substitution
of labor for occupation as the principle of property; and that
I should pass rapidly in review some of the prejudices to which
proprietors are accustomed to appeal, which legislation has sanctioned,
and which the system of labor completely overthrows.
were you ever present at the examination of a criminal? Have
you watched his tricks, his turns, his
evasions, his distinctions,
his equivocations? Beaten, all his assertions overthrown, pursued
like a fallow deer by the in exorable judge, tracked from hypothesis
to hypothesis, — he makes a statement, he corrects it, retracts
it, contradicts it, he exhausts all the tricks of dialectics,
more subtle, more ingenious a thousand times than he who invented
the seventy-two forms of the syllogism. So acts the proprietor
when called upon to defend his right. At first he refuses to
reply, he exclaims, he threatens, he defies; then, forced to
accept the discussion, he arms himself with chicanery, he surrounds
himself with formidable artillery, — crossing his fire, opposing
one by one and all together occupation, possession, limitation,
covenants, immemorial custom, and universal consent. Conquered
on this ground, the proprietor, like a wounded boar, turns on
his pursuers. "I have done more than occupy," he cries
with terrible emotion; "I have labored, produced, improved,
transformed, created. This house, these fields, these
trees are the work of my hands; I changed these brambles into
and this bush into a fig-tree; and to-day I reap the harvest
of my labors. I have enriched the soil with my sweat; I have
paid those men who, had they not had the work which I gave them,
would have died of hunger. No one shared with me the trouble
and expense; no one shall share with me the benefits."
You have labored, proprietor! why then do you speak of original
occupancy? What, were you not sure of your right, or did you
hope to deceive men, and make justice an illusion? Make haste,
then, to acquaint us with your mode of defence, for the judgment
will be final; and you know it to be a question of restitution.
You have labored! but what is there in common between the labor
which duty compels you to perform, and the appropriation of things
in which there is a common interest? Do you not know that domain
over the soil, like that over air and light, cannot be lost by
You have labored! have you never made others labor? Why, then,
have they lost in laboring for you what you have gained in not
laboring for them?
You have labored! very well; but let us see the results of your
labor. We will count, weigh, and measure them. It will be the
judgment of Balthasar; for I swear by balance, level, and square,
that if you have appropriated another's labor in any way whatsoever,
you shall restore it every stroke.
principle of occupation is abandoned; no longer is it said, "The
land belongs to him who first gets possession of it. Property,
forced into its first intrenchment,
its old adage; justice, ashamed, retracts her maxims, and sorrow
lowers her bandage over her blushing cheeks. And it was but yesterday
that this progress in social philosophy began: fifty centuries
required for the extirpation of a lie! During this lamentable
period, how many usurpations have been sanctioned, how many invasions
glorified, how many conquests celebrated! The absent dispossessed,
the poor banished, the hungry excluded by wealth, which is so
ready and bold in action! Jealousies and wars, incendiarism and
bloodshed, among the nations! But henceforth, thanks to the age
and its spirit, it is to be admitted that the earth is not a
prize to be won in a race; in the absence of any other obstacle,
there is a place for everybody under the sun. Each one may harness
his goat to the bearn, drive his cattle to pasture, sow a corner
of a field, and bake his bread by his own fireside.
each one cannot do these things. I hear it proclaimed on all
sides, "Glory to labor and industry! to each according
to his capacity; to each capacity according to its results!" And
I see three-fourths of the human race again despoiled, the labor
of a few being a scourge to the labor of the rest.
problem is solved," exclaims M. Hennequin. "Property,
the daughter of labor, can be enjoyed at present and in the future
only under the protection of the laws. It has its origin in natural
law; it derives its power from civil law; and from the union
of these two ideas, labor and protection, positive
legislation results." . . .
problem is solved! property is the daughter of labor! What,
the right of accession, and the right of succession,
and the right of donation, &c., if not the right to become
a proprietor by simple occupancy? What are your laws concerning
the age of majority, emancipation, guardianship, and interdiction,
if not the various conditions by which he who is already a laborer
gains or loses the right of occupancy; that is, property?
at this time, to enter upon a detailed discussion of the Code,
I shall content myself with examining the three
arguments oftenest resorted to in support of property. 1. Appropriation,
or the formation of property by possession; 2. The consent
of mankind; 3. Prescription. I shall then inquire into the
effects of labor upon the relative condition of the laborers
§ 1. — The
Land cannot be Appropriated.
"It would seem that lands capable of cultivation ought
to be regarded as natural wealth, since they are not of human
creation, but Nature's gratuitous gift to man; but inasmuch as
this wealth is not fugitive, like the air and water, — inasmuch
as a field is a fixed and limited space which certain men have
been able to appropriate, to the exclusion of all others who
in their turn have consented to this appropriation, — the land,
which was a natural and gratuitous gift, has become social wealth,
for the use of which we ought to pay." — SAY: POLITICAL
I wrong in saying, at the beginning of this chapter, that the
economists are the very worst authorities in matters of legislation
and philosophy? It is the father of this class of men
who clearly states the question, How can the supplies of Nature,
created by Providence, become private property? and who replies
by so gross an equivocation that we scarcely know which the author
lacks, sense or honesty. What, I ask, has the fixed and solid
nature of the earth to do with the right of appropriation? I
can understand that a thing limited and stationary,
like the land, offers greater chances for appropriation than
or the sunshine; that it is easier to exercise the right of domain
over the soil than over the atmosphere: but we are not dealing
with the difficulty of the thing, and Say confounds the right
with the possibility. We do not ask why the earth has been appropriated
to a greater extent than the sea and the air; we want to know
by what right man has appropriated wealth which he did not
create, and which Nature gave to him gratuitously.
Say, then, did not solve the question which he asked. But if
he had solved it, if the explanation which he has given us were
as satisfactory as it is illogical, we should know no better
than before who has a right to exact payment for the use of the
soil, of this wealth which is not man's handiwork. Who is entitled
to the rent of the land? The producer of the land, without doubt.
Who made the land? God. Then, proprietor, retire!
But the creator of the land does not sell it: he gives it; and,
in giving it, he is no respecter of persons. Why, then, are some
of his children regarded as legitimate, while others are treated
as bastards? If the equality of shares was an original right,
why is the inequality of conditions a posthumous right?
us to understand that if the air and the water were not of
a fugitive nature, they would have been appropriated.
Let me observe in passing that this is more than an hypothesis;
it is a reality. Men have appropriated the air and the water,
I will not say as often as they could, but as often as they have
been allowed to.
having discovered the route to India by the Cape of Good Hope,
pretended to have the sole
right to that route;
and Grotius, consulted in regard to this matter by the Dutch
who refused to recognize this right, wrote expressly for this
occasion his treatise on the "Freedom of the Seas," to
prove that the sea is not liable to appropriation.
The right to hunt and fish used always to be confined to lords
and proprietors; to-day it is leased by the government and communes
to whoever can pay the license-fee and the rent. To regulate
hunting and fishing is an excellent idea, but to make it a subject
of sale is to create a monopoly of air and water.
What is a passport? A universal recommendation of the traveller's
person; a certificate of security for himself and his property.
The treasury, whose nature it is to spoil the best things, has
made the passport a means of espionage and a tax. Is not this
a sale of the right to travel?
it is permissible neither to draw water from a spring situated
in another's grounds without the permission of the proprietor,
because by the right of accession the spring belongs to the possessor
of the soil, if there is no other claim; nor to pass a day on
his premises without paying a tax; nor to look at a court, a
garden, or an orchard, without the consent of the proprietor;
nor to stroll in a park or an enclosure against the owner's will:
every one is allowed to shut himself up and to fence himself
in. All these prohibitions are so many positive interdictions,
not only of the land, but of the air and water. We who belong
to the proletaire class: property excommunicates us! Terra,
et aqua, et aere, et igne interdicti sumus.
not appropriate the most fixed of all the elements without
appropriating the three others; since,
by French and
Roman law, property in the surface carries with it property from
zenith to nadir — Cujus est solum, ejus est usque ad caelum.
Now, if the use of water, air, and fire excludes property, so
does the use of the soil. This chain of reasoning seems to have
been presented by M. Ch. Comte, in his "Treatise on Property," chap.
a man should be deprived of air for a few moments only, he
would cease to exist, and a partial
deprivation would cause
him severe suffering; a partial or complete deprivation of food
would produce like effects upon him though less suddenly; it
would be the same, at least in certain climates! were he deprived
of all clothing and shelter. . . . To sustain life, then, man
needs continually to appropriate many different things. But these
things do not exist in like proportions. Some, such as the light
of the stars, the atmosphere of the earth, the water composing
the seas and oceans, exist in such large quantities that men
cannot perceive any sensible increase or diminution; each one
can appropriate as much as his needs require without detracting
from the enjoyment of others, without causing them the least
harm. Things of this sort are, so to speak, the common property
of the human race; the only duty imposed upon each individual
in this regard is that of infringing not at all upon the rights
Let us complete
the argument of M. Ch. Comte. A man who should be prohibited
from walking in the highways, from resting in the
fields, from taking shelter in caves, from lighting fires, from
picking berries, from gathering herbs and boiling them in a bit
of baked clay, — such a man could not live. Consequently the
earth — like
water, air, and light — is a primary object of necessity which
each has a right to use freely, without infringing another's
right. Why, then, is the earth appropriated? M. Ch. Comte's reply
is a curious one. Say pretends that it is because it is not fugitive;
M. Ch. Comte assures us that it is because it is not infinite.
The land is limited in amount. Then, according to M. Ch. Comte,
it ought to be appropriated. It would seem, on the contrary,
that he ought to say, Then it ought not to be appropriated. Because,
no matter how large a quantity of air or light any one appropriates,
no one is damaged thereby; there always remains enough for all.
With the soil, it is very different. Lay hold who will, or who
can, of the sun's rays, the passing breeze, or the sea's billows;
he has my consent, and my pardon for his bad intentions. But
let any living man dare to change his right of territorial possession
into the right of property, and I will declare war upon him,
and wage it to the death!
M. Ch. Comte's
argument disproves his position. "Among
the things necessary to the preservation of life," he says, "there
are some which exist in such large quantities that they are inexhaustible;
others which exist in lesser quantities, and can satisfy the
wants of only a certain number of persons. The former are called common, the latter private."
is not strictly logical. Water, air, and light are common things,
not because they are inexhaustible, but because
they are indispensable; and so indispensable that for
that very reason Nature has created them in quantities almost
in order that their plentifulness might prevent their appropriation.
Likewise the land is indispensable to our existence, — consequently
a common thing, consequently insusceptible of appropriation;
but land is much scarcer than the other elements, therefore its
use must be regulated, not for the profit of a few, but in the
interest and for the security of all.
In a word, equality of rights is proved by equality of needs.
Now, equality of rights, in the case of a commodity which is
limited in amount, can be realized only by equality of possession.
An agrarian law underlies M. Ch. Comte's arguments.
point we view this question of property — provided
we go to the bottom of it — we reach equality. I will not insist
farther on the distinction between things which can, and things
which cannot, be appropriated. On this point, economists and
legists talk worse than nonsense. The Civil Code, after having
defined property, says nothing about susceptibility of appropriation;
and if it speaks of things which are in the market, it
always does so without enumerating or describing them. However,
is not wanting. There are some few maxims such as these: Ad
reges potestas omnium pertinet, ad singulos proprietas; Omnia
rex imperio possidet, singula dominio. Social sovereignty
opposed to private property! — might not that be called a prophecy of
equality, a republican oracle? Examples crowd upon us: once the
possessions of the church, the estates of the crown, the fiefs
of the nobility were inalienable and imprescriptible. If, instead
of abolishing this privilege, the Constituent had extended it
to every individual; if it had declared that the right of labor,
like liberty, can never be forfeited, — at that moment the revolution
would have been consummated, and we could now devote ourselves
to improvement in other directions.
