Proudhon. What is Property? Second Memoir 1841
Before resuming my “Inquiries into Government and Property,” it is fitting, for the satisfaction of some worthy people, and also in the interest of order, that I should make to you a plain, straightforward explanation. In a much-governed State, no one would be allowed to attack the external form of the society, and the groundwork of its institutions, until he had established his right to do so, — first, by his morality; second, by his capacity; and, third, by the purity of his intentions. Any one who, wishing to publish a treatise upon the constitution of the country, could not satisfy this threefold condition, would be obliged to procure the endorsement of a responsible patron possessing the requisite qualifications.
But we Frenchmen have the liberty of the press. This grand right — the sword of thought, which elevates the virtuous citizen to the rank of legislator, and makes the malicious citizen an agent of discord — frees us from all preliminary responsibility to the law; but it does not release us from our internal obligation to render a public account of our sentiments and thoughts. I have used, in all its fulness, and concerning an important question, the right which the charter grants us. I come to-day, sir, to submit my conscience to your judgment, and my feeble insight to your discriminating reason. You have criticised in a kindly spirit — I had almost said with partiality for the writer — a work which teaches a doctrine that you thought it your duty to condemn. “The Academy of Moral and Political Sciences,” said you in your report, “can accept the conclusions of the author only as far as it likes.” I venture to hope, sir, that, after you have read this letter, if your prudence still restrains you, your fairness will induce you to do me justice.
Men, equal in the dignity of their persons and equal before the law, should be equal in their conditions, — such is the thesis which I maintained and developed in a memoir bearing the title, “What is Property? or, An Inquiry into the Principle of Right and of Government.”
The idea of social equality, even in individual fortunes, has in all ages besieged, like a vague presentiment, the human imagination. Poets have sung of it in their hymns; philosophers have dreamed of it in their Utopias; priests teach it, but only for the spiritual world. The people, governed by it, never have had faith in it; and the civil power is never more disturbed than by the fables of the age of gold and the reign of Astrea. A year ago, however, this idea received a scientific demonstration, which has not yet been satisfactorily answered, and, permit me to add, never will be. This demonstration, owing to its slightly impassioned style, its method of reasoning, — which was so at variance with that employed by the generally recognized authorities, — and the importance and novelty of its conclusions, was of a nature to cause some alarm; and might have been dangerous, had it not been — as you, sir, so well said — a sealed letter, so far as the general public was concerned, addressed only to men of intelligence. I was glad to see that through its metaphysical dress you recognized the wise foresight of the author; and I thank you for it. May God grant that my intentions, which are wholly peaceful, may never be charged upon me as treasonable!
Like a stone thrown into a mass of serpents, the First Memoir on Property excited intense animosity, and aroused the passions of many. But, while some wished the author and his work to be publicly denounced, others found in them simply the solution of the fundamental problems of society; a few even basing evil speculations upon the new light which they had obtained. It was not to be expected that a system of inductions abstractly gathered together, and still more abstractly expressed, would be understood with equal accuracy in its ensemble and in each of its parts.
To find the law of equality, no longer in charity and self-sacrifice (which are not binding in their nature), but in justice; to base equality of functions upon equality of persons; to determine the absolute principle of exchange; to neutralize the inequality of individual faculties by collective force; to establish an equation between property and robbery; to change the law of succession without destroying the principle; to maintain the human personality in a system of absolute association, and to save liberty from the chains of communism; to synthetize the monarchical and democratic forms of government; to reverse the division of powers; to give the executive power to the nation, and to make legislation a positive, fixed, and absolute science, — what a series of paradoxes! what a string of delusions! if I may not say, what a chain of truths! But it is not my purpose here to pass upon the theory of the right of possession. I discuss no dogmas. My only object is to justify my views, and to show that, in writing as I did, I not only exercised a right, but performed a duty.
Yes, I have attacked property, and shall attack it again; but, sir, before demanding that I shall make the amende honorable for having obeyed my conscience and spoken the exact truth, condescend, I beg of you, to cast a glance at the events which are happening around us; look at our deputies, our magistrates, our philosophers, our ministers, our professors, and our publicists; examine their methods of dealing with the matter of property; count up with me the restrictions placed upon it every day in the name of the public welfare; measure the breaches already made; estimate those which society thinks of making hereafter; add the ideas concerning property held by all theories in common; interrogate history, and then tell me what will be left, half a century hence, of this old right of property; and, thus perceiving that I have so many accomplices, you will immediately declare me innocent.
What is the law of expropriation on the ground of public utility, which everybody favors, and which is even thought too lenient? A flagrant violation of the right of property. Society indemnifies, it is said, the dispossessed proprietor; but does it return to him the traditional associations, the poetic charm, and the family pride which accompany property? Naboth, and the miller of Sans-Souci, would have protested against French law, as they protested against the caprice of their kings. “It is the field of our fathers,” they would have cried, “and we will not sell it!” Among the ancients, the refusal of the individual limited the powers of the State. The Roman law bowed to the will of the citizen, and an emperor — Commodus, if I remember rightly — abandoned the project of enlarging the forum out of respect for the rights of the occupants who refused to abdicate. Property is a real right, jus in re, — a right inherent in the thing, and whose principle lies in the external manifestation of man’s will. Man leaves his imprint, stamps his character, upon the objects of his handiwork. This plastic force of man, as the modern jurists say, is the seal which, set upon matter, makes it holy. Whoever lays hands upon it, against the proprietor’s will, does violence to the latter’s personality. And yet, when an administrative committee saw fit to declare that public utility required it, property had to give way to the general will. Soon, in the name of public utility, methods of cultivation and conditions of enjoyment will be prescribed; inspectors of agriculture and manufactures will be appointed; property will be taken away from unskilful hands, and entrusted to laborers who are more deserving of it; and a general superintendence of production will be established. It is not two years since I saw a proprietor destroy a forest more than five hundred acres in extent. If public utility had interfered, that forest — the only one for miles around — would still be standing.
But, it is said, expropriation on the ground of public utility is only an exception which confirms the principle, and bears testimony in favor of the right. Very well; but from this exception we will pass to another, from that to a third, and so on from exceptions to exceptions, until we have reduced the rule to a pure abstraction.
How many supporters do you think, sir, can be claimed for the project of the conversion of the public funds? I venture to say that everybody favors it, except the fund-holders.
Now, this so-called conversion is an extensive expropriation, and in this case with no indemnity whatever. The public funds are so much real estate, the income from which the proprietor counts upon with perfect safety, and which owes its value to the tacit promise of the government to pay interest upon it at the established rate, until the fund-holder applies for redemption. For, if the income is liable to diminution, it is less profitable than house-rent or farm-rent, whose rates may rise or fall according to the fluctuations in the market; and in that case, what inducement has the capitalist to invest his money in the State? When, then, you force the fund-holder to submit to a diminution of interest, you make him bankrupt to the extent of the diminution; and since, in consequence of the conversion, an equally profitable investment becomes impossible, you depreciate his property.
That such a measure may be justly executed, it must be generalized; that is, the law which provides for it must decree also that interest on sums lent on deposit or on mortgage throughout the realm, as well as house and farm-rents, shall be reduced to three per cent. This simultaneous reduction of all kinds of income would be not a whit more difficult to accomplish than the proposed conversion; and, further, it would offer the advantage of forestalling at one blow all objections to it, at the same time that it would insure a just assessment of the land-tax. See! If at the moment of conversion a piece of real estate yields an income of one thousand francs, after the new law takes effect it will yield only six hundred francs. Now, allowing the tax to be an aliquot part — one-fourth for example — of the income derived from each piece of property, it is clear on the one hand that the proprietor would not, in order to lighten his share of the tax, underestimate the value of his property; since, house and farm-rents being fixed by the value of the capital, and the latter being measured by the tax, to depreciate his real estate would be to reduce his revenue. On the other hand, it is equally evident that the same proprietors could not overestimate the value of their property, in order to increase their incomes beyond the limits of the law, since the tenants and farmers, with their old leases in their hands, would enter a protest.
Such, sir, must be the result sooner or later of the conversion which has been so long demanded; otherwise, the financial operation of which we are speaking would be a crying injustice, unless intended as a stepping-stone. This last motive seems the most plausible one; for in spite of the clamors of interested parties, and the flagrant violation of certain rights, the public conscience is bound to fulfil its desire, and is no more affected when charged with attacking property, than when listening to the complaints of the bondholders. In this case, instinctive justice belies legal justice.
Who has not heard of the inextricable confusion into which the Chamber of Deputies was thrown last year, while discussing the question of colonial and native sugars? Did they leave these two industries to themselves? The native manufacturer was ruined by the colonist. To maintain the beet-root, the cane had to be taxed. To protect the property of the one, it became necessary to violate the property of the other. The most remarkable feature of this business was precisely that to which the least attention was paid; namely, that, in one way or another, property had to be violated. Did they impose on each industry a proportional tax, so as to preserve a balance in the market? They created a maximum price for each variety of sugar; and, as this maximum price was not the same, they attacked property in two ways, — on the one hand, interfering with the liberty of trade; on the other, disregarding the equality of proprietors. Did they suppress the beet-root by granting an indemnity to the manufacturer? They sacrificed the property of the tax-payer. Finally, did they prefer to cultivate the two varieties of sugar at the nation’s expense, just as different varieties of tobacco are cultivated? They abolished, so far as the sugar industry was concerned, the right of property. This last course, being the most social, would have been certainly the best; but, if property is the necessary basis of civilization, how is this deep-seated antagonism to be explained?
Not satisfied with the power of dispossessing a citizen on the ground of public utility, they want also to dispossess him on the ground of private utility. For a long time, a revision of the law concerning mortgages was clamored for; a process was demanded, in behalf of all kinds of credit and in the interest of even the debtors themselves, which would render the expropriation of real estate as prompt, as easy, and as effective as that which follows a commercial protest. The Chamber of Deputies, in the early part of this year, 1841, discussed this project, and the law was passed almost unanimously. There is nothing more just, nothing more reasonable, nothing more philosophical apparently, than the motives which gave rise to this reform.
1. Formerly, the small proprietor whose obligation had arrived at maturity, and who found himself unable to meet it, had to employ all that he had left, after being released from his debt, in defraying the legal costs. Henceforth, the promptness of expropriation will save him from total ruin.
2. The difficulties in the way of payment arrested credit, and prevented the employment of capital in agricultural enterprises. This cause of distrust no longer existing, capitalists will find new markets, agriculture will rapidly develop, and farmers will be the first to enjoy the benefit of the new law.
3. Finally, it was iniquitous and absurd, that, on account of a protested note, a poor manufacturer should see in twenty-four hours his business arrested, his labor suspended, his merchandise seized, his machinery sold at auction, and finally himself led off to prison, while two years were sometimes necessary to expropriate the most miserable piece of real estate. These arguments, and others besides, you clearly stated, sir, in your first lectures of this academic year.
But, when stating these excellent arguments, did you ask yourself, sir, whither would tend such a transformation of our system of mortgages? ... To monetize, if I may say so, landed property; to accumulate it within portfolios; to separate the laborer from the soil, man from Nature; to make him a wanderer over the face of the earth; to eradicate from his heart every trace of family feeling, national pride, and love of country; to isolate him more and more; to render him indifferent to all around him; to concentrate his love upon one object, — money; and, finally, by the dishonest practices of usury, to monopolize the land to the profit of a financial aristocracy, — a worthy auxiliary of that industrial feudality whose pernicious influence we begin to feel so bitterly. Thus, little by little, the subordination of the laborer to the idler, the restoration of abolished castes, and the distinction between patrician and plebeian, would be effected; thus, thanks to the new privileges granted to the property of the capitalists, that of the small and intermediate proprietors would gradually disappear, and with it the whole class of free and honest laborers. This certainly is not my plan for the abolition of property. Far from mobilizing the soil, I would, if possible, immobilize even the functions of pure intelligence, so that society might be the fulfilment of the intentions of Nature, who gave us our first possession, the land. For, if the instrument or capital of production is the mark of the laborer, it is also his pedestal, his support, his country, and, as the Psalmist says, the place of his activity and his rest.
Let us examine more closely still the inevitable and approaching result of the last law concerning judicial sales and mortgages. Under the system of competition which is killing us, and whose necessary expression is a plundering and tyrannical government, the farmer will need always capital in order to repair his losses, and will be forced to contract loans. Always depending upon the future for the payment of his debts, he will be deceived in his hope, and surprised by maturity. For what is there more prompt, more unexpected, more abbreviatory of space and time, than the maturity of an obligation? I address this question to all whom this pitiless Nemesis pursues, and even troubles in their dreams. Now, under the new law, the expropriation of a debtor will be effected a hundred times more rapidly; then, also, spoliation will be a hundred times surer, and the free laborer will pass a hundred times sooner from his present condition to that of a serf attached to the soil. Formerly, the length of time required to effect the seizure curbed the usurer’s avidity, gave the borrower an opportunity to recover himself, and gave rise to a transaction between him and his creditor which might result finally in a complete release. Now, the debtor’s sentence is irrevocable: he has but a few days of grace.
And what advantages are promised by this law as an offset to this sword of Damocles, suspended by a single hair over the head of the unfortunate husbandman? The expenses of seizure will be much less, it is said; but will the interest on the borrowed capital be less exorbitant? For, after all, it is interest which impoverishes the peasant and leads to his expropriation. That the law may be in harmony with its principle, that it may be truly inspired by that spirit of justice for which it is commended, it must — while facilitating expropriation — lower the legal price of money. Otherwise, the reform concerning mortgages is but a trap set for small proprietors, — a legislative trick.
Lower interest on money! But, as we have just seen, that is to limit property. Here, sir, you shall make your own defence. More than once, in your learned lectures, I have heard you deplore the precipitancy of the Chambers, who, without previous study and without profound knowledge of the subject, voted almost unanimously to maintain the statutes and privileges of the Bank. Now these privileges, these statutes, this vote of the Chambers, mean simply this, — that the market price of specie, at five or six per cent., is not too high, and that the conditions of exchange, discount, and circulation, which generally double this interest, are none too severe. So the government thinks. M. Blanqui — a professor of political economy, paid by the State — maintains the contrary, and pretends to demonstrate, by decisive arguments, the necessity of a reform. Who, then, best understands the interests of property, — the State, or M. Blanqui?
If specie could be borrowed at half the present rate, the revenues from all sorts of property would soon be reduced one-half also. For example: when it costs less to build a house than to hire one, when it is cheaper to clear a field than to procure one already cleared, competition inevitably leads to a reduction of house and farm-rents, since the surest way to depreciate active capital is to increase its amount. But it is a law of political economy that an increase of production augments the mass of available capital, consequently tends to raise wages, and finally to annihilate interest. Then, proprietors are interested in maintaining the statutes and privileges of the Bank; then, a reform in this matter would compromise the right of increase; then, the peers and deputies are better informed than Professor Blanqui.
But these same deputies, — so jealous of their privileges whenever the equalizing effects of a reform are within their intellectual horizon, — what did they do a few days before they passed the law concerning judicial sales? They formed a conspiracy against property! Their law to regulate the labor of children in factories will, without doubt, prevent the manufacturer from compelling a child to labor more than so many hours a day; but it will not force him to increase the pay of the child, nor that of its father. To-day, in the interest of health, we diminish the subsistence of the poor; to-morrow it will be necessary to protect them by fixing their minimum wages. But to fix their minimum wages is to compel the proprietor, is to force the master to accept his workman as an associate, which interferes with freedom and makes mutual insurance obligatory. Once entered upon this path, we never shall stop. Little by little the government will become manufacturer, commission-merchant, and retail dealer. It will be the sole proprietor. Why, at all epochs, have the ministers of State been so reluctant to meddle with the question of wages? Why have they always refused to interfere between the master and the workman? Because they knew the touchy and jealous nature of property, and, regarding it as the principle of all civilization, felt that to meddle with it would be to unsettle the very foundations of society. Sad condition of the proprietary régime, — one of inability to exercise charity without violating justice!
And, sir, this fatal consequence which necessity forces upon the State is no mere imagination. Even now the legislative power is asked, no longer simply to regulate the government of factories, but to create factories itself. Listen to the millions of voices shouting on all hands for the organisation of labor, the creation of national workshops! The whole laboring class is agitated: it has its journals, organs, and representatives. To guarantee labor to the workingman, to balance production with sale, to harmonize industrial proprietors, it advocates to-day — as a sovereign remedy — one sole head, one national wardenship, one huge manufacturing company. For, sir, all this is included in the idea of national workshops. On this subject I wish to quote, as proof, the views of an illustrious economist, a brilliant mind, a progressive intellect, an enthusiastic soul, a true patriot, and yet an official defender of the right of property.
The honorable professor of the Conservatory proposes then, —
1. To check the continual emigration of laborers from the country into the cities.
But, to keep the peasant in his village, his residence there must be made endurable: to be just to all, the proletaire of the country must be treated as well as the proletaire of the city. Reform is needed, then, on farms as well as in factories; and, when the government enters the workshop, the government must seize the plough! What becomes, during this progressive invasion, of independent cultivation, exclusive domain, property?
2. To fix for each profession a moderate salary, varying with time and place and based upon certain data.
The object of this measure would be to secure to laborers their subsistence, and to proprietors their profits, while obliging the latter to sacrifice from motives of prudence, if for no other reason, a portion of their income. Now, I say, that this portion, in the long run, would swell until at last there would be an equality of enjoyment between the proletaire and the proprietor. For, as we have had occasion to remark several times already, the interest of the capitalist — in other words the increase of the idler — tends, on account of the power of labor, the multiplication of products and exchanges, to continually diminish, and, by constant reduction, to disappear. So that, in the society proposed by M. Blanqui, equality would not be realized at first, but would exist potentially; since property, though outwardly seeming to be industrial feudality, being no longer a principle of exclusion and encroachment, but only a privilege of division, would not be slow, thanks to the intellectual and political emancipation of the proletariat, in passing into absolute equality, — as absolute at least as any thing can be on this earth.
I omit, for the sake of brevity, the numerous considerations which the professor adduces in support of what he calls, too modestly in my opinion, his Utopia. They would serve only to prove beyond all question that, of all the charlatans of radicalism who fatigue the public ear, no one approaches, for depth and clearness of thought, the audacious M. Blanqui.
3. National workshops should be in operation only during periods of stagnation in ordinary industries; at such times they should be opened as vast outlets to the flood of the laboring population.
But, sir, the stoppage of private industry is the result of over-production, and insufficient markets. If, then, production continues in the national workshops, how will the crisis be terminated? Undoubtedly, by the general depreciation of merchandise, and, in the last analysis, by the conversion of private workshops into national workshops. On the other hand, the government will need capital with which to pay its workmen; now, how will this capital be obtained? By taxation. And upon what will the tax be levied? Upon property. Then you will have proprietary industry sustaining against itself, and at its own expense, another industry with which it cannot compete. What, think you, will become, in this fatal circle, of the possibility of profit, — in a word, of property?
Thank Heaven! equality of conditions is taught in the public schools; let us fear revolutions no longer. The most implacable enemy of property could not, if he wished to destroy it, go to work in a wiser and more effective way. Courage, then, ministers, deputies, economists! make haste to seize this glorious initiative; let the watchwords of equality, uttered from the heights of science and power, be repeated in the midst of the people; let them thrill the breasts of the proletaires, and carry dismay into the ranks of the last representatives of privilege!
The tendency of society in favor of compelling proprietors to support national workshops and public manufactories is so strong that for several years, under the name of electoral reform, it has been exclusively the question of the day. What is, after all, this electoral reform which the people grasp at, as if it were a bait, and which so many ambitious persons either call for or denounce? It is the acknowledgment of the right of the masses to a voice in the assessment of taxes, and the making of the laws; which laws, aiming always at the protection of material interests, affect, in a greater or less degree, all questions of taxation or wages. Now the people, instructed long since by their journals, their dramas, and their songs, know to-day that taxation, to be equitably divided, must be graduated, and must be borne mainly by the rich, — that it must be levied upon luxuries, &c. And be sure that the people, once in the majority in the Chamber, will not fail to apply these lessons. Already we have a minister of public works. National workshops will follow; and soon, as a consequence, the excess of the proprietor’s revenue over the workingman’s wages will be swallowed up in the coffers of the laborers of the State. Do you not see that in this way property is gradually reduced, as nobility was formerly, to a nominal title, to a distinction purely honorary in its nature?
Either the electoral reform will fail to accomplish that which is hoped from it, and will disappoint its innumerable partisans, or else it will inevitably result in a transformation of the absolute right under which we live into a right of possession; that is, that while, at present, property makes the elector, after this reform is accomplished, the citizen, the producer will be the possessor. Consequently, the radicals are right in saying that the electoral reform is in their eyes only a means; but, when they are silent as to the end, they show either profound ignorance, or useless dissimulation. There should be no secrets or reservations from peoples and powers. He disgraces himself and fails in respect for his fellows, who, in publishing his opinions, employs evasion and cunning. Before the people act, they need to know the whole truth. Unhappy he who shall dare to trifle with them! For the people are credulous, but they are strong. Let us tell them, then, that this reform which is proposed is only a means, — a means often tried, and hitherto without effect, — but that the logical object of the electoral reform is equality of fortunes; and that this equality itself is only a new means having in view the superior and definitive object of the salvation of society, the restoration of morals and religion, and the revival of poetry and art.
It would be an abuse of the reader’s patience to insist further upon the tendency of our time towards equality. There are, moreover, so many people who denounce the present age, that nothing is gained by exposing to their view the popular, scientific, and representative tendencies of the nation. Prompt to recognize the accuracy of the inferences drawn from observation, they confine themselves to a general censure of the facts, and an absolute denial of their legitimacy. “What wonder,” they say, “that this atmosphere of equality intoxicates us, considering all that has been said and done during the past ten years! ... Do you not see that society is dissolving, that a spirit of infatuation is carrying us away? All these hopes of regeneration are but forebodings of death; your songs of triumph are like the prayers of the departing, your trumpet peals announce the baptism of a dying man. Civilization is falling in ruin: Imus, imus, præcipites!”
Such people deny God. I might content myself with the reply that the spirit of 1830 was the result of the maintenance of the violated charter; that this charter arose from the Revolution of ‘89; that ‘89 implies the States-General’s right of remonstrance, and the enfranchisement of the communes; that the communes suppose feudalism, which in its turn supposes invasion, Roman law, Christianity, &c.
But it is necessary to look further. We must penetrate to the very heart of ancient institutions, plunge into the social depths, and uncover this indestructible leaven of equality which the God of justice breathed into our souls, and which manifests itself in all our works.
Labor is man’s contemporary; it is a duty, since it is a condition of existence: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” It is more than a duty, it is a mission: “God put the man into the garden to dress it.” I add that labor is the cause and means of equality.
Cast away upon a desert island two men: one large, strong, and active; the other weak, timid, and domestic. The latter will die of hunger; while the other, a skilful hunter, an expert fisherman, and an indefatigable husbandman, will overstock himself with provisions. What greater inequality, in this state of Nature so dear to the heart of Jean Jacques, could be imagined! But let these two men meet and associate themselves: the second immediately attends to the cooking, takes charge of the household affairs, and sees to the provisions, beds, and clothes; provided the stronger does not abuse his superiority by enslaving and ill-treating his companion, their social condition will be perfectly equal. Thus, through exchange of services, the inequalities of Nature neutralize each other, talents associate, and forces balance. Violence and inertia are found only among the poor and the aristocratic. And in that lies the philosophy of political economy, the mystery of human brotherhood. Hic est sapientia. Let us pass from the hypothetical state of pure Nature into civilization.
The proprietor of the soil, who produces, I will suppose with the economists, by lending his instrument, receives at the foundation of a society so many bushels of grain for each acre of arable land. As long as labor is weak, and the variety of its products small, the proprietor is powerful in comparison with the laborers; he has ten times, one hundred times, the portion of an honest man. But let labor, by multiplying its inventions, multiply its enjoyments and wants, and the proprietor, if he wishes to enjoy the new products, will be obliged to reduce his income every day; and since the first products tend rather to depreciate than to rise in value, — in consequence of the continual addition of the new ones, which may be regarded as supplements of the first ones, — it follows that the idle proprietor grows poor as fast as public prosperity increases. “Incomes” (I like to quote you, sir, because it is impossible to give too good an authority for these elementary principles of economy, and because I cannot express them better myself), “incomes,” you have said, “tend to disappear as capital increases. He who possesses to-day an income of twenty thousand pounds is not nearly as rich as he who possessed the same amount fifty years ago. The time is coming when all property will be a burden to the idle, and will necessarily pass into the hands of the able and industrious. ...”
In order to live as a proprietor, or to consume without producing, it is necessary, then, to live upon the labor of another; in other words, it is necessary to kill the laborer. It is upon this principle that proprietors of those varieties of capital which are of primary necessity increase their farm-rents as fast as industry develops, much more careful of their privileges in that respect, than those economists who, in order to strengthen property, advocate a reduction of interest. But the crime is unavailing: labor and production increase; soon the proprietor will be forced to labor, and then property is lost.
The proprietor is a man who, having absolute control of an instrument of production, claims the right to enjoy the product of the instrument without using it himself. To this end he lends it; and we have just seen that from this loan the laborer derives a power of exchange, which sooner or later will destroy the right of increase. In the first place, the proprietor is obliged to allow the laborer a portion of the product, for without it the laborer could not live. Soon the latter, through the development of his industry, finds a means of regaining the greater portion of that which he gives to the proprietor; so that at last, the objects of enjoyment increasing continually, while the income of the idler remains the same, the proprietor, having exhausted his resources, begins to think of going to work himself. Then the victory of the producer is certain. Labor commences to tip the balance towards its own side, and commerce leads to equilibrium.
Man’s instinct cannot err; as, in liberty, exchange of functions leads inevitably to equality among men, so commerce — or exchange of products, which is identical with exchange of functions — is a new cause of equality. As long as the proprietor does not labor, however small his income, he enjoys a privilege; the laborer’s welfare may be equal to his, but equality of conditions does not exist. But as soon as the proprietor becomes a producer, — since he can exchange his special product only with his tenant or his commandité, — sooner or later this tenant, this exploited man, if violence is not done him, will make a profit out of the proprietor, and will oblige him to restore — in the exchange of their respective products — the interest on his capital. So that, balancing one injustice by another, the contracting parties will be equal. Labor and exchange, when liberty prevails, lead, then, to equality of fortunes; mutuality of services neutralizes privilege. That is why despots in all ages and countries have assumed control of commerce; they wished to prevent the labor of their subjects from becoming an obstacle to the rapacity of tyrants.
Up to this point, all takes place in the natural order; there is no premeditation, no artifice. The whole proceeding is governed by the laws of necessity alone. Proprietors and laborers act only in obedience to their wants. Thus, the exercise of the right of increase, the art of robbing the producer, depends — during this first period of civilization — upon physical violence, murder, and war. But at this point a gigantic and complicated conspiracy is hatched against the capitalists. The weapon of the exploiters is met by the exploited with the instrument of commerce, — a marvellous invention, denounced at its origin by the moralists who favored property, but inspired without doubt by the genius of labor, by the Minerva of the proletaires.
The principal cause of the evil lay in the accumulation and immobility of capital of all sorts, — an immobility which prevented labor, enslaved and subalternized by haughty idleness, from ever acquiring it. The necessity was felt of dividing and mobilizing wealth, of rendering it portable, of making it pass from the hands of the possessor into those of the worker. Labor invented money. Afterwards, this invention was revived and developed by the bill of exchange and the Bank. For all these things are substantially the same, and proceed from the same mind. The first man who conceived the idea of representing a value by a shell, a precious stone, or a certain weight of metal, was the real inventor of the Bank. What is a piece of money, in fact? It is a bill of exchange written upon solid and durable material, and carrying with it its own redemption. By this means, oppressed equality was enabled to laugh at the efforts of the proprietors, and the balance of justice was adjusted for the first time in the tradesman’s shop. The trap was cunningly set, and accomplished its purpose so thoroughly that in idle hands money became only dissolving wealth, a false symbol, a shadow of riches. An excellent economist and profound philosopher was that miser who took as his motto, “When a guinea is exchanged, it evaporates.” So it may be said, “When real estate is converted into money, it is lost.” This explains the constant fact of history, that the nobles — the unproductive proprietors of the soil — have every where been dispossessed by industrial and commercial plebeians. Such was especially the case in the formation of the Italian republics, born, during the middle ages, of the impoverishment of the seigniors. I will not pursue the interesting considerations which this matter suggests; I could only repeat the testimony of historians, and present economical demonstrations in an altered form.
The greatest enemy of the landed and industrial aristocracy to-day, the incessant promoter of equality of fortunes, is the banker. Through him immense plains are divided, mountains change their positions, forests are grown upon the public squares, one hemisphere produces for another, and every corner of the globe has its usufructuaries. By means of the Bank new wealth is continually created, the use of which (soon becoming indispensable to selfishness) wrests the dormant capital from the hands of the jealous proprietor. The banker is at once the most potent creator of wealth, and the main distributor of the products of art and Nature. And yet, by the strangest antinomy, this same banker is the most relentless collector of profits, increase, and usury ever inspired by the demon of property. The importance of the services which he renders leads us to endure, though not without complaint, the taxes which he imposes. Nevertheless, since nothing can avoid its providential mission, since nothing which exists can escape the end for which it exists the banker (the modern Croesus) must some day become the restorer of equality. And following in your footsteps, sir, I have already given the reason; namely, that profit decreases as capital multiplies, since an increase of capital — calling for more laborers, without whom it remains unproductive — always causes an increase of wages. Whence it follows that the Bank, to-day the suction-pump of wealth, is destined to become the steward of the human race.
The phrase equality of fortunes chafes people, as if it referred to a condition of the other world, unknown here below. There are some persons, radicals as well as moderates, whom the very mention of this idea fills with indignation. Let, then, these silly aristocrats abolish mercantile societies and insurance companies, which are founded by prudence for mutual assistance. For all these social facts, so spontaneous and free from all levelling intentions, are the legitimate fruits of the instinct of equality.
When the legislator makes a law, properly speaking he does not make it, — he does not create it: he describes it. In legislating upon the moral, civil, and political relations of citizens, he does not express an arbitrary notion: he states the general idea, — the higher principle which governs the matter which he is considering; in a word, he is the proclaimer, not the inventor, of the law. So, when two or more men form among themselves, by synallagmatic contract, an industrial or an insurance association, they recognize that their interests, formerly isolated by a false spirit of selfishness and independence, are firmly connected by their inner natures, and by the mutuality of their relations. They do not really bind themselves by an act of their private will: they swear to conform henceforth to a previously existing social law hitherto disregarded by them. And this is proved by the fact that these same men, could they avoid association, would not associate. Before they can be induced to unite their interests, they must acquire full knowledge of the dangers of competition and isolation; hence the experience of evil is the only thing which leads them into society.
Now I say that, to establish equality among men, it is only necessary to generalize the principle upon which insurance, agricultural, and commercial associations are based. I say that competition, isolation of interests, monopoly, privilege, accumulation of capital, exclusive enjoyment, subordination of functions, individual production, the right of profit or increase, the exploitation of man by man, and, to sum up all these species under one head, that property is the principal cause of misery and crime. And, for having arrived at this offensive and anti-proprietary conclusion, I am an abhorred monster; radicals and conservatives alike point me out as a fit subject for prosecution; the academies shower their censures upon me; the most worthy people regard me as mad; and those are excessively tolerant who content themselves with the assertion that I am a fool. Oh, unhappy the writer who publishes the truth otherwise than as a performance of a duty! If he has counted upon the applause of the crowd; if he has supposed that avarice and self-interest would forget themselves in admiration of him; if he has neglected to encase himself within three thicknesses of brass, — he will fail, as he ought, in his selfish undertaking. The unjust criticisms, the sad disappointments, the despair of his mistaken ambition, will kill him.
But, if I am no longer permitted to express my own personal opinion concerning this interesting question of social equilibrium, let me, at least, make known the thought of my masters, and develop the doctrines advocated in the name of the government.
It never has been my intention, sir, in spite of the vigorous censure which you, in behalf of your academy, have pronounced upon the doctrine of equality of fortunes, to contradict and cope with you. In listening to you, I have felt my inferiority too keenly to permit me to enter upon such a discussion. And then, — if it must be said, — however different your language is from mine, we believe in the same principles; you share all my opinions. I do not mean to insinuate thereby, sir, that you have (to use the phraseology of the schools) an esoteric and an exoteric doctrine, — that, secretly believing in equality, you defend property only from motives of prudence and by command. I am not rash enough to regard you as my colleague in my revolutionary projects; and I esteem you too highly, moreover, to suspect you of dissimulation. I only mean that the truths which methodical investigation and laborious metaphysical speculation have painfully demonstrated to me, a profound acquaintance with political economy and a long experience reveal to you. While I have reached my belief in equality by long reflection, and almost in spite of my desires, you hold yours, sir, with all the zeal of faith, — with all the spontaneity of genius. That is why your course of lectures at the Conservatory is a perpetual war upon property and inequality of fortunes; that is why your most learned investigations, your most ingenious analyses, and your innumerable observations always conclude in a formula of progress and equality; that is why, finally, you are never more admired and applauded than at those moments of inspiration when, borne upon the wings of science, you ascend to those lofty truths which cause plebeian hearts to beat with enthusiasm, and which chill with horror men whose intentions are evil. How many times, from the place where I eagerly drank in your eloquent words, have I inwardly thanked Heaven for exempting you from the judgment passed by St. Paul upon the philosophers of his time, — “They have known the truth, and have not made it known"! How many times have I rejoiced at finding my own justification in each of your discourses! No, no; I neither wish nor ask for any thing which you do not teach yourself. I appeal to your numerous audience; let it belie me if, in commenting upon you, I pervert your meaning.
A disciple of Say, what in your eyes is more anti-social than the custom-houses; or, as you correctly call them, the barriers erected by monopoly between nations? What is more annoying, more unjust, or more absurd, than this prohibitory system which compels us to pay forty sous in France for that which in England or Belgium would bring us but fifteen? It is the custom-house, you once said, which arrests the development of civilization by preventing the specialization of industries; it is the custom-house which enriches a hundred monopolists by impoverishing millions of citizens; it is the custom-house which produces famine in the midst of abundance, which makes labor sterile by prohibiting exchange, and which stifles production in a mortal embrace. It is the custom-house which renders nations jealous of, and hostile to, each other; four-fifths of the wars of all ages were caused originally by the custom-house. And then, at the highest pitch of your enthusiasm, you shouted: “Yes, if to put an end to this hateful system, it should become necessary for me to shed the last drop of my blood, I would joyfully spring into the gap, asking only time enough to give thanks to God for having judged me worthy of martyrdom!”
And, at that solemn moment, I said to myself: “Place in every department of France such a professor as that, and the revolution is avoided.”
But, sir, by this magnificent theory of liberty of commerce you render military glory impossible, — you leave nothing for diplomacy to do; you even take away the desire for conquest, while abolishing profit altogether. What matters it, indeed, who restores Constantinople, Alexandria, and Saint Jean d'Acre, if the Syrians, Egyptians, and Turks are free to choose their masters; free to exchange their products with whom they please? Why should Europe get into such a turmoil over this petty Sultan and his old Pasha, if it is only a question whether we or the English shall civilize the Orient, — shall instruct Egypt and Syria in the European arts, and shall teach them to construct machines, dig canals, and build railroads? For, if to national independence free trade is added, the foreign influence of these two countries is thereafter exerted only through a voluntary relationship of producer to producer, or apprentice to journeyman.
Alone among European powers, France cheerfully accepted the task of civilizing the Orient, and began an invasion which was quite apostolic in its character, — so joyful and high-minded do noble thoughts render our nation! But diplomatic rivalry, national selfishness, English avarice, and Russian ambition stood in her way. To consummate a long-meditated usurpation, it was necessary to crush a too generous ally: the robbers of the Holy Alliance formed a league against dauntless and blameless France. Consequently, at the news of this famous treaty, there arose among us a chorus of curses upon the principle of property, which at that time was acting under the hypocritical formulas of the old political system. The last hour of property seemed to have struck by the side of Syria; from the Alps to the ocean, from the Rhine to the Pyrenees, the popular conscience was aroused. All France sang songs of war, and the coalition turned pale at the sound of these shuddering cries: “War upon the autocrat, who wishes to be proprietor of the old world! War upon the English perjurer, the devourer of India, the poisoner of China, the tyrant of Ireland, and the eternal enemy of France! War upon the allies who have conspired against liberty and equality! War! war! war upon property!”
By the counsel of Providence the emancipation of the nations is postponed. France is to conquer, not by arms, but by example. Universal reason does not yet understand this grand equation, which, commencing with the abolition of slavery, and advancing over the ruins of aristocracies and thrones, must end in equality of rights and fortunes; but the day is not far off when the knowledge of this truth will be as common as that of equality of origin. Already it seems to be understood that the Oriental question is only a question of custom-houses. Is it, then, so difficult for public opinion to generalize this idea, and to comprehend, finally, that if the suppression of custom-houses involves the abolition of national property, it involves also, as a consequence, the abolition of individual property?
In fact, if we suppress the custom-houses, the alliance of the nations is declared by that very act; their solidarity is recognized, and their equality proclaimed. If we suppress the custom-houses, the principle of association will not be slow in reaching from the State to the province, from the province to the city, and from the city to the workshop. But, then, what becomes of the privileges of authors and artists? Of what use are the patents for invention, imagination, amelioration, and improvement? When our deputies write a law of literary property by the side of a law which opens a large breach in the custom-house they contradict themselves, indeed, and pull down with one hand what they build up with the other. Without the custom-house. literary property does not exist, and the hopes of our starving authors are frustrated. For, certainly you do not expect, with the good man Fourier, that literary property will exercise itself in China to the profit of a French writer; and that an ode of Lamartine, sold by privilege all over the world, will bring in millions to its author! The poet’s work is peculiar to the climate in which he lives; every where else the reproduction of his works, having no market value, should be frank and free. But what! will it be necessary for nations to put themselves under mutual surveillance for the sake of verses, statues, and elixirs? We shall always have, then, an excise, a city-toll, rights of entrance and transit, custom-houses finally; and then, as a reaction against privilege, smuggling.
Smuggling! That word reminds me of one of the most horrible forms of property. “Smuggling,” you have said, sir, “is an offence of political creation; it is the exercise of natural liberty, defined as a crime in certain cases by the will of the sovereign. The smuggler is a gallant man, — a man of spirit, who gaily busies himself in procuring for his neighbor, at a very low price, a jewel, a shawl, or any other object of necessity or luxury, which domestic monopoly renders excessively dear.” Then, to a very poetical monograph of the smuggler, you add this dismal conclusion, — that the smuggler belongs to the family of Mandrin, and that the galleys should be his home!
But, sir, you have not called attention to the horrible exploitation which is carried on in this way in the name of property.
It is said, — and I give this report only as an hypothesis and an illustration, for I do not believe it, — it is said that the present minister of finances owes his fortune to smuggling. M. Humann, of Strasbourg, sent out of France, it is said, enormous quantities of sugar, for which he received the bounty on exportation promised by the State; then, smuggling this sugar back again, he exported it anew, receiving the bounty on exportation a second time, and so on. Notice, sir, that I do not state this as a fact; I give it only as it is told, not endorsing or even believing it. My sole design is to fix the idea in the mind by an example. If I believed that a minister had committed such a crime, that is, if I had personal and authentic knowledge that he had, I would denounce M. Humann, the minister of finances, to the Chamber of Deputies, and would loudly demand his expulsion from the ministry.
But that which is undoubtedly false of M. Humann is true of many others, as rich and no less honorable than he. Smuggling, organized on a large scale by the eaters of human flesh, is carried on to the profit of a few pashas at the risk and peril of their imprudent victims. The inactive proprietor offers his merchandise for sale; the actual smuggler risks his liberty, his honor, and his life. If success crowns the enterprise, the courageous servant gets paid for his journey; the profit goes to the coward. If fortune or treachery delivers the instrument of this execrable traffic into the hands of the custom-house officer, the master-smuggler suffers a loss which a more fortunate voyage will soon repair. The agent, pronounced a scoundrel, is thrown into prison in company with robbers; while his glorious patron, a juror, elector, deputy, or minister, makes laws concerning expropriation, monopoly, and custom-houses!
I promised, at the beginning of this letter, that no attack on property should escape my pen, my only object being to justify myself before the public by a general recrimination. But I could not refrain from branding so odious a mode of exploitation, and I trust that this short digression will be pardoned.
Property does not avenge, I hope, the injuries which smuggling suffers.
The conspiracy against property is general; it is flagrant; it takes possession of all minds, and inspires all our laws; it lies at the bottom of all theories. Here the proletaire pursues property in the street, there the legislator lays an interdict upon it; now, a professor of political economy or of industrial legislation, paid to defend it, undermines it with redoubled blows; at another — time, an academy calls it in question, or inquires as to the progress of its demolition. To-day there is not an idea, not an opinion, not a sect, which does not dream of muzzling property. None confess it, because none are yet conscious of it; there are too few minds capable of grasping spontaneously this ensemble of causes and effects, of principles and consequences, by which I try to demonstrate the approaching disappearance of property; on the other hand, the ideas that are generally formed of this right are too divergent and too loosely determined to allow an admission, so soon, of the contrary theory. Thus, in the middle and lower ranks of literature and philosophy, no less than among the common people, it is thought that, when property is abolished, no one will be able to enjoy the fruit of his labor; that no one will have any thing peculiar to himself, and that tyrannical communism will be established on the ruins of family and liberty! — chimeras, which are to support for a little while longer the cause of privilege.
But, before determining precisely the idea of property, before seeking amid the contradictions of systems for the common element which must form the basis of the new right, let us cast a rapid glance at the changes which, at the various periods of history, property has undergone. The political forms of nations are the expression of their beliefs. The mobility of these forms, their modification and their destruction, are solemn experiences which show us the value of ideas, and gradually eliminate from the infinite variety of customs the absolute, eternal, and immutable truth. Now, we shall see that every political institution tends, necessarily, and on pain of death, to equalize conditions; that every where and always equality of fortunes (like equality of rights) has been the social aim, whether the plebeian classes have endeavored to rise to political power by means of property, or whether — rulers already — they have used political power to overthrow property. We shall see, in short, by the progress of society, that the consummation of justice lies in the extinction of individual domain.
For the sake of brevity, I will disregard the testimony of ecclesiastical history and Christian theology: this subject deserves a separate treatise, and I propose hereafter to return to it. Moses and Jesus Christ proscribed, under the names of usury and inequality, all sorts of profit and increase. The church itself, in its purest teachings, has always condemned property; and when I attacked, not only the authority of the church, but also its infidelity to justice, I did it to the glory of religion. I wanted to provoke a peremptory reply, and to pave the way for Christianity’s triumph, in spite of the innumerable attacks of which it is at present the object. I hoped that an apologist would arise forthwith, and, taking his stand upon the Scriptures, the Fathers, the canons, and the councils and constitutions of the Popes, would demonstrate that the church always has maintained the doctrine of equality, and would attribute to temporary necessity the contradictions of its discipline. Such a labor would serve the cause of religion as well as that of equality. We must know, sooner or later, whether Christianity is to be regenerated in the church or out of it, and whether this church accepts the reproaches cast upon it of hatred to liberty and antipathy to progress. Until then we will suspend judgment, and content ourselves with placing before the clergy the teachings of history.
When Lycurgus undertook to make laws for Sparta, in what condition did he find this republic? On this point all historians agree. The people and the nobles were at war. The city was in a confused state, and divided by two parties, — the party of the poor, and the party of the rich. Hardly escaped from the barbarism of the heroic ages, society was rapidly declining. The proletariat made war upon property, which, in its turn, oppressed the proletariat. What did Lycurgus do? His first measure was one of general security, at the very idea of which our legislators would tremble. He abolished all debts; then, employing by turns persuasion and force, he induced the nobles to renounce their privileges, and re-established equality. Lycurgus, in a word, hunted property out of Lacedæmon, seeing no other way to harmonize liberty, equality, and law. I certainly should not wish France to follow the example of Sparta; but it is remarkable that the most ancient of Greek legislators, thoroughly acquainted with the nature and needs of the people, more capable than any one else of appreciating the legitimacy of the obligations which he, in the exercise of his absolute authority, cancelled; who had compared the legislative systems of his time, and whose wisdom an oracle had proclaimed, — it is remarkable, I say, that Lycurgus should have judged the right of property incompatible with free institutions, and should have thought it his duty to preface his legislation by a coup d'état which destroyed all distinctions of fortune.
Lycurgus understood perfectly that the luxury, the love of enjoyments, and the inequality of fortunes, which property engenders, are the bane of society; unfortunately the means which he employed to preserve his republic were suggested to him by false notions of political economy, and by a superficial knowledge of the human heart. Accordingly, property, which this legislator wrongly confounded with wealth, reentered the city together with the swarm of evils which he was endeavoring to banish; and this time Sparta was hopelessly corrupted.
“The introduction of wealth,” says M. Pastoret, “was one of the principal causes of the misfortunes which they experienced. Against these, however, the laws had taken extraordinary precautions, the best among which was the inculcation of morals which tended to suppress desire.”
The best of all precautions would have been the anticipation of desire by satisfaction. Possession is the sovereign remedy for cupidity, a remedy which would have been the less perilous to Sparta because fortunes there were almost equal, and conditions were nearly alike. As a general thing, fasting and abstinence are bad teachers of moderation.
“There was a law,” says M. Pastoret again, “to prohibit the rich from wearing better clothing than the poor, from eating more delicate food, and from owning elegant furniture, vases, carpets, fine houses,” &c. Lycurgus hoped, then, to maintain equality by rendering wealth useless. How much wiser he would have been if, in accordance with his military discipline, he had organized industry and taught the people to procure by their own labor the things which he tried in vain to deprive them of. In that case, enjoying happy thoughts and pleasant feelings, the citizen would have known no other desire than that with which the legislator endeavored to inspire him, — love of honor and glory, the triumphs of talent and virtue.
“Gold and all kinds of ornaments were forbidden the women.” Absurd. After the death of Lycurgus, his institutions became corrupted; and four centuries before the Christian era not a vestige remained of the former simplicity. Luxury and the thirst for gold were early developed among the Spartans in a degree as intense as might have been expected from their enforced poverty and their inexperience in the arts. Historians have accused Pausanias, Lysander, Agesilaus, and others of having corrupted the morals of their country by the introduction of wealth obtained in war. It is a slander. The morals of the Spartans necessarily grew corrupt as soon as the Lacedæmonian poverty came in contact with Persian luxury and Athenian elegance. Lycurgus, then, made a fatal mistake in attempting to inspire generosity and modesty by enforcing vain and proud simplicity.
“Lycurgus was not frightened at idleness! A Lacedæmonian, happening to be in Athens (where idleness was forbidden) during the punishment of a citizen who had been found guilty, asked to see the Athenian thus condemned for having exercised the rights of a free man... . It was one of the principles of Lycurguss, acted upon for several centuries, that free men should not follow lucrative professions... . The women disdained domestic labor; they did not spin their wool themselves, as did the other Greeks [they did not, then, read Homer!]; they left their slaves to make their clothing for them.” — Pastoret: History of Legislation.
Could any thing be more contradictory? Lycurgus proscribed property among the citizens, and founded the means of subsistence on the worst form of property, — on property obtained by force. What wonder, after that, that a lazy city, where no industry was carried on, became a den of avarice? The Spartans succumbed the more easily to the allurements of luxury and Asiatic voluptuousness, being placed entirely at their mercy by their own coarseness. The same thing happened to the Romans, when military success took them out of Italy, — a thing which the author of the prosopopoeia of Fabricius could not explain. It is not the cultivation of the arts which corrupts morals, but their degradation, induced by inactive and luxurious opulence. The instinct of property is to make the industry of Dædalus, as well as the talent of Phidias, subservient to its own fantastic whims and disgraceful pleasures. Property, not wealth, ruined the Spartans.
When Solon appeared, the anarchy caused by property was at its height in the Athenian republic.
“The inhabitants of Attica were divided among themselves as to the form of government. Those who lived on the mountains (the poor) preferred the popular form; those of the plain (the middle class), the oligarchs; those by the sea coast, a mixture of oligarchy and democracy. Other dissensions were arising from the inequality of fortunes. The mutual antagonism of the rich and poor had become so violent, that the one-man power seemed the only safe-guard against the revolution with which the republic was threatened.” (Pastoret: History of Legislation.)
Quarrels between the rich and the poor, which seldom occur in monarchies, because a well established power suppresses dissensions, seem to be the life of popular governments. Aristotle had noticed this. The oppression of wealth submitted to agrarian laws, or to excessive taxation; the hatred of the lower classes for the upper class, which is exposed always to libellous charges made in hopes of confiscation, — these were the features of the Athenian government which were especially revolting to Aristotle, and which caused him to favor a limited monarchy. Aristotle, if he had lived in our day, would have supported the constitutional government. But, with all deference to the Stagirite, a government which sacrifices the life of the proletaire to that of the proprietor is quite as irrational as one which supports the former by robbing the latter; neither of them deserve the support of a free man, much less of a philosopher.
Solon followed the example of Lycurgus. He celebrated his legislative inauguration by the abolition of debts, — that is, by bankruptcy. In other words, Solon wound up the governmental machine for a longer or shorter time depending upon the rate of interest. Consequently, when the spring relaxed and the chain became unwound, the republic had either to perish, or to recover itself by a second bankruptcy. This singular policy was pursued by all the ancients. After the captivity of Babylon, Nehemiah, the chief of the Jewish nation, abolished debts; Lycurgus abolished debts; Solon abolished debts; the Roman people, after the expulsion of the kings until the accession of the Cæsars, struggled with the Senate for the abolition of debts. Afterwards, towards the end of the republic, and long after the establishment of the empire, agriculture being abandoned, and the provinces becoming depopulated in consequence of the excessive rates of interest, the emperors freely granted the lands to whoever would cultivate them, — that is, they abolished debts. No one, except Lycurgus, who went to the other extreme, ever perceived that the great point was, not to release debtors by a coup d'état, but to prevent the contraction of debts in future. On the contrary, the most democratic governments were always exclusively based upon individual property; so that the social element of all these republics was war between the citizens.
Solon decreed that a census should be taken of all fortunes, regulated political rights by the result, granted to the larger proprietors more influence, established the balance of powers, — in a word, inserted in the constitution the most active leaven of discord; as if, instead of a legislator chosen by the people, he had been their greatest enemy. Is it not, indeed, the height of imprudence to grant equality of political rights to men of unequal conditions? If a manufacturer, uniting all his workmen in a joint-stock company, should give to each of them a consultative and deliberative voice, — that is, should make all of them masters, — would this equality of mastership secure continued inequality of wages? That is the whole political system of Solon, reduced to its simplest expression.
“In giving property a just preponderance,” says M. Pastoret, “Solon repaired, as far as he was able, his first official act, — the abolition of debts... . He thought he owed it to public peace to make this great sacrifice of acquired rights and natural equity. But the violation of individual property and written contracts is a bad preface to a public code.”
In fact, such violations are always cruelly punished. In ‘89 and ‘93, the possessions of the nobility and the clergy were confiscated, the clever proletaires were enriched; and to-day the latter, having become aristocrats, are making us pay dearly for our fathers’ robbery. What, therefore, is to be done now? It is not for us to violate right, but to restore it. Now, it would be a violation of justice to dispossess some and endow others, and then stop there. We must gradually lower the rate of interest, organize industry, associate laborers and their functions, and take a census of the large fortunes, not for the purpose of granting privileges, but that we may effect their redemption by settling a life-annuity upon their proprietors. We must apply on a large scale the principle of collective production, give the State eminent domain over all capital! make each producer responsible, abolish the custom-house, and transform every profession and trade into a public function. Thereby large fortunes will vanish without confiscation or violence; individual possession will establish itself, without communism, under the inspection of the republic; and equality of conditions will no longer depend simply on the will of citizens.
Of the authors who have written upon the Romans, Bossuet and Montesquieu occupy prominent positions in the first rank; the first being generally regarded as the father of the philosophy of history, and the second as the most profound writer upon law and politics. Nevertheless, it could be shown that these two great writers, each of them imbued with the prejudices of their century and their cloth, have left the question of the causes of the rise and fall of the Romans precisely where they found it.
Bossuet is admirable as long as he confines himself to description: witness, among other passages, the picture which he has given us of Greece before the Persian War, and which seems to have inspired “Telemachus;” the parallel between Athens and Sparta, drawn twenty times since Bossuet; the description of the character and morals of the ancient Romans; and, finally, the sublime peroration which ends the “Discourse on Universal History.” But when the famous historian deals with causes, his philosophy is at fault.
“The tribunes always favored the division of captured lands, or the proceeds of their sale, among the citizens. The Senate steadfastly opposed those laws which were damaging to the State, and wanted the price of lands to be awarded to the public treasury.”
Thus, according to Bossuet, the first and greatest wrong of civil wars was inflicted upon the people, who, dying of hunger, demanded that the lands, which they had shed their blood to conquer, should be given to them for cultivation. The patricians, who bought them to deliver to their slaves, had more regard for justice and the public interests. How little affects the opinions of men! If the rôles of Cicero and the Gracchi had been inverted, Bossuet, whose sympathies were aroused by the eloquence of the great orator more than by the clamors of the tribunes, would have viewed the agrarian laws in quite a different light. He then would have understood that the interest of the treasury was only a pretext; that, when the captured lands were put up at auction, the patricians hastened to buy them, in order to profit by the revenues from them, — certain, moreover, that the price paid would come back to them sooner or later, in exchange either for supplies furnished by them to the republic, or for the subsistence of the multitude, who could buy only of them, and whose services at one time, and poverty at another, were rewarded by the State. For a State does not hoard; on the contrary, the public funds always return to the people. If, then, a certain number of men are the sole dealers in articles of primary necessity, it follows that the public treasury, in passing and repassing through their hands, deposits and accumulates real property there.
When Menenius related to the people his fable of the limbs and the stomach, if any one had remarked to this story-teller that the stomach freely gives to the limbs the nourishment which it freely receives, but that the patricians gave to the plebeians only for cash, and lent to them only at usury, he undoubtedly would have silenced the wily senator, and saved the people from a great imposition. The Conscript Fathers were fathers only of their own line. As for the common people, they were regarded as an impure race, exploitable, taxable, and workable at the discretion and mercy of their masters.
As a general thing, Bossuet shows little regard for the people. His monarchical and theological instincts know nothing but authority, obedience, and alms-giving, under the name of charity. This unfortunate disposition constantly leads him to mistake symptoms for causes; and his depth, which is so much admired, is borrowed from his authors, and amounts to very little, after all. When he says, for instance, that “the dissensions in the republic, and finally its fall, were caused by the jealousies of its citizens, and their love of liberty carried to an extreme and intolerable extent,” are we not tempted to ask him what caused those jealousies? — what inspired the people with that love of liberty, extreme and intolerable? It would be useless to reply, The corruption of morals; the disregard for the ancient poverty; the debaucheries, luxury, and class jealousies; the seditious character of the Gracchi, &c. Why did the morals become corrupt, and whence arose those eternal dissensions between the patricians and the plebeians?
In Rome, as in all other places, the dissension between the rich and the poor was not caused directly by the desire for wealth (people, as a general thing, do not covet that which they deem it illegitimate to acquire), but by a natural instinct of the plebeians, which led them to seek the cause of their adversity in the constitution of the republic. So we are doing to-day; instead of altering our public economy, we demand an electoral reform. The Roman people wished to return to the social compact; they asked for reforms, and demanded a revision of the laws, and a creation of new magistracies. The patricians, who had nothing to complain of, opposed every innovation. Wealth always has been conservative. Nevertheless, the people overcame the resistance of the Senate; the electoral right was greatly extended; the privileges of the plebeians were increased, — they had their representatives, their tribunes, and their consuls; but, notwithstanding these reforms, the republic could not be saved. When all political expedients had been exhausted, when civil war had depleted the population, when the Cæsars had thrown their bloody mantle over the cancer which was consuming the empire, — inasmuch as accumulated property always was respected, and since the fire never stopped, the nation had to perish in the flames. The imperial power was a compromise which protected the property of the rich, and nourished the proletaires with wheat from Africa and Sicily: a double error, which destroyed the aristocrats by plethora and the commoners by famine. At last there was but one real proprietor left, — the emperor, — whose dependent, flatterer, parasite, or slave, each citizen became; and when this proprietor was ruined, those who gathered the crumbs from under his table, and laughed when he cracked his jokes, perished also.