§ 2. — Universal Consent
no Justification of Property.
In the extract
from Say, quoted above, it is not clear whether the author
means to base the right of property
on the stationary
character of the soil, or on the consent which he thinks all
men have granted to this appropriation. His language is such
that it may mean either of these things, or both at once; which
entitles us to assume that the author intended to say, "The
right of property resulting originally from the exercise of the
will, the stability of the soil permitted it to be applied to
the land, and universal consent has since sanctioned this application."
However that may be, can men legitimate property by mutual consent?
I say, no. Such a contract, though drafted by Grotius, Montesquieu,
and J. J. Rousseau, though signed by the whole human race, would
be null in the eyes of justice, and an act to enforce it would
be illegal. Man can no more give up labor than liberty. Now,
to recognize the right of territorial property is to give up
labor, since it is to relinquish the means of labor; it is to
traffic in a natural right, and divest ourselves of manhood.
But I wish
that this consent, of which so much is made, had been given,
either tacitly or formally. What would have been
the result? Evidently, the surrenders would have been reciprocal;
no right would have been abandoned without the receipt of an
equivalent in exchange. We thus come back to equality again, — the
sine qua non of appropriation; so that, after having justified
property by universal consent, that is, by equality, we are obliged
to justify the inequality of conditions by property. Never shall
we extricate ourselves from this dilemma. Indeed, if, in the
terms of the social compact, property has equality for its condition,
at the moment when equality ceases to exist, the compact is broken
and all property becomes usurpation. We gain nothing, then, by
this pretended consent of mankind.
§ 3. — Prescription
Gives No Title to Property.
The right of property was the origin of evil on the earth, the
first link in the long chain of crimes and misfortunes which
the human race has endured since its birth. The delusion of prescription
is the fatal charm thrown over the intellect, the death sentence
breathed into the conscience, to arrest man's progress towards
truth, and bolster up the worship of error.
defines prescription thus: "The process of gaining
and losing through the lapse of time." In applying this
definition to ideas and beliefs, we may use the word prescription to
denote the everlasting prejudice in favor of old superstitions,
whatever be their object; the opposition, often furious and bloody,
with which new light has always been received, and which makes
the sage a martyr. Not a principle, not a discovery, not a generous
thought but has met, at its entrance into the world, with a formidable
barrier of preconceived opinions, seeming like a conspiracy of
all old prejudices. Prescriptions against reason, prescriptions
against facts, prescriptions against every truth hitherto unknown, — that
is the sum and substance of the statu quo philosophy,
the watchword of conservatives throughout the centuries.
evangelical reform was broached to the world, there was prescription
in favor of violence, debauchery,
when Galileo, Descartes, Pascal, and their disciples reconstructed
philosophy and the sciences, there was prescription in favor
of the Aristotelian philosophy; when our fathers of '89 demanded
liberty and equality, there was prescription in favor of tyranny
and privilege. "There always have been proprietors and there
always will be:" it is with this profound utterance, the
final effort of selfishness dying in its last ditch, that the
friends of social inequality hope to repel the attacks of their
adversaries; thinking undoubtedly that ideas, like property,
can be lost by prescription.
to-day by the triumphal march of science, taught by the most
glorious successes to question our own opinions,
we receive with favor and applause the observer of Nature, who,
by a thousand experiments based upon the most profound analysis,
pursues a new principle, a law hitherto undiscovered. We take
care to repel no idea, no fact, under the pretext that abler
men than ourselves lived in former days, who did not notice the
same phenomena, nor grasp the same analogies. Why do we not preserve
a like attitude towards political and philosophical questions?
Why this ridiculous mania for affirming that every thing has
been said, which means that we know all about mental and moral
science? Why is the proverb, There is nothing new under the
applied exclusively to metaphysical investigations?
we still study philosophy with the imagination, instead of
by observation and method; because fancy and will are universally
regarded as judges, in the place of arguments and facts, — it
has been impossible to this day to distinguish the charlatan
from the philosopher, the savant from the impostor. Since
the days of Solomon and Pythagoras, imagination has been exhausted
in guessing out social and psychological laws; all systems have
been proposed. Looked at in this light, it is probably true that
every thing has been said; but it is no less true that
every thing remains to be proved. In politics (to take
only this branch of philosophy), in politics every one is governed
of party by his passion and his interests; the mind is submitted
to the impositions of the will, — there is no knowledge, there
is not even a shadow of certainty. In this way, general ignorance
produces general tyranny; and while liberty of thought is written
in the charter, slavery of thought, under the name of majority
rule, is decreed by the charter.
to confine myself to the civil prescription of which the Code
speaks, I shall refrain from beginning a discussion
upon this worn-out objection brought forward by proprietors;
it would be too tiresome and declamatory. Everybody knows that
there are rights which cannot be prescribed; and, as for those
things which can be gained through the lapse of time, no one
is ignorant of the fact that prescription requires certain conditions,
the omission of one of which renders it null. If it is true,
for example, that the proprietor's possession has been civil,
public, peaceable, and uninterrupted,
it is none the less true that it is not based on a just title;
only titles which
it can show — occupation and labor — prove as much for the proletaire
who demands, as for the proprietor who defends. Further, this
possession is dishonest, since it is founded on a violation
of right, which prevents prescription, according to the saying
St. Paul — Nunquam in usucapionibus juris error possessori
The violation of right lies either in the fact that the holder
possesses as proprietor, while he should possess only as usufructuary;
or in the fact that he has purchased a thing which no one had
a right to transfer or sell.
Another reason why prescription cannot be adduced in favor of
property (a reason borrowed from jurisprudence) is that the right
to possess real estate is a part of a universal right which has
never been totally destroyed even at the most critical periods;
and the proletaire, in order to regain the power to exercise
it fully, has only to prove that he has always exercised it in
example, who has the universal right to possess, give, exchange,
loan, let, sell, transform, or destroy a thing, preserves
the integrity of this right by the sole act of loaning, though
he has never shown his authority in any other manner. Likewise
we shall see that equality of possessions, equality
liberty, will, personality, are so many
identical expressions of one and the same idea, — the right of preservation and
development; in a word, the right of life, against which there
can be no prescription
until the human race has vanished from the face of the earth.
Finally, as to the time required for prescription, it would
be superfluous to show that the right of property in general
cannot be acquired by simple possession for ten, twenty, a hundred,
a thousand, or one hundred thousand years; and that, so long
as there exists a human head capable of understanding and combating
the right of property, this right will never be prescribed. For
principles of jurisprudence and axioms of reason are different
from accidental and contingent facts. One man's possession can
prescribe against another man's possession; but just as the possessor
cannot prescribe against himself, so reason has always the faculty
of change and reformation. Past error is not binding on the future.
Reason is always the same eternal force. The institution of property,
the work of ignorant reason, may be abrogated by a more enlightened
reason. Consequently, property cannot be established by prescription.
This is so certain and so true, that on it rests the maxim that
in the matter of prescription a violation of right goes for nothing.
But I should be recreant to my method, and the reader would
have the right to accuse me of charlatanism and bad faith, if
I had nothing further to advance concerning prescription. I showed,
in the first place, that appropriation of land is illegal; and
that, supposing it to be legal, it must be accompanied by equality
of property. I have shown, in the second place, that universal
consent proves nothing in favor of property; and that, if it
proves any thing, it proves equality of property. I have yet
to show that prescription, if admissible at all, presupposes
equality of property.
This demonstration will be neither long nor difficult. I need
only to call attention to the reasons why prescription was introduced.
repugnant to natural equity, which permits no one either to
of his possessions without his knowledge and consent, or to enrich
himself at another's expense. But as it might often happen, in
the absence of prescription, that one who had honestly earned
would be ousted after long possession; and even that he who had
received a thing from its rightful owner, or who had been legitimately
relieved from all obligations, would, on losing his title, be
liable to be dispossessed or subjected again, — the public welfare
demanded that a term should be fixed, after the expiration of
which no one should be allowed to disturb actual possessors,
or reassert rights too long neglected. . . . The civil law, in
regulating prescription, has aimed, then, only to perfect natural
law, and to supplement the law of nations; and as it is founded
on the public good, which should always be considered before
individual welfare, — bono publico usucapio introducta est, — it
should be regarded with favor, provided the conditions required
by the law are fulfilled."
in his "Civil Law," says: "In
order that the question of proprietorship may not remain too
and thereby injure the public welfare, disturbing the peace of
families and the stability of social transactions, the law has
fixed a time when all claims shall be cancelled, and possession
shall regain its ancient prerogative through its transformation
said of property, that it was the only safe harbor in which
to seek shelter from the tempests of chicanery and the
gales of avarice — Hic unus inter humanas pro cellas portus,
quem si homines fervida voluntate praeterierint; in undosis semper
Thus, in the opinion of the authors, prescription is a means
of preserving public order; a restoration in certain cases of
the original mode of acquiring property; a fiction of the civil
law which derives all its force from the necessity of settling
differences which otherwise would never end. For, as Grotius
says, time has no power to produce effects; all things happen
in time, but nothing is done by time. Prescription, or the right
of acquisition through the lapse of time, is, therefore, a fiction
of the law, conventionally adopted.
property necessarily originated in prescription, or, as the
Latins say, in usucapion; that is, in continued possession.
I ask, then,
in the first place, how possession can become property by the
lapse of time? Continue possession as long as you wish,
continue it for years and for centuries, you never can give duration — which
of itself creates nothing, changes nothing, modifies nothing — the
power to change the usufructuary into a proprietor. Let the civil
law secure against chance- comers the honest possessor who has
held his position for many years, — that only confirms a right
already respected; and prescription, applied in this way, simply
means that possession which has continued for twenty, thirty,
or a hundred years shall be retained by the occupant. But when
the law declares that the lapse of time changes possessor into
proprietor, it supposes that a right can be created without a
producing cause; it unwarrantably alters the character of the
subject; it legislates on a matter not open to legislation; it
exceeds its own powers. Public order and private security ask
only that possession shall be protected. Why has the law created
property? Prescription was simply security for the future; why
has the law made it a matter of privilege?
Thus the origin of prescription is identical with that of property
itself; and since the latter can legitimate itself only when
accompanied by equality, prescription is but another of the thousand
forms which the necessity of maintaining this precious equality
has taken. And this is no vain induction, no far- fetched inference.
The proof is written in all the codes.
if all nations, through their instinct of justice and their
conservative nature, have recognized the utility and
the necessity of prescription; and if their design has been to
guard thereby the interests of the possessor, — could they not
do something for the absent citizen, separated from his family
and his country by commerce, war, or captivity, and in no position
to exercise his right of possession? No. Also, at the same time
that prescription was introduced into the laws, it was admitted
that property is preserved by intent alone, — nudo animo. Now,
if property is preserved by intent alone, if it can be lost only
by the action of the proprietor, what can be the use of prescription?