Montesquieu succeeded no better than Bossuet in fathoming the causes of the Roman decline; indeed, it may be said that the president has only developed the ideas of the bishop. If the Romans had been more moderate in their conquests, more just to their allies, more humane to the vanquished; if the nobles had been less covetous, the emperors less lawless, the people less violent, and all classes less corrupt; if ... &c., — perhaps the dignity of the empire might have been preserved, and Rome might have retained the sceptre of the world! That is all that can be gathered from the teachings of Montesquieu. But the truth of history does not lie there; the destinies of the world are not dependent upon such trivial causes. The passions of men, like the contingencies of time and the varieties of climate, serve to maintain the forces which move humanity and produce all historical changes; but they do not explain them. The grain of sand of which Pascal speaks would have caused the death of one man only, had not prior action ordered the events of which this death was the precursor.
Montesquieu has read extensively; he knows Roman history thoroughly, is perfectly well acquainted with the people of whom he speaks, and sees very clearly why they were able to conquer their rivals and govern the world. While reading him we admire the Romans, but we do not like them; we witness their triumphs without pleasure, and we watch their fall without sorrow. Montesquieu’s work, like the works of all French writers, is skilfully composed, — spirited, witty, and filled with wise observations. He pleases, interests, instructs, but leads to little reflection; he does not conquer by depth of thought; he does not exalt the mind by elevated reason or earnest feeling. In vain should we search his writings for knowledge of antiquity, the character of primitive society, or a description of the heroic ages, whose morals and prejudices lived until the last days of the republic. Vico, painting the Romans with their horrible traits, represents them as excusable, because he shows that all their conduct was governed by pre-existing ideas and customs, and that they were in formed, so to speak, by a superior genius of which they were unconscious; in Montesquieu, the Roman atrocity revolts, but is not explained. Therefore, as a writer, Montesquieu brings greater credit upon French literature; as a philosopher, Vico bears away the palm.
Originally, property in Rome was national, not private. Numa was the first to establish individual property by distributing the lands captured by Romulus. What was the dividend of this distribution effected by Numa? What conditions were imposed upon individuals, what powers reserved to the State? None whatever. Inequality of fortunes, absolute abdication by the republic of its right of eminent domain over the property of citizens, — such were the first results of the division of Numa, who justly may be regarded as the originator of Roman revolutions. He it was who instituted the worship of the god Terminus, — the guardian of private possession, and one of the most ancient gods of Italy. It was Numa who placed property under the protection of Jupiter; who, in imitation of the Etrurians, wished to make priests of the land-surveyors; who invented a liturgy for cadastral operations, and ceremonies of consecration for the marking of boundaries, — who, in short, made a religion of property. All these fancies would have been more beneficial than dangerous, if the holy king had not forgotten one essential thing; namely, to fix the amount that each citizen could possess, and on what conditions he could possess it. For, since it is the essence of property to continually increase by accession and profit, and since the lender will take advantage of every opportunity to apply this principle inherent in property, it follows that properties tend, by means of their natural energy and the religious respect which protects them, to absorb each other, and fortunes to increase or diminish to an indefinite extent, — a process which necessarily results in the ruin of the people, and the fall of the republic. Roman history is but the development of this law.
Scarcely had the Tarquins been banished from Rome and the monarchy abolished, when quarrels commenced between the orders. In the year 494 B.C., the secession of the commonalty to the Mons Sacer led to the establishment of the tribunate. Of what did the plebeians complain? That they were poor, exhausted by the interest which they paid to the proprietors, — foeneratoribus; that the republic, administered for the benefit of the nobles, did nothing for the people; that, delivered over to the mercy of their creditors, who could sell them and their children, and having neither hearth nor home, they were refused the means of subsistence, while the rate of interest was kept at its highest point, &c. For five centuries, the sole policy of the Senate was to evade these just complaints; and, notwithstanding the energy of the tribunes, notwithstanding the eloquence of the Gracchi, the violence of Marius, and the triumph of Cæsar, this execrable policy succeeded only too well. The Senate always temporized; the measures proposed by the tribunes might be good, but they were inopportune. It admitted that something should be done; but first it was necessary that the people should resume the performance of their duties, because the Senate could not yield to violence, and force must be employed only by the law. If the people — out of respect for legality — took this beautiful advice, the Senate conjured up a difficulty; the reform was postponed, and that was the end of it. On the contrary, if the demands of the proletaires became too pressing, it declared a foreign war, and neighboring nations were deprived of their liberty, to maintain the Roman aristocracy.
But the toils of war were only a halt for the plebeians in their onward march towards pauperism. The lands confiscated from the conquered nations were immediately added to the domain of the State, to the ager publicus; and, as such, cultivated for the benefit of the treasury; or, as was more often the case, they were sold at auction. None of them were granted to the proletaires, who, unlike the patricians and knights, were not supplied by the victory with the means of buying them. War never enriched the soldier; the extensive plundering has been done always by the generals. The vans of Augereau, and of twenty others, are famous in our armies; but no one ever heard of a private getting rich. Nothing was more common in Rome than charges of peculation, extortion, embezzlement, and brigandage, carried on in the provinces at the head of armies, and in other public capacities. All these charges were quieted by intrigue, bribery of the judges, or desistance of the accuser. The culprit was allowed always in the end to enjoy his spoils in peace; his son was only the more respected on account of his father’s crimes. And, in fact, it could not be otherwise. What would become of us, if every deputy, peer, or public functionary should be called upon to show his title to his fortune!
“The patricians arrogated the exclusive enjoyment of the ager publicus; and, like the feudal seigniors, granted some portions of their lands to their dependants, — a wholly precarious concession, revocable at the will of the grantor. The plebeians, on the contrary, were entitled to the enjoyment of only a little pasture-land left to them in common: an utterly unjust state of things, since, in consequence of it, taxation — census — weighed more heavily upon the poor than upon the rich. The patrician, in fact, always exempted himself from the tithe which he owed as the price and as the acknowledgment of the concession of domain; and, on the other hand, paid no taxes on his possessions, if, as there is good reason to believe, only citizens’ property was taxed.” — Laboulaye: History of Property.
In order thoroughly to understand the preceding quotation, we must know that the estates of citizens — that is, estates independent of the public domain, whether they were obtained in the division of Numa, or had since been sold by the questors — were alone regarded as property; upon these a tax, or cense, was imposed. On the contrary, the estates obtained by concessions of the public domain, of the ager publicus (for which a light rent was paid), were called possessions. Thus, among the Romans, there was a right of property and a right of possession regulating the administration of all estates. Now, what did the proletaires wish? That the jus possessionis — the simple right of possession — should be extended to them at the expense, as is evident, not of private property, but of the public domain, — agri publici. The proletaires, in short, demanded that they should be tenants of the land which they had conquered. This demand, the patricians in their avarice never would accede to. Buying as much of this land as they could, they afterwards found means of obtaining the rest as possessions. Upon this land they employed their slaves. The people, who could not buy, on account of the competition of the rich, nor hire, because — cultivating with their own hands — they could not promise a rent equal to the revenue which the land would yield when cultivated by slaves, were always deprived of possession and property.
Civil wars relieved, to some extent, the sufferings of the multitude.
“The people enrolled themselves under the banners of the ambitious, in order to obtain by force that which the law refused them, — property. A colony was the reward of a victorious legion. But it was no longer the ager publicus only; it was all Italy that lay at the mercy of the legions. The ager publicus disappeared almost entirely, ... but the cause of the evil — accumulated property — became more potent than ever.” (Laboulaye: History of Property.)
The author whom I quote does not tell us why this division of territory which followed civil wars did not arrest the encroachments of accumulated property; the omission is easily supplied. Land is not the only requisite for cultivation; a working-stock is also necessary, — animals, tools, harnesses, a house, an advance, &c. Where did the colonists, discharged by the dictator who rewarded them, obtain these things? From the purse of the usurers; that is, of the patricians, to whom all these lands finally returned, in consequence of the rapid increase of usury, and the seizure of estates. Sallust, in his account of the conspiracy of Catiline, tells us of this fact. The conspirators were old soldiers of Sylla, who, as a reward for their services, had received from him lands in Cisalpine Gaul, Tuscany, and other parts of the peninsula Less than twenty years had elapsed since these colonists, free of debt, had left the service and commenced farming; and already they were crippled by usury, and almost ruined. The poverty caused by the exactions of creditors was the life of this conspiracy which well-nigh inflamed all Italy, and which, with a worthier chief and fairer means, possibly would have succeeded. In Rome, the mass of the people were favorable to the conspirators — cuncta plebes Catilinæ incepta probabat; the allies were weary of the patricians’ robberies; deputies from the Allobroges (the Savoyards) had come to Rome to appeal to the Senate in behalf of their fellow-citizens involved in debt; in short, the complaint against the large proprietors was universal. “We call men and gods to witness,” said the soldiers of Catiline, who were Roman citizens with not a slave among them, “that we have taken arms neither against the country, nor to attack any one, but in defence of our lives and liberties. Wretched, poor, most of us deprived of country, all of us of fame and fortune, by the violence and cruelty of usurers, we have no rights, no property, no liberty."
The bad reputation of Catiline, and his atrocious designs, the imprudence of his accomplices, the treason of several, the strategy of Cicero, the angry outbursts of Cato, and the terror of the Senate, baffled this enterprise, which, in furnishing a precedent for expeditions against the rich, would perhaps have saved the republic, and given peace to the world. But Rome could not evade her destiny; the end of her expiations had not come. A nation never was known to anticipate its punishment by a sudden and unexpected conversion. Now, the long-continued crimes of the Eternal City could not be atoned for by the massacre of a few hundred patricians. Catiline came to stay divine vengeance; therefore his conspiracy failed.
The encroachment of large proprietors upon small proprietors, by the aid of usury, farm-rent, and profits of all sorts, was common throughout the empire. The most honest citizens invested their money at high rates of interest. Cato, Cicero, Brutus, all the stoics so noted for their frugality, viri frugi, — Seneca, the teacher of virtue, — levied enormous taxes in the provinces, under the name of usury; and it is something remarkable, that the last defenders of the republic, the proud Pompeys, were all usurious aristocrats, and oppressors of the poor. But the battle of Pharsalus, having killed men only, without touching institutions, the encroachments of the large domains became every day more active. Ever since the birth of Christianity, the Fathers have opposed this invasion with all their might. Their writings are filled with burning curses upon this crime of usury, of which Christians are not always innocent. St. Cyprian complains of certain bishops of his time, who, absorbed in disgraceful stock-jobbing operations, abandoned their churches, and went about the provinces appropriating lands by artifice and fraud, while lending money and piling up interests upon interests. Why, in the midst of this passion for accumulation, did not the possession of the public land, like private property, become concentrated in a few hands?
By law, the domain of the State was inalienable, and consequently possession was always revocable; but the edict of the praetor continued it indefinitely, so that finally the possessions of the patricians were transformed into absolute property, though the name, possessions, was still applied to them. This conversion, instigated by senatorial avarice; owed its accomplishment to the most deplorable and indiscreet policy. If, in the time of Tiberius Gracchus, who wished to limit each citizen’s possession of the ager publicus to five hundred acres, the amount of this possession had been fixed at as much as one family could cultivate, and granted on the express condition that the possessor should cultivate it himself, and should lease it to no one, the empire never would have been desolated by large estates; and possession, instead of increasing property, would have absorbed it. On what, then, depended the establishment and maintenance of equality in conditions and fortunes? On a more equitable division of the ager publicus, a wiser distribution of the right of possession.
I insist upon this point, which is of the utmost importance, because it gives us an opportunity to examine the history of this individual possession, of which I said so much in my first memoir, and which so few of my readers seem to have understood. The Roman republic — having, as it did, the power to dispose absolutely of its territory, and to impose conditions upon possessors — was nearer to liberty and equality than any nation has been since. If the Senate had been intelligent and just, — if, at the time of the retreat to the Mons Sacer, instead of the ridiculous farce enacted by Menenius Agrippa, a solemn renunciation of the right to acquire had been made by each citizen on attaining his share of possessions, — the republic, based upon equality of possessions and the duty of labor, would not, in attaining its wealth, have degenerated in morals; Fabricius would have enjoyed the arts without controlling artists; and the conquests of the ancient Romans would have been the means of spreading civilization, instead of the series of murders and robberies that they were.
But property, having unlimited power to amass and to lease, was daily increased by the addition of new possessions. From the time of Nero, six individuals were the sole proprietors of one-half of Roman Africa. In the fifth century, the wealthy families had incomes of no less than two millions: some possessed as many as twenty thousand slaves. All the authors who have written upon the causes of the fall of the Roman republic concur. M. Giraud of Aix quotes the testimony of Cicero, Seneca, Plutarch, Olympiodorus, and Photius. Under Vespasian and Titus, Pliny, the naturalist, exclaimed: “Large estates have ruined Italy, and are ruining the provinces.”
But it never has been understood that the extension of property was effected then, as it is to-day, under the aegis of the law, and by virtue of the constitution. When the Senate sold captured lands at auction, it was in the interest of the treasury and of public welfare. When the patricians bought up possessions and property, they realized the purpose of the Senate’s decrees; when they lent at high rates of interest, they took advantage of a legal privilege. “Property,” said the lender, “is the right to enjoy even to the extent of abuse, jus utendi et abutendi; that is, the right to lend at interest, — to lease, to acquire, and then to lease and lend again.” But property is also the right to exchange, to transfer, and to sell. If, then, the social condition is such that the proprietor, ruined by usury, may be compelled to sell his possession, the means of his subsistence, he will sell it; and, thanks to the law, accumulated property — devouring and anthropophagous property — will be established.
The immediate and secondary cause of the decline of the Romans was, then, the internal dissensions between the two orders of the republic, — the patricians and the plebeians, — dissensions which gave rise to civil wars, proscriptions, and loss of liberty, and finally led to the empire; but the primary and mediate cause of their decline was the establishment by Numa of the institution of property.
I end with an extract from a work which I have quoted several times already, and which has recently received a prize from the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences: —
“The concentration of property,” says M. Laboulaye, “while causing extreme poverty, forced the emperors to feed and amuse the people, that they might forget their misery. Panem et circenses: that was the Roman law in regard to the poor; a dire and perhaps a necessary evil wherever a landed aristocracy exists.
“To feed these hungry mouths, grain was brought from Africa and the provinces, and distributed gratuitously among the needy. In the time of Cæsar, three hundred and twenty thousand people were thus fed. Augustus saw that such a measure led directly to the destruction of husbandry; but to abolish these distributions was to put a weapon within the reach of the first aspirant for power. The emperor shrank at the thought.
“While grain was gratuitous, agriculture was impossible. Tillage gave way to pasturage, another cause of depopulation, even among slaves.
“Finally, luxury, carried further and further every day, covered the soil of Italy with elegant villas, which occupied whole cantons. Gardens and groves replaced the fields, and the free population fled to the towns. Husbandry disappeared almost entirely, and with husbandry the husbandman. Africa furnished the wheat, and Greece the wine. Tiberius complained bitterly of this evil, which placed the lives of the Roman people at the mercy of the winds and waves: that was his anxiety. One day later, and three hundred thousand starving men walked the streets of Rome: that was a revolution.
“This decline of Italy and the provinces did not stop. After the reign of Nero, depopulation commenced in towns as noted as Antium and Tarentum. Under the reign of Pertinax, there was so much desert land that the emperor abandoned it, even that which belonged to the treasury, to whoever would cultivate it, besides exempting the farmers from taxation for a period of ten years. Senators were compelled to invest one-third of their fortunes in real estate in Italy; but this measure served only to increase the evil which they wished to cure. To force the rich to possess in Italy was to increase the large estates which had ruined the country. And must I say, finally, that Aurelian wished to send the captives into the desert lands of Etruria, and that Valentinian was forced to settle the Alamanni on the fertile banks of the Po?”
If the reader, in running through this book, should complain of meeting with nothing but quotations from other works, extracts from journals and public lectures, comments upon laws, and interpretations of them, I would remind him that the very object of this memoir is to establish the conformity of my opinion concerning property with that universally held; that, far from aiming at a paradox, it has been my main study to follow the advice of the world; and, finally, that my sole pretension is to clearly formulate the general belief. I cannot repeat it too often, — and I confess it with pride, — I teach absolutely nothing that is new; and I should regard the doctrine which I advocate as radically erroneous, if a single witness should testify against it.
Let us now trace the revolutions in property among the Barbarians.
As long as the German tribes dwelt in their forests, it did not occur to them to divide and appropriate the soil. The land was held in common: each individual could plow, sow, and reap. But, when the empire was once invaded, they bethought themselves of sharing the land, just as they shared spoils after a victory. “Hence,” says M. Laboulaye, “the expressions sortes Burgundiorum Gothorum and klhroi Ouandigwn; hence the German words allod, allodium, and loos, lot, which are used in all modern languages to designate the gifts of chance.”
Allodial property, at least with the mass of coparceners, was originally held, then, in equal shares; for all of the prizes were equal, or, at least, equivalent. This property, like that of the Romans, was wholly individual, independent, exclusive, transferable, and consequently susceptible of accumulation and invasion. But, instead of its being, as was the case among the Romans, the large estate which, through increase and usury, subordinated and absorbed the small one, among the Barbarians — fonder of war than of wealth, more eager to dispose of persons than to appropriate things — it was the warrior who, through superiority of arms, enslaved his adversary. The Roman wanted matter; the Barbarian wanted man. Consequently, in the feudal ages, rents were almost nothing, — simply a hare, a partridge, a pie, a few pints of wine brought by a little girl, or a Maypole set up within the suzerain’s reach. In return, the vassal or incumbent had to follow the seignior to battle (a thing which happened almost every day), and equip and feed himself at his own expense.
“This spirit of the German tribes — this spirit of companionship and association — governed the territory as it governed individuals. The lands, like the men, were secured to a chief or seignior by a bond of mutual protection and fidelity. This subjection was the labor of the German epoch which gave birth to feudalism. By fair means or foul, every proprietor who could not be a chief was forced to be a vassal.” (Laboulaye: History of Property.)
By fair means or foul, every mechanic who cannot be a master has to be a journeyman; every proprietor who is not an invader will be invaded; every producer who cannot, by the exploitation of other men, furnish products at less than their proper value, will lose his labor. Corporations and masterships, which are hated so bitterly, but which will reappear if we are not careful, are the necessary results of the principle of competition which is inherent in property; their organization was patterned formerly after that of the feudal hierarchy, which was the result of the subordination of men and possessions.
The times which paved the way for the advent of feudalism and the reappearance of large proprietors were times of carnage and the most frightful anarchy. Never before had murder and violence made such havoc with the human race. The tenth century, among others, if my memory serves me rightly, was called the century of iron. His property, his life, and the honor of his wife and children always in danger the small proprietor made haste to do homage to his seignior, and to bestow something on the church of his freehold, that he might receive protection and security.
“Both facts and laws bear witness that from the sixth to the tenth century the proprietors of small freeholds were gradually plundered, or reduced by the encroachments of large proprietors and counts to the condition of either vassals or tributaries. The Capitularies are full of repressive provisions; but the incessant reiteration of these threats only shows the perseverance of the evil and the impotency of the government. Oppression, moreover, varies but little in its methods. The complaints of the free proprietors, and the groans of the plebeians at the time of the Gracchi, were one and the same. It is said that, whenever a poor man refused to give his estate to the bishop, the curate, the count, the judge, or the centurion, these immediately sought an opportunity to ruin him. They made him serve in the army until, completely ruined, he was induced, by fair means or foul, to give up his freehold.” — Laboulaye: History of Property.
How many small proprietors and manufacturers have not been ruined by large ones through chicanery, law-suits, and competition? Strategy, violence, and usury, — such are the proprietor’s methods of plundering the laborer.
Thus we see property, at all ages and in all its forms, oscillating by virtue of its principle between two opposite terms, — extreme division and extreme accumulation.
Property, at its first term, is almost null. Reduced to personal exploitation, it is property only potentially. At its second term, it exists in its perfection; then it is truly property.
When property is widely distributed, society thrives, progresses, grows, and rises quickly to the zenith of its power. Thus, the Jews, after leaving Babylon with Esdras and Nehemiah, soon became richer and more powerful than they had been under their kings. Sparta was in a strong and prosperous condition during the two or three centuries which followed the death of Lycurgus. The best days of Athens were those of the Persian war; Rome, whose inhabitants were divided from the beginning into two classes, — the exploiters and the exploited, — knew no such thing as peace.
When property is concentrated, society, abusing itself, polluted, so to speak, grows corrupt, wears itself out — how shall I express this horrible idea? — plunges into long-continued and fatal luxury.
When feudalism was established, society had to die of the same disease which killed it under the Cæsars, — I mean accumulated property. But humanity, created for an immortal destiny, is deathless; the revolutions which disturb it are purifying crises, invariably followed by more vigorous health. In the fifth century, the invasion of the Barbarians partially restored the world to a state of natural equality. In the twelfth century, a new spirit pervading all society gave the slave his rights, and through justice breathed new life into the heart of nations. It has been said, and often repeated, that Christianity regenerated the world. That is true; but it seems to me that there is a mistake in the date. Christianity had no influence upon Roman society; when the Barbarians came, that society had disappeared. For such is God’s curse upon property; every political organization based upon the exploitation of man . shall perish: slave-labor is death to the race of tyrants. The patrician families became extinct, as the feudal families did, and as all aristocracies must.
It was in the middle ages, when a reactionary movement was beginning to secretly undermine accumulated property, that the influence of Christianity was first exercised to its full extent. The destruction of feudalism, the conversion of the serf into the commoner, the emancipation of the communes, and the admission of the Third Estate to political power, were deeds accomplished by Christianity exclusively. I say Christianity, not ecclesiasticism; for the priests and bishops were themselves large proprietors, and as such often persecuted the villeins. Without the Christianity of the middle ages, the existence of modern society could not be explained, and would not be possible. The truth of this assertion is shown by the very facts which M. Laboulaye quotes, although this author inclines to the opposite opinion.
“To this end,” he says, “many causes were necessary, — the evolution of other ideas and other principles of civilization.” So general an assertion cannot be refuted. Some of these ideas and causes should have been pointed out, that we might judge whether their source was not wholly Christian, or whether at least the Christian spirit had not penetrated and thus
1. Slavery among the Romans. — “The Roman slave was, in the eyes of the law, only a thing, — no more than an ox or a horse. He had neither property, family, nor personality; he was defenceless against his master’s cruelty, folly, or cupidity. ‘Sell your oxen that are past use,’ said Cato, ‘sell your calves, your lambs, your wool, your hides, your old ploughs, your old iron, your old slave, and your sick slave, and all that is of no use to you.’ When no market could be found for the slaves that were worn out by sickness or old age, they were abandoned to starvation. Claudius was the first defender of this shameful practice.”
“Discharge your old workman,” says the economist of the proprietary school; “turn off that sick domestic, that toothless and worn-out servant. Put away the unserviceable beauty; to the hospital with the useless mouths!”
“The condition of these wretched beings improved but little under the emperors; and the best that can be said of the goodness of Antoninus is that he prohibited intolerable cruelty, as an abuse of property. Expedit enim reipublicæ ne quis re re sua male utatur, says Gaius.
“As soon as the Church met in council, it launched an anathema against the masters who had exercised over their slaves this terrible right of life and death. Were not the slaves, thanks to the right of sanctuary and to their poverty, the dearest protégés of religion? Constantine, who embodied in the laws the grand ideas of Christianity, valued the life of a slave as highly as that of a freeman, and declared the master, who had intentionally brought death upon his slave, guilty of murder. Between this law and that of Antoninus there is a complete revolution in moral ideas: the slave was a thing; religion has made him a man.”
Note the last words: “Between the law of the Gospel and that of Antoninus there is a complete revolution in moral ideas: the slave was a thing; religion has made him a man.” The moral revolution which transformed the slave into a fructified them. Most of the emancipation charters begin with these words: “For the love of God and the salvation of my soul.” Now, we did not commence to love God and to think of our salvation until after the promulgation of the Gospel.
citizen was effected, then, by Christianity before the Barbarians set foot upon the soil of the empire. We have only to trace the progress of this moral revolution in the personnel of society. “But,” M. Laboulaye rightly says, “it did not change the condition of men in a moment, any more than that of things; between slavery and liberty there was an abyss which could not be filled in a day; the transitional step was servitude.”
Now, what was servitude? In what did it differ from Roman slavery, and whence came this difference? Let the same author answer.
2. Of Servitude. — “I see, in the lord’s manor, slaves charged with domestic duties. Some are employed in the personal service of the master; others are charged with household cares. The women spin the wool; the men grind the grain, make the bread, or practise, in the interest of the seignior, what little they know of the industrial arts. The master punishes them when he chooses, kills them with impunity, and sells them and theirs like so many cattle. The slave has no personality, and consequently no wehrgeld peculiar to himself: he is a thing. The wehrgeld belongs to the master as a compensation for the loss of his property. Whether the slave is killed or stolen, the indemnity does not change, for the injury is the same; but the indemnity increases or diminishes according to the value of the serf. In all these particulars Germanic slavery and Roman servitude are alike.”
This similarity is worthy of notice. Slavery is always the same, whether in a Roman villa or on a Barbarian farm. The man, like the ox and the ass, is a part of the live-stock; a price is set upon his head; he is a tool without a conscience, a chattel without personality, an impeccable, irresponsible being, who has neither rights nor duties.
Why did his condition improve?
“In good season ...” [when ?] “the serf began to be regarded as a man; and, as such, the law of the Visigoths, under the influence of Christian ideas, punished with fine or banishment any one who maimed or killed him.”
Always Christianity, always religion, though we should like to speak of the laws only. Did the philanthropy of the Visigoths make its first appearance before or after the preaching of the Gospel? This point must be cleared up.
“After the conquest, the serfs were scattered over the large estates of the Barbarians, each having his house, his lot, and his peculium, in return for which he paid rent and performed service. They were rarely separated from their homes when their land was sold; they and all that they had became the property of the purchaser. The law favored this realization of the serf, in not allowing him to be sold out of the country.”
What inspired this law, destructive not only of slavery, but of property itself? For, if the master cannot drive from his domain the slave whom he has once established there, it follows that the slave is proprietor, as well as the master.
“The Barbarians,” again says M. Laboulaye, “were the first to recognize the slave’s rights of family and property, — two rights which are incompatible with slavery.”
But was this recognition the necessary result of the mode of servitude in vogue among the Germanic nations previous to their conversion to Christianity, or was it the immediate effect of that spirit of justice infused with religion, by which the seignior was forced to respect in the serf a soul equal to his own, a brother in Jesus Christ, purified by the same baptism, and redeemed by the same sacrifice of the Son of God in the form of man? For we must not close our eyes to the fact that, though the Barbarian morals and the ignorance and carelessness of the seigniors, who busied themselves mainly with wars and battles, paying little or no attention to agriculture, may have been great aids in the emancipation of the serfs, still the vital principle of this emancipation was essentially Christian. Suppose that the Barbarians had remained Pagans in the midst of a Pagan world. As they did not change the Gospel, so they would not have changed the polytheistic customs; slavery would have remained what it was; they would have continued to kill the slaves who were desirous of liberty, family, and property; whole nations would have been reduced to the condition of Helots; nothing would have changed upon the terrestrial stage, except the actors. The Barbarians were less selfish, less imperious, less dissolute, and less cruel than the Romans. Such was the nature upon which, after the fall of the empire and the renovation of society, Christianity was to act. But this nature, grounded as in former times upon slavery and war, would, by its own energy, have produced nothing but war and slavery.
“Gradually the serfs obtained the privilege of being judged by the same standard as their masters... .”
When, how, and by what title did they obtain this privilege?
Gradually their duties were regulated.”
Whence came the regulations? Who had the authority to introduce them?
“The master took a part of the labor of the serf, — three days, for instance, — and left the rest to him. As for Sunday, that belonged to God.”
And what established Sunday, if not religion? Whence I infer, that the same power which took it upon itself to suspend hostilities and to lighten the duties of the serf was also that which regulated the judiciary and created a sort of law for the slave.
But this law itself, on what did it bear? — what was its principle? — what was the philosophy of the councils and popes with reference to this matter? The reply to all these questions, coming from me alone, would be distrusted. The authority of M. Laboulaye shall give credence to my words. This holy philosophy, to which the slaves were indebted for every thing, this invocation of the Gospel, was an anathema against property.
The proprietors of small freeholds, that is, the freemen of the middle class, had fallen, in consequence of the tyranny of the nobles, into a worse condition than that of the tenants and serfs. “The expenses of war weighed less heavily upon the serf than upon the freeman; and, as for legal protection, the seigniorial court, where the serf was judged by his peers, was far preferable to the cantonal assembly. It was better to have a noble for a seignior than for a judge.”
So it is better to-day to have a man of large capital for an associate than for a rival. The honest tenant — the laborer who earns weekly a moderate but constant salary — is more to be envied than the independent but small farmer, or the poor licensed mechanic.
At that time, all were either seigniors or serfs, oppressors or oppressed. “Then, under the protection of convents, or of the seigniorial turret, new societies were formed, which silently spread over the soil made fertile by their hands, and which derived their power from the annihilation of the free classes whom they enlisted in their behalf. As tenants, these men acquired, from generation to generation, sacred rights over the soil which they cultivated in the interest of lazy and pillaging masters. As fast as the social tempest abated, it became necessary to respect the union and heritage of these villeins, who by their labor had truly prescribed the soil for their own profit.”
I ask how prescription could take effect where a contrary title and possession already existed? M. Laboulaye is a lawyer. Where, then, did he ever see the labor of the slave and the cultivation by the tenant prescribe the soil for their own profit, to the detriment of a recognized master daily acting as a proprietor? Let us not disguise matters. As fast as the tenants and the serfs grew rich, they wished to be independent and free; they commenced to associate, unfurl their municipal banners, raise belfries, fortify their towns, and refuse to pay their seigniorial dues. In doing these things they were perfectly right; for, in fact, their condition was intolerable. But in law — I mean in Roman and Napoleonic law — their refusal to obey and pay tribute to their masters was illegitimate.
Now, this imperceptible usurpation of property by the commonalty was inspired by religion.
The seignior had attached the serf to the soil; religion granted the serf rights over the soil. The seignior imposed duties upon the serf; religion fixed their limits. The seignior could kill the serf with impunity, could deprive him of his wife, violate his daughter, pillage his house, and rob him of his savings; religion checked his invasions: it excommunicated the seignior. Religion was the real cause of the ruin of feudal property. Why should it not be bold enough to-day to resolutely condemn capitalistic property? Since the middle ages, there has been no change in social economy except in its forms; its relations remain unaltered.
The only result of the emancipation of the serfs was that property changed hands; or, rather, that new proprietors were created. Sooner or later the extension of privilege, far from curing the evil, was to operate to the disadvantage of the plebeians. Nevertheless, the new social organization did not meet with the same end in all places. In Lombardy, for example, where the people rapidly growing rich through commerce and industry soon conquered the authorities, even to the exclusion of the nobles, — first, the nobility became poor and degraded, and were forced, in order to live and maintain their credit, to gain admission to the guilds; then, the ordinary subalternization of property leading to inequality of fortunes, to wealth and poverty, to jealousies and hatreds, the cities passed rapidly from the rankest democracy under the yoke of a few ambitious leaders. Such was the fate of most of the Lombardic cities, — Genoa, Florence, Bologna, Milan, Pisa, &c,. — which afterwards changed rulers frequently, but which have never since risen in favor of liberty. The people can easily escape from the tyranny of despots, but they do not know how to throw off the effects of their own despotism; just as we avoid the assassin’s steel, while we succumb to a constitutional malady. As soon as a nation becomes proprietor, either it must perish, or a foreign invasion must force it again to begin its evolutionary round.
In France, the Revolution was much more gradual. The communes, in taking refuge under the protection of the kings, had found them masters rather than protectors. Their liberty had long since been lost, or, rather, their emancipation had been suspended, when feudalism received its death-blow at the hand of Richelieu. Then liberty halted; the prince of the feudatories held sole and undivided sway. The nobles, the clergy, the commoners, the parliaments, every thing in short except a few seeming privileges, were controlled by the king; who, like his early predecessors, consumed regularly, and nearly always in advance, the revenues of his domain, — and that domain was France. Finally, ‘89 arrived; liberty resumed its march; a century and a half had been required to wear out the last form of feudal property, — monarchy.
The French Revolution may be defined as the substitution of real right for personal right; that is to say, in the days of feudalism, the value of property depended upon the standing of the proprietor, while, after the Revolution, the regard for the man was proportional to his property. Now, we have seen from what has been said in the preceding pages, that this recognition of the right of laborers had been the constant aim of the serfs and communes, the secret motive of their efforts. The movement of ‘89 was only the last stage of that long insurrection. But it seems to me that we have not paid sufficient attention to the fact that the Revolution of 1789, instigated by the same causes, animated by the same spirit, triumphing by the same struggles, was consummated in Italy four centuries ago. Italy was the first to sound the signal of war against feudalism; France has followed; Spain and England are beginning to move; the rest still sleep. If a grand example should be given to the world, the day of trial would be much abridged.
Note the following summary of the revolutions of property, from the days of the Roman Empire down to the present time: — 1. Fifth Century. — Barbarian invasions; division of the lands of the empire into independent portions or freeholds. 2. From the fifth to the eighth Century. — Gradual concentration of freeholds, or transformation of the small freeholds into fiefs, feuds, tenures, &c. Large properties, small possessions. Charlemagne (771-814) decrees that all freeholds are dependent upon the king of France. 3. From the eighth to the tenth Century. — The relation between the crown and the superior dependents is broken; the latter becoming freeholders, while the smaller dependents cease to recognize the king, and adhere to the nearest suzerain. Feudal system. 4. Twelfth Century. — Movement of the serfs towards liberty; emancipation of the communes. 5. Thirteenth Century. — Abolition of personal right, and of the feudal system in Italy. Italian Republics. 6. Seventeenth Century. — Abolition of feudalism in France during Richelieu’s ministry. Despotism. 7. 1789. — Abolition of all privileges of birth, caste, provinces, and corporations; equality of persons and of rights. French democracy. 8. 1830. — The principle of concentration inherent in individual property is remarked. Development of the idea of association.
The more we reflect upon this series of transformations and changes, the more clearly we see that they were necessary in their principle, in their manifestations, and in their result.
It was necessary that inexperienced conquerors, eager for liberty, should divide the Roman Empire into a multitude of estates, as free and independent as themselves.
It was necessary that these men, who liked war even better than liberty, should submit to their leaders; and, as the freehold represented the man, that property should violate property.
It was necessary that, under the rule of a nobility always idle when not fighting, there should grow up a body of laborers, who, by the power of production, and by the division and circulation of wealth, would gradually gain control over commerce, industry, and a portion of the land, and who, having become rich, would aspire to power and authority also.
It was necessary, finally, that liberty and equality of rights having been achieved, and individual property still existing, attended by robbery, poverty, social inequality, and oppression, there should be an inquiry into the cause of this evil, and an idea of universal association formed, whereby, on condition of labor, all interests should be protected and consolidated.
“Evil, when carried too far,” says a learned jurist, “cures itself; and the political innovation which aims to increase the power of the State, finally succumbs to the effects of its own work. The Germans, to secure their independence, chose chiefs; and soon they were oppressed by their kings and noblemen. The monarchs surrounded themselves with volunteers, in order to control the freemen; and they found themselves dependent upon their proud vassals. The missi dominici were sent into the provinces to maintain the power of the emperors, and to protect the people from the oppressions of the noblemen; and not only did they usurp the imperial power to a great extent, but they dealt more severely with the inhabitants. The freemen became vassals, in order to get rid of military service and court duty; and they were immediately involved in all the personal quarrels of their seigniors, and compelled to do jury duty in their courts... . The kings protected the cities and the communes, in the hope of freeing them from the yoke of the grand vassals, and of rendering their own power more absolute; and those same communes have, in several European countries, procured the establishment of a constitutional power, are now holding royalty in check, and are giving rise to a universal desire for political reform.” — Meyer: Judicial Institutions of Europe.
What was feudalism? A confederation of the grand seign iors against the villeins, and against the king. What is constitutional government? A confederation of the bourgeoisie against the laborers, and against the king.
How did feudalism end? In the union of the communes and the royal authority. How will the bourgeoisie aristocracy end? In the union of the proletariat and the sovereign power.
What was the immediate result of the struggle of the communes and the king against the seigniors? The monarchical unity of Louis XIV. What will be the result of the struggle of the proletariat and the sovereign power combined against the bourgeoisie? The absolute unity of the nation and the government.
It remains to be seen whether the nation, one and supreme, will be represented in its executive and central power by one, by five, by one hundred, or one thousand; that is, it remains to be seen, whether the royalty of the barricades intends to maintain itself by the people, or without the people, and whether Louis Philippe wishes his reign to be the most famous in all history.
I have made this statement as brief, but at the same time as accurate as I could, neglecting facts and details, that I might give the more attention to the economical relations of society. For the study of history is like the study of the human organism; just as the latter has its system, its organs, and its functions, which can be treated separately, so the former has its ensemble, its instruments, and its causes. Of course I do not pretend that the principle of property is a complete résumé of all the social forces; but, as in that wonderful machine which we call our body, the harmony of the whole allows us to draw a general conclusion from the consideration of a single function or organ, so, in discussing historical causes, I have been able to reason with absolute accuracy from a single order of facts, certain as I was of the perfect correlation which exists between this special order and universal history. As is the property of a nation, so is its family, its marriage, its religion, its civil and military organization, and its legislative and judicial institutions. History, viewed from this standpoint, is a grand and sublime psychological study.
Well, sir, in writing against property, have I done more than quote the language of history? I have said to modern society, — the daughter and heiress of all preceding societies, — Age guod agis: complete the task which for six thousand years you have been executing under the inspiration and by the command of God; hasten to finish your journey; turn neither to the right nor the left, but follow the road which lies before you. You seek reason, law, unity, and discipline; but hereafter you can find them only by stripping off the veils of your infancy, and ceasing to follow instinct as a guide. Awaken your sleeping conscience; open your eyes to the pure light of reflection and science; behold the phantom which troubled your dreams, and so long kept you in a state of unutterable anguish. Know thyself, O long-deluded society know thy enemy! ... And I have denounced property.
We often hear the defenders of the right of domain quote in defence of their views the testimony of nations and ages. We can judge, from what has just been said, how far this historical argument conforms to the real facts and the conclusions of science.
To complete this apology, I must examine the various theories.
Neither politics, nor legislation, nor history, can be explained and understood, without a positive theory which defines their elements, and discovers their laws; in short, without a philosophy. Now, the two principal schools, which to this day divide the attention of the world, do not satisfy this condition.
The first, essentially practical in its character, confined to a statement of facts, and buried in learning, cares very little by what laws humanity develops itself. To it these laws are the secret of the Almighty, which no one can fathom without a commission from on high. In applying the facts of history to government, this school does not reason; it does not anticipate; it makes no comparison of the past with the present, in order to predict the future. In its opinion, the lessons of experience teach us only to repeat old errors, and its whole philosophy consists in perpetually retracing the tracks of antiquity, instead of going straight ahead forever in the direction in which they point.
The second school may be called either fatalistic or pantheistic. To it the movements of empires and the revolutions of humanity are the manifestations, the incarnations, of the Almighty. The human race, identified with the divine essence, wheels in a circle of appearances, informations, and destructions, which necessarily excludes the idea of absolute truth, and destroys providence and liberty.
Corresponding to these two schools of history, there are two schools of jurisprudence, similarly opposed, and possessed of the same peculiarities.
1. The practical and conventional school, to which the law is always a creation of the legislator, an expression of his will, a privilege which he condescends to grant, — in short, a gratuitous affirmation to be regarded as judicious and legitimate, no matter what it declares.
2. The fatalistic and pantheistic school, sometimes called the historical school, which opposes the despotism of the first, and maintains that law, like literature and religion, is always the expression of society, — its manifestation, its form, the external realization of its mobile spirit and its ever-changing inspirations.
Each of these schools, denying the absolute, rejects thereby all positive and à priori philosophy.
Now, it is evident that the theories of these two schools, whatever view we take of them, are utterly unsatisfactory: for, opposed, they form no dilemma, — that is, if one is false, it does not follow that the other is true; and, united, they do not constitute the truth, since they disregard the absolute, without which there is no truth. They are respectively a thesis and an antithesis. There remains to be found, then, a synthesis, which, predicating the absolute, justifies the will of the legislator, explains the variations of the law, annihilates the theory of the circular movement of humanity, and demonstrates its progress.
The legists, by the very nature of their studies and in spite of their obstinate prejudices, have been led irresistibly to suspect that the absolute in the science of law is not as chimerical as is commonly supposed; and this suspicion arose from their comparison of the various relations which legislators have been called upon to regulate.
M. Laboulaye, the laureate of the Institute, begins his “History of Property” with these words: —
“While the law of contract, which regulates only the mutual interests of men, has not varied for centuries (except in certain forms which relate more to the proof than to the character of the obligation), the civil law of property, which regulates the mutual relations of citizens, has undergone several radical changes, and has kept pace in its variations with all the vicissitudes of society. The law of contract, which holds essentially to those principles of eternal justice which are engraven upon the depths of the human heart, is the immutable element of jurisprudence, and, in a certain sense, its philosophy. Property, on the contrary, is the variable element of jurisprudence, its history, its policy.”
Marvellous! There is in law, and consequently in politics, something variable and something invariable. The invariable element is obligation, the bond of justice, duty; the variable element is property, — that is, the external form of law, the subject-matter of the contract. Whence it follows that the law can modify, change, reform, and judge property. Reconcile that, if you can, with the idea of an eternal, absolute, permanent, and indefectible right.
However, M. Laboulaye is in perfect accord with himself when he adds, “Possession of the soil rests solely upon force until society takes it in hand, and espouses the cause of the possessor;" and, a little farther, “The right of property is not natural, but social. The laws not only protect property: they give it birth,” &c. Now, that which the law has made the law can unmake; especially since, according to M. Laboulaye, — an avowed partisan of the historical or pantheistic school, — the law is not absolute, is not an idea, but a form.
But why is it that property is variable, and, unlike obligation, incapable of definition and settlement? Before affirming, somewhat boldly without doubt, that in right there are no absolute principles (the most dangerous, most immoral, most tyrannical — in a word, most anti-social — assertion imaginable), it was proper that the right of property should be subjected to a thorough examination, in order to put in evidence its variable, arbitrary, and contingent elements, and those which are eternal, legitimate, and absolute; then, this operation performed, it became easy to account for the laws, and to correct all the codes.
Now, this examination of property I claim to have made, and in the fullest detail; but, either from the public’s lack of interest in an unrecommended and unattractive pamphlet, or — which is more probable — from the weakness of exposition and want of genius which characterize the work, the First Memoir on Property passed unnoticed; scarcely would a few communists, having turned its leaves, deign to brand it with their disapprobation. You alone, sir, in spite of the disfavor which I showed for your economical predecessors in too severe a criticism of them, — you alone have judged me justly; and although I cannot accept, at least literally, your first judgment, yet it is to you alone that I appeal from a decision too equivocal to be regarded as final.
It not being my intention to enter at present into a discussion of principles, I shall content myself with estimating, from the point of view of this simple and intelligible absolute, the theories of property which our generation has produced.
The most exact idea of property is given us by the Roman law, faithfully followed in this particular by the ancient legists. It is the absolute, exclusive, autocratic domain of a man over a thing, — a domain which begins by usucaption, is maintained by possession, and finally, by the aid of prescription, finds its sanction in the civil law; a domain which so identifies the man with the thing, that the proprietor can say, “He who uses my field, virtually compels me to labor for him; therefore he owes me compensation.”
I pass in silence the secondary modes by which property can be acquired, — tradition, sale, exchange, inheritance, &c., — which have nothing in common with the origin of property.
Accordingly, Pothier said the domain of property, and not simply property. And the most learned writers on jurisprudence — in imitation of the Roman praetor who recognized a right of property and a right of possession — have carefully distinguished between the domain and the right of usufruct, use, and habitation, which, reduced to its natural limits, is the very expression of justice; and which is, in my opinion, to supplant domanial property, and finally form the basis of all jurisprudence.
But, sir, admire the clumsiness of systems, or rather the fatality of logic! While the Roman law and all the savants inspired by it teach that property in its origin is the right of first occupancy sanctioned by law, the modern legists, dissatisfied with this brutal definition, claim that property is based upon labor. Immediately they infer that he who no longer labors, but makes another labor in his stead, loses his right to the earnings of the latter. It is by virtue of this principle that the serfs of the middle ages claimed a legal right to property, and consequently to the enjoyment of political rights; that the clergy were despoiled in ‘89 of their immense estates, and were granted a pension in exchange; that at the restoration the liberal deputies opposed the indemnity of one billion francs. “The nation,” said they, “has acquired by twenty-five years of labor and possession the property which the emigrants forfeited by abandonment and long idleness: why should the nobles be treated with more favor than the priests?"
All usurpations, not born of war, have been caused and supported by labor. All modern history proves this, from the end of the Roman empire down to the present day. And as if to give a sort of legal sanction to these usurpations, the doctrine of labor, subversive of property, is professed at great length in the Roman law under the name of prescription.
The man who cultivates, it has been said, makes the land his own; consequently, no more property. This was clearly seen by the old jurists, who have not failed to denounce this novelty; while on the other hand the young school hoots at the absurdity of the first-occupant theory. Others have presented themselves, pretending to reconcile the two opinions by uniting them. They have failed, like all the juste-milieux of the world, and are laughed at for their eclecticism. At present, the alarm is in the camp of the old doctrine; from all sides pour in defences of property, studies regarding property, theories of property, each one of which, giving the lie to the rest, inflicts a fresh wound upon property.
Consider, indeed, the inextricable embarrassments, the contradictions, the absurdities, the incredible nonsense, in which the bold defenders of property so lightly involve themselves. I choose the eclectics, because, those killed, the others cannot survive.
M. Troplong, jurist, passes for a philosopher in the eyes of the editors of “Le Droit.” I tell the gentlemen of “Le Droit” that, in the judgment of philosophers, M. Troplong is only an advocate; and I prove my assertion.
M. Troplong is a defender of progress. “The words of the code,” says he, “are fruitful sap with which the classic works of the eighteenth century overflow. To wish to suppress them ... is to violate the law of progress, and to forget that a science which moves is a science which grows."
Now, the only mutable and progressive portion of law, as we have already seen, is that which concerns property. If, then, you ask what reforms are to be introduced into the right of property? M. Troplong makes no reply; what progress is to be hoped for? no reply; what is to be the destiny of property in case of universal association? no reply; what is the absolute and what the contingent, what the true and what the false, in property? no reply. M. Troplong favors quiescence and in statu quo in regard to property. What could be more unphilosophical in a progressive philosopher?
Nevertheless, M. Troplong has thought about these things. “There are,” he says, “many weak points and antiquated ideas in the doctrines of modern authors concerning property: witness the works of MM. Toullier and Duranton.” The doctrine of M. Troplong promises, then, strong points, advanced and progressive ideas. Let us see; let us examine: —
“Man, placed in the presence of matter, is conscious of a power over it, which has been given to him to satisfy the needs of his being. King of inanimate or unintelligent nature, he feels that he has a right to modify it, govern it, and fit it for his use. There it is, the subject of property, which is legitimate only when exercised over things, never when over persons.”
M. Troplong is so little of a philosopher, that he does not even know the import of the philosophical terms which he makes a show of using. He says of matter that it is the subject of property; he should have said the object. M. Troplong uses the language of the anatomists, who apply the term subject to the human matter used in their experiments.
This error of our author is repeated farther on: “Liberty, which overcomes matter, the subject of property, &c.” The subject of property is man; its object is matter. But even this is but a slight mortification; directly we shall have some crucifixions.
Thus, according to the passage just quoted, it is in the conscience and personality of man that the principle of property must be sought. Is there any thing new in this doctrine? Apparently it never has occurred to those who, since the days of Cicero and Aristotle, and earlier, have maintained that things belong to the first occupant, that occupation may be exercised by beings devoid of conscience and personality. The human personality, though it may be the principle or the subject of property, as matter is the object, is not the condition. Now, it is this condition which we most need to know. So far, M. Troplong tells us no more than his masters, and the figures with which he adorns his style add nothing to the old idea.
Property, then, implies three terms: The subject, the object, and the condition. There is no difficulty in regard to the first two terms. As to the third, the condition of property down to this day, for the Greek as for the Barbarian, has been that of first occupancy. What now would you have it, progressive doctor?
“When man lays hands for the first time upon an object without a master, he performs an act which, among individuals, is of the greatest importance. The thing thus seized and occupied participates, so to speak, in the personality of him who holds it. It becomes sacred, like himself. It is impossible to take it without doing violence to his liberty, or to remove it without rashly invading his person. Diogenes did but express this truth of intuition, when he said: ‘Stand out of my light!’ “
Very good! but would the prince of cynics, the very personal and very haughty Diogenes, have had the right to charge another cynic, as rent for this same place in the sunshine, a bone for twenty-four hours of possession? It is that which constitutes the proprietor; it is that which you fail to justify. In reasoning from the human personality and individuality to the right of property, you unconsciously construct a syllogism in which the conclusion includes more than the premises, contrary to the rules laid down by Aristotle. The individuality of the human person proves individual possession, originally called proprietas, in opposition to collective possession, communio. It gives birth to the distinction between thine and mine, true signs of equality, not, by any means, of subordination. “From equivocation to equivocation,” says M. Michelet, “property would crawl to the end of the world; man could not limit it, were not he himself its limit. Where they clash, there will be its frontier.” In short, individuality of being destroys the hypothesis of communism, but it does not for that reason give birth to domain, — that domain by virtue of which the holder of a thing exercises over the person who takes his place a right of prestation and suzerainty, that has always been identified with property itself.
Further, that he whose legitimately acquired possession injures nobody cannot be nonsuited without flagrant injustice, is a truth, not of intuition, as M. Troplong says, but of inward sensation, which has nothing to do with property.
M. Troplong admits, then, occupancy as a condition of property. In that, he is in accord with the Roman law, in accord with MM. Toullier and Duranton; but in his opinion this condition is not the only one, and it is in this particular that his doctrine goes beyond theirs.
“But, however exclusive the right arising from sole occupancy, does it not become still more so, when man has moulded matter by his labor; when he has deposited in it a portion of himself, re-creating it by his industry, and setting upon it the seal of his intelligence and activity? Of all conquests, that is the most legitimate, for it is the price of labor.
He who should deprive a man of the thing thus remodelled, thus humanized, would invade the man himself, and would inflict the deepest wounds upon his liberty.”
I pass over the very beautiful explanations in which M. Troplong, discussing labor and industry, displays the whole wealth of his eloquence. M. Troplong is not only a philosopher, he is an orator, an artist. He abounds with appeals to the conscience and the passions. I might make sad work of his rhetoric, should I undertake to dissect it; but I confine myself for the present to his philosophy.
If M. Troplong had only known how to think and reflect, before abandoning the original fact of occupancy and plunging into the theory of labor, he would have asked himself: “What is it to occupy?” And he would have discovered that occupancy is only a generic term by which all modes of possession are expressed, — seizure, station, immanence, habitation, cultivation, use, consumption, &c.; that labor, consequently, is but one of a thousand forms of occupancy. He would have understood, finally, that the right of possession which is born of labor is governed by the same general laws as that which results from the simple seizure of things. What kind of a legist is he who declaims when he ought to reason, who continually mistakes his metaphors for legal axioms, and who does not so much as know how to obtain a universal by induction, and form a category?
If labor is identical with occupancy, the only benefit which it secures to the laborer is the right of individual possession of the object of his labor; if it differs from occupancy, it gives birth to a right equal only to itself, — that is, a right which begins, continues, and ends, with the labor of the occupant. It is for this reason, in the words of the law, that one cannot acquire a just title to a thing by labor alone. He must also hold it for a year and a day, in order to be regarded as its possessor; and possess it twenty or thirty years, in order to become its proprietor.
These preliminaries established, M. Troplong’s whole structure falls of its own weight, and the inferences, which he attempts to draw, vanish.
“Property once acquired by occupation and labor, it naturally preserves itself, not only by the same means, but also by the refusal of the holder to abdicate; for from the very fact that it has risen to the height of a right, it is its nature to perpetuate itself and to last for an indefinite period... . Rights, considered from an ideal point of view, are imperishable and eternal; and time, which affects only the contingent, can no more disturb them than it can injure God himself.” It is astonishing that our author, in speaking of the ideal, time, and eternity, did not work into his sentence the divine wings of Plato, — so fashionable to-day in philosophical works.
With the exception of falsehood, I hate nonsense more than any thing else in the world. Property once acquired! Good, if it is acquired; but, as it is not acquired, it cannot be preserved. Rights are eternal! Yes, in the sight of God, like the archetypal ideas of the Platonists. But, on the earth, rights exist only in the presence of a subject, an object, and a condition. Take away one of these three things, and rights no longer exist. Thus, individual possession ceases at the death of the subject, upon the destruction of the object, or in case of exchange or abandonment.
Let us admit, however, with M. Troplong, that property is an absolute and eternal right, which cannot be destroyed save by the deed and at the will of the proprietor. What are the consequences which immediately follow from this position?
To show the justice and utility of prescription, M. Troplong supposes the case of a bona fide possessor whom a proprietor, long since forgotten or even unknown, is attempting to eject from his possession. “At the start, the error of the possessor was excusable but not irreparable. Pursuing its course and growing old by degrees, it has so completely clothed itself in the colors of truth, it has spoken so loudly the language of right, it has involved so many confiding interests, that it fairly may be asked whether it would not cause greater confusion to go back to the reality than to sanction the fictions which it (an error, without doubt) has sown on its way? Well, yes; it must be confessed, without hesitation, that the remedy would prove worse than the disease, and that its application would lead to the most outrageous injustice.”
How long since utility became a principle of law? When the Athenians, by the advice of Aristides, rejected a proposition eminently advantageous to their republic, but also utterly unjust, they showed finer moral perception and greater clearness of intellect than M. Troplong. Property is an eternal right, independent of time, indestructible except by the act and at the will of the proprietor; and here this right is taken from the proprietor, and on what ground? Good God! on the ground of absence! Is it not true that legists are governed by caprice in giving and taking away rights? When it pleases these gentlemen, idleness, unworthiness, or absence can invalidate a right which, under quite similar circumstances, labor, residence, and virtue are inadequate to obtain. Do not be astonished that legists reject the absolute. Their good pleasure is law, and their disordered imaginations are the real cause of the evolutions in jurisprudence.
"If the nominal proprietor should plead ignorance, his claim would be none the more valid. Indeed, his ignorance might arise from inexcusable carelessness, etc.”
What! in order to legitimate dispossession through prescription, you suppose faults in the proprietor! You blame his absence, — which may have been involuntary; his neglect, — not knowing what caused it; his carelessness, — a gratuitous supposition of your own! It is absurd. One very simple observation suffices to annihilate this theory. Society, which, they tell us, makes an exception in the interest of order in favor of the possessor as against the old proprietor, owes the latter an indemnity; since the privilege of prescription is nothing but expropriation for the sake of public utility.
But here is something stronger: —
“In society a place cannot remain vacant with impunity. A new man arises in place of the old one who disappears or goes away; he brings here his existence, becomes entirely absorbed, and devotes himself to this post which he finds abandoned. Shall the deserter, then, dispute the honor of the victory with the soldier who fights with the sweat standing on his brow, and bears the burden of the day, in behalf of a cause which he deems just?”
When the tongue of an advocate once gets in motion, who can tell where it will stop? M. Troplong admits and justifies usurpation in case of the absence of the proprietor, and on a mere presumption of his carelessness. But when the neglect is authenticated; when the abandonment is solemnly and voluntarily set forth in a contract in the presence of a magistrate; when the proprietor dares to say, “I cease to labor, but I still claim a share of the product,” — then the absentee’s right of property is protected; the usurpation of the possessor would be criminal; farm-rent is the reward of idleness.
Where is, I do not say the consistency, but, the honesty of this law?
Prescription is a result of the civil law, a creation of the legislator. Why has not the legislator fixed the conditions differently? — why, instead of twenty and thirty years, is not a single year sufficient to prescribe? — why are not voluntary absence and confessed idleness as good grounds for dispossession as involuntary absence, ignorance, or apathy?
But in vain should we ask M. Troplong, the philosopher, to tell us the ground of prescription. Concerning the code, M. Troplong does not reason. “The interpreter,” he says, “must take things as they are, society as it exists, laws as they are made: that is the only sensible starting-point.” Well, then, write no more books; cease to reproach your predecessors — who, like you, have aimed only at interpretation of the law — for having remained in the rear; talk no more of philosophy and progress, for the lie sticks in your throat.
M. Troplong denies the reality of the right of possession; he denies that possession has ever existed as a principle of society; and he quotes M. de Savigny, who holds precisely the opposite position, and whom he is content to leave unanswered. At one time, M. Troplong asserts that possession and property are contemporaneous, and that they exist at the same time, which implies that the right of property is based on the fact of possession, — a conclusion which is evidently absurd; at another, he denies that possession had any historical existence prior to property, — an assertion which is contradicted by the customs of many nations which cultivate the land without appropriating it; by the Roman law, which distinguished so clearly between possession and property; and by our code itself, which makes possession for twenty or thirty years the condition of property. Finally, M. Troplong goes so far as to maintain that the Roman maxim, Nihil comune habet proprietas cum possessione — which contains so striking an allusion to the possession of the ager publicus, and which, sooner or later, will be again accepted without qualification — expresses in French law only a judicial axiom, a simple rule forbidding the union of an action possessoire with an action petitoire, — an opinion as retrogressive as it is unphilosophical.