How does the law dare to presume that the proprietor, who preserves
by intent alone, intended to abandon that which he has allowed
to be prescribed? What lapse of time can warrant such a conjecture;
and by what right does the law punish the absence of the proprietor
by depriving him of his goods? What then! we found but a moment
since that prescription and property were identical; and now
we find that they are mutually destructive!
who perceived this difficulty, replied so singularly that his
words deserve to be quoted: Bene sperandum de hominibus,
ac propterea non putandum eos hoc esse animo ut, rei caducae
causa, hominem alterum velint in perpetuo peccato versari, quo
d evitari saepe non poterit sine tali derelictione.
"Where is the man," he says, "with so unchristian
a soul that, for a trifle, he would perpetuate the trespass of
a possessor, which would inevitably be the result if he did not
consent to abandon his right?" By the Eternal! I am that
man. Though a million proprietors should burn for it in hell,
I lay the blame on them for depriving me of my portion of this
world's goods. To this powerful consideration Grotius rejoins,
that it is better to abandon a disputed right than to go to law,
disturb the peace of nations, and stir up the flames of civil
war. I accept, if you wish it, this argument, provided you indemnify
me. But if this indemnity is refused me, what do I, a proletaire,
care for the tranquillity and security of the rich? I care as
little for public order as for the proprietor's safety. I ask
to live a laborer; otherwise I will die a warrior.
way we turn, we shall come to the conclusion that prescription
is a contradiction of property; or rather that prescription
and property are two forms of the same principle, but two forms
which serve to correct each other; and ancient and modern jurisprudence
did not make the least of its blunders in pretending to reconcile
them. Indeed, if we see in the institution of property only a
desire to secure to each individual his share of the soil and
his right to labor; in the distinction between naked property
and possession only an asylum for absentees, orphans, and all
who do not know, or cannot maintain, their rights; in prescription
only a means, either of defence against unjust pretensions and
encroachments, or of settlement of the differences caused by
the removal of possessors, — we shall recognize in these various
forms of human justice the spontaneous efforts of the mind to
come to the aid of the social instinct; we shall see in this
protection of all rights the sentiment of equality, a constant
levelling tendency. And, looking deeper, we shall find in the
very exaggeration of these principles the confirmation of our
doctrine; because, if equality of conditions and universal association
are not soon realized, it will be owing to the obstacle thrown
for the time in the way of the common sense of the people by
the stupidity of legislators and judges; and also to the fact
that, while society in its original state was illuminated with
a flash of truth, the early speculations of its leaders could
bring forth nothing but darkness.
first covenants, after the first draughts of laws and constitutions,
which were the expression of man's primary
needs, the legislator's duty was to reform the errors of legislation;
to complete that which was defective; to harmonize, by superior
definitions, those things which seemed to conflict. Instead of
that, they halted at the literal meaning of the laws, content
to play the subordinate part of commentators and scholiasts.
Taking the inspirations of the human mind, at that time necessarily
weak and faulty, for axioms of eternal and unquestionable truth, — influenced
by public opinion, enslaved by the popular religion, — they have
invariably started with the principle (following in this respect
the example of the theologians) that that is infallibly true
which has been admitted by all persons, in all places, and at
all times — quod ab omnibus, quod ubique, quod semper; as if
a general but spontaneous opinion was any thing more than an
indication of the truth. Let us not be deceived: the opinion
of all nations may serve to authenticate the perception of a
fact, the vague sentiment of a law; it can teach us nothing about
either fact or law. The consent of mankind is an indication of
Nature; not, as Cicero says, a law of Nature. Under the indication
is hidden the truth, which faith can believe, but only thought
can know. Such has been the constant progress of the human mind
in regard to physical phenomena and the creations of genius:
how can it be otherwise with the facts of conscience and the
rules of human conduct?
§ 4. — Labor — That
Labor Has No Inherent Power
to Appropriate Natural Wealth.
show by the maxims of political economy and law, that is, by
the authorities recognized by property, —
has no inherent power to appropriate natural wealth.
if we admit that labor has this power, we are led directly
equality of property, — whatever the kind of labor,
however scarce the product, or unequal the ability
of the laborers.
in the order of justice, labor destroys property.
Following the example of our opponents, and that we may leave
no obstacles in the path, let us examine the question in the
strongest possible light.
M. Ch. Comte
says, in his "Treatise on Property:" —
considered as a nation, has a territory which is her own."
France, as an individuality, possesses a territory which she
cultivates; it is not her property. Nations are related to each
other as individuals are: they are commoners and workers; it
is an abuse of language to call them proprietors. The right of
use and abuse belongs no more to nations than to men; and the
time will come when a war waged for the purpose of checking a
nation in its abuse of the soil will be regarded as a holy war.
Ch. Comte — who undertakes to explain how property comes
into existence, and who starts with the supposition that a nation
is a proprietor — falls into that error known as begging the
question; a mistake which vitiates his whole argument.
If the reader
thinks it is pushing logic too far to question a nation's right
of property in the territory
which it possesses,
I will simply remind him of the fact that at all ages the results
of the fictitious right of national property have been pretensions
to suzerainty, tributes, monarchical privileges, statute-labor,
quotas of men and money, supplies of merchandise, &c.; ending
finally in refusals to pay taxes, insurrections, wars, and depopulations.
through this territory are extended tracts of land, which
have not been converted into individual
These lands, which consist mainly of forests, belong to the
whole population, and the government, which receives the
uses or ought to use them in the interest of all."
to use is well said: a lie is avoided thereby.
them be offered for sale. . . ."
Why offered for sale? Who has a right to sell them? Even were
the nation proprietor, can the generation of to-day dispossess
the generation of to-morrow? The nation, in its function of usufructuary,
possesses them; the government rules, superintends, and protects
them. If it also granted lands, it could grant only their use;
it has no right to sell them or transfer them in any way whatever.
Not being a proprietor, how can it transmit property?
some industrious man buys a portion, a large swamp for example.
This would be no usurpation, since
the public would
receive the exact value through the hands of the government,
and would be as rich after the sale as before."
ridiculous! What! because a prodigal, imprudent, incompetent
official sells the State's possessions, while I, a ward of the
State, — I who have neither an advisory nor a deliberative voice
in the State councils, — while I am allowed to make no opposition
to the sale, this sale is right and legal! The guardians of the
nation waste its substance, and it has no redress! I have received,
you tell me, through the hands of the government my share of
the proceeds of the sale: but, in the first place, I did not
wish to sell; and, had I wished to, I could not have sold. I
had not the right. And then I do not see that I am benefited
by the sale. My guardians have dressed up some soldiers, repaired
an old fortress, erected in their pride some costly but worthless
monument, — then they have exploded some fireworks and set up
a greased pole! What does all that amount to in comparison with
draws boundaries, fences himself in, and says, "This
is mine; each one by himself, each one for himself." Here,
then, is a piece of land upon which, henceforth, no one has a
right to step, save the proprietor and his friends; which can
benefit nobody, save the proprietor and his servants. Let these
sales multiply, and soon the people — who have been neither able
nor willing to sell, and who have received none of the proceeds
of the sale — will have nowhere to rest, no place of shelter,
no ground to till. They will die of hunger at the proprietor's
door, on the edge of that property which was their birthright;
and the proprietor, watching them die, will exclaim, " So
perish idlers and vagrants!"
To reconcile us to the proprietor's usurpation, M. Ch. Comte
assumes the lands to be of little value at the time of sale.
importance of these usurpations should not be exaggerated:
they should be measured by the number of
men which the occupied
land would support, and by the means which it would furnish
evident, for instance, that if a piece of land which is worth
to-day one thousand francs was worth
only five centimes
when it was usurped, we really lose only the value of five
centimes. A square league of earth would be hardly sufficient
a savage in distress; to-day it supplies one thousand persons
with the means of existence. Nine hundred and ninety- nine
parts of this land is the legitimate property of the possessors;
one-thousandth of the value has been usurped."
peasant admitted one day, at confession, that he had destroyed
a document which declared him a debtor to
the amount of three
hundred francs. Said the father confessor, "You must return
these three hundred francs." "No," replied the
peasant, "I will return a penny to pay for the paper."
M. Ch. Comte's
logic resembles this peasant's honesty. The soil has not only
an integrant and actual value, it has also a potential
value, — a value of the future, — which depends on our ability
to make it valuable, and to employ it in our work. Destroy a
bill of exchange, a promissory note, an annuity deed, — as a paper
you destroy almost no value at all; but with this paper you destroy
your title, and, in losing your title, you deprive yourself of
your goods. Destroy the land, or, what is the same thing, sell
it, — you not only transfer one, two, or several crops, but you
annihilate all the products that you could derive from it; you
and your children and your children's children.
When M. Ch. Comte, the apostle of property and the eulogist
of labor, supposes an alienation of the soil on the part of the
government, we must not think that he does so without reason
and for no purpose; it is a necessary part of his position. As
he rejected the theory of occupancy, and as he knew, moreover,
that labor could not constitute the right in the absence of a
previous permission to occupy, he was obliged to connect this
permission with the authority of the government, which means
that property is based upon the sovereignty of the people; in
other words, upon universal consent. This theory we have already
To say that property is the daughter of labor, and then to give
labor material on which to exercise itself, is, if I am not mistaken,
to reason in a circle. Contradictions will result from it.
piece of land of a certain size produces food enough to supply
a man for one day. If the possessor,
through his labor,
discovers some method of making it produce enough for two
days, he doubles its value. This new value is his work, his
it is taken from nobody; it is his property."
maintain that the possessor is paid for his trouble and industry
in his doubled crop, but that he acquires
no right to the land. "Let
the laborer have the fruits of his labor." Very good; but
I do not understand that property in products carries with it
property in raw material. Does the skill of the fisherman, who
on the same coast can catch more fish than his fellows, make
him proprietor of the fishing-grounds? Can the expertness of
a hunter ever be regarded as a property-title to a game-forest?
The analogy is perfect, — the industrious cultivator finds the
reward of his industry in the abundancy and superiority of his
crop. If he has made improvements in the soil, he has the possessor's
right of preference. Never, under any circumstances, can he be
allowed to claim a property-title to the soil which he cultivates,
on the ground of his skill as a cultivator.
possession into property, something is needed besides labor,
without which a man would cease to be proprietor as soon
as he ceased to be a laborer. Now, the law bases property upon
immemorial, unquestionable possession; that is, prescription.
Labor is only the sensible sign, the physical act, by which occupation
is manifested. If, then, the cultivator remains proprietor after
he has ceased to labor and produce; if his possession, first
conceded, then tolerated, finally becomes inalienable, — it happens
by permission of the civil law, and by virtue of the principle
of occupancy. So true is this, that there is not a bill of sale,
not a farm lease, not an annuity, but implies it. I will quote
only one example.
How do we
measure the value of land? By its product. If a piece of land
yields one thousand francs, we say that
at five per cent.
it is worth twenty thousand francs; at four per cent. twenty-five
thousand francs, &c.; which means, in other words, that in
twenty or twenty-five years' time the purchaser would recover
in full the amount originally paid for the land. If, then, after
a certain length of time, the price of a piece of land has been
wholly recovered, why does the purchaser continue to be proprietor?
Because of the right of occupancy, in the absence of which every
sale would be a redemption.
The theory of appropriation by labor is, then, a contradiction
of the Code; and when the partisans of this theory pretend to
explain the laws thereby, they contradict themselves.
men succeed in fertilizing land hitherto unproductive, or
even death-producing, like certain swamps,
they create thereby
property in all its completeness."
good does it do to magnify an expression, and play with equivocations,
as if we expected to change the reality thereby?
They create property in all its completeness. You mean
that they create a productive capacity which formerly did not
this capacity cannot be created without material to support it.