In treating of actions possessoires, M. Troplong is so unfortunate or awkward that he mutilates economy through failure to grasp its meaning “Just as property,” he writes, “gave rise to the action for revendication, so possession — the jus possessionis — was the cause of possessory interdicts... . There were two kinds of interdicts, — the interdict recuperandæ possessionis, and the interdict retinendæ possessionis, — which correspond to our complainte en cas de saisine et nouvelete. There is also a third, — adipiscendæ possessionis, — of which the Roman law-books speak in connection with the two others. But, in reality, this interdict is not possessory: for he who wishes to acquire possession by this means does not possess, and has not possessed; and yet acquired possession is the condition of possessory interdicts.” Why is not an action to acquire possession equally conceivable with an action to be reinstated in possession? When the Roman plebeians demanded a division of the conquered territory; when the proletaires of Lyons took for their motto, Vivre en travaillant, ou mourir en combattant (to live working, or die fighting); when the most enlightened of the modern economists claim for every man the right to labor and to live, — they only propose this interdict, adipiscendæ possessionis, which embarrasses M. Troplong so seriously. And what is my object in pleading against property, if not to obtain possession?
How is it that M. Troplong — the legist, the orator, the philosopher — does not see that logically this interdict must be admitted, since it is the necessary complement of the two others, and the three united form an indivisible trinity, — to recover, to maintain, to acquire? To break this series is to create a blank, destroy the natural synthesis of things, and follow the example of the geometrician who tried to conceive of a solid with only two dimensions. But it is not astonishing that M. Troplong rejects the third class of actions possessoires, when we consider that he rejects possession itself. He is so completely controlled by his prejudices in this respect, that he is unconsciously led, not to unite (that would be horrible in his eyes), but to identify the action possessoire with the action petitoire. This could be easily proved, were it not too tedious to plunge into these metaphysical obscurities.
As an interpreter of the law, M. Troplong is no more successful than as a philosopher. One specimen of his skill in this direction, and I am done with him: —
Code of Civil Procedure, Art. 23: “Actions possessoires are only when commenced within the year of trouble by those who have held possession for at least a year by an irrevocable title.”
M. Troplong’s comments: —
“Ought we to maintain — as Duparc, Poullain, and Lanjuinais would have us — the rule spoliatus ante omnia restituendus, when an individual, who is neither proprietor nor annual possessor, is expelled by a third party, who has no right to the estate? I think not. Art. 23 of the Code is general: it absolutely requires that the plaintiff in actions possessoires shall have been in peaceable possession for a year at least. That is the invariable principle: it can in no case be modified. And why should it be set aside? The plaintiff had no seisin; he had no privileged possession; he had only a temporary occupancy, insufficient to warrant in his favor the presumption of property, which renders the annual possession so valuable. Well! this ae facto occupancy he has lost; another is invested with it: possession is in the hands of this new-comer. Now, is not this a case for the application of the principle, In pari causa possesser potior habetur? Should not the actual possessor be preferred to the evicted possessor? Can he not meet the complaint of his adversary by saying to him: ‘Prove that you were an annual possessor before me, for you are the plaintiff. As far as I am concerned, it is not for me to tell you how I possess, nor how long I have possessed. Possideo quia possideo. I have no other reply, no other defence. When you have shown that your action is admissible, then we will see whether you are entitled to lift the veil which hides the origin of my possession.’ “
And this is what is honored with the name of jurisprudence and philosophy, — the restoration of force. What! when I have “moulded matter by my labor” [I quote M. Troplong]; when I have “deposited in it a portion of myself” [M. Troplong]; when I have “re-created it by my industry, and set upon it the seal of my intelligence” [M. Troplong], — on the ground that I have not possessed it for a year, a stranger may dispossess me, and the law offers me no protection! And if M. Troplong is my judge, M. Troplong will condemn me! And if I resist my adversary, — if, for this bit of mud which I may call my field, and of which they wish to rob me, a war breaks out between the two competitors, — the legislator will gravely wait until the stronger, having killed the other, has had possession for a year! No, no, Monsieur Troplong! you do not understand the words of the law; for I prefer to call in question your intelligence rather than the justice of the legislator. You are mistaken in your application of the principle, In pari causa possessor potior habetur: the actuality of possession here refers to him who possessed at the time when the difficulty arose, not to him who possesses at the time of the complaint. And when the code prohibits the reception of actions possessoires, in cases where the possession is not of a year’s duration, it simply means that if, before a year has elapsed, the holder relinquishes possession, and ceases actually to occupy in propria persona, he cannot avail himself of an action possessoire against his successor. In a word, the code treats possession of less than a year as it ought to treat all possession, however long it has existed, — that is, the condition of property ought to be, not merely seisin for a year, but perpetual seisin.
I will not pursue this analysis farther. When an author bases two volumes of quibbles on foundations so uncertain, it may be boldly declared that his work, whatever the amount of learning displayed in it, is a mess of nonsense unworthy a critic’s attention.
At this point, sir, I seem to hear you reproaching me for this conceited dogmatism, this lawless arrogance, which respects nothing, claims a monopoly of justice and good sense, and assumes to put in the pillory any one who dares to maintain an opinion contrary to its own. This fault, they tell me, more odious than any other in an author, was too prominent a characteristic of my First Memoir, and I should do well to correct it.
It is important to the success of my defence, that I should vindicate myself from this reproach; and since, while perceiving in myself other faults of a different character, I still adhere in this particular to my disputatious style, it is right that I should give my reasons for my conduct. I act, not from inclination, but from necessity.
I say, then, that I treat my authors as I do for two reasons: a reason of right, and a reason of intention; both peremptory.
1. Reason of right. When I preach equality of fortunes, I do not advance an opinion more or less probable, a utopia more or less ingenious, an idea conceived within my brain by means of imagination only. I lay down an absolute truth, concerning which hesitation is impossible, modesty superfluous, and doubt ridiculous.
But, do you ask, what assures me that that which I utter is true? What assures me, sir? The logical and metaphysical processes which I use, the correctness of which I have demonstrated by à priori reasoning; the fact that I possess an infallible method of investigation and verification with which my authors are unacquainted; and finally, the fact that for all matters relating to property and justice I have found a formula which explains all legislative variations, and furnishes a key for all problems. Now, is there so much as a shadow of method in M. Toullier, M. Troplong, and this swarm of insipid commentators, almost as devoid of reason and moral sense as the code itself? Do you give the name of method to an alphabetical, chronological, analogical, or merely nominal classification of subjects? Do you give the name of method to these lists of paragraphs gathered under an arbitrary head, these sophistical vagaries, this mass of contradictory quotations and opinions, this nauseous style, this spasmodic rhetoric, models of which are so common at the bar, though seldom found elsewhere? Do you take for philosophy this twaddle, this intolerable pettifoggery adorned with a few scholastic trimmings? No, no! a writer who respects himself, never will consent to enter the balance with these manipulators of law, misnamed jurists; and for my part I object to a comparison.
2. Reason of intention. As far as I am permitted to divulge this secret, I am a conspirator in an immense revolution, terrible to charlatans and despots, to all exploiters of the poor and credulous, to all salaried idlers, dealers in political panaceas and parables, tyrants in a word of thought and of opinion. I labor to stir up the reason of individuals to insurrection against the reason of authorities.
According to the laws of the society of which I am a member, all the evils which afflict humanity arise from faith in external teachings and submission to authority. And not to go outside of our own century, is it not true, for instance, that France is plundered, scoffed at, and tyrannized over, because she speaks in masses, and not by heads? The French people are penned up in three or four flocks, receiving their signal from a chief, responding to the voice of a leader, and thinking just as he says. A certain journal, it is said, has fifty thousand subscribers; assuming six readers to every subscriber, we have three hundred thousand sheep browsing and bleating at the same cratch. Apply this calculation to the whole periodical press, and you find that, in our free and intelligent France, there are two millions of creatures receiving every morning from the journals spiritual pasturage. Two millions! In other words, the entire nation allows a score of little fellows to lead it by the nose.
By no means, sir, do I deny to journalists talent, science, love of truth, patriotism, and what you please. They are very worthy and intelligent people, whom I undoubtedly should wish to resemble, had I the honor to know them. That of which I complain, and that which has made me a conspirator, is that, instead of enlightening us, these gentlemen command us, impose upon us articles of faith, and that without demonstration or verification. When, for example, I ask why these fortifications of Paris, which, in former times, under the influence of certain prejudices, and by means of a concurrence of extraordinary circumstances supposed for the sake of the argument to have existed, may perhaps have served to protect us, but which it is doubtful whether our descendants will ever use, — when I ask, I say, on what grounds they assimilate the future to a hypothetical past, they reply that M. Thiers, who has a great mind, has written upon this subject a report of admirable elegance and marvellous clearness. At this I become angry, and reply that M. Thiers does not know what he is talking about. Why, having wanted no detached forts seven years ago, do we want them to-day?
“Oh! damn it,” they say, “the difference is great; the first forts were too near to us; with these we cannot be bombarded.” You cannot be bombarded; but you can be blockaded, and will be, if you stir. What! to obtain blockade forts from the Parisians, it has sufficed to prejudice them against bombardment forts! And they thought to outwit the government! Oh, the sovereignty of the people! ...
“Damn it! M. Thiers, who is wiser than you, says that it would be absurd to suppose a government making war upon citizens, and maintaining itself by force and in spite of the will of the people. That would be absurd!” Perhaps so: such a thing has happened more than once, and may happen again. Besides, when despotism is strong, it appears almost legitimate. However that may be, they lied in 1833, and they lie again in 1841, — those who threaten us with the bomb-shell. And then, if M. Thiers is so well assured of the intentions of the government, why does he not wish the forts to be built before the circuit is extended? Why this air of suspicion of the government, unless an intrigue has been planned between the government and M. Thiers?
“Damn it! we do not wish to be again invaded. If Paris had been fortified in 1815, Napoleon would not have been conquered!” But I tell you that Napoleon was not conquered, but sold; and that if, in 1815, Paris had had fortifications, it would have been with them as with the thirty thousand men of Grouchy, who were misled during the battle. It is still easier to surrender forts than to lead soldiers.
Would the selfish and the cowardly ever lack reasons for yielding to the enemy?
“But do you not see that the absolutist courts are provoked at our fortifications? — a proof that they do not think as you do.” You believe that; and, for my part, I believe that in reality they are quite at ease about the matter; and, if they appear to tease our ministers, they do so only to give the latter an opportunity to decline. The absolutist courts are always on better terms with our constitutional monarchy, than our monarchy with us. Does not M. Guizot say that France needs to be defended within as well as without? Within! against whom? Against France. O Parisians! it is but six months since you demanded war, and now you want only barricades. Why should the allies fear your doctrines, when you cannot even control yourselves? ... How could you sustain a siege, when you weep over the absence of an actress?
“But, finally, do you not understand that, by the rules of modern warfare, the capital of a country is always the objective point of its assailants? Suppose our army defeated on the Rhine, France invaded, and defenceless Paris falling into the hands of the enemy. It would be the death of the administrative power; without a head it could not live. The capital taken, the nation must submit. What do you say to that?”
The reply is very simple. Why is society constituted in such a way that the destiny of the country depends upon the safety of the capital? Why, in case our territory be invaded and Paris besieged, cannot the legislative, executive, and military powers act outside of Paris? Why this localization of all the vital forces of France? ... Do not cry out upon decentralization. This hackneyed reproach would discredit only your own intelligence and sincerity. It is not a question of decentralization; it is your political fetichism which I attack. Why should the national unity be attached to a certain place, to certain functionaries, to certain bayonets? Why should the Place Maubert and the Palace of the Tuileries be the palladium of France?
Now let me make an hypothesis.
Suppose it were written in the charter, “In case the country be again invaded, and Paris forced to surrender, the government being annihilated and the national assembly dissolved, the electoral colleges shall reassemble spontaneously and without other official notice, for the purpose of appointing new deputies, who shall organize a provisional government at Orleans. If Orleans succumbs, the government shall reconstruct itself in the same way at Lyons; then at Bordeaux, then at Bayonne, until all France be captured or the enemy driven from the land. For the government may perish, but the nation never dies. The king, the peers, and the deputies massacred, Vive la France!”
Do you not think that such an addition to the charter would be a better safeguard for the liberty and integrity of the country than walls and bastions around Paris? Well, then! do henceforth for administration, industry, science, literature, and art that which the charter ought to prescribe for the central government and common defence. Instead of endeavoring to render Paris impregnable, try rather to render the loss of Paris an insignificant matter. Instead of accumulating about one point academies, faculties, schools, and political, administrative, and judicial centres; instead of arresting intellectual development and weakening public spirit in the provinces by this fatal agglomeration, — can you not, without destroying unity, distribute social functions among places as well as among persons? Such a system — in allowing each province to participate in political power and action, and in balancing industry, intelligence, and strength in all parts of the country — would equally secure, against enemies at home and enemies abroad, the liberty of the people and the stability of the government.
Discriminate, then, between the centralization of functions and the concentration of organs; between political unity and its material symbol.
“Oh! that is plausible; but it is impossible!” — which means that the city of Paris does not intend to surrender its privileges, and that there it is still a question of property.
Idle talk! The country, in a state of panic which has been cleverly worked upon, has asked for fortifications. I dare to affirm that it has abdicated its sovereignty. All parties are to blame for this suicide, — the conservatives, by their acquiescence in the plans of the government; the friends of the dynasty, because they wish no opposition to that which pleases them, and because a popular revolution would annihilate them; the democrats, because they hope to rule in their turn. That which all rejoice at having obtained is a means of future repression. As for the defence of the country, they are not troubled about that. The idea of tyranny dwells in the minds of all, and brings together into one conspiracy all forms of selfishness. We wish the regeneration of society, but we subordinate this desire to our ideas and convenience. That our approaching marriage may take place, that our business may succeed, that our opinions may triumph, we postpone reform. Intolerance and selfishness lead us to put fetters upon liberty; and, because we cannot wish all that God wishes, we would, if it rested with us, stay the course of destiny rather than sacrifice our own interests and self-love. Is not this an instance where the words of Solomon apply, — “L'iniquité a menti à elle-même"?
For this reason, sir, I have enlisted in a desperate war against every form of authority over the multitude. Advance sentinel of the proletariat, I cross bayonets with the celebrities of the day, as well as with spies and charlatans. Well, when I am fighting with an illustrious adversary, must I stop at the end of every phrase, like an orator in the tribune, to say “the learned author,” “the eloquent writer,” “the profound publicist,” and a hundred other platitudes with which it is fashionable to mock people? These civilities seem to me no less insulting to the man attacked than dishonorable to the aggressor. But when, rebuking an author, I say to him, “Citizen, your doctrine is absurd, and, if to prove my assertion is an offence against you, I am guilty of it,” immediately the listener opens his ears; he is all attention; and, if I do not succeed in convincing him, at least I give his thought an impulse, and set him the wholesome example of doubt and free examination.
Then do not think, sir, that, in tripping up the philosophy of your very learned and very estimable confrère, M. Troplong, I fail to appreciate his talent as a writer (in my opinion, he has too much for a jurist); nor his knowledge, though it is too closely confined to the letter of the law, and the reading of old books. In these particulars, M. Troplong offends on the side of excess rather than deficiency. Further, do not believe that I am actuated by any personal animosity towards him, or that I have the slightest desire to wound his self-love. I know M. Troplong only by his “Treatise on Prescription,” which I wish he had not written; and as for my critics, neither M. Troplong, nor any of those whose opinion I value, will ever read me. Once more, my only object is to prove, as far as I am able, to this unhappy French nation, that those who make the laws, as well as those who interpret them, are not infallible organs of general, impersonal, and absolute reason.
I had resolved to submit to a systematic criticism the semi-official defence of the right of property recently put forth by M. Wolowski, your colleague at the Conservatory. With this view, I had commenced to collect the documents necessary for each of his lectures, but, soon perceiving that the ideas of the professor were incoherent, that his arguments contradicted each other, that one affirmation was sure to be overthrown by another, and that in M. Wolowski’s lucubrations the good was always mingled with the bad, and being by nature a little suspicious, it suddenly occurred to me that M. Wolowski was an advocate of equality in disguise, thrown in spite of himself into the position in which the patriarch Jacob pictures one of his sons, — inter duas clitellas, between two stools, as the proverb says. In more parliamentary language, I saw clearly that M. Wolowski was placed between his profound convictions on the one hand and his official duties on the other, and that, in order to maintain his position, he had to assume a certain slant. Then I experienced great pain at seeing the reserve, the circumlocution, the figures, and the irony to which a professor of legislation, whose duty it is to teach dogmas with clearness and precision, was forced to resort; and I fell to cursing the society in which an honest man is not allowed to say frankly what he thinks. Never, sir, have you conceived of such torture: I seemed to be witnessing the martyrdom of a mind. I am going to give you an idea of these astonishing meetings, or rather of these scenes of sorrow.
Monday, Nov. 20, 1840. — The professor declares, in brief, — 1. That the right of property is not founded upon occupation, but upon the impress of man; 2. That every man has a natural and inalienable right to the use of matter.
Now, if matter can be appropriated, and if, notwithstanding, all men retain an inalienable right to the use of this matter, what is property? — and if matter can be appropriated only by labor, how long is this appropriation to continue? — questions that will confuse and confound all jurists whatsoever.
Then M. Wolowski cites his authorities. Great God! what witnesses he brings forward! First, M. Troplong, the great metaphysician, whom we have discussed; then, M. Louis Blanc, editor of the “Revue du Progres,” who came near being tried by jury for publishing his “Organization of Labor,” and who escaped from the clutches of the public prosecutor only by a juggler’s trick; Corinne, — I mean Madame de Stael, — who, in an ode, making a poetical comparison of the land with the waves, of the furrow of a plough with the wake of a vessel, says “that property exists only where man has left his trace,” which makes property dependent upon the solidity of the elements; Rousseau, the apostle of liberty and equality, but who, according to M. Wolowski, attacked property only as a joke, and in order to point a paradox; Robespierre, who prohibited a division of the land, because he regarded such a measure as a rejuvenescence of property, and who, while awaiting the definitive organization of the republic, placed all property in the care of the people, — that is, transferred the right of eminent domain from the individual to society; Babeuf, who wanted property for the nation, and communism for the citizens; M. Con-sidérant, who favors a division of landed property into shares, — that is, who wishes to render property nominal and fictitious: the whole being intermingled with jokes and witticisms (intended undoubtedly to lead people away from the hornets’ nests) at the expense of the adversaries of the right of property!
November 26. — M. Wolowski supposes this objection: Land, like water, air, and light, is necessary to life, therefore it cannot be appropriated; and he replies: The importance of landed property diminishes as the power of industry increases.
Good! this importance diminishes, but it does not disappear; and this, of itself, shows landed property to be illegitimate. Here M. Wolowski pretends to think that the opponents of property refer only to property in land, while they merely take it as a term of comparison; and, in showing with wonderful clearness the absurdity of the position in which he places them, he finds a way of drawing the attention of his hearers to another subject without being false to the truth which it is his office to contradict.
“Property,” says M. Wolowski, “is that which distinguishes man from the animals.” That may be; but are we to regard this as a compliment or a satire?
“Mahomet,” says M. Wolowski, “decreed property.” And so did Genghis Khan, and Tamerlane, and all the ravagers of nations. What sort of legislators were they?
“Property has been in existence ever since the origin of the human race.” Yes, and so has slavery, and despotism also; and likewise polygamy and idolatry. But what does this antiquity show?
The members of the Council of the State — M. Portalis at their head — did not raise, in their discussion of the Code, the question of the legitimacy of property. “Their silence,” says M. Wolowski, “is a precedent in favor of this right.” I may regard this reply as personally addressed to me, since the observation belongs to me. I reply, “As long as an opinion is universally admitted, the universality of belief serves of itself as argument and proof. When this same opinion is attacked, the former faith proves nothing; we must resort to reason. Ignorance, however old and pardonable it may be, never outweighs reason.”
Property has its abuses, M. Wolowski confesses. “But,” he says, “these abuses gradually disappear. To-day their cause is known. They all arise from a false theory of prop-erty. In principle, property is inviolable, but it can and must be checked and disciplined.” Such are the conclusions of the professor.
When one thus remains in the clouds, he need not fear to equivocate. Nevertheless, I would like him to define these abuses of property, to show their cause, to explain this true theory from which no abuse is to spring; in short, to tell me how, without destroying property, it can be governed for the greatest good of all. “Our civil code,” says M. Wolowski, in speaking of this subject, “leaves much to be desired.” I think it leaves every thing undone.
Finally, M. Wolowski opposes, on the one hand, the concentration of capital, and the absorption which results therefrom; and, on the other, he objects to the extreme division of the land. Now I think that I have demonstrated in my First Memoir, that large accumulation and minute division are the first two terms of an economical trinity, — a thesis and an antithesis. But, while M. Wolowski says nothing of the third term, the synthesis, and thus leaves the inference in suspense, I have shown that this third term is ASSOCIATION, which is the annihilation of property.
November 30. — LITERARY PROPERTY. M. Wolowski grants that it is just to recognize the rights of talent (which is not in the least hostile to equality); but he seriously objects to perpetual and absolute property in the works of genius, to the profit of the authors’ heirs. His main argument is, that society has a right of collective production over every creation of the mind. Now, it is precisely this principle of collective power that I developed in my “Inquiries into Property and Government,” and on which I have established the complete edifice of a new social organization. M. Wolowski is, as far as I know, the first jurist who has made a legislative application of this economical law. Only, while I have extended the principle of collective power to every sort of product, M. Wolowski, more prudent than it is my nature to be, confines it to neutral ground. So, that that which I am bold enough to say of the whole, he is contented to affirm of a part, leaving the intelligent hearer to fill up the void for himself. However, his arguments are keen and close. One feels that the professor, finding himself more at ease with one aspect of property, has given the rein to his intellect, and is rushing on towards liberty.
1. Absolute literary property would hinder the activity of other men, and obstruct the development of humanity. It would be the death of progress; it would be suicide. What would have happened if the first inventions, — the plough, the level, the saw, &c., — had been appropriated?
Such is the first proposition of M. Wolowski.
I reply: Absolute property in land and tools hinders human activity, and obstructs progress and the free development of man. What happened in Rome, and in all the ancient nations? What occurred in the middle ages? What do we see to-day in England, in consequence of absolute property in the sources of production? The suicide of humanity.
2. Real and personal property is in harmony with the social interest. In consequence of literary property, social and individual interests are perpetually in conflict.
The statement of this proposition contains a rhetorical figure, common with those who do not enjoy full and complete liberty of speech. This figure is the anti-phrasis or contre-vérité. It consists, according to Dumarsais and the best humanists, in saying one thing while meaning another. M. Wolowski’s proposition, naturally expressed, would read as follows: “Just as real and personal property is essentially hostile to society, so, in consequence of literary property, social and individual interests are perpetually in conflict.”
3. M. de Montalembert, in the Chamber of Peers, vehemently protested against the assimilation of authors to inventors of machinery; an assimilation which he claimed to be injurious to the former. M. Wolowski replies, that the rights of authors, without machinery, would be nil; that, without paper-mills, type foundries, and printing-offices, there could be no sale of verse and prose; that many a mechanical invention, — the compass, for instance, the telescope, or the steam-engine, — is quite as valuable as a book.
Prior to M. Montalembert, M. Charles Comte had laughed at the inference in favor of mechanical inventions, which logical minds never fail to draw from the privileges granted to authors. “He,” says M. Comte, “who first conceived and executed the idea of transforming a piece of wood into a pair of sabots, or an animal’s hide into a pair of sandals, would thereby have acquired an exclusive right to make shoes for the human race!” Undoubtedly, under the system of property. For, in fact, this pair of sabots, over which you make so merry, is the creation of the shoemaker, the work of his genius, the expression of his thought; to him it is his poem, quite as much as “Le Roi s'amuse,” is M. Victor Hugo’s drama. Justice for all alike. If you refuse a patent to a perfecter of boots, refuse also a privilege to a maker of rhymes.
4. That which gives importance to a book is a fact external to the author and his work. Without the intelligence of society, without its development, and a certain community of ideas, passions, and interests between it and the authors, the works of the latter would be worth nothing. The exchangeable value of a book is due even more to the social condition than to the talent displayed in it.
Indeed, it seems as if I were copying my own words. This proposition of M. Wolowski contains a special expression of a general and absolute idea, one of the strongest and most conclusive against the right of property. Why do artists, like mechanics, find the means to live? Because society has made the fine arts, like the rudest industries, objects of consumption and exchange, governed consequently by all the laws of commerce and political economy. Now, the first of these laws is the equipoise of functions; that is, the equality of associates.
5. M. Wolowski indulges in sarcasm against the petitioners for literary property. “There are authors,” he says, “who crave the privileges of authors, and who for that purpose point out the power of the melodrama. They speak of the niece of Corneille, begging at the door of a theatre which the works of her uncle had enriched... . To satisfy the avarice of literary people, it would be necessary to create literary majorats, and make a whole code of exceptions.”
I like this virtuous irony. But M. Wolowski has by no means exhausted the difficulties which the question involves. And first, is it just that MM. Cousin, Guizot, Villemain, Damiron, and company, paid by the State for delivering lectures, should be paid a second time through the booksellers? — that I, who have the right to report their lectures, should not have the right to print them? Is it just that MM. Noel and Chapsal, overseers of the University, should use their influence in selling their selections from literature to the youth whose studies they are instructed to superintend in consideration of a salary? And, if that is not just, is it not proper to refuse literary property to every author holding public offices, and receiving pensions or sinecures?
Again, shall the privilege of the author extend to irreligious and immoral works, calculated only to corrupt the heart, and obscure the understanding? To grant this privilege is to sanction immorality by law; to refuse it is to censure the author. And since it is impossible, in the present imperfect state of society, to prevent all violations of the moral law, it will be necessary to open a license-office for books as well as morals. But, then, three-fourths of our literary people will be obliged to register; and, recognized thenceforth on their own declaration as prostitutes, they will necessarily belong to the public. We pay toll to the prostitute; we do not endow her.
Finally, shall plagiarism be classed with forgery? If you reply “Yes,” you appropriate in advance all the subjects of which books treat; if you say “No,” you leave the whole matter to the decision of the judge. Except in the case of a clandestine reprint, how will he distinguish forgery from quotation, imitation, plagiarism, or even coincidence? A savant spends two years in calculating a table of logarithms to nine or ten decimals. He prints it. A fortnight after his book is selling at half-price; it is impossible to tell whether this result is due to forgery or competition. What shall the court do? In case of doubt, shall it award the property to the first occupant? As well decide the question by lot.
These, however, are trifling considerations; but do we see that, in granting a perpetual privilege to authors and their heirs, we really strike a fatal blow at their interests? We think to make booksellers dependent upon authors, — a delusion. The booksellers will unite against works, and their proprietors. Against works, by refusing to push their sale, by replacing them with poor imitations, by reproducing them in a hundred indirect ways; and no one knows how far the science of plagiarism, and skilful imitation may be carried. Against proprietors. Are we ignorant of the fact, that a demand for a dozen copies enables a bookseller to sell a thousand; that with an edition of five hundred he can supply a kingdom for thirty years? What will the poor authors do in the presence of this omnipotent union of booksellers? I will tell them what they will do. They will enter the employ of those whom they now treat as pirates; and, to secure an advantage, they will become wage laborers. A fit reward for ignoble avarice, and insatiable pride.
6. Objection. — Property in occupied land passes to the heirs of the occupant. “Why,” say the authors, “should not the work of genius pass in like manner to the heirs of the man of genius?” M. Wolowski’s reply: “Because the labor of the first occupant is continued by his heirs, while the heirs of an author neither change nor add to his works. In landed property, the continuance of labor explains the continuance of the right.”
Yes, when the labor is continued; but if the labor is not continued, the right ceases. Thus is the right of possession, founded on personal labor, recognized by M. Wolowski.
M. Wolowski decides in favor of granting to authors property in their works for a certain number of years, dating from the day of their first publication.
The succeeding lectures on patents on inventions were no less instructive, although intermingled with shocking contradictions inserted with a view to make the useful truths more palatable. The necessity for brevity compels me to terminate this examination here, not without regret.
Thus, of two eclectic jurists, who attempt a defence of property, one is entangled in a set of dogmas without principle or method, and is constantly talking nonsense; and the other designedly abandons the cause of property, in order to present under the same name the theory of individual possession. Was I wrong in claiming that confusion reigned among legists, and ought I to be legally prosecuted for having said that their science henceforth stood convicted of falsehood, its glory eclipsed?
The ordinary resources of the law no longer sufficing, philosophy, political economy, and the framers of systems have been consulted. All the oracles appealed to have been discouraging.
The philosophers are no clearer to-day than at the time of the eclectic efflorescence; nevertheless, through their mystical apothegms, we can distinguish the words progress, unity, association, solidarity, fraternity, which are certainly not reassuring to proprietors. One of these philosophers, M. Pierre Leroux, has written two large books, in which he claims to show by all religious, legislative, and philosophical systems that, since men are responsible to each other, equality of conditions is the final law of society. It is true that this philosopher admits a kind of property; but as he leaves us to imagine what property would become in presence of equality, we may boldly class him with the opponents of the right of increase.
I must here declare freely — in order that I may not be suspected of secret connivance, which is foreign to my nature — that M. Leroux has my full sympathy. Not that I am a believer in his quasi-Pythagorean philosophy (upon this subject I should have more than one observation to submit to him, provided a veteran covered with stripes would not despise the remarks of a conscript); not that I feel bound to this author by any special consideration for his opposition to property. In my opinion, M. Leroux could, and even ought to, state his position more explicitly and logically. But I like, I admire, in M. Leroux, the antagonist of our philosophical demigods, the demolisher of usurped reputations, the pitiless critic of every thing that is respected because of its antiquity. Such is the reason for my high esteem of M. Leroux; such would be the principle of the only literary association which, in this century of coteries, I should care to form. We need men who, like M. Leroux, call in question social principles, — not to diffuse doubt concerning them, but to make them doubly sure; men who excite the mind by bold negations, and make the conscience tremble by doctrines of annihilation. Where is the man who does not shudder on hearing M. Leroux exclaim, “There is neither a paradise nor a hell; the wicked will not be punished, nor the good rewarded. Mortals! cease to hope and fear; you revolve in a circle of appearances; humanity is an immortal tree, whose branches, withering one after another, feed with their débris the root which is always young!” Where is the man who, on hearing this desolate confession of faith, does not demand with terror, “Is it then true that I am only an aggregate of elements organized by an unknown force, an idea realized for a few moments, a form which passes and disappears? Is it true that my mind is only a harmony, and my soul a vortex? What is the ego? what is God? what is the sanction of society?”
In former times, M. Leroux would have been regarded as a great culprit, worthy only (like Vanini) of death and universal execration. To-day, M. Leroux is fulfilling a mission of salvation, for which, whatever he may say, he will be rewarded. Like those gloomy invalids who are always talking of their approaching death, and who faint when the doctor’s opinion confirms their pretence, our materialistic society is agitated and loses countenance while listening to this startling decree of the philosopher, “Thou shalt die!” Honor then to M. Leroux, who has revealed to us the cowardice of the Epicureans; to M. Leroux, who renders new philosophical solutions necessary! Honor to the anti-eclectic, to the apostle of equality!
In his work on “Humanity,” M. Leroux commences by positing the necessity of property: “You wish to abolish property; but do you not see that thereby you would annihilate man and even the name of man? ... You wish to abolish property; but could you live without a body? I will not tell you that it is necessary to support this body; ... I will tell you that this body is itself a species of property.”
In order clearly to understand the doctrine of M. Leroux, it must be borne in mind that there are three necessary and primitive forms of society, — communism, property, and that which to-day we properly call association. M. Leroux rejects in the first place communism, and combats it with all his might. Man is a personal and free being, and therefore needs a sphere of independence and individual activity. M. Leroux emphasizes this in adding: “You wish neither family, nor country, nor property; therefore no more fathers, no more sons, no more brothers. Here you are, related to no being in time, and therefore without a name; here you are, alone in the midst of a billion of men who to-day inhabit the earth. How do you expect me to distinguish you in space in the midst of this multitude?”
If man is indistinguishable, he is nothing. Now, he can be distinguished, individualized, only through a devotion of certain things to his use, — such as his body, his faculties, and the tools which he uses. “Hence,” says M. Leroux, “the necessity of appropriation;” in short, property.
But property on what condition? Here M. Leroux, after having condemned communism, denounces in its turn the right of domain. His whole doctrine can be summed up in this single proposition, — Man may be made by property a slave or a despot by turns.
That posited, if we ask M. Leroux to tell us under what system of property man will be neither a slave nor a despot, but free, just, and a citizen, M. Leroux replies in the third volume of his work on “Humanity:” —
“There are three ways of destroying man’s communion with his fellows and with the universe: ... 1. By separating man in time; 2. by separating him in space; 3. by dividing the land, or, in general terms, the instruments of production; by attaching men to things, by subordinating man to property, by making man a proprietor.”
This language, it must be confessed, savors a little too strongly of the metaphysical heights which the author frequents, and of the school of M. Cousin. Nevertheless, it can be seen, clearly enough it seems to me, that M. Leroux opposes the exclusive appropriation of the instruments of production; only he calls this non-appropriation of the instruments of production a new method of establishing property, while I, in accordance with all precedent, call it a destruction of property. In fact, without the appropriation of instruments, property is nothing.
“Hitherto. we have confined ourselves to pointing out and combating the despotic features of property, by considering property alone. We have failed to see that the despotism of property is a correlative of the division of the human race; ... that property, instead of being organized in such a way as to facilitate the unlimited communion of man with his fellows and with the universe, has been, on the contrary, turned against this communion.”
Let us translate this into commercial phraseology. In order to destroy despotism and the inequality of conditions, men must cease from competition and must associate their interests. Let employer and employed (now enemies and rivals) become associates.
Now, ask any manufacturer, merchant, or capitalist, whether he would consider himself a proprietor if he were to share his revenue and profits with this mass of wage-laborers whom it is proposed to make his associates.
“Family, property, and country are finite things, which ought to be organized with a view to the infinite. For man is a finite being, who aspires to the infinite. To him, absolute finiteness is evil. The infinite is his aim, the indefinite his right.”
Few of my readers would understand these hierophantic words, were I to leave them unexplained. M. Leroux means, by this magnificent formula, that humanity is a single immense society, which, in its collective unity, represents the infinite; that every nation, every tribe, every commune, and every citizen are, in different degrees, fragments or finite members of the infinite society, the evil in which results solely from individualism and privilege, — in other words, from the subordination of the infinite to the finite; finally, that, to attain humanity’s end and aim, each part has a right to an indefinitely progressive development.
“All the evils which afflict the human race arise from caste. The family is a blessing; the family caste (the nobility) is an evil. Country is a blessing; the country caste (supreme, domineering, conquering) is an evil; property (individual possession) is a blessing; the property caste (the domain of property of Pothier, Toullier, Troplong, &c.) is an evil.”
Thus, according to M. Leroux, there is property and property, — the one good, the other bad. Now, as it is proper to call different things by different names, if we keep the name “property” for the former, we must call the latter robbery, rapine, brigandage. If, on the contrary, we reserve the name “property” for the latter, we must designate the former by the term possession, or some other equivalent; otherwise we should be troubled with an unpleasant synonymy.
What a blessing it would be if philosophers, daring for once to say all that they think, would speak the language of ordinary mortals! Nations and rulers would derive much greater profit from their lectures, and, applying the same names to the same ideas, would come, perhaps, to understand each other. I boldly declare that, in regard to property, I hold no other opinion than that of M. Leroux; but, if I should adopt the style of the philosopher, and repeat after him, “Property is a blessing, but the property caste — the statu quo of property — is an evil,” I should be extolled as a genius by all the bachelors who write for the reviews. If, on the contrary, I prefer the classic language of Rome and the civil code, and say accordingly, “Possession is a blessing, but property is robbery,” immediately the aforesaid bachelors raise a hue and cry against the monster, and the judge threatens me. Oh, the power of language!
The economists, questioned in their turn, propose to associate capital and labor. You know, sir, what that means. If we follow out the doctrine, we soon find that it ends in an absorption of property, not by the community, but by a general and indissoluble commandite [sic], so that the condition of the proprietor would differ from that of the workingman only in receiving larger wages. This system, with some peculiar additions and embellishments, is the idea of the phalanstery. But it is clear that, if inequality of conditions is one of the attributes of property, it is not the whole of property. That which makes property a delightful thing, as some philosopher (I know not who) has said, is the power to dispose at will, not only of one’s own goods, but of their specific nature; to use them at pleasure; to confine and enclose them; to excommunicate mankind, as M. Pierre Leroux says; in short, to make such use of them as passion, interest, or even caprice, may suggest. What is the possession of money, a share in an agricultural or industrial enterprise, or a government-bond coupon, in comparison with the infinite charm of being master of one’s house and grounds, under one’s vine and fig-tree? “Beati possidentes!” says an author quoted by M. Troplong. Seriously, can that be applied to a man of income, who has no other possession under the sun than the market, and in his pocket his money? As well maintain that a trough is a coward. A nice method of reform! They never cease to condemn the thirst for gold, and the growing individualism of the century; and yet, most inconceivable of contradictions, they prepare to turn all kinds of property into one, — property in coin.
I must say something further of a theory of property lately put forth with some ado: I mean the theory of M. Considérant.
The Fourierists are not men who examine a doctrine in order to ascertain whether it conflicts with their system. On the contrary, it is their custom to exult and sing songs of triumph whenever an adversary passes without perceiving or noticing them. These gentlemen want direct refutations, in order that, if they are beaten, they may have, at least, the selfish consolation of having been spoken of. Well, let their wish be gratified.
M. Considérant makes the most lofty pretensions to logic. His method of procedure is always that of major, minor, and conclusion. He would willingly write upon his hat, “Argumentator in barbara.” But M. Considérant is too intelligent and quick-witted to be a good logician, as is proved by the fact that he appears to have taken the syllogism for logic.
The syllogism, as everybody knows who is interested in philosophical curiosities, is the first and perpetual sophism of the human mind, — the favorite tool of falsehood, the stumbling-block of science, the advocate of crime. The syllogism has produced all the evils which the fabulist so eloquently condemned, and has done nothing good or useful: it is as devoid of truth as of justice. We might apply to it these words of Scripture: “Celui qui met en lui sa confiance, périra.” Consequently, the best philosophers long since condemned it; so that now none but the enemies of reason wish to make the syllogism its weapon.
M. Considérant, then, has built his theory of property upon a syllogism. Would he be disposed to stake the system of Fourier upon his arguments, as I am ready to risk the whole doctrine of equality upon my refutation of that system?
Such a duel would be quite in keeping with the warlike and chivalric tastes of M. Considérant, and the public would profit by it; for, one of the two adversaries falling, no more would be said about him, and there would be one grumbler less in the world.
The theory of M. Considérant has this remarkable feature, that, in attempting to satisfy at the same time the claims of both laborers and proprietors, it infringes alike upon the rights of the former and the privileges of the latter. In the first place, the author lays it down as a principle: “1. That the use of the land belongs to each member of the race; that it is a natural and imprescriptible right, similar in all respects to the right to the air and the sunshine. 2. That the right to labor is equally fundamental, natural, and imprescriptible.” I have shown that the recognition of this double right would be the death of property. I denounce M. Considérant to the proprietors!
But M. Considérant maintains that the right to labor creates the right of property, and this is the way he reasons: —
Major Premise. — “Every man legitimately possesses the thing which his labor, his skill, — or, in more general terms, his action, — has created.”
To which M. Considérant adds, by way of comment: “Indeed, the land not having been created by man, it follows from the fundamental principle of property, that the land, being given to the race in common, can in no wise be the exclusive and legitimate property of such and such individuals, who were not the creators of this value.”
If I am not mistaken, there is no one to whom this proposition, at first sight and in its entirety, does not seem utterly irrefutable. Reader, distrust the syllogism.
First, I observe that the words legitimately possesses signify to the author’s mind is legitimate proprietor; otherwise the argument, being intended to prove the legitimacy of property, would have no meaning. I might here raise the question of the difference between property and possession, and call upon M. Considérant, before going further, to define the one and the other; but I pass on.
This first proposition is doubly false. 1. In that it asserts the act of creation to be the only basis of property. 2. In that it regards this act as sufficient in all cases to authorize the right of property.
And, in the first place, if man may be proprietor of the game which he does not create, but which he kills; of the fruits which he does not create, but which he gathers; of the vegetables which he does not create, but which he plants; of the animals which he does not create, but which he rears, — it is conceivable that men may in like manner become proprietors of the land which they do not create, but which they clear and fertilize. The act of creation, then, is not necessary to the acquisition of the right of property. I say further, that this act alone is not always sufficient, and I prove it by the second premise of M. Considérant: —
Minor Premise. — “Suppose that on an isolated island, on the soil of a nation, or over the whole face of the earth (the extent of the scene of action does not affect our judgment of the facts), a generation of human beings devotes itself for the first time to industry, agriculture, manufactures, &c. This generation, by its labor, intelligence, and activity, creates products, develops values which did not exist on the uncultivated land. Is it not perfectly clear that the property of this industrious generation will stand on a basis of right, if the value or wealth produced by the activity of all be distributed among the producers, according to each one’s assistance in the creation of the general wealth? That is unquestionable.”
That is quite questionable. For this value or wealth, produced by the activity of all, is by the very fact of its creation collective wealth, the use of which, like that of the land, may be divided, but which as property remains undivided. And why this undivided ownership? Because the society which creates is itself indivisible, — a permanent unit, incapable of reduction to fractions. And it is this unity of society which makes the land common property, and which, as M. Considérant says, renders its use imprescriptible in the case of every individual. Suppose, indeed, that at a given time the soil should be equally divided; the very next moment this division, if it allowed the right of property, would become illegitimate. Should there be the slightest irregularity in the method of transfer, men, members of society, imprescriptible possessors of the land, might be deprived at one blow of property, possession, and the means of production. In short, property in capital is indivisible, and consequently inalienable, not necessarily when the capital is uncreated, but when it is common or collective.
I confirm this theory against M. Considérant, by the third term of his syllogism: —
Conclusion. — “The results of the labor performed by this generation are divisible into two classes, between which it is important clearly to distinguish. The first class includes the products of the soil which belong to this first generation in its usufructuary capacity, augmented, improved and refined by its labor and industry. These products consist either of objects of consumption or instruments of labor. It is clear that these products are the legitimate property of those who have created them by their activity... . Second class. — Not only has this generation created the products just mentioned (objects of consumption and instruments of labor), but it has also added to the original value of the soil by cultivation, by the erection of buildings, by all the labor producing permanent results, which it has performed. This additional value evidently constitutes a product — a value created by the activity of the first generation; and if, by any means whatever, the ownership of this value be distributed among the members of society equitably, — that is, in pro-portion to the labor which each has performed, — each will legitimately possess the portion which he receives. He may then dispose of this legitimate and private property as he sees fit, — exchange it, give it away, or transfer it; and no other individual, or collection of other individuals, — that is, society, — can lay any claim to these values.”
Thus, by the distribution of collective capital, to the use of which each associate, either in his own right or in right of his authors, has an imprescriptible and undivided title, there will be in the phalanstery, as in the France of 1841, the poor and the rich; some men who, to live in luxury, have only, as Figaro says, to take the trouble to be born, and others for whom the fortune of life is but an opportunity for long-con-tinued poverty; idlers with large incomes, and workers whose fortune is always in the future; some privileged by birth and caste, and others pariahs whose sole civil and political rights are the right to labor, and the right to land. For we must not be deceived; in the phalanstery every thing will be as it is to-day, an object of property, — machines, inventions, thought, books, the products of art, of agriculture, and of industry; animals, houses, fences, vineyards, pastures, forests, fields, — every thing, in short, except the uncultivated land. Now, would you like to know what uncultivated land is worth, according to the advocates of property? “A square league hardly suffices for the support of a savage,” says M. Charles Comte. Estimating the wretched subsistence of this savage at three hundred francs per year, we find that the square league necessary to his life is, relatively to him, faithfully represented by a rent of fifteen francs. In France there are twenty-eight thousand square leagues, the total rent of which, by this estimate, would be four hundred and twenty thousand francs, which, when divided among nearly thirty-four millions of people, would give each an income of a centime and a quarter.
That is the new right which the great genius of Fourier has invented in behalf of the French people, and with which his first disciple hopes to reform the world. I denounce M. Considérant to the proletariat!
If the theory of M. Considérant would at least really guarantee this property which he cherishes so jealously, I might pardon him the flaws in his syllogism, certainly the best one he ever made in his life. But, no: that which M. Considérant takes for property is only a privilege of extra pay. In Fourier’s system, neither the created capital nor the increased value of the soil are divided and appropriated in any effective manner: the instruments of labor, whether created or not, remain in the hands of the phalanx; the pretended proprietor can touch only the income. He is permitted neither to realize his share of the stock, nor to possess it exclusively, nor to administer it, whatever it be. The cashier throws him his dividend; and then, proprietor, eat the whole if you can!
The system of Fourier would not suit the proprietors, since it takes away the most delightful feature of property, — the free disposition of one’s goods. It would please the communists no better, since it involves unequal conditions. It is repugnant to the friends of free association and equality, in consequence of its tendency to wipe out human character and individuality by suppressing possession, family, and country, — the threefold expression of the human personality.
Of all our active publicists, none seem to me more fertile in resources, richer in imagination, more luxuriant and varied in style, than M. Considérant. Nevertheless, I doubt if he will undertake to re-establish his theory of property. If he has this courage, this is what I would say to him: “Before writing your reply, consider well your plan of action; do not scour the country; have recourse to none of your ordinary expedients; no complaints of civilization; no sarcasms upon equality; no glorification of the phalanstery. Leave Fourier and the departed in peace, and endeavor only to re-adjust the pieces of your syllogism. To this end, you ought, first, to analyze closely each proposition of your adversary; second, to show the error, either by a direct refutation, or by proving the converse; third, to oppose argument to argument, so that, objection and reply meeting face to face, the stronger may break down the weaker, and shiver it to atoms. By that method only can you boast of having conquered, and compel me to regard you as an honest reasoner, and a good artillery-man.”
I should have no excuse for tarrying longer with these phal-ansterian crotchets, if the obligation which I have imposed upon myself of making a clean sweep, and the necessity of vindicating my dignity as a writer, did not prevent me from passing in silence the reproach uttered against me by a correspondent of “La Phalange.” “We have seen but lately,” says this journalist, “that M. Proudhon, enthusiast as he has been for the science created by Fourier, is, or will be, an enthusiast for any thing else whatsoever.”
If ever sectarians had the right to reproach another for changes in his beliefs, this right certainly does not belong to the disciples of Fourier, who are always so eager to administer the phalansterian baptism to the deserters of all parties. But why regard it as a crime, if they are sincere? Of what consequence is the constancy or inconstancy of an individual to the truth which is always the same? It is better to enlighten men’s minds than to teach them to be obstinate in their prejudices. Do we not know that man is frail and fickle, that his heart is full of delusions, and that his lips are a distillery of falsehood? Omnis homo meudax. Whether we will or no, we all serve for a time as instruments of this truth, whose kingdom comes every day. God alone is immutable, because he is eternal.
That is the reply which, as a general rule, an honest man is entitled always to make, and which I ought perhaps to be content to offer as an excuse; for I am no better than my fathers. But, in a century of doubt and apostasy like ours, when it is of importance to set the small and the weak an example of strength and honesty of utterance, I must not suffer my character as a public assailant of property to be dishonored. I must render an account of my old opinions.
Examining myself, therefore, upon this charge of Fourierism, and endeavoring to refresh my memory, I find that, having been connected with the Fourierists in my studies and my friendships, it is possible that, without knowing it, I have been one of Fourier’s partisans. Jérôme Lalande placed Napoleon and Jesus Christ in his catalogue of atheists. The Fourierists resemble this astronomer: if a man happens to find fault with the existing civilization, and to admit the truth of a few of their criticisms, they straightway enlist him, willy-nilly, in their school. Nevertheless, I do not deny that I have been a Fourierist; for, since they say it, of course it may be so. But, sir, that of which my ex-associates are ignorant, and which doubtless will astonish you, is that I have been many other things, — in religion, by turns a Protestant, a Papist, an Arian and Semi-Arian, a Manichean, a Gnostic, an Adamite even and a Pre-Adamite, a Sceptic, a Pelagian, a Socinian, an Anti-Trinitarian, and a Neo-Christian; in philosophy and politics, an Idealist, a Pantheist, a Platonist, a Cartesian, an Eclectic (that is, a sort of juste-milieu), a Monarchist, an Aristocrat, a Constitutionalist, a follower of Babeuf, and a Communist. I have wandered through a whole encyclopaedia of systems. Do you think it surprising, sir, that, among them all, I was for a short time a Fourierist?
The Manicheans admit two co-existent and eternal principles, — God and matter, spirit and flesh, light and darkness, good and evil; but, unlike the Phalansterians, who pretend to reconcile the two, the Manicheans make war upon matter, and labor with all their might for the destruction of the flesh, by condemning marriage and forbidding reproduction, — which does not prevent them, however, from indulging in all the carnal pleasures which the intensest lust can conceive of. In this last particular, the tendency of the Fourieristic morality is quite Manichean.
The Gnostics do not differ from the early Christians. As their name indicates, they regarded themselves as inspired. Fourier, who held peculiar ideas concerning the visions of somnambulists, and who believed in the possibility of developing the magnetic power to such an extent as to enable us to commune with invisible beings, might, if he were living, pass also for a Gnostic.
The Adamites attend mass entirely naked, from motives of chastity. Jean Jacques Rousseau, who took the sleep of the senses for chastity, and who saw in modesty only a refinement of pleasure, inclined towards Adamism. I know such a sect, whose members usually celebrate their mysteries in the costume of Venus coming from the bath.
The Pre-Adamites believe that men existed before the first man. I once met a Pre-Adamite. True, he was deaf and a Fourierist.
The Pelagians deny grace, and attribute all the merit of good works to liberty. The Fourierists, who teach that man’s nature and passions are good, are reversed Pelagians; they give all to grace, and nothing to liberty.
The Socinians, deists in all other respects, admit an original revelation. Many people are Socinians to-day, who do not suspect it, and who regard their opinions as new.
The Neo-Christians are those simpletons who admire Christianity because it has produced bells and cathedrals. Base in soul, corrupt in heart, dissolute in mind and senses, the Neo-Christians seek especially after the external form, and admire religion, as they love women, for its physical beauty. They believe in a coming revelation, as well as a transfiguration of Catholicism. They will sing masses at the grand spectacle in the phalanstery.
For my part, I am not at all surprised, although at present I have no recollection of it. One thing is sure, — that my superstition and credulity reached their height at the very period of my life which my critics reproachfully assign as the date of my Fourieristic beliefs. Now I hold quite other views. My mind no longer admits that which is demonstrated by syllogisms, analogies, or metaphors, which are the methods of the phalanstery, but demands a process of generalization and induction which excludes error. Of my past opinions, I retain absolutely none. I have acquired some knowledge. I no longer believe. I either know, or am igno-rant. In a word, in seeking for the reason of things, I saw that I was a rationalist.
Undoubtedly, it would have been simpler to begin where I have ended. But then, if such is the law of the human mind; if all society, for six thousand years, has done nothing but fall into error; if all mankind are still buried in the darkness of faith, deceived by their prejudices and passions, guided only by the instinct of their leaders; if my accusers, themselves, are not free from sectarianism (for they call themselves Fourierists), — am I alone inexcusable for having, in my inner self, at the secret tribunal of my conscience, begun anew the journey of our poor humanity?
I would by no means, then, deny my errors; but, sir, that which distinguishes me from those who rush into print is the fact that, though my thoughts have varied much, my writings do not vary. To-day, even, and on a multitude of questions, I am beset by a thousand extravagant and contradictory opinions; but my opinions I do not print, for the public has nothing to do with them. Before addressing my fellow-men, I wait until light breaks in upon the chaos of my ideas, in order that what I may say may be, not the whole truth (no man can know that), but nothing but the truth.
This singular disposition of my mind to first identify itself with a system in order to better understand it, and then to reflect upon it in order to test its legitimacy, is the very thing which disgusted me with Fourier, and ruined in my esteem the societary school. To be a faithful Fourierist, in fact, one must abandon his reason and accept every thing from a master, — doctrine, interpretation, and application. M. Considérant, whose excessive intolerance anathematizes all who do not abide by his sovereign decisions, has no other conception of Fourierism. Has he not been appointed Fourier’s vicar on earth and pope of a Church which, unfortunately for its apostles, will never be of this world? Passive belief is the theological virtue of all sectarians, especially of the Fourierists.
Now, this is what happened to me. While trying to demonstrate by argument the religion of which I had become a follower in studying Fourier, I suddenly perceived that by reasoning I was becoming incredulous; that on each article of the creed my reason and my faith were at variance, and that my six weeks’ labor was wholly lost. I saw that the Fourierists — in spite of their inexhaustible gabble, and their extravagant pretension to decide in all things — were neither savants, nor logicians, nor even believers; that they were scientific quacks, who were led more by their self-love than their conscience to labor for the triumph of their sect, and to whom all means were good that would reach that end. I then understood why to the Epicureans they promised women, wine, music, and a sea of luxury; to the rigorists, maintenance of marriage, purity of morals, and temperance; to laborers, high wages; to proprietors, large incomes; to philosophers, solutions the secret of which Fourier alone possessed; to priests, a costly religion and magnificent festivals; to savants, knowledge of an unimaginable nature; to each, indeed, that which he most desired. In the beginning, this seemed to me droll; in the end, I regarded it as the height of impudence. No, sir; no one yet knows of the foolishness and infamy which the phalansterian system contains. That is a subject which I mean to treat as soon as I have balanced my accounts with property.
It is rumored that the Fourierists think of leaving France and going to the new world to found a phalanstery. When a house threatens to fall, the rats scamper away; that is because they are rats. Men do better; they rebuild it. Not long since, the St. Simonians, despairing of their country which paid no heed to them, proudly shook the dust from their feet, and started for the Orient to fight the battle of free woman. Pride, wilfulness, mad selfishness! True charity, like true faith, does not worry, never despairs; it seeks neither its own glory, nor its interest, nor empire; it does every thing for all, speaks with indulgence to the reason and the will, and desires to conquer only by persuasion and sacrifice. Remain in France, Fourierists, if the progress of humanity is the only thing which you have at heart! There is more to do here than in the new world. Otherwise, go! you are nothing but liars and hypocrites!
The foregoing statement by no means embraces all the political elements, all the opinions and tendencies, which threaten the future of property; but it ought to satisfy any one who knows how to classify facts, and to deduce their law or the idea which governs them. Existing society seems abandoned to the demon of falsehood and discord; and it is this sad sight which grieves so deeply many distinguished minds who lived too long in a former age to be able to understand ours. Now, while the short-sighted spectator begins to despair of humanity, and, distracted and cursing that of which he is ignorant, plunges into scepticism and fatalism, the true observer, certain of the spirit which governs the world, seeks to comprehend and fathom Providence. The memoir on “Property,” published last year by the pensioner of the Academy of Besançon, is simply a study of this nature.
The time has come for me to relate the history of this unlucky treatise, which has already caused me so much chagrin, and made me so unpopular; but which was on my part so involuntary and unpremeditated, that I would dare to affirm that there is not an economist, not a philosopher, not a jurist, who is not a hundred times guiltier than I. There is something so singular in the way in which I was led to attack property, that if, on hearing my sad story, you persist, sir, in your blame, I hope at least you will be forced to pity me.
I never have pretended to be a great politician; far from that, I always have felt for controversies of a political nature the greatest aversion; and if, in my “Essay on Property,” I have sometimes ridiculed our politicians, believe, sir, that I was governed much less by my pride in the little that I know, than by my vivid consciousness of their ignorance and excessive vanity. Relying more on Providence than on men; not suspecting at first that politics, like every other science, contained an absolute truth; agreeing equally well with Bossuet and Jean Jacques, — I accepted with resignation my share of human misery, and contented myself with praying to God for good deputies, upright ministers, and an honest king. By taste as well as by discretion and lack of confidence in my powers, I was slowly pursuing some commonplace studies in philology, mingled with a little metaphysics, when I suddenly fell upon the greatest problem that ever has occupied philosophical minds: I mean the criterion of certainty.