The substance of the soil remains the same; only its qualities
and modifications are changed. Man has created every thing — every
thing save the material itself. Now, I maintain that this material
he can only possess and use, on condition of permanent labor, — granting,
for the time being, his right of property in things which he
is the first point settled: property in product, if we grant
so much, does not carry with it property in the means
of production; that seems to me to need no further demonstration.
There is no difference between the soldier who possesses his
arms, the mason who possesses the materials committed to his
care, the fisherman who possesses the water, the hunter who possesses
the fields and forests, and the cultivator who possesses the
lands: all, if you say so, are proprietors of their products — not
one is proprietor of the means of production. The right to product
is exclusive — jus in re; the right to means is common — jus
§ 5. — That Labor leads
to Equality of Property.
Admit, however, that labor gives a right of property in material.
Why is not
this principle universal? Why is the benefit of this pretended
law confined to a few and denied
to the mass of laborers?
A philosopher, arguing that all animals sprang up formerly out
of the earth warmed by the rays of the sun, almost like mushrooms,
on being asked why the earth no longer yielded crops of that
nature, replied: "Because it is old, and has lost its fertility." Has
labor, once so fecund, likewise become sterile? Why does the
tenant no longer acquire through his labor the land which was
formerly acquired by the labor of the proprietor?
"Because," they say, "it is already appropriated." That
is no answer. A farm yields fifty bushels per hectare;
the skill and labor of the tenant double this product: the increase
created by the tenant. Suppose the owner, in a spirit of moderation
rarely met with, does not go to the extent of absorbing this
product by raising the rent, but allows the cultivator to enjoy
the results of his labor; even then justice is not satisfied.
The tenant, by improving the land, has imparted a new value to
the property; he, therefore, has a right to a part of the property.
If the farm was originally worth one hundred thousand francs,
and if by the labor of the tenant its value has risen to one
hundred and fifty thousand francs, the tenant, who produced this
extra value, is the legitimate proprietor of one-third of the
farm. M. Ch. Comte could not have pronounced this doctrine false,
for it was he who said: —
who increase the fertility of the earth are no less useful
to their fellow-men, than if they should
create new land."
Why, then, is not this rule applicable to the man who improves
the land, as well as to him who clears it? The labor of the former
makes the land worth one; that of the latter makes it worth two:
both create equal values. Why not accord to both equal property?
I defy any one to refute this argument, without again falling
back on the right of first occupancy.
"But," it will be said, "even
if your wish should be granted, property would not be distributed
much more evenly
than now. Land does not go on increasing in value for ever; after
two or three seasons it attains its maximum fertility. That which
is added by the agricultural art results rather from the progress
of science and the diffusion of knowledge, than from the skill
of the cultivator. Consequently, the addition of a few laborers
to the mass of proprietors would be no argument against property."
This discussion would, indeed, prove a well-nigh useless one,
if our labors culminated in simply extending land-privilege and
industrial monopoly; in emancipating only a few hundred laborers
out of the millions of proletaires. But this also is a misconception
of our real thought, and does but prove the general lack of intelligence
If the laborer,
who adds to the value of a thing, has a right of property in
it, he who maintains this value acquires the same
right. For what is maintenance? It is incessant addition, — continuous
creation. What is it to cultivate? It is to give the soil its
value every year; it is, by annually renewed creation, to prevent
the diminution or destruction of the value of a piece of land.
Admitting, then, that property is rational and legitimate, — admitting
that rent is equitable and just, — I say that he who cultivates
acquires property by as good a title as he who clears, or he
who improves; and that every time a tenant pays his rent, he
obtains a fraction of property in the land entrusted to his care,
the denominator of which is equal to the proportion of rent paid.
Unless you admit this, you fall into absolutism and tyranny;
you recognize class privileges; you sanction slavery.
labors becomes a proprietor — this is an inevitable deduction
from the acknowledged principles of political economy and jurisprudence.
And when I say proprietor, I do not mean simply (as do our hypocritical
economists) proprietor of his allowance, his salary, his wages, — I
mean proprietor of the value which he creates, and by which the
master alone profits.
As all this
relates to the theory of wages and of the distribution of products, — and as this matter never has been even partially
cleared up, — I ask permission to insist on it: this discussion
will not be useless to the work in hand. Many persons talk of
admitting working-people to a share in the products and profits;
but in their minds this participation is pure benevolence: they
have never shown — perhaps never suspected — that it was a natural,
necessary right, inherent in labor, and inseparable from the
function of producer, even in the lowest forms of his work.
my proposition: The laborer retains, even after he has received
his wages, a natural right of property in the thing which he
quote M. Ch. Comte: —
"Some laborers are employed in draining
marshes, in cutting down trees and brushwood, — in a word,
in cleaning up the soil.
They increase the value, they make the amount of property
larger; they are paid for the value which they add in the
form of food
and daily wages: it then becomes the property of the capitalist."
The price is not sufficient: the labor of the workers has created
a value; now this value is their property. But they have neither
sold nor exchanged it; and you, capitalist, you have not earned
it. That you should have a partial right to the whole, in return
for the materials that you have furnished and the provisions
that you have supplied, is perfectly just. You contributed to
the production, you ought to share in the enjoyment. But your
right does not annihilate that of the laborers, who, in spite
of you, have been your colleagues in the work of production.
Why do you talk of wages? The money with which you pay the wages
of the laborers remunerates them for only a few years of the
perpetual possession which they have abandoned to you. Wages
is the cost of the daily maintenance and refreshment of the laborer.
You are wrong in calling it the price of a sale. The workingman
has sold nothing; he knows neither his right, nor the extent
of the concession which he has made to you, nor the meaning of
the contract which you pretend to have made with him. On his
side, utter ignorance; on yours, error and surprise, not to say
deceit and fraud.
Let us make this clearer by another and more striking example.
No one is ignorant of the difficulties that are met with in
the conversion of untilled land into arable and productive land.
These difficulties are so great, that usually an isolated man
would perish before he could put the soil in a condition to yield
him even the most meagre living. To that end are needed the united
and combined efforts of society, and all the resources of industry.
M. Ch. Comte quotes on this subject numerous and well- authenticated
facts, little thinking that he is amassing testimony against
his own system.
Let us suppose
that a colony of twenty or thirty families establishes itself
in a wild district, covered with underbrush and forests;
and from which, by agreement, the natives consent to withdraw.
Each one of these families possesses a moderate but sufficient
amount of capital, of such a nature as a colonist would be apt
to choose, — animals, seeds, tools, and a little money and food.
The land having been divided, each one settles himself as comfortably
as possible, and begins to clear away the portion allotted to
him. But after a few weeks of fatigue, such as they never before
have known, of inconceivable suffering, of ruinous and almost
useless labor, our colonists begin to complain of their trade;
their condition seems hard to them; they curse their sad existence.
one of the shrewdest among them kills a pig, cures a part of
the meat; and, resolved to sacrifice
the rest of his
provisions, goes to find his companions in misery. "Friends," he
begins in a very benevolent tone, "how much trouble it costs
you to do a little work and live uncomfortably! A fortnight of
labor has reduced you to your last extremity! . . . Let us make
an arrangement by which you shall all profit. I offer you provisions
and wine: you shall get so much every day; we will work together,
and, zounds! my friends, we will be happy and contented!"
Would it be possible for empty stomachs to resist such an invitation?
The hungriest of them follow the treacherous tempter. They go
to work; the charm of society, emulation, joy, and mutual assistance
double their strength; the work can be seen to advance. Singing
and laughing, they subdue Nature. In a short time, the soil is
thoroughly changed; the mellowed earth waits only for the seed.
That done, the proprietor pays his laborers, who, on going away,
return him their thanks, and grieve that the happy days which
they have spent with him are over.
this example, always with the same success. Then, these installed,
the rest disperse, — each one returns to his
grubbing. But, while grubbing, it is necessary to live. While
they have been clearing away for their neighbor, they have done
no clearing for themselves. One year's seed-time and harvest
is already gone. They had calculated that in lending their labor
they could not but gain, since they would save their own provisions;
and, while living better, would get still more money. False calculation!
they have created for another the means wherewith to produce,
and have created nothing for themselves. The difficulties of
clearing remain the same; their clothing wears out, their provisions
give out; soon their purse becomes empty for the profit of the
individual for whom they have worked, and who alone can furnish
the provisions which they need, since he alone is in a position
to produce them. Then, when the poor grubber has exhausted his
resources, the man with the provisions (like the wolf in the
fable, who scents his victim from afar) again comes forward.
One he offers to employ again by the day; from another he offers
to buy at a favorable price a piece of his bad land, which is
not, and never can be, of any use to him: that is, he uses the
labor of one man to cultivate the field of another for his own
benefit. So that at the end of twenty years, of thirty individuals
originally equal in point of wealth, five or six have become
proprietors of the whole district, while the rest have been philanthropically
In this century of bourgeoisie morality,
in which I have had the honor to be born, the moral sense is
so debased that I should
not be at all surprised if I were asked, by many a worthy proprietor,
what I see in this that is unjust and illegitimate? Debased creature!
galvanized corpse! how can I expect to convince you, if you cannot
tell robbery when I show it to you? A man, by soft and insinuating
words, discovers the secret of taxing others that he may establish
himself; then, once enriched by their united efforts, he refuses,
on the very conditions which he himself dictated, to advance
the well-being of those who made his fortune for him: and you
ask how such conduct is fraudulent! Under the pretext that he
has paid his laborers, that he owes them nothing more, that he
has nothing to gain by putting himself at the service of others,
while his own occupations claim his attention, — he refuses, I
say, to aid others in getting a foothold, as he was aided in
getting his own; and when, in the impotence of their isolation,
these poor laborers are compelled to sell their birthright, he — this
ungrateful proprietor, this knavish upstart — stands ready to
put the finishing touch to their deprivation and their ruin.
And you think that just? Take care!
I read in your startled countenance the reproach of a guilty
conscience, much more clearly than the innocent astonishment
of involuntary ignorance.
"The capitalist," they say, "has
paid the laborers their daily wages." To be accurate, it must be said that
the capitalist has paid as many times one day's wage as he has
employed laborers each day, — which is not at all the same thing.
For he has paid nothing for that immense power which results
from the union and harmony of laborers, and the convergence and
simultaneousness of their efforts. Two hundred grenadiers stood
the obelisk of Luxor upon its base in a few hours; do you suppose
that one man could have accomplished the same task in two hundred
days? Nevertheless, on the books of the capitalist, the amount
of wages paid would have been the same. Well, a desert to prepare
for cultivation, a house to build, a factory to run, — all these
are obelisks to erect, mountains to move. The smallest fortune,
the most insignificant establishment, the setting in motion of
the lowest industry, demand the concurrence of so many different
kinds of labor and skill, that one man could not possibly execute
the whole of them. It is astonishing that the economists never
have called attention to this fact. Strike a balance, then, between
the capitalist's receipts and his payments.
The laborer needs a salary which will enable him to live while
he works; for unless he consumes, he cannot produce. Whoever
employs a man owes him maintenance and support, or wages enough
to procure the same. That is the first thing to be done in all
production. I admit, for the moment, that in this respect the
capitalist has discharged his duty.
It is necessary
that the laborer should find in his production, in addition
to his present support, a guarantee of his future
support; otherwise the source of production would dry up, and
his productive capacity would become exhausted: in other words,
the labor accomplished must give birth perpetually to new labor — such
is the universal law of reproduction. In this way, the proprietor
of a farm finds: 1. In his crops, means, not only of supporting
himself and his family, but of maintaining and improving his
capital, of feeding his live-stock — in a word, means of new
labor and continual reproduction; 2. In his ownership of a productive
agency, a permanent basis of cultivation and labor.
But he who
lends his services, — what is his basis of cultivation?
presumed need of him, and the unwarranted supposition that
he wishes to employ him. Just as the commoner once held
his land by the munificence and condescension of the lord, so
to-day the working-man holds his labor by the condescension and
necessities of the master and proprietor: that is what is called
possession by a precarious1 title. But this precarious condition
is an injustice, for it implies an inequality in the bargain.
The laborer's wages exceed but little his running expenses, and
do not assure him wages for to-morrow; while the capitalist finds
in the instrument produced by the laborer a pledge of independence
and security for the future.
reproductive leaven — this eternal germ of life, this
preparation of the land and manufacture of implements for production — constitutes
the debt of the capitalist to the producer, which he never pays;
and it is this fraudulent denial which causes the poverty of
the laborer, the luxury of idleness, and the inequality of conditions.
This it is, above all other things, which has been so fitly named
the exploitation of man by man.
One of three
things must be done. Either the laborer must be given a portion
of the product in addition to his wages; or the
employer must render the laborer an equivalent in productive
service; or else he must pledge himself to employ him for ever.
Division of the product, reciprocity of service, or guarantee
of perpetual labor, — from the adoption of one of these courses
the capitalist cannot escape. But it is evident that he cannot
satisfy the second and third of these conditions — he can neither
put himself at the service of the thousands of working-men, who,
directly or indirectly, have aided him in establishing himself,
nor employ them all for ever. He has no other course left him,
then, but a division of the property. But if the property is
divided, all conditions will be equal — there will be no more
large capitalists or large proprietors.
when M. Ch. Comte — following out his hypothesis — shows us
his capitalist acquiring one after another the products of
his employees' labor, he sinks deeper and deeper into the
mire; and, as his argument does not change, our reply of course
remains the same.
laborers are employed in building: some quarry the stone, others
transport it, others cut it,
and still others put
it in place. Each of them adds a certain value to the material
which passes through his hands; and this value, the product of
his labor, is his property. He sells it, as fast as he creates
it, to the proprietor of the building, who pays him for it in
food and wages."
et impera — divide, and you shall command; divide, and
you shall grow rich; divide, and you shall deceive men, you shall
daze their minds, you shall mock at justice! Separate laborers
from each other, perhaps each one's daily wage exceeds the value
of each individual's product; but that is not the question under
consideration. A force of one thousand men working twenty days
has been paid the same wages that one would be paid for working
fifty-five years; but this force of one thousand has done in
twenty days what a single man could not have accomplished, though
he had labored for a million centuries. Is the exchange an equitable
one? Once more, no; when you have paid all the individual forces,
the collective force still remains to be paid. Consequently,
there remains always a right of collective property which you
have not acquired, and which you enjoy unjustly.
Admit that twenty days' wages suffice to feed, lodge, and clothe
this multitude for twenty days: thrown out of employment at the
end of that time, what will become of them, if, as fast as they
create, they abandon their creations to the proprietors who will
soon discharge them? While the proprietor, firm in his position
(thanks to the aid of all the laborers), dwells in security,
and fears no lack of labor or bread, the laborer's only dependence
is upon the benevolence of this same proprietor, to whom he has
sold and surrendered his liberty. If, then, the proprietor, shielding
himself behind his comfort and his rights, refuses to employ
the laborer, how can the laborer live? He has ploughed an excellent
field, and cannot sow it; he has built an elegant and commodious
house, and cannot live in it; he has produced all, and can enjoy
us to equality. Every step that we take brings us nearer to
it; and if laborers had equal strength, diligence,
and industry, clearly their fortunes would be equal also. Indeed,
if, as is pretended, — and as we have admitted, — the laborer
is proprietor of the value which he creates, it follows: —
laborer acquires at the expense of the idle proprietor;
production being necessarily collective, the laborer is entitled
to a share of the products and profits commensurate
with his labor;
accumulated capital being social property, no one can be its
inferences are unavoidable; these alone would suffice to revolutionize
our whole economical system, and change our
institutions and our laws. Why do the very persons, who laid
down this principle, now refuse to be guided by it? Why do the
Says, the Comtes, the Hennequins, and others — after having said
that property is born of labor — seek to fix it by occupation
But let us leave these sophists to their contradictions and
blindness. The good sense of the people will do justice to their
equivocations. Let us make haste to enlighten it, and show it
the true path. Equality approaches; already between it and us
but a short distance intervenes: to-morrow even this distance
will have been traversed.
§ 6. — That in Society
all Wages are Equal.
St. Simonians, the Fourierists, and, in general, all who in
our day are connected with social economy and reform,
inscribe upon their banner, —
“To each according to his capacity, to each capacity according
to its results” (St. Simon);
“To each according to his capital, his labor, and his
mean — although they do not say so in so many words — that
the products of Nature procured by labor and industry are a reward,
a palm, a crown offered to all kinds of preeminence and superiority.
They regard the land as an immense arena in which prizes are
contended for, — no longer, it is true, with lances and swords,
by force and by treachery; but by acquired wealth, by knowledge,
talent, and by virtue itself. In a word, they mean — and everybody
agrees with them — that the greatest capacity is entitled to the
greatest reward; and, to use the mercantile phraseology, — which
has, at least, the merit of being straightforward, — that salaries
must be governed by capacity and its results.
disciples of these two self-styled reformers cannot deny that
such is their thought; for, in doing so, they would contradict
their official interpretations, and would destroy the unity of
their systems. Furthermore, such a denial on their part is not
to be feared. The two sects glory in laying down as a principle
inequality of conditions, — reasoning from Nature, who, they say,
intended the inequality of capacities. They boast only of one
thing; namely, that their political system is so perfect, that
the social inequalities always correspond with the natural inequalities.
They no more trouble themselves to inquire whether inequality
of conditions — I mean of salaries — is possible, than they do
to fix a measure of capacity.2
each according to his capacity, to each capacity according
to its results."
each according to his capital, his labor, and his skill."
Since the death of St. Simon and Fourier, not one among their
numerous disciples has attempted to give to the public a scientific
demonstration of this grand maxim; and I would wager a hundred
to one that no Fourierist even suspects that this biform aphorism
is susceptible of two interpretations.
each according to his capacity, to each capacity according
to its results."
each according to his capital, his labor, and his skill."
taken, as they say, in sensu obvio — in the
sense usually attributed to it — is false, absurd, unjust, contradictory,
hostile to liberty, friendly to tyranny, anti- social, and was
unluckily framed under the express influence of the property
capital must be crossed off the list of elements which
are entitled to a reward. The Fourierists — as far as I
have been able to learn from a few of their pamphlets — deny
the right of occupancy, and recognize no basis of property save
Starting with a like premise, they would have seen — had they
reasoned upon the matter — that capital is a source of production
to its proprietor only by virtue of the right of occupancy, and
that this production is therefore illegitimate. Indeed, if labor
is the sole basis of property, I cease to be proprietor of my
field as soon as I receive rent for it from another. This we
have shown beyond all cavil. It is the same with all capital;
so that to put capital in an enterprise, is, by the law's decision,
to exchange it for an equivalent sum in products. I will not
enter again upon this now useless discussion, since I propose,
in the following chapter, to exhaust the subject of production
Thus, capital can be exchanged, but cannot be a source of income.
skill remain; or, as St. Simon puts it, results and
will examine them successively.
Should wages be governed by labor? In other words, is it just
that he who does the most should get the most? I beg the reader
to pay the closest attention to this point.
the problem with one stroke, we have only to ask ourselves
the following question: "Is labor
a condition or a struggle?" The
reply seems plain.
to man, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat
bread," — that is, thou shalt produce thy own bread: with
more or less ease, according to thy skill in directing and combining
thy efforts, thou shalt labor. God did not say, "Thou shalt
quarrel with thy neighbor for thy bread;" but, "Thou
shalt labor by the side of thy neighbor, and ye shall dwell together
in harmony." Let us develop the meaning of this law, the
extreme simplicity of which renders it liable to misconstruction.
two things must be noticed and distinguished: association and
In so far
as laborers are associated, they are equal; and it involves
a contradiction to say that one should be paid more
than another. For, as the product of one laborer can be paid
for only in the product of another laborer, if the two products
are unequal, the remainder — or the difference between the greater
and the smaller — will not be acquired by society; and, therefore,
not being exchanged, will not affect the equality of wages. There
will result, it is true, in favor of the stronger laborer a natural
inequality, but not a social inequality; no one having suffered
by his strength and productive energy. In a word, society exchanges
only equal products — that is, rewards no labor save that performed
for her benefit; consequently, she pays all laborers equally:
with what they produce outside of her sphere she has no more
to do, than with the difference in their voices and their hair.
I seem to
be positing the principle of inequality: the reverse of this
is the truth. The total amount of labor which can be
performed for society (that is, of labor susceptible of exchange),
being, within a given space, as much greater as the laborers
are more numerous, and as the task assigned to each is less in
magnitude, — it follows that natural inequality neutralizes itself
in proportion as association extends, and as the quantity of
consumable values produced thereby increases. So that in society
the only thing which could bring back the inequality of labor
would be the right of occupancy, — the right of property.
Now, suppose that this daily social task consists in the ploughing,
hoeing, or reaping of two square decameters, and that the average
time required to accomplish it is seven hours: one laborer will
finish it in six hours, another will require eight; the majority,
however, will work seven. But provided each one furnishes the
quantity of labor demanded of him, whatever be the time he employs,
they are entitled to equal wages.
Shall the laborer who is capable of finishing his task in six
hours have the right, on the ground of superior strength and
activity, to usurp the task of the less skilful laborer, and
thus rob him of his labor and bread? Who dares maintain such
a proposition? He who finishes before the others may rest, if
he chooses; he may devote himself to useful exercise and labors
for the maintenance of his strength, and the culture of his mind,
and the pleasure of his life. This he can do without injury to
any one: but let him confine himself to services which affect
him solely. Vigor, genius, diligence, and all the personal advantages
which result therefrom, are the work of Nature and, to a certain
extent, of the individual; society awards them the esteem which
they merit: but the wages which it pays them is measured, not
by their power, but by their production. Now, the product of
each is limited by the right of all.
If the soil
were infinite in extent, and the amount of available material
were exhaustless, even then we could not accept this
maxim, — To each according to his labor. And why? Because society,
I repeat, whatever be the number of its subjects, is forced to
pay them all the same wages, since she pays them only in their
own products. Only, on the hypothesis just made, inasmuch as
the strong cannot be prevented from using all their advantages,
the inconveniences of natural inequality would reappear in the
very bosom of social equality. But the land, considering the
productive power of its inhabitants and their ability to multiply,
is very limited; further, by the immense variety of products
and the extreme division of labor, the social task is made easy
of accomplishment. Now, through this limitation of things producible,
and through the ease of producing them, the law of absolute equality
is a struggle. But this struggle is not between man and man — it is between man and Nature; and it is each one's duty
to take his share in it. If, in the struggle, the strong come
to the aid of the weak, their kindness deserves praise and love;
but their aid must be accepted as a free gift, — not imposed
by force, nor offered at a price. All have the same career before
them, neither too long nor too difficult; whoever finishes it
finds his reward at the end: it is not necessary to get there
In printing-offices, where the laborers usually work by the
job, the compositor receives so much per thousand letters set;
the pressman so much per thousand sheets printed. There, as elsewhere,
inequalities of talent and skill are to be found. When there
is no prospect of dull times (for printing and typesetting, like
all other trades, sometimes come to a stand- still), every one
is free to work his hardest, and exert his faculties to the utmost:
he who does more gets more; he who does less gets less. When
business slackens, compositors and pressmen divide up their labor;
all monopolists are detested as no better than robbers or traitors.
a philosophy in the action of these printers, to which neither
economists nor legists have ever risen. If our legislators
had introduced into their codes the principle of distributive
justice which governs printing-offices; if they had observed
the popular instincts, — not for the sake of servile imitation,
but in order to reform and generalize them, — long ere this liberty
and equality would have been established on an immovable basis,
and we should not now be disputing about the right of property
and the necessity of social distinctions.