Those of my readers who are unacquainted with the philosophical terminology will be glad to be told in a few words what this criterion is, which plays so great a part in my work.
The criterion of certainty, according to the philosophers, will be, when discovered, an infallible method of establishing the truth of an opinion, a judgment, a theory, or a system, in nearly the same way as gold is recognized by the touchstone, as iron approaches the magnet, or, better still, as we verify a mathematical operation by applying the proof. Time has hitherto served as a sort of criterion for society. Thus, the primitive men — having observed that they were not all equal in strength, beauty, and labor — judged, and rightly, that certain ones among them were called by nature to the performance of simple and common functions; but they concluded, and this is where their error lay, that these same individuals of duller intellect, more restricted genius, and weaker personality, were predestined to serve the others; that is, to labor while the latter rested, and to have no other will than theirs: and from this idea of a natural subordination among men sprang domesticity, which, voluntarily accepted at first, was imperceptibly converted into horrible slavery. Time, making this error more palpable, has brought about justice. Nations have learned at their own cost that the subjection of man to man is a false idea, an erroneous theory, pernicious alike to master and to slave. And yet such a social system has stood several thousand years, and has been defended by celebrated philosophers; even to-day, under somewhat mitigated forms, sophists of every description uphold and extol it. But experience is bringing it to an end.
Time, then, is the criterion of societies; thus looked at, history is the demonstration of the errors of humanity by the argument reductio ad absurdum.
Now, the criterion sought for by metaphysicians would have the advantage of discriminating at once between the true and the false in every opinion; so that in politics, religion, and morals, for example, the true and the useful being immediately recognized, we should no longer need to await the sorrowful experience of time. Evidently such a secret would be death to the sophists, — that cursed brood, who, under different names, excite the curiosity of nations, and, owing to the difficulty of separating the truth from the error in their artistically woven theories, lead them into fatal ventures, disturb their peace, and fill them with such extraordinary prejudice.
Up to this day, the criterion of certainty remains a mystery; this is owing to the multitude of criteria that have been successively proposed. Some have taken for an absolute and definite criterion the testimony of the senses; others intui-tion; these evidence; those argument. M. Lamennais affirms that there is no other criterion than universal reason. Before him, M. de Bonald thought he had discovered it in language. Quite recently, M. Buchez has proposed morality; and, to harmonize them all, the eclectics have said that it was absurd to seek for an absolute criterion, since there were as many criteria as special orders of knowledge.
Of all these hypotheses it may be observed, That the testimony of the senses is not a criterion, because the senses, relating us only to phenomena, furnish us with no ideas; that intuition needs external confirmation or objective certainty; that evidence requires proof, and argument verification; that universal reason has been wrong many a time; that language serves equally well to express the true or the false; that morality, like all the rest, needs demonstration and rule; and finally, that the eclectic idea is the least reasonable of all, since it is of no use to say that there are several criteria if we cannot point out one. I very much fear that it will be with the criterion as with the philosopher’s stone; that it will finally be abandoned, not only as insolvable, but as chimerical. Consequently, I entertain no hopes of having found it; nevertheless, I am not sure that some one more skilful will not discover it.
Be it as it may with regard to a criterion or criteria, there are methods of demonstration which, when applied to certain subjects, may lead to the discovery of unknown truths, bring to light relations hitherto unsuspected, and lift a paradox to the highest degree of certainty. In such a case, it is not by its novelty, nor even by its content, that a system should be judged, but by its method. The critic, then, should follow the example of the Supreme Court, which, in the cases which come before it, never examines the facts, but only the form of procedure. Now, what is the form of procedure? A method.
I then looked to see what philosophy, in the absence of a criterion, had accomplished by the aid of special methods, and I must say that I could not discover — in spite of the loudly-proclaimed pretensions of some — that it had produced any thing of real value; and, at last, wearied with the philosophical twaddle, I resolved to make a new search for the criterion. I confess it, to my shame, this folly lasted for two years, and I am not yet entirely rid of it. It was like seeking a needle in a haystack. I might have learned Chinese or Arabic in the time that I have lost in considering and reconsidering syllogisms, in rising to the summit of an induction as to the top of a ladder, in inserting a proposition between the horns of a dilemma, in decomposing, distinguishing, separating, denying, affirming, admitting, as if I could pass abstractions through a sieve.
I selected justice as the subject-matter of my experiments. Finally, after a thousand decompositions, recompositions, and double compositions, I found at the bottom of my analytical crucible, not the criterion of certainty, but a metaphysico-economico-political treatise, whose conclusions were such that I did not care to present them in a more artistic or, if you will, more intelligible form. The effect which this work produced upon all classes of minds gave me an idea of the spirit of our age, and did not cause me to regret the prudent and scientific obscurity of my style. How happens it that to-day I am obliged to defend my intentions, when my conduct bears the evident impress of such lofty morality?
You have read my work, sir, and you know the gist of my tedious and scholastic lucubrations. Considering the revolutions of humanity, the vicissitudes of empires, the transformations of property, and the innumerable forms of justice and of right, I asked, “Are the evils which afflict us inherent in our condition as men, or do they arise only from an error? This inequality of fortunes which all admit to be the cause of society’s embarrassments, is it, as some assert, the effect of Nature; or, in the division of the products of labor and the soil, may there not have been some error in calculation? Does each laborer receive all that is due him, and only that which is due him? In short, in the present conditions of labor, wages, and exchange, is no one wronged? — are the accounts well kept? — is the social balance accurate?”
Then I commenced a most laborious investigation. It was necessary to arrange informal notes, to discuss contradictory titles, to reply to captious allegations, to refute absurd pretensions, and to describe fictitious debts, dishonest transactions, and fraudulent accounts. In order to triumph over quibblers, I had to deny the authority of custom, to examine the arguments of legislators, and to oppose science with science itself. Finally, all these operations completed, I had to give a judicial decision.
I therefore declared, my hand upon my heart, before God and men, that the causes of social inequality are three in number: 1. Gratuitous appropriation of collective wealth; 2. Inequality in exchange; 3. The right of profit or increase.
And since this threefold method of extortion is the very essence of the domain of property, I denied the legitimacy of property, and proclaimed its identity with robbery.
That is my only offence. I have reasoned upon property; I have searched for the criterion of justice; I have demonstrated, not the possibility, but the necessity, of equality of fortunes; I have allowed myself no attack upon persons, no assault upon the government, of which I, more than any one else, am a provisional adherent. If I have sometimes used the word proprietor, I have used it as the abstract name of a metaphysical being, whose reality breathes in every individual, — not alone in a privileged few.
Nevertheless, I acknowledge — for I wish my confession to be sincere — that the general tone of my book has been bitterly censured. They complain of an atmosphere of passion and invective unworthy of an honest man, and quite out of place in the treatment of so grave a subject.
If this reproach is well founded (which it is impossible for me either to deny or admit, because in my own cause I cannot be judge), — if, I say, I deserve this charge, I can only humble myself and acknowledge myself guilty of an involuntary wrong; the only excuse that I could offer being of such a nature that it ought not to be communicated to the public. All that I can say is, that I understand better than any one how the anger which injustice causes may render an author harsh and violent in his criticisms. When, after twenty years of labor, a man still finds himself on the brink of starvation, and then suddenly discovers in an equivocation, an error in calculation, the cause of the evil which torments him in common with so many millions of his fellows, he can scarcely restrain a cry of sorrow and dismay.
But, sir, though pride be offended by my rudeness, it is not to pride that I apologize, but to the proletaires, to the simple-minded, whom I perhaps have scandalized. My angry dialectics may have produced a bad effect on some peaceable minds. Some poor workingman — more affected by my sarcasm than by the strength of my arguments — may, perhaps, have concluded that property is the result of a perpetual Machiavelianism on the part of the governors against the governed, — a deplorable error of which my book itself is the best refutation. I devoted two chapters to showing how property springs from human personality and the comparison of individuals. Then I explained its perpetual limitation; and, following out the same idea, I predicted its approaching disappearance. How, then, could the editors of the “Revue Démocratique,” after having borrowed from me nearly the whole substance of their economical articles, dare to say: “The holders of the soil, and other productive capital, are more or less wilful accomplices in a vast robbery, they being the exclusive receivers and sharers of the stolen goods"?
The proprietors wilfully guilty of the crime of robbery!
Never did that homicidal phrase escape my pen; never did my heart conceive the frightful thought. Thank Heaven! I know not how to calumniate my kind; and I have too strong a desire to seek for the reason of things to be willing to believe in criminal conspiracies. The millionaire is no more tainted by property than the journeyman who works for thirty sous per day. On both sides the error is equal, as well as the intention. The effect is also the same, though positive in the former, and negative in the latter. I accused property; I did not denounce the proprietors, which would have been absurd: and I am sorry that there are among us wills so perverse and minds so shattered that they care for only so much of the truth as will aid them in their evil designs. Such is the only regret which I feel on account of my indignation, which, though expressed perhaps too bitterly, was at least honest, and legitimate in its source.
However, what did I do in this essay which I voluntarily submitted to the Academy of Moral Sciences? Seeking a fixed axiom amid social uncertainties, I traced back to one fundamental question all the secondary questions over which, at present, so keen and diversified a conflict is raging This question was the right of property. Then, comparing all existing theories with each other, and extracting from them that which is common to them all, I endeavored to discover that element in the idea of property which is necessary, immutable, and absolute; and asserted, after authentic verification, that this idea is reducible to that of individual and transmissible possession; susceptible of exchange, but not of alienation; founded on labor, and not on fictitious occupancy, or idle caprice. I said, further, that this idea was the result of our revolutionary movements, — the culminating point towards which all opinions, gradually divesting themselves of their contradictory elements, converge. And I tried to demonstrate this by the spirit of the laws, by political economy, by psychology and history.
A Father of the Church, finishing a learned exposition of the Catholic doctrine, cried, in the enthusiasm of his faith, “Domine, si error est, a te decepti sumus (if my religion is false, God is to blame).” I, as well as this theologian, can say, “If equality is a fable, God, through whom we act and think and are; God, who governs society by eternal laws, who rewards just nations, and punishes proprietors, — God alone is the author of evil; God has lied. The fault lies not with me.”
But, if I am mistaken in my inferences, I should be shown my error, and led out of it. It is surely worth the trouble, and I think I deserve this honor. There is no ground for proscription. For, in the words of that member of the Convention who did not like the guillotine, to kill is not to reply. Until then, I persist in regarding my work as useful, social, full of instruction for public officials, — worthy, in short, of reward and encouragement.
For there is one truth of which I am profoundly convinced, — nations live by absolute ideas, not by approximate and partial conceptions; therefore, men are needed who define principles, or at least test them in the fire of controversy. Such is the law, — the idea first, the pure idea, the understanding of the laws of God, the theory: practice follows with slow steps, cautious, attentive to the succession of events; sure to seize, towards this eternal meridian, the indications of supreme reason. The co-operation of theory and practice produces in humanity the realization of order, — the absolute truth.
All of us, as long as we live, are called, each in proportion to his strength, to this sublime work. The only duty which it imposes upon us is to refrain from appropriating the truth to ourselves, either by concealing it, or by accommodating it to the temper of the century, or by using it for our own interests. This principle of conscience, so grand and so simple, has always been present in my thought.
Consider, in fact, sir, that which I might have done, but did not wish to do. I reason on the most honorable hypothesis. What hindered me from concealing, for some years to come, the abstract theory of the equality of fortunes, and, at the same time, from criticising constitutions and codes; from showing the absolute and the contingent, the immutable and the ephemeral, the eternal and the transitory, in laws present and past; from constructing a new system of legislation, and establishing on a solid foundation this social edifice, ever destroyed and as often rebuilt? Might I not, taking up the definitions of casuists, have clearly shown the cause of their contradictions and uncertainties, and supplied, at the same time, the inadequacies of their conclusions? Might I not
have confirmed this labor by a vast historical exposition, in which the principle of exclusion, and of the accumulation of property, the appropriation of collective wealth, and the radical vice in exchanges, would have figured as the constant causes of tyranny, war, and revolution?
“It should have been done,” you say. Do not doubt, sir, that such a task would have required more patience than genius. With the principles of social economy which I have analyzed, I would have had only to break the ground, and follow the furrow. The critic of laws finds nothing more difficult than to determine justice: the labor alone would have been longer. Oh, if I had pursued this glittering prospect, and, like the man of the burning bush, with inspired countenance and deep and solemn voice, had presented myself some day with new tables, there would have been found fools to admire, boobies to applaud, and cowards to offer me the dictatorship; for, in the way of popular infatuations, nothing is impossible.
But, sir, after this monument of insolence and pride, what should I have deserved in your opinion, at the tribunal of God, and in the judgment of free men? Death, sir, and eternal reprobation!
I therefore spoke the truth as soon as I saw it, waiting only long enough to give it proper expression. I pointed out error in order that each might reform himself, and render his labors more useful. I announced the existence of a new political element, in order that my associates in reform, developing it in concert, might arrive more promptly at that unity of principles which alone can assure to society a better day. I expected to receive, if not for my book, at least for my commendable conduct, a small republican ovation. And, behold! journalists denounce me, academicians curse me, political adventurers (great God!) think to make themselves tolerable by protesting that they are not like me! I give the formula by which the whole social edifice may be scientifically reconstructed, and the strongest minds reproach me for being able only to destroy. The rest despise me, because I am unknown. When the “Essay on Property” fell into the reformatory camp, some asked: “Who has spoken? Is it Arago? Is it Lamennais? Michel de Bourges or Garnier-Pagès?” And when they heard the name of a new man: “We do not know him,” they would reply. Thus, the monopoly of thought, property in reason, oppresses the proletariat as well as the bourgeoisie. The worship of the infamous prevails even on the steps of the tabernacle.
But what am I saying? May evil befall me, if I blame the poor creatures! Oh! let us not despise those generous souls, who in the excitement of their patriotism are always prompt to identify the voice of their chiefs with the truth. Let us encourage rather their simple credulity, enlighten complacently and tenderly their precious sincerity, and reserve our shafts for those vain-glorious spirits who are always ad-miring their genius, and, in different tongues, caressing the people in order to govern them.
These considerations alone oblige me to reply to the strange and superficial conclusions of the “Journal du Peuple” (issue of Oct. 11, 1840), on the question of property. I leave, therefore, the journalist to address myself only to his readers. I hope that the self-love of the writer will not be offended, if, in the presence of the masses, I ignore an individual.
You say, proletaires of the “Peuple,” “For the very reason that men and things exist, there always will be men who will possess things; nothing, therefore, can destroy property.”
In speaking thus, you unconsciously argue exactly after the manner of M. Cousin, who always reasons from possession to property. This coincidence, however, does not surprise me. M. Cousin is a philosopher of much mind, and you, proletaires, have still more. Certainly it is honorable, even for a philosopher, to be your companion in error.
Originally, the word property was synonymous with proper or individual possession. It designated each individual’s special right to the use of a thing. But when this right of use, inert (if I may say so) as it was with regard to the other usufructuaries, became active and paramount, — that is, when the usufructuary converted his right to personally use the thing into the right to use it by his neighbor’s labor, — then property changed its nature, and its idea became complex. The legists knew this very well, but instead of opposing, as they ought, this accumulation of profits, they accepted and sanctioned the whole. And as the right of farm-rent necessarily [sic] implies the right of use, — in other words, as the right to cultivate land by the labor of a slave supposes one’s power to cultivate it himself, according to the principle that the greater includes the less, — the name property was reserved to designate this double right, and that of possession was adopted to designate the right of use. Whence property came to be called the perfect right, the right of domain, the eminent right, the heroic or quiritaire right, — in Latin, jus perfectum, jus optimum, jus quiritarium, jus dominii, — while possession became assimilated to farm-rent.
Now, that individual possession exists of right, or, better, from natural necessity, all philosophers admit, and can easily e demonstrated; but when, in imitation of M. Cousin, we assume it to be the basis of the domain of property, we fall into the sophism called sophisma amphiboliæ vel ambiguitatis, which consists in changing the meaning by a verbal equivocation.
People often think themselves very profound, because, by the aid of expressions of extreme generality, they appear to rise to the height of absolute ideas, and thus deceive inexperienced minds; and, what is worse, this is commonly called examining abstractions. But the abstraction formed by the comparison of identical facts is one thing, while that which is deduced from different acceptations of the same term is quite another. The first gives the universal idea, the axiom, the law; the second indicates the order of generation of ideas. All our errors arise from the constant confusion of these two kinds of abstractions. In this particular, languages and philosophies are alike deficient. The less common an idiom is, and the more obscure its terms, the more prolific is it as a source of error: a philosopher is sophistical in proportion to his ignorance of any method of neutralizing this imperfection in language. If the art of correcting the errors of speech by scientific methods is ever discovered, then philosophy will have found its criterion of certainty.
Now, then, the difference between property and possession being well established, and it being settled that the former, for the reasons which I have just given, must necessarily disappear, is it best, for the slight advantage of restoring an etymology, to retain the word property? My opinion is that it would be very unwise to do so, and I will tell why. I quote from the “Journal du Peuple:” —
“To the legislative power belongs the right to regulate property, to prescribe the conditions of acquiring, possessing, and transmitting it... It cannot be denied that inheritance, assessment, commerce, industry, labor, and wages require the most important modifications.”
You wish, proletaires, to regulate property; that is, you wish to destroy it and reduce it to the right of possession. For to regulate property without the consent of the proprietors is to deny the right of domain; to associate employees with proprietors is to destroy the eminent right; to suppress or even reduce farm-rent, house-rent, revenue, and increase generally, is to annihilate perfect property. Why, then, while laboring with such laudable enthusiasm for the establishment of equality, should you retain an expression whose equivocal meaning will always be an obstacle in the way of your success?
There you have the first reason — a wholly philosophical one — for rejecting not only the thing, but the name, property. Here now is the political, the highest reason.
Every social revolution — M. Cousin will tell you — is effected only by the realization of an idea, either political, moral, or religious. When Alexander conquered Asia, his idea was to avenge Greek liberty against the insults of Oriental despotism; when Marius and Cæsar overthrew the Roman patricians, their idea was to give bread to the people; when Christianity revolutionized the world, its idea was to emancipate mankind, and to substitute the worship of one God for the deities of Epicurus and Homer; when France rose in ‘89, her idea was liberty and equality before the law. There has been no true revolution, says M. Cousin, with out its idea; so that where an idea does not exist, or even fails of a formal expression, revolution is impossible. There are mobs, conspirators, rioters, regicides. There are no revolutionists. Society, devoid of ideas, twists and tosses about, and dies in the midst of its fruitless labor.
Nevertheless, you all feel that a revolution is to come, and that you alone can accomplish it. What, then, is the idea which governs you, proletaires of the nineteenth century? — for really I cannot call you revolutionists. What do you think? — what do you believe? — what do you want? Be guarded in your reply. I have read faithfully your favorite journals, your most esteemed authors. I find everywhere only vain and puerile entités; nowhere do I discover an idea.
I will explain the meaning of this word entité, — new, without doubt, to most of you.
By entité is generally understood a substance which the imagination grasps, but which is incognizable by the senses and the reason. Thus the soporific power of opium, of which Sganarelle speaks, and the peccant humors of ancient medicine, are entités. The entité is the support of those who do not wish to confess their ignorance. It is incomprehensible; or, as St. Paul says, the argumentum non apparentium. In philosophy, the entité is often only a repetition of words which add nothing to the thought.
For example, when M. Pierre Leroux — who says so many excellent things, but who is too fond, in my opinion, of his Platonic formulas — assures us that the evils of humanity are due to our ignorance of life, M. Pierre Leroux utters an entité; for it is evident that if we are evil it is because we do not know how to live; but the knowledge of this fact is of no value to us.
When M. Edgar Quinet declares that France suffers and declines because there is an antagonism of men and of interests, he declares an entité; for the problem is to discover the cause of this antagonism.
When M. Lamennais, in thunder tones, preaches self-sacrifice and love, he proclaims two entités; for we need to know on what conditions self-sacrifice and love can spring up and exist.
So also, proletaires, when you talk of liberty, progress, and the sovereignty of the people, you make of these naturally intelligible things so many entités in space: for, on the one hand, we need a new definition of liberty, since that of ‘89 no longer suffices; and, on the other, we must know in what direction society should proceed in order to be in progress. As for the sovereignty of the people, that is a grosser entité than the sovereignty of reason; it is the entité of entités. In fact, since sovereignty can no more be conceived of outside of the people than outside of reason, it remains to be ascertained who, among the people, shall exercise the sovereignty; and, among so many minds, which shall be the sovereigns. To say that the people should elect their representatives is to say that the people should recognize their sovereigns, which does not remove the difficulty at all.
But suppose that, equal by birth, equal before the law, equal in personality, equal in social functions, you wish also to be equal in conditions.
Suppose that, perceiving all the mutual relations of men, whether they produce or exchange or consume, to be relations of commutative justice, — in a word, social relations; suppose, I say, that, perceiving this, you wish to give this natural society a legal existence, and to establish the fact by law, —
I say that then you need a clear, positive, and exact expression of your whole idea, — that is, an expression which states at once the principle, the means, and the end; and I add that that expression is association.
And since the association of the human race dates, at least rightfully, from the beginning of the world, and has gradually established and perfected itself by successively divesting itself of its negative elements, slavery, nobility, despotism, aristocracy, and feudalism, — I say that, to eliminate the last negation of society, to formulate the last revolutionary idea, you must change your old rallying-cries, no more absolutism, no more nobility, no more slaves! into that of no more property! ...
But I know what astonishes you, poor souls, blasted by the wind of poverty, and crushed by your patrons’ pride: it is equality, whose consequences frighten you. How, you have said in your journal, — how can we “dream of a level which, being unnatural, is therefore unjust? How shall we pay the day’s labor of a Cormenin or a Lamennais?”
Plebeians, listen! When, after the battle of Salamis, the Athenians assembled to award the prizes for courage, after the ballots had been collected, it was found that each combatant had one vote for the first prize, and Themistocles all the votes for the second. The people of Minerva were crowned by their own hands. Truly heroic souls! all were worthy of the olive-branch, since all had ventured to claim it for themselves. Antiquity praised this sublime spirit. Learn, proletaires, to esteem yourselves, and to respect your dignity. You wish to be free, and you know not how to be citizens. Now, whoever says “citizens” necessarily says equals.
If I should call myself Lamennais or Cormenin, and some journal, speaking of me, should burst forth with these hyperboles, incomparable genius, superior mind, consummate virtue, noble character, I should not like it, and should complain, — first, because such eulogies are never deserved; and, second, because they furnish a bad example. But I wish, in order to reconcile you to equality, to measure for you the greatest literary personage of our century. Do not accuse me of envy, proletaires, if I, a defender of equality, estimate at their proper value talents which are universally admired, and which I, better than any one, know how to recognize. A dwarf can always measure a giant: all that he needs is a yardstick.
You have seen the pretentious announcements of “L'Esquisse d'une Philosophie,” and you have admired the work on trust; for either you have not read it, or, if you have, you are incapable of judging it. Acquaint yourselves, then, with this speculation more brilliant than sound; and, while admiring the enthusiasm of the author, cease to pity those useful labors which only habit and the great number of the persons engaged in them render contemptible. I shall be brief; for, notwithstanding the importance of the subject and the genius of the author, what I have to say is of but little moment.
M. Lamennais starts with the existence of God. How does he demonstrate it? By Cicero’s argument, — that is, by the consent of the human race. There is nothing new in that. We have still to find out whether the belief of the human race is legitimate; or, as Kant says, whether our subjective certainty of the existence of God corresponds with the objective truth. This, however, does not trouble M. Lamennais. He says that, if the human race believes, it is because it has a reason for believing. Then, having pronounced the name of God, M. Lamennais sings a hymn; and that is his demonstration!
This first hypothesis admitted, M. Lamennais follows it with a second; namely, that there are three persons in God. But, while Christianity teaches the dogma of the Trinity only on the authority of revelation, M. Lamennais pretends to arrive at it by the sole force of argument; and he does not perceive that his pretended demonstration is, from beginning to end, anthropomorphism, — that is, an ascription of the faculties of the human mind and the powers of nature to the Divine substance. New songs, new hymns!
God and the Trinity thus demonstrated, the philosopher passes to the creation, — a third hypothesis, in which M. Lamennais, always eloquent, varied, and sublime, demonstrates that God made the world neither of nothing, nor of something, nor of himself; that he was free in creating, but that nevertheless he could not but create; that there is in matter a matter which is not matter; that the archetypal ideas of the world are separated from each other, in the Divine mind, by a division which is obscure and unintelligible, and yet substantial and real, which involves intelligibility, &c. We meet with like contradictions concerning the origin of evil. To explain this problem, — one of the profoundest in philosophy, — M. Lamennais at one time denies evil, at another makes God the author of evil, and at still another seeks outside of God a first cause which is not God, — an amalgam of entités more or less incoherent, borrowed from Plato, Proclus, Spinoza, I might say even from all philosophers.
Having thus established his trinity of hypotheses, M. Lamennais deduces therefrom, by a badly connected chain of analogies, his whole philosophy. And it is here especially that we notice the syncretism which is peculiar to him. The theory of M. Lamennais embraces all systems, and supports all opinions. Are you a materialist? Suppress, as useless entités, the three persons in God; then, starting directly from heat, light, and electro-magnetism, — which, according to the author, are the three original fluids, the three primary external manifestations of Will, Intelligence, and Love, — you have a materialistic and atheistic cosmogony. On the contrary, are you wedded to spiritualism? With the theory of the immateriality of the body, you are able to see everywhere nothing but spirits. Finally, if you incline to pantheism, you will be satisfied by M. Lamennais, who formally teaches that the world is not an emanation from Divinity, — which is pure pantheism, — but a flow of Divinity.
I do not pretend, however, to deny that “L'Esquisse” contains some excellent things; but, by the author’s declaration, these things are not original with him; it is the system which is his. That is undoubtedly the reason why M. Lamennais speaks so contemptuously of his predecessors in philosophy, and disdains to quote his originals. He thinks that, since “L'Esquisse” contains all true philosophy, the world will lose nothing when the names and works of the old philosophers perish. M. Lamennais, who renders glory to God in beautiful songs, does not know how as well to render justice to his fellows. His fatal fault is this appropriation of knowledge, which the theologians call the philosophical sin, or the sin against the Holy Ghost — a sin which will not damn you, proletaires, nor me either.
In short, “L'Esquisse,” judged as a system, and divested of all which its author borrows from previous systems, is a commonplace work, whose method consists in constantly explaining the known by the unknown, and in giving entités for abstractions, and tautologies for proofs. Its whole theodicy is a work not of genius but of imagination, a patching up of neo-Platonic ideas. The psychological portion amounts to nothing, M. Lamennais openly ridiculing labors of this character, without which, however, metaphysics is impossible. The book, which treats of logic and its methods, is weak, vague, and shallow. Finally, we find in the physical and physiological speculations which M. Lamennais deduces from his trinitarian cosmogony grave errors, the preconceived design of accommodating facts to theory, and the substitution in almost every case of hypothesis for reality. The third volume on industry and art is the most interesting to read, and the best. It is true that M. Lamennais can boast of nothing but his style. As a philosopher, he has added not a single idea to those which existed before him.
Why, then, this excessive mediocrity of M. Lamennais considered as a thinker, a mediocrity which disclosed itself at the time of the publication of the “Essai sur l'Indifférence"? It is because (remember this well, proletaires!) Nature makes no man truly complete, and because the development of certain faculties almost always excludes an equal development of the opposite faculties; it is because M. Lamennais is preeminently a poet, a man of feeling and sentiment. Look at his style, — exuberant, sonorous, picturesque, vehement, full of exaggeration and invective, — and hold it for certain that no man possessed of such a style was ever a true metaphysician. This wealth of expression and illustration, which everybody admires, becomes in M Lamennais the incurable cause of his philosophical impotence. His flow of language, and his sensitive nature misleading his imagination, he thinks that he is reasoning when he is only repeating himself, and readily takes a description for a logical deduction. Hence his horror of positive ideas, his feeble powers of analysis, his pronounced taste for indefinite analogies, verbal abstractions, hypothetical generalities, in short, all sorts of entités.
Further, the entire life of M. Lamennais is conclusive proof of his anti-philosophical genius. Devout even to mysticism, an ardent ultramontane, an intolerant theocrat, he at first feels the double influence of the religious reaction and the literary theories which marked the beginning of this century, and falls back to the middle ages and Gregory VII.; then, suddenly becoming a progressive Christian and a democrat, he gradually leans towards rationalism, and finally falls into deism. At present, everybody waits at the trap-door. As for me, though I would not swear to it, I am inclined to think that M. Lamennais, already taken with scepticism, will die in a state of indifference. He owes to individual reason and methodical doubt this expiation of his early essays.