It has been
calculated that if labor were equally shared by the whole number
of able-bodied individuals, the average working-day
of each individual, in France, would not exceed five hours. This
being so, how can we presume to talk of the inequality of laborers?
It is the labor of Robert Macaire that causes inequality.
To each according to his labor, interpreted to mean,
Who works most should receive most, is based, therefore, on
two palpable errors: one, an error in economy, that in the
labor of society tasks must necessarily be unequal; the other,
an error in physics, that there is no limit to the amount of
"But," it will be said, "suppose there are some
people who wish to perform only half of their task?" . .
. Is that very embarrassing? Probably they are satisfied with
half of their salary. Paid according to the labor that they had
performed, of what could they complain? and what injury would
they do to others? In this sense, it is fair to apply the maxim, — To
each according to his results. It is the law of equality itself.
numerous difficulties, relative to the police system and the
organization of industry, might be raised
here. I will
reply to them all with this one sentence, — that they must all
be solved by the principle of equality. Thus, some one might
observe, "Here is a task which cannot be postponed without
detriment to production. Ought society to suffer from the negligence
of a few? and will she not venture — out of respect for the right
of labor — to assure with her own hands the product which they
refuse her? In such a case, to whom will the salary belong?"
To society; who will be allowed to perform the labor, either
herself, or through her representatives, but always in such a
way that the general equality shall never be violated, and that
only the idler shall be punished for his idleness. Further, if
society may not use excessive severity towards her lazy members,
she has a right, in self-defence, to guard against abuses.
industry needs — they will add — leaders,
instructors, superintendents, &c. Will these be engaged
in the general task? No; since their task is to lead, instruct,
But they must be chosen from the laborers by the laborers themselves,
and must fulfil the conditions of eligibility. It is the same
with all public functions, whether of administration or instruction.
first of the universal constitution will be: —
"The limited quantity of available material
proves the necessity of dividing the labor among the whole
number of laborers.
The capacity, given to all, of accomplishing a social task, — that
is, an equal task, — and the impossibility of paying one
laborer save in the products of another, justify the equality
§ 7. — That
Inequality of Powers is the
Necessary Condition of
Equality of Fortunes.
It is objected, — and
this objection constitutes the second part of the St. Simonian,
and the third part of the Fourierstic, maxims, —
all kinds of labor cannot be executed with equal ease. Some
require great superiority of skill and intelligence;
and on this superiority is based the price. The artist, the savant,
the poet, the statesman, are esteemed only because of their
excellence; and this excellence destroys all similitude between
other men: in the presence of these heights of science and
genius the law of equality disappears. Now, if equality is
there is no equality. From the poet we descend to the novelist;
from the sculptor to the stonecutter; from the architect
to the mason; from the chemist to the cook, &c. Capacities
are classified and subdivided into orders, genera, and species.
of talent are connected by intermediate talents. Humanity
is a vast hierarchy, in which the individual estimates himself
comparison, and fixes his price by the value placed upon
his product by the public."
objection always has seemed a formidable one. It is the stumbling-block
of the economists, as well as of the defenders
of equality. It has led the former into egregious blunders, and
has caused the latter to utter incredible platitudes. Gracchus
Babeuf wished all superiority to be stringently oppressed,
and even persecuted as a social calamity. To establish his communistic
edifice, he lowered all citizens to the stature of the smallest.
Ignorant eclectics have been known to object to the inequality
of knowledge, and I should not be surprised if some one should
yet rebel against the inequality of virtue. Aristotle was banished,
Socrates drank the hemlock, Epaminondas was called to account,
for having proved superior in intelligence and virtue to some
dissolute and foolish demagogues. Such follies will be re-enacted,
so long as the inequality of fortunes justifies a populace, blinded
and oppressed by the wealthy, in fearing the elevation of new
tyrants to power.
seems more unnatural than that which we examine too closely,
and often nothing seems less like the
truth than the
truth itself. On the other hand, according to J. J. Rousseau, "it
takes a great deal of philosophy to enable us to observe once
what we see every day;" and, according to d'Alembert, "the
ordinary truths of life make but little impression on men, unless
their attention is especially called to them." The father
of the school of economists (Say), from whom I borrow these two
quotations, might have profited by them; but he who laughs at
the blind should wear spectacles, and he who notices him is near-sighted.
that which has frightened so many minds is not, after all,
an objection to equality — it is the very condition on which
equality exists! . . .
inequality the condition of equality of fortunes! . . . What
a paradox! . . . I repeat my assertion, that no one
may think I have blundered — inequality of powers is the sine
qua non of equality of fortunes.
two things to be considered in society — functions and
Every laborer is supposed to be capable of performing the task
to him; or, to use
a common expression, "every
workman must know his trade." The workman equal to his work, — there
is an equation between functionary and function.
functions are not alike; there must be, then, different capacities.
Further, — certain functions demand greater intelligence
and powers; then there are people of superior mind and talent.
For the performance of work necessarily involves a workman: from
the need springs the idea, and the idea makes the producer. We
only know what our senses long for and our intelligence demands;
we have no keen desire for things of which we cannot conceive,
and the greater our powers of conception, the greater our capabilities
Thus, functions arising from needs, needs from desires, and
desires from spontaneous perception and imagination, the same
intelligence which imagines can also produce; consequently, no
labor is superior to the laborer. In a word, if the function
calls out the functionary, it is because the functionary exists
before the function.
Let us admire
Nature's economy. With regard to these various needs which
she has given us, and which the isolated man cannot
satisfy unaided, Nature has granted to the race a power refused
to the individual. This gives rise to the principle of the division
of labor, — a principle founded on the speciality of vocations.
The satisfaction of some needs demands of man continual creation;
while others can, by the labor of a single individual, be satisfied
for millions of men through thousands of centuries. For example,
the need of clothing and food requires perpetual reproduction;
while a knowledge of the system of the universe may be acquired
for ever by two or three highly-gifted men. The perpetual current
of rivers supports our commerce, and runs our machinery; but
the sun, alone in the midst of space, gives light to the whole
world. Nature, who might create Platos and Virgils, Newtons and
Cuviers, as she creates husbandmen and shepherds, does not see
fit to do so; choosing rather to proportion the rarity of genius
to the duration of its products, and to balance the number of
capacities by the competency of each one of them.
I do not
inquire here whether the distance which separates one man from
another, in point of talent and intelligence, arises
from the deplorable condition of civilization, nor whether that
which is now called the inequality of powers would be
in an ideal society any thing more than a diversity of powers.
worst view of the matter; and, that I may not be accused of tergiversation
and evasion of difficulties, I acknowledge all the inequalities
that any one can desire.3
philosophers, in love with the levelling idea, maintain that
all minds are equal, and that all differences are the result
of education. I am no believer, I confess, in this doctrine;
which, even if it were true, would lead to a result directly
opposite to that desired. For, if capacities are equal, whatever
be the degree of their power (as no one can be coerced), there
are functions deemed coarse, low, and degrading, which deserve
higher pay, — a result no less repugnant to equality than to
the principle, to each capacity according to its results. Give
on the contrary, a society in which every kind of talent bears
a proper numerical relation to the needs of the society, and
which demands from each producer only that which his special
function requires him to produce; and, without impairing in the
least the hierarchy of functions, I will deduce the equality
This is my second point.
In considering the element of labor, I have shown that in the
same class of productive services, the capacity to
perform a social task being possessed by all, no inequality of
reward can be based upon an inequality of individual powers.
However, it is but fair to say that certain capacities seem quite
incapable of certain services; so that, if human industry were
entirely confined to one class of products, numerous incapacities
would arise, and, consequently, the greatest social inequality.
But every body sees, without any hint from me, that the variety
of industries avoids this difficulty; so clear is this that I
shall not stop to discuss it. We have only to prove, then, that
functions are equal to each other; just as laborers, who perform
the same function, are equal to each other. — Property
makes man a eunuch, and then reproaches him for being nothing
but dry wood, a decaying tree.
astonished that I refuse to genius, to knowledge, to courage, — in a word, to all the excellences admired by the world, — the
homage of dignities, the distinctions of power and wealth? It
is not I who refuse it: it is economy, it is justice, it is liberty.
Liberty! for the first time in this discussion I appeal to her.
Let her rise in her own defence, and achieve her victory.
ending in an exchange of products or services may be designated
as a commercial operation.
Whoever says commerce, says exchange of equal values; for, if
the values are not equal, and the injured party perceives it,
he will not consent to the exchange, and there will be no commerce.
Commerce exists only among free men. Transactions may be effected
between other people by violence or fraud, but there is no commerce.
A free man is one who enjoys the use of his reason and his faculties;
who is neither blinded by passion, nor hindered or driven by
oppression, nor deceived by erroneous opinions.
So, in every exchange, there is a moral obligation that neither
of the contracting parties shall gain at the expense of the other;
that is, that, to be legitimate and true, commerce must be exempt
from all inequality. This is the first condition of commerce.
Its second condition is, that it be voluntary; that is, that
the parties act freely and openly.
I define, then, commerce or exchange as an act of society.
The negro who sells his wife for a knife, his children for some
bits of glass, and finally himself for a bottle of brandy, is
not free. The dealer in human flesh, with whom he negotiates,
is not his associate; he is his enemy.
laborer who bakes a loaf that he may eat a slice of bread,
who builds a palace that he may sleep in a stable,
who weaves rich fabrics that he may dress in rags, who produces
every thing that he may dispense with every thing, — is not free.
His employer, not becoming his associate in the exchange of salaries
or services which takes place between them, is his enemy.
The soldier who serves his country through fear instead of through
love is not free; his comrades and his officers, the ministers
or organs of military justice, are all his enemies.
who hires land, the manufacturer who borrows capital, the tax-payer
who pays tolls, duties,
patent and license fees,
personal and property taxes, &c., and the deputy who votes
for them, — all act neither intelligently nor freely. Their enemies
are the proprietors, the capitalists, the government.
Give men liberty, enlighten their minds that they may know the
meaning of their contracts, and you will see the most perfect
equality in exchanges without regard to superiority of talent
and knowledge; and you will admit that in commercial affairs,
that is, in the sphere of society, the word superiority is void
sing his verse. I listen to this sublime genius in comparison
with whom I, a simple herdsman, an humble
am as nothing. What, indeed, — if product is to be compared with
product, — are my cheeses and my beans in the presence of his "Iliad"?
But, if Homer wishes to take from me all that I possess, and
make me his slave in return for his inimitable poem, I will give
up the pleasure of his lays, and dismiss him. I can do without
his "Iliad," and wait, if necessary, for the "æneid."
Homer cannot live twenty-four hours without my products. Let
him accept, then, the little that I have to offer; and then his
muse may instruct, encourage, and console me.
"What! do you say that such should be the condition of
one who sings of gods and men? Alms, with the humiliation and
suffering which they bring with them! — what barbarous generosity!" .
. . Do not get excited, I beg of you. Property makes of a poet
either a Croesus or a beggar; only equality knows how to honor
and to praise him. What is its duty? To regulate the right of
the singer and the duty of the listener. Now, notice this point,
which is a very important one in the solution of this question:
both are free, the one to sell, the other to buy. Henceforth
their respective pretensions go for nothing; and the estimate,
whether fair or unfair, that they place, the one upon his verse,
the other upon his liberality, can have no influence upon the
conditions of the contract. We must no longer, in making our
bargains, weigh talent; we must consider products only.
In order that the bard of Achilles may get his due reward, he
must first make himself wanted: that done, the exchange of his
verse for a fee of any kind, being a free act, must be at the
same time a just act; that is, the poet's fee must be equal to
his product. Now, what is the value of this product?
Let us suppose,
in the first place, that this "Iliad" — this
chef-d' oeuvre that is to be equitably rewarded — is really above
price, that we do not know how to appraise it. If the public,
who are free to purchase it, refuse to do so, it is clear that,
the poem being unexchangeable, its intrinsic value will not be
diminished; but that its exchangeable value, or its productive
utility, will be reduced to zero, will be nothing at all. Then
we must seek the amount of wages to be paid between infinity
on the one hand and nothing on the other, at an equal distance
from each, since all rights and liberties are entitled to equal
respect; in other words, it is not the intrinsic value, but the
relative value, of the thing sold that needs to be fixed. The
question grows simpler: what is this relative value? To what
reward does a poem like the "Iliad" entitle its author?
The first business of political economy, after fixing its definitions,
was the solution of this problem; now, not only has it not been
solved, but it has been declared insoluble. According to the
economists, the relative or exchangeable value of things cannot
be absolutely determined; it necessarily varies.
value of a thing," says Say, "is
a positive quantity, but only for a given moment.
It is its nature to perpetually
vary, to change from one point to another. Nothing
can fix it absolutely, because it is based on needs and means
which vary with every moment. These variations complicate
economical phenomena, and often render them very difficult
and solution. I know no remedy for this; it is not
in our power to change the nature of things."
Say says, and repeats, that value being based on utility, and
utility depending entirely on our needs,
whims, customs, &c.,
value is as variable as opinion. Now, political economy being
the science of values, of their production, distribution, exchange,
and consumption, — if exchangeable value cannot be absolutely
determined, how is political economy possible? How can it be
a science? How can two economists look each other in the face
without laughing? How dare they insult metaphysicians and psychologists?
What! that fool of a Descartes imagined that philosophy needed
an immovable base — an aliquid inconcussum — on which
the edifice of science might be built, and he was simple enough
for it! And the Hermes of economy, Trismegistus Say, devoting
half a volume to the amplification of that solemn text, political
economy is a science, has the courage to affirm immediately
afterwards that this science cannot determine its object, — which
is equivalent to saying that it is without a principle or foundation!
He does not know, then, the illustrious Say, the nature of a
science; or rather, he knows nothing of the subject which he
Say's example has borne its fruits. Political economy, as it
exists at present, resembles ontology: discussing effects and
causes, it knows nothing, explains nothing, decides nothing.
The ideas honored with the name of economic laws are nothing
more than a few trifling generalities, to which the economists
thought to give an appearance of depth by clothing them in high-sounding
words. As for the attempts that have been made by the economists
to solve social problems, all that can be said of them is, that,
if a glimmer of sense occasionally appears in their lucubrations,
they immediately fall back into absurdity. For twenty-five years
political economy, like a heavy fog, has weighed upon France,
checking the efforts of the mind, and setting limits to liberty.
creation of industry a venal, absolute, unchangeable, and consequently
legitimate and true value? — Yes.
product of man be exchanged for some other product of man? — Yes,
How many nails is a pair of shoes worth?
If we can
solve this appalling problem, we shall have the key of the
social system for which humanity has been
six thousand years. In the presence of this problem, the economist
recoils confused; the peasant who can neither read nor write
replies without hesitation: "As many as can be made in the
same time, and with the same expense."
value of a thing, then, is its cost in time and expense. How
much is a diamond worth which costs only the labor
of picking it up? — Nothing; it is not a product of man. How much
will it be worth when cut and mounted? — The time and expense
which it has cost the laborer. Why, then, is it sold at so high
a price? — Because men are not free. Society must regulate the
exchange and distribution of the rarest things, as it does that
of the most common ones, in such a way that each may share in
the enjoyment of them. What, then, is that value which is based
upon opinion? — Delusion, injustice, and robbery.
rule, it is easy to reconcile every body. If the mean term,
which we are searching for, between an infinite
no value at all is expressed in the case of every product, by
the amount of time and expense which the product cost, a poem
which has cost its author thirty years of labor and an outlay
of ten thousand francs in journeys, books, &c., must be paid
for by the ordinary wages received by a laborer during thirty
years, PLUS ten thousand francs indemnity for expense incurred.
Suppose the whole amount to be fifty thousand francs; if the
society which gets the benefit of the production include a million
of men, my share of the debt is five centimes.
This gives rise to a few observations.
product, at different times and in different places, may cost
more or less of time and outlay; in this view, it is
true that value is a variable quantity. But this variation is
not that of the economists, who place in their list of the causes
of the variation of values, not only the means of production,
but taste, caprice, fashion, and opinion. In short, the true
value of a thing is invariable in its algebraic expression, although
it may vary in its monetary expression.
of every product in demand should be its cost in time and
outlay — neither more nor less: every product not in
demand is a loss to the producer — a commercial non-value.
of the principle of evaluation, and the difficulty under many
circumstances of applying it, is the source of commercial
fraud, and one of the most potent causes of the inequality of
certain industries and pay for certain products, a society
is needed which corresponds in size with
of talents, the costliness of the products, and the variety
of the arts and sciences. If, for example, a society of fifty
can support a schoolmaster, it requires one hundred for a
shoemaker, one hundred and fifty for a blacksmith, two hundred
for a tailor, &c.
If the number of farmers rises to one thousand, ten thousand,
one hundred thousand, &c., as fast as their number increases,
that of the functionaries which are earliest required must
increase in the same proportion; so that the highest functions
possible only in the most powerful societies.4 That
is the peculiar feature of capacities; the character of genius,
seal of its glory, cannot arise and develop itself, except
in the bosom of a great nation. But this physiological condition,
necessary to the existence of genius, adds nothing to its
rights: far from that, — the delay in its appearance proves
that, in economical and civil affairs, the loftiest intelligence
submit to the equality of possessions; an equality which
is anterior to it, and of which it constitutes the crown.
This is severe on our pride, but it is an inexorable truth.
And here psychology comes to the aid of social economy, giving
us to understand that talent and material recompense have no
common measure; that, in this respect, the condition of all producers
is equal: consequently, that all comparison between them, and
all distinction in fortunes, is impossible.
every work coming from the hands of man — compared
with the raw material of which it is composed — is beyond price.
In this respect, the distance is as great between a pair of wooden
shoes and the trunk of a walnut-tree, as between a statue by
Scopas and a block of marble. The genius of the simplest mechanic
exerts as much influence over the materials which he uses, as
does the mind of a Newton over the inert spheres whose distances,
volumes, and revolutions he calculates. You ask for talent and
genius a corresponding degree of honor and reward. Fix for me
the value of a wood-cutter's talent, and I will fix that of Homer.
If any thing can reward intelligence, it is intelligence itself.
That is what happens, when various classes of producers pay to
each other a reciprocal tribute of admiration and praise. But
if they contemplate an exchange of products with a view to satisfying
mutual needs, this exchange must be effected in accordance with
a system of economy which is indifferent to considerations of
talent and genius, and whose laws are deduced, not from vague
and meaningless admiration, but from a just balance between debit and credit; in short, from commercial accounts.
Now, that no one may imagine that the liberty of buying and
selling is the sole basis of the equality of wages, and that
society's sole protection against superiority of talent lies
in a certain force of inertia which has nothing in common with
right, I shall proceed to explain why all capacities are entitled
to the same reward, and why a corresponding difference in wages
would be an injustice. I shall prove that the obligation to stoop
to the social level is inherent in talent; and on this very superiority
of genius I will found the equality of fortunes. I have just
given the negative argument in favor of rewarding all capacities
alike; I will now give the direct and positive argument.
Listen, first, to the economist: it is always pleasant to see
how he reasons, and how he understands justice. Without him,
moreover, without his amusing blunders and his wonderful arguments,
we should learn nothing. Equality, so odious to the economist,
owes every thing to political economy.
"When the parents of a physician [the text says a lawyer,
which is not so good an example] have expended on his education
forty thousand francs, this sum may be regarded as so much capital
invested in his head. It is therefore permissible to consider
it as yielding an annual income of four thousand francs. If the
physician earns thirty thousand, there remains an income of twenty-six
thousand francs due to the personal talents given him by Nature.
This natural capital, then, if we assume ten per cent. as the
rate of interest, amounts to two hundred and sixty thousand francs;
and the capital given him by his parents, in defraying the expenses
of his education, to forty thousand francs. The union of these
two kinds of capital constitutes his fortune." — Say:
Complete Course, &c.
Say divides the fortune of the physician into two parts: one
is composed of the capital which went to pay for his education,
the other represents his personal talents. This division is just;
it is in conformity with the nature of things; it is universally
admitted; it serves as the major premise of that grand argument
which establishes the inequality of capacities. I accept this
premise without qualification; let us look at the consequences.
Say credits the
physician with forty thousand francs, — the
cost of his education. This amount should be entered upon
the debit side of the account. For, although this expense
was incurred for him, it was not incurred by him. Then, instead
these forty thousand francs, the physician should add them to
the price of his product, and repay them to those who are entitled
to them. Notice, further, that Say speaks of income instead
of reimbursement; reasoning on the false principle of the productivity
of capital. The expense of educating a talent is a debt contracted
by this talent. From the very fact of its existence, it becomes
a debtor to an amount equal to the cost of its production. This
is so true and simple that, if the education of some one child
in a family has cost double or triple that of its brothers, the
latter are entitled to a proportional amount of the property
previous to its division. There is no difficulty about this in
the case of guardianship, when the estate is administered in
the name of the minors.
which I have just said of the obligation incurred by talent
the cost of its education does
the economist. The man of talent, he says, inheriting from
his family, inherits among other things a claim to the forty
francs which his education costs; and he becomes, in consequence,
its proprietor. But this is to abandon the right of talent,
and to fall back upon the right of occupancy; which again
all the questions asked in Chapter II. What is the right
of occupancy? what is inheritance? Is the right of succession
a right of accumulation
or only a right of choice? how did the physician's father
get his fortune? was he a proprietor, or only a usufructuary?
he was rich, let him account for his wealth; if he was poor,
how could he incur so large an expense? If he received aid,
what right had he to use that aid to the disadvantage of
his benefactors, &c.?
"There remains an income of twenty-six thousand francs
due to the personal talents given him by Nature." (Say, — as
above quoted.) Reasoning from this premise, Say concludes
that our physician's talent is equivalent to a capital of
and sixty thousand francs. This skilful calculator mistakes
a consequence for a principle. The talent must not be measured
by the gain, but rather the gain by the talent; for it may
that, notwithstanding his merit, the physician in question
will gain nothing at all, in which case will it be necessary
that his talent or fortune is equivalent to zero? To such
a result, however, would Say's reasoning lead; a result which
Now, it is impossible to place a money value on any talent whatsoever,
since talent and money have no common measure. On what plausible
ground can it be maintained that a physician should be paid two,
three, or a hundred times as much as a peasant? An unavoidable
difficulty, which has never been solved save by avarice, necessity,
and oppression. It is not thus that the right of talent should
be determined. But how is it to be determined?
say, first, that the physician must be treated with as much
favor as any other producer, that he must not be placed
below the level of others. This I will not stop to prove. But
I add that neither must he be lifted above that level; because
his talent is collective property for which he did not pay, and
for which he is ever in debt.
Just as the creation of every instrument of production is the
result of collective force, so also are a man's talent and knowledge
the product of universal intelligence and of general knowledge
slowly accumulated by a number of masters, and through the aid
of many inferior industries. When the physician has paid for
his teachers, his books, his diplomas, and all the other items
of his educational expenses, he has no more paid for his talent
than the capitalist pays for his house and land when he gives
his employees their wages. The man of talent has contributed
to the production in himself of a useful instrument. He has,
then, a share in its possession; he is not its proprietor. There
exist side by side in him a free laborer and an accumulated social
capital. As a laborer, he is charged with the use of an instrument,
with the superintendence of a machine; namely, his capacity.
As capital, he is not his own master; he uses himself, not for
his own benefit, but for that of others.
talent did not find in its own excellence a reward for the
sacrifices which it costs, still would it
be easier to find
reasons for lowering its reward than for raising it above the
common level. Every producer receives an education; every laborer
is a talent, a capacity, — that is, a piece of collective property.
But all talents are not equally costly. It takes but few teachers,
but few years, and but little study, to make a farmer or a mechanic:
the generative effort and — if I may venture to use such language — the
period of social gestation are proportional to the loftiness
of the capacity. But while the physician, the poet, the artist,
and the savant produce but little, and that slowly, the
productions of the farmer are much less uncertain, and do not
long a time. Whatever be then the capacity of a man, — when this
capacity is once created, — it does not belong to him. Like the
material fashioned by an industrious hand, it had the power of becoming, and society has given it being.
Shall the vase say to the potter, "I am that I am, and I owe you nothing"?
The artist, the savant, and the poet find their just recompense
in the permission that society gives them to devote themselves
exclusively to science and to art: so that in reality they do
not labor for themselves, but for society, which creates them,
and requires of them no other duty. Society can, if need be,
do without prose and verse, music and painting, and the knowledge
of the movements of the moon and stars; but it cannot live a
single day without food and shelter.
man does not live by bread alone; he must, also (according
to the Gospel), live by the word of God; that is,
he must love the good and do it, know and admire the beautiful,
and study the marvels of Nature. But in order to cultivate his
mind, he must first take care of his body, — the latter duty
is as necessary as the former is noble. If it is glorious to
and instruct men, it is honorable as well to feed them. When,
then, society — faithful to the principle of the division of
labor — intrusts a work of art or of science to one of its members,
allowing him to abandon ordinary labor, it owes him an indemnity
which it prevents him from producing industrially; but it owes
him nothing more. If he should demand more, society should, by
refusing his services, annihilate his pretensions. Forced, then,
in order to live, to devote himself to labor repugnant to his
nature, the man of genius would feel his weakness, and would
live the most distasteful of lives.
of a celebrated singer who demanded of the Empress of Russia
(Catherine II) twenty thousand roubles
for his services: "That
is more than I give my field-marshals," said Catherine. "Your
majesty," replied the other, "has only to make singers
of her field-marshals."
(more powerful than Catherine II) should say to Mademoiselle
Rachel, "You must act for one hundred louis, or else spin
cotton;" to M. Duprez, "You must sing for two thousand
four hundred francs, or else work in the vineyard," — do
you think that the actress Rachel, and the singer Duprez, would
abandon the stage? If they did, they would be the first to repent
Mademoiselle Rachel receives, they say, sixty thousand francs
annually from the Comedie-Francaise. For a talent like hers,
it is a slight fee. Why not one hundred thousand francs, two
hundred thousand francs? Why! not a civil list? What meanness!
Are we really guilty of chaffering with an artist like Mademoiselle
It is said, in reply, that the managers of the theatre cannot
give more without incurring a loss; that they admit the superior
talent of their young associate; but that, in fixing her salary,
they have been compelled to take the account of the company's
receipts and expenses into consideration also.
just, but it only confirms what I have said; namely, that an
artist's talent may be infinite, but that its mercenary
claims are necessarily limited, — on the one hand, by its usefulness
to the society which rewards it; on the other, by the resources
of this society: in other words, that the demand of the seller
is balanced by the right of the buyer.
Rachel, they say, brings to the treasury of the Theatre-Francais
more than sixty thousand francs. I admit it;
but then I blame the theatre. From whom does the Theatre- Francais
take this money? From some curious people who are perfectly free.
Yes; but the workingmen, the lessees, the tenants, those who
borrow by pawning their possessions, from whom these curious
people recover all that they pay to the theatre, — are they free?
And when the better part of their products are consumed by others
at the play, do you assure me that their families are not in
want? Until the French people, reflecting on the salaries paid
to all artists, savants, and public functionaries, have plainly
expressed their wish and judgment as to the matter, the salaries
of Mademoiselle Rachel and all her fellow-artists will be a compulsory
tax extorted by violence, to reward pride, and support libertinism.
It is because we are neither free nor sufficiently enlightened,
that we submit to be cheated in our bargains; that the laborer
pays the duties levied by the prestige of power and the selfishness
of talent upon the curiosity of the idle, and that we are perpetually
scandalized by these monstrous inequalities which are encouraged
and applauded by public opinion.
The whole nation, and the nation only, pays its authors, its
savants, its artists, its officials, whatever be the hands through
which their salaries pass. On what basis should it pay them?
On the basis of equality. I have proved it by estimating the
value of talent. I shall confirm it in the following chapter,
by proving the impossibility of all social inequality.
we shown so far? Things so simple that really they seem silly: —
That, as the traveller does not appropriate the route which
he traverses, so the farmer does not appropriate the field which
That if, nevertheless, by reason of his industry, a laborer
may appropriate the material which he employs, every employer
of material becomes, by the same title, a proprietor;
That all capital, whether material or mental, being the result
of collective labor, is, in consequence, collective property;
That the strong have no right to encroach upon the labor of
the weak, nor the shrewd to take advantage of the credulity of
Finally, that no one can be forced to buy that which he does
not want, still less to pay for that which he has not bought;
and, consequently, that the exchangeable value of a product,
being measured neither by the opinion of the buyer nor that of
the seller, but by the amount of time and outlay which it has
cost, the property of each always remains the same.
Are not these very simple truths? Well, as simple as they seem
to you, reader, you shall yet see others which surpass them in
dullness and simplicity. For our course is the reverse of that
of the geometricians: with them, the farther they advance, the
more difficult their problems become; we, on the contrary, after
having commenced with the most abstruse propositions, shall end
with the axioms.
But I must close this chapter with an exposition of one of those
startling truths which never have been dreamed of by legists
§ 8. — That,
from the Stand-point of Justice,
Labor destroys Property.
This proposition is the logical result of the two preceding
sections, which we have just summed up.
The isolated man can supply but a very small portion of his
wants; all his power lies in association, and in the intelligent
combination of universal effort. The division and co-operation
of labor multiply the quantity and the variety of products; the
individuality of functions improves their quality.
not a man, then, but lives upon the products of several thousand
different industries; not a laborer
but receives from
society at large the things which he consumes, and, with these,
the power to reproduce. Who, indeed, would venture the assertion, "I
produce, by my own effort, all that I consume; I need the aid
of no one else"? The farmer, whom the early economists regarded
as the only real producer — the farmer, housed, furnished, clothed,
fed, and assisted by the mason, the carpenter, the tailor, the
miller, the baker, the butcher, the grocer, the blacksmith, &c., — the
farmer, I say, can he boast that he produces by his own unaided
articles of consumption are given to each by all; consequently,
the production of each involves
of all. One product cannot exist without another; an isolated
industry is an impossible thing. What would be the harvest of
the farmer, if others did not manufacture for him barns, wagons,
ploughs, clothes, &c.? Where would be the savant without
the publisher; the printer without the typecaster and the machinist;
and these, in their turn, without a multitude of other industries?
. . . Let us not prolong this catalogue — so easy to extend — lest
we be accused of uttering commonplaces. All industries are united
by mutual relations in a single group; all productions do reciprocal
service as means and end; all varieties of talent are but a series
of changes from the inferior to the superior.
Now, this undisputed and indisputable fact of the general participation
in every species of product makes all individual productions
common; so that every product, coming from the hands of the producer,
is mortgaged in advance by society. The producer himself is entitled
to only that portion of his product, which is expressed by a
fraction whose denominator is equal to the number of individuals
of which society is composed. It is true that in return this
same producer has a share in all the products of others, so that
he has a claim upon all, just as all have a claim upon him; but
is it not clear that this reciprocity of mortgages, far from
authorizing property, destroys even possession? The laborer is
not even possessor of his product; scarcely has he finished it,
when society claims it.
will be answered, "even
if that is so — even if the product does not belong to the producer — still
society gives each laborer an equivalent for his product; and
this equivalent, this salary, this reward, this allowance, becomes
his property. Do you deny that this property is legitimate? And
if the laborer, instead of consuming his entire wages, chooses
to economize, — who dare question his right to do so?"
is not even proprietor of the price of his labor, and cannot
absolutely control its disposition.
Let us not be
blinded by a spurious justice. That which is given the laborer
in exchange for his product is not given him as a reward for
past labor, but to provide for and secure future labor. We consume
before we produce. The laborer may say at the end of the day, "I
have paid yesterday's expenses; to-morrow I shall pay those of
today." At every moment of his life, the member of society
is in debt; he dies with the debt unpaid: — how is it possible
for him to accumulate?
of economy — it is the proprietor's hobby. Under a
system of equality, all economy which does not aim at subsequent
reproduction or enjoyment is impossible — why? Because the thing
saved, since it cannot be converted into capital, has no object,
and is without a final cause. This will be explained more fully
in the next chapter.
To conclude: —
The laborer, in his relation to society, is a debtor who of
necessity dies insolvent. The proprietor is an unfaithful guardian
who denies the receipt of the deposit committed to his care,
and wishes to be paid for his guardianship down to the last day.
Lest the principles just set forth may appear to certain readers
too metaphysical, I shall reproduce them in a more concrete form,
intelligible to the dullest brains, and pregnant with the most
I have considered property as a power of exclusion;
hereafter, I shall examine it as a power of invasion.
from precor, "I pray;" because the
act of concession expressly signified that the lord, in
answer to the prayers of his men or slaves, had granted
them permission to labor.
St. Simon's system, the St.-Simonian priest determines
the capacity of each by virtue of his pontifical infallibility,
in imitation of the Roman Church:
in Fourier's, the ranks and merits are decided by vote, in imitation of the constitutional
the great man is an object of ridicule to the reader; he did not mean to tell
cannot conceive how any one dares to justify the inequality
of conditions, by pointing to the base inclinations and
propensities of certain men. Whence comes this shameful
degradation of heart and mind to which so many fall victims,
if not from the misery and abjection into which property
many citizens are needed to support a professor of philosophy? — Thirty-five
millions. How many for an economist? — Two
billions. And for a literary man, who is neither a savant,
nor an artist, nor a philosopher, nor an economist, and
who writes newspaper novels? — None.