It has been pretended that M. Lamennais, preaching now a theocracy, now universal democracy, has been always consistent; that, under different names, he has sought invariably one and the same thing, — unity. Pitiful excuse for an author surprised in the very act of contradiction! What would be thought of a man who, by turns a servant of despotism under Louis XVI., a demagogue with Robespierre, a courtier of the Emperor, a bigot during fifteen years of the Restoration, a conservative since 1830, should dare to say that he ever had wished for but one thing, — public order? Would he be regarded as any the less a renegade from all parties? Public order, unity, the world’s welfare, social harmony, the union of the nations, — concerning each of these things there is no possible difference of opinion. Everybody wishes them; the character of the publicist depends only upon the means by which he proposes to arrive at them. But why look to M. Lamennais for a steadfastness of opinion, which he himself repudiates? Has he not said, “The mind has no law; that which I believe to-day, I did not believe yesterday; I do not know that I shall believe it to-morrow"?
No; there is no real superiority among men, since all talents and capacities are combined never in one individual. This man has the power of thought, that one imagination and style, still another industrial and commercial capacity. By our very nature and education, we possess only special aptitudes which are limited and confined, and which become consequently more necessary as they gain in depth and strength. Capacities are to each other as functions and persons; who would dare to classify them in ranks? The finest genius is, by the laws of his existence and development, the most dependent upon the society which creates him. Who would dare to make a god of the glorious child?
“It is not strength which makes the man,” said a Hercules of the market-place to the admiring crowd; “it is character.” That man, who had only his muscles, held force in contempt. The lesson is a good one, proletaires; we should profit by it. It is not talent (which is also a force), it is not knowledge, it is not beauty which makes the man. It is heart, courage, will, virtue. Now, if we are equal in that which makes us men, how can the accidental distribution of secondary faculties detract from our manhood?
Remember that privilege is naturally and inevitably the lot of the weak; and do not be misled by the fame which accompanies certain talents whose greatest merit consists in their rarity, and a long and toilsome apprenticeship. It is easier for M. Lamennais to recite a philippic, or sing a humanitarian ode after the Platonic fashion, than to discover a single useful truth; it is easier for an economist to apply the laws of production and distribution than to write ten lines in the style of M. Lamennais; it is easier for both to speak than to act. You, then, who put your hands to the work, who alone truly create, why do you wish me to admit your inferiority? But, what am I saying? Yes, you are inferior, for you lack virtue and will! Ready for labor and for battle, you have, when liberty and equality are in question, neither courage nor character!
In the preface to his pamphlet on “Le Pays et le Gouverne-ment,” as well as in his defence before the jury, M. Lamennais frankly declared himself an advocate of property. Out of regard for the author and his misfortune, I shall abstain from characterizing this declaration, and from examining these two sorrowful performances. M. Lamennais seems to be only the tool of a quasi-radical party, which flatters him in order to use him, without respect for a glorious, but hence forth powerless, old age. What means this profession of faith? From the first number of “L'Avenir” to “L'Esquisse d'une Philosophie,” M. Lamennais always favors equality, association, and even a sort of vague and indefinite communism. M. Lamennais, in recognizing the right of property, gives the lie to his past career, and renounces his most generous tendencies. Can it, then, be true that in this man, who has been too roughly treated, but who is also too easily flattered, strength of talent has already outlived strength of will?
It is said that M. Lamennais has rejected the offers of several of his friends to try to procure for him a commutation of his sentence. M. Lamennais prefers to serve out his time. May not this affectation of a false stoicism come from the same source as his recognition of the right of property? The Huron, when taken prisoner, hurls insults and threats at his conqueror, — that is the heroism of the savage; the martyr prays for his executioners, and is willing to receive from them his life, — that is the heroism of the Christian. Why has the apostle of love become an apostle of anger and revenge? Has, then, the translator of “L'Imitation” forgotten that he who offends charity cannot honor virtue? Galileo, retracting on his knees before the tribunal of the inquisition his heresy in regard to the movement of the earth, and recovering at that price his liberty, seems to me a hundred times grander than M. Lamennais. What! if we suffer for truth and justice, must we, in retaliation, thrust our persecutors outside the pale of human society; and, when sentenced to an unjust punishment, must we decline exemption if it is offered to us, because it pleases a few base satellites to call it a pardon? Such is not the wisdom of Christianity. But I forgot that in the presence of M. Lamennais this name is no longer pronounced. May the prophet of “L'Avenir” be soon restored to liberty and his friends; but, above all, may he henceforth derive his inspiration only from his genius and his heart!
O proletaires, proletaires! how long are you to be victimized by this spirit of revenge and implacable hatred which your false friends kindle, and which, perhaps, has done more harm to the development of reformatory ideas than the corruption, ignorance, and malice of the government? Believe me, at the present time everybody is to blame. In fact, in intention, or in example, all are found wanting; and you have no right to accuse any one. The king himself (God forgive me! I do not like to justify a king), — the king himself is, like his predecessors, only the personification of an idea, and an idea, proletaires, which possesses you yet. His greatest wrong consists in wishing for its complete realization, while you wish it realized only partially, — consequently, in being logical in his government; while you, in your complaints, are not at all so. You clamor for a second regicide. He that is without sin among you, — let him cast at the prince of property the first stone!
How successful you would have been if, in order to influence men, you had appealed to the self-love of men, — if, in order to alter the constitution and the law, you had placed yourselves within the constitution and the law! Fifty thousand laws, they say, make up our political and civil codes. Of these fifty thousand laws, twenty-five thousand are for you, twenty-five thousand against you. Is it not clear that your duty is to oppose the former to the latter, and thus, by the argument of contradiction, drive privilege into its last ditch? This method of action is henceforth the only useful one, being the only moral and rational one.
For my part, if I had the ear of this nation, to which I am attached by birth and predilection, with no intention of playing the leading part in the future republic, I would instruct the laboring masses to conquer property through institutions and judicial pleadings; to seek auxiliaries and accomplices in the highest ranks of society, and to ruin all privileged classes by taking advantage of their common desire for power and popularity. The petition for the electoral reform has already received two hundred thousand signatures, and the illustrious Arago threatens us with a million. Surely, that will be well done; but from this million of citizens, who are as willing to vote for an emperor as for equality, could we not select ten thousand signatures — I mean bonâ fide signatures — whose authors can read, write, cipher, and even think a little, and whom we could invite, after due perusal and verbal explanation, to sign such a petition as the following: —
“To his Excellency the Minister of the interior: —
“MONSIEUR LE MINISTRE, — On the day when a royal ordinance, decreeing the establishment of model national workshops, shall appear in the ‘Moniteur,’ the undersigned, to the number of ten thousand, will repair to the Palace of the Tuileries, and there, with all the power of their lungs, will shout, ‘Long live Louis Philippe!’
“On the day when the ‘Moniteur’ shall inform the public that this petition is refused, the undersigned, to the number of ten thousand, will say secretly in their hearts, ‘Down with Louis Philippe!’ “
If I am not mistaken, such a petition would have some effect. The pleasure of a popular ovation would be well worth the sacrifice of a few millions. They sow so much to reap unpopularity! Then, if the nation, its hopes of 1830 restored, should feel it its duty to keep its promise, — and it would keep it, for the word of the nation is, like that of God, sacred, — if, I say, the nation, reconciled by this act with the public-spirited monarchy, should bear to the foot of the throne its cheers and its vows, and should at that solemn moment choose me to speak in its name, the following would be the substance of my speech: —
But, it is said, the very business of those chosen by the people is to find out the object of the reform.
That is a quibble. What is to hinder these persons, who are to be elected in future, from first seeking for this object, and then, when they have found it, from communicating it to the people? The reformers have well said, that, while the object of the electoral reform remains in the least indefinite, it will be only a means of transferring power from the hands of petty tyrants to the hands of other tyrants. We know already how a nation may be oppressed by being led to believe that it is obeying only its own laws. The history of universal suffrage, among all nations, is the history of the restrictions of liberty by and in the name of the multitude.
Still, if the electoral reform, in its present shape, were rational, practical, acceptable to clean consciences and upright minds, perhaps one might be excused, though ignorant of its object, for supporting it. But, no; the text of the petition determines nothing, makes no distinctions, requires no conditions, no guarantee; it establishes the right without the duty. “Every Frenchman is a voter, and eligible to office.” As well say: “Every bayonet is intelligent, every savage is civilized, every slave is free.” In its vague generality, the reformatory petition is the weakest of abstractions, or the highest form of political treason. Consequently, the enlightened patriots distrust and despise each other. The most radical writer of the time, — he whose economical and social theories are, without comparison, the most advanced, — M. Leroux, has taken a bold stand against universal suffrage and democratic government, and has written an exceedingly keen criticism of J. J. Rousseau. That is undoubtedly the reason why M. Leroux is no longer the philosopher of “Le National.” That journal, like Napoleon, does not like men of ideas. Nevertheless, “Le National” ought to know that he who fights against ideas will perish by ideas.
“SIRE, — This is what the nation wishes to say to your Majesty: —
“O King! you see what it costs to gain the applause of the citizens. Would you like us henceforth to take for our motto: ‘Let us help the King, the King will help us'? Do you wish the people to cry: ‘THE KING AND THE FRENCH NATION'? Then abandon these grasping bankers, these quarrelsome lawyers, these miserable bourgeois, these infamous writers, these dishonored men. All these, Sire, hate you, and continue to support you only because they fear us. Finish the work of our kings; wipe out aristocracy and privilege; consult with these faithful proletaires, with the nation, which alone can honor a sovereign and sincerely shout, ‘Long live the king!’ “
The rest of what I have to say, sir, is for you alone; others would not understand me. You are, I perceive, a republican as well as an economist, and your patriotism revolts at the very idea of addressing to the authorities a petition in which the government of Louis Philippe should be tacitly recognized. “National workshops! it were well to have such institutions established,” you think; “but patriotic hearts never will accept them from an aristocratic ministry, nor by the courtesy of a king.” Already, undoubtedly, your old prejudices have returned, and you now regard me only as a sophist, as ready to flatter the powers that be as to dishonor, by pushing them to an extreme, the principles of equality and universal fraternity.
What shall I say to you? ... That I should so lightly compromise the future of my theories, either this clever sophistry which is attributed to me must be at bottom a very trifling affair, or else my convictions must be so firm that they deprive me of free-will.
But, not to insist further on the necessity of a compromise between the executive power and the people, it seems to me, sir, that, in doubting my patriotism, you reason very capriciously, and that your judgments are exceedingly rash. You, sir, ostensibly defending government and property, are al lowed to be a republican, reformer, phalansterian, any thing you wish; I, on the contrary, demanding distinctly enough a slight reform in public economy, am foreordained a conservative, and likewise a friend of the dynasty. I cannot explain myself more clearly. So firm a believer am I in the philosophy of accomplished facts and the statu quo of governmental forms that, instead of destroying that which exists and beginning over again the past, I prefer to render every thing legitimate by correcting it. It is true that the corrections which I propose, though respecting the form, tend to finally change the nature of the things corrected. Who denies it? But it is precisely that which constitutes my system of statu quo. I make no war upon symbols, figures, or phantoms. I respect scarecrows, and bow before bugbears. I ask, on the one hand, that property be left as it is, but that interest on all kinds of capital be gradually lowered and finally abolished; on the other hand, that the charter be maintained in its present shape, but that method be introduced into administration and politics. That is all. Nevertheless, submitting to all that is, though not satisfied with it, I endeavor to conform to the established order, and to render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s. Is it thought, for instance, that I love property? ... Very well; I am myself a proprietor and do homage to the right of increase, as is proved by the fact that I have creditors to whom I faithfully pay, every year, a large amount of interest. The same with politics. Since we are a monarchy, I would cry, “Long live the king,” rather than suffer death; which does not prevent me, however, from demanding that the irremovable, inviolable, and hereditary representative of the nation shall act with the proletaires against the privileged classes; in a word, that the king shall become the leader of the radical party. Thereby we proletaires would gain every thing; and I am sure that, at this price, Louis Philippe might secure to his family the perpetual presidency of the republic. And this is why I think so.
If there existed in France but one great functional inequality, the duty of the functionary being, from one end of the year to the other, to hold full court of savants, artists, soldiers, deputies, inspectors, &c., it is evident that the expenses of the presidency then would be the national expenses; and that, through the reversion of the civil list to the mass of consumers, the great inequality of which I speak would form an exact equation with the whole nation. Of this no economist needs a demonstration. Consequently, there would be no more fear of cliques, courtiers, and appanages, since no new inequality could be established. The king, as king, would have friends (unheard-of thing), but no family. His relatives or kinsmen, — agnats et cognats, — if they were fools, would be nothing to him; and in no case, with the exception of the heir apparent, would they have, even in court, more privileges than others. No more nepotism, no more favor, no more baseness. No one would go to court save when duty required, or when called by an honorable distinction; and as all conditions would be equal and all functions equally honored, there would be no other emulation than that of merit and virtue. I wish the king of the French could say without shame, “My brother the gardener, my sister-in-law the milk-maid, my son the prince-royal, and my son the blacksmith.” His daughter might well be an artist. That would be beautiful, sir; that would be royal; no one but a buffoon could fail to understand it.
In this way, I have come to think that the forms of royalty may be made to harmonize with the requirements of equality, and have given a monarchical form to my republican spirit.
I have seen that France contains by no means as many democrats as is generally supposed, and I have compromised with the monarchy. I do not say, however, that, if France wanted a republic, I could not accommodate myself equally well, and perhaps better. By nature, I hate all signs of distinction, crosses of honor, gold lace, liveries, costumes, honorary titles, &c., and, above all, parades. If I had my way, no general should be distinguished from a soldier, nor a peer of France from a peasant. Why have I never taken part in a review? for I am happy to say, sir, that I am a national guard; I have nothing else in the world but that. Because the review is always held at a place which I do not like, and because they have fools for officers whom I am compelled to obey. You see, — and this is not the best of my history, — that, in spite of my conservative opinions, my life is a perpetual sacrifice to the republic.
Nevertheless, I doubt if such simplicity would be agreeable to French vanity, to that inordinate love of distinction and flattery which makes our nation the most frivolous in the world. M. Lamartine, in his grand “Meditation on Bonaparte,” calls the French a nation of Brutuses. We are merely a nation of Narcissuses. Previous to ‘89, we had the aristocracy of blood; then every bourgeois looked down upon the commonalty, and wished to be a nobleman. Afterwards, distinction was based on wealth, and the bourgeoisie jealous of the nobility, and proud of their money, used 1830 to promote, not liberty by any means, but the aristocracy of wealth. When, through the force of events, and the natural laws of society, for the development of which France offers such free play, equality shall be established in functions and fortunes, then the beaux and the belles, the savants and the artists, will form new classes. There is a universal and innate desire in this Gallic country for fame and glory. We must have distinctions, be they what they may, — nobility, wealth, talent, beauty, or dress. I suspect MM. Arage and Garnier-Pagès of having aristocratic manners, and I picture to myself our great journalists, in their columns so friendly to the people, administering rough kicks to the compositors in their printing offices.
“This man,” once said “Le National” in speaking of Carrel, “whom we had proclaimed first consul! ... Is it not true that the monarchical principle still lives in the hearts of our democrats, and that they want universal suffrage in order to make themselves kings? Since “Le National” prides itself on holding more fixed opinions than “Le Journal des Debats,” I presume that, Armand Carrel being dead, M. Armand Marrast is now first consul, and M. Garnier-Pagès second consul. In every thing the deputy must give way to the journalist. I do not speak of M. Arago, whom I believe to be, in spite of calumny, too learned for the consulship. Be it so. Though we have consuls, our position is not much altered. I am ready to yield my share of sovereignty to MM. Armand Marrast and Garnier-Pagès, the appointed consuls, provided they will swear on entering upon the duties of their office, to abolish property and not be haughty.
Forever promises! Forever oaths! Why should the people trust in tribunes, when kings perjure themselves? Alas! truth and honesty are no longer, as in the days of King John, in the mouth of princes. A whole senate has been convicted of felony, and, the interest of the governors always being, for some mysterious reason, opposed to the interest of the governed, parliaments follow each other while the nation dies of hunger. No, no! No more protectors, no more emperors, no more consuls. Better manage our affairs ourselves than through agents. Better associate our industries than beg from monopolies; and, since the republic cannot dispense with virtues, we should labor for our reform.
This, therefore, is my line of conduct. I preach emancipation to the proletaires; association to the laborers; equality to the wealthy. I push forward the revolution by all means in my power, — the tongue, the pen, the press, by action, and example. My life is a continual apostleship.
Yes, I am a reformer; I say it as I think it, in good faith, and that I may be no longer reproached for my vanity. I wish to convert the world. Very likely this fancy springs from an enthusiastic pride which may have turned to delirium; but it will be admitted at least that I have plenty of company, and that my madness is not monomania. At the present day, everybody wishes to be reckoned among the lunatics of Beranger. To say nothing of the Babeufs, the Marats, and the Robespierres, who swarm in our streets and workshops, all the great reformers of antiquity live again in the most illustrious personages of our time. One is Jesus Christ, another Moses, a third Mahomet; this is Orpheus, that Plato, or Pythagoras. Gregory VII., himself, has risen from the grave together with the evangelists and the apostles; and it may turn out that even I am that slave who, having escaped from his master’s house, was forthwith made a bishop and a reformer by St. Paul. As for the virgins and holy women, they are expected daily; at present, we have only Aspasias and courtesans.
Now, as in all diseases, the diagnostic varies according to the temperament, so my madness has its peculiar aspects and distinguishing characteristic.
Reformers, as a general thing, are jealous of their rôle; they suffer no rivals, they want no partners; they have disciples, but no co-laborers. It is my desire, on the contrary, to communicate my enthusiasm, and to make it, as far as I can, epidemic. I wish that all were, like myself, reformers, in order that there might be no more sects; and that Christs, Anti-Christs, and false Christs might be forced to understand and agree with each other.
Again, every reformer is a magician, or at least desires to become one. Thus Moses, Jesus Christ, and the apostles, proved their mission by miracles. Mahomet ridiculed miracles after having endeavored to perform them. Fourier, more cunning, promises us wonders when the globe shall be covered with phalansteries. For myself, I have as great a horror of miracles as of authorities, and aim only at logic. That is why I continually search after the criterion of certainty. I work for the reformation of ideas. Little matters it that they find me dry and austere. I mean to conquer by a bold struggle, or die in the attempt; and whoever shall come to the defence of property, I swear that I will force him to argue like M. Considérant, or philosophize like M. Troplong.
Finally, — and it is here that I differ most from my compeers, — I do not believe it necessary, in order to reach equality, to turn every thing topsy-turvy. To maintain that nothing but an overturn can lead to reform is, in my judgment, to construct a syllogism, and to look for the truth in the regions of the unknown. Now, I am for generalization, induction, and progress. I regard general disappropriation as impossible: attacked from that point, the problem of universal association seems to me insolvable. Property is like the dragon which Hercules killed: to destroy it, it must be taken, not by the head, but by the tail, — that is, by profit and interest.
I stop. I have said enough to satisfy any one who can read and understand. The surest way by which the government can baffle intrigues and break up parties is to take possession of science, and point out to the nation, at an already appreciable distance, the rising oriflamme of equality; to say to those politicians of the tribune and the press, for whose fruitless quarrels we pay so dearly, “You are rushing forward, blind as you are, to the abolition of property; but the government marches with its eyes open. You hasten the future by unprincipled and insincere controversy; but the government, which knows this future, leads you thither by a happy and peaceful transition. The present generation will not pass away before France, the guide and model of civilized nations, has regained her rank and legitimate influence.”
But, alas! the government itself, — who shall enlighten it? Who can induce it to accept this doctrine of equality, whose terrible but decisive formula the most generous minds hardly dare to acknowledge? ... I feel my whole being tremble when I think that the testimony of three men — yes, of three men who make it their business to teach and define — would suffice to give full play to public opinion, to change beliefs, and to fix destinies. Will not the three men be found? ...
May we hope, or not? What must we think of those who govern us? In the world of sorrow in which the proletaire moves, and where nothing is known of the intentions of power, it must be said that despair prevails. But you, sir, — you, who by function belong to the official world; you, in whom the people recognize one of their noblest friends, and property its most prudent adversary, — what say you of our deputies, our ministers, our king? Do you believe that the authorities are friendly to us? Then let the government declare its position; let it print its profession of faith in equality, and I am dumb. Otherwise, I shall continue the war; and the more obstinacy and malice is shown, the oftener will I redouble my energy and audacity. I have said before, and I repeat it, — I have sworn, not on the dagger and the death’s-head, amid the horrors of a catacomb, and in the presence of men besmeared with blood; but I have sworn on my conscience to pursue property, to grant it neither peace nor truce, until I see it everywhere execrated. I have not yet published half the things that I have to say concerning the right of domain, nor the best things. Let the knights of property, if there are any who fight otherwise than by retreating, be prepared every day for a new demonstration and accusation; let them enter the arena armed with reason and knowledge, not wrapped up in sophisms, for justice will be done.
“To become enlightened, we must have liberty. That alone suffices; but it must be the liberty to use the reason in regard to all public matters.
“And yet we hear on every hand authorities of all kinds and degrees crying: ‘Do not reason!’
“If a distinction is wanted, here is one: —
“The public use of the reason always should be free, but the private use ought always to be rigidly restricted. By public use, I mean the scientific, literary use; by private, that which may be taken advantage of by civil officials and public functionaries. Since the governmental machinery must be kept in motion, in order to preserve unity and attain our object, we must not reason; we must obey. But the same individual who is bound, from this point of view, to passive obedience, has the right to speak in his capacity of citizen and scholar. He can make an appeal to the public, submit to it his observations on events which occur around him and in the ranks above him, taking care, however, to avoid offences which are punishable.
“Reason, then, as much as you like; only, obey.” —
Kant: Fragment on the Liberty of Thought and of the Press. Tissot’s Translation.
These words of the great philosopher outline for me my duty. I have delayed the reprint of the work entitled “What is Property?” in order that I might lift the discussion to the philosophical height from which ridiculous clamor has dragged it down; and that, by a new presentation of the question, I might dissipate the fears of good citizens. I now re-enter upon the public use of my reason, and give truth full swing. The second edition of the First Memoir on Property will immediately follow the publication of this letter. Before issuing any thing further, I shall await the observations of my critics, and the co-operation of the friends of the people and of equality.
Hitherto, I have spoken in my own name, and on my own personal responsibility. It was my duty. I was endeavoring to call attention to principles which antiquity could not discover, because it knew nothing of the science which reveals them, — political economy. I have, then, testified as to facts; in short, I have been a witness. Now my rôle changes. It remains for me to deduce the practical consequences of the facts proclaimed. The position of public prosecutor is the only one which I am henceforth fitted to fill, and I shall sum up the case in the name of the people.
I am, sir, with all the consideration that I owe to your talent and your character,
Your very humble and most obedient servant,
P. J. PROUDHON,
Pensioner of the Academy of Besançon.
P.S. During the session of April 2, the Chamber of Deputies rejected, by a very large majority, the literary-property bill, because it did not understand it. Nevertheless, literary property is only a special form of the right of property, which everybody claims to understand. Let us hope that this legislative precedent will not be fruitless for the cause of equality. The consequence of the vote of the Chamber is the abolition of capitalistic property, — property incomprehensible, contradictory, impossible, and absurd.
1. In the Chamber of Deputies, during the session of the fifth of January, 1841, M. Dufaure moved to renew the expropriation bill, on the ground of public utility.
2. “What is Property?” Chap. IV., Ninth Proposition.
3. Tu cognovisti sessionem meam et resurrectionem meam. Psalm 139.
4. The emperor Nicholas has just compelled all the manufacturers in his empire to maintain, at their own expense, within their establishments, small hospitals for the reception of sick workmen, — the number of beds in each being proportional to the number of laborers in the factory. “You profit by man’s labor,” the Czar could have said to his proprietors; “you shall be responsible for man’s life.” M. Blanqui has said that such a measure could not succeed in France. It would be an attack upon property, — a thing hardly conceivable even in Russia, Scythia, or among the Cossacks; but among us, the oldest sons of civilization! ... I fear very much that this quality of age may prove in the end a mark of decrepitude.
5. Course of M. Blanqui. Lecture of Nov. 27,1840.
6. In “Mazaniello,” the Neapolitan fisherman demands, amid the applause of the galleries, that a tax be levied upon luxuries.
7. Sème le champ, prolétaire;
C'est l l'oisif qui récoltera.
8. “In some countries, the enjoyment of certain political rights depends upon the amount of property. But, in these same countries, property is expressive, rather than attributive, of the qualifications necessary to the exercise of these rights. It is rather a conjectural proof than the cause of these qualifications.” — Rossi: Treatise on Penal Law.
This assertion of M. Rossi is not borne out by history. Property is the cause of the electoral right, not as a presumption of capacity, — an idea which never prevailed until lately, and which is extremely absurd, — but as a guarantee of devotion to the established order. The electoral body is a league of those interested in the maintenance of property, against those not interested. There are thousands of documents, even official documents, to prove this, if necessary. For the rest, the present system is only a continuation of the municipal system, which, in the middle ages, sprang up in connection with feudalism, — an oppressive, mischief-making system, full of petty passions and base intrigues.
9. Lecture of December 22.
10. Lecture of Jan. 15, 1841.
11. Lecture of Jan. 15, 1841.
12. MM. Blanqui and Wolowski.
13. Subject proposed by the Fourth Class of the Institute, the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences: “What would be the effect upon the working-class of the organization of labor, according to the modern ideas of association?”
14. Subject proposed by the Academy of Besançon: “The economical and moral consequences in France, up to the present time, and those which seem likely to appear in future, of the law concerning the equal division of hereditary property between the children.”
15. Pleonexia, — greater property. The Vulgate translates it avaritia.
16. Similar or analogous customs have existed among all nations. Consult, among other works, “Origin of French Law,” by M. Michelet; and “Antiquities of German Law,” by Grimm.
17. Dees hominesque testamur, nos arma neque contra patriam cepisse neque quo periculum aliis faceremus, sed uti corpora nostra ab injuria tuta forent, qui miseri, egentes, violentia atque crudelitate foeneraterum, plerique patriae, sed omncsfarna atque fortunis expertes sumus; neque cuiquam nostrum licuit, more majorum, lege uti, neque, amisso patrimonio, libferum corpus habere. — Sallus: Bellum Catilinarium.
18. Fifty, sixty, and eighty per cent. — Course of M. Blanqui.
19. Episcopi plurimi, quos et hortamento esse oportet cæteris et exemplo, divina prouratione contempta, procuratores rerum sæularium fieri, derelicta cathedra, plebe leserta, per alienas provincias oberrantes, negotiationis quaestuosae nundinas au uucu-, pari, esurientibus in ecclesia fratribus habere argentum largitur velle, fundos insidi.sis fraudibus rapere, usuris multiplicantibus foenus augere. — Cyprian: De Lapsis.
20. In this passage, St. Cyprian alludes to lending on mortgages and to compound interest.
21. “Inquiries concerning Property among the Romans.”
22. “Its acquisitive nature works rapidly in the sleep of the law. It is ready, at the word, to absorb every thing. Witness the famous equivocation about the ox-hide which, when cut up into thongs, was large enough to enclose the site of Carthage... . The legend has reappeared several times since Dido... . Such is the love of man for the land. Limited by tombs, measured by the members of the human body, by the thumb, the foot, and the arm, it harmonizes, as far as possible, with the very proportions of man. Nor is be satisfied yet: he calls Heaven to witness that it is his; he tries to or his land, to give it the form of heaven... . In his titanic intoxication, he describes property in the very terms which he employs in describing the Almighty — fundus optimus maximus... . He shall make it his couch, and they shall be separated no more, — kai emignunto Figothti.” — Michelet: Origin of French Law.
23. M. Guizot denies that Christianity alone is entitled to the glory of the abolition of slavery.
24. Weregild, — the fine paid for the murder of a man. So much for a count, so much for a baron, so much for a freeman, so much for a priest; for a slave, nothing. His value was restored to the proprietor.
25. The spirit of despotism and monopoly which animated the communes has not escaped the attention of historians. “The formation of the commoners’ associations,” says Meyer, “did not spring from the true spirit of liberty, but from the desire for exemption from the charges of the seigniors, from individual interests, and jealousy of the welfare of others... . Each commune or corporation opposed the creation of every other; and this spirit increased to such an extent that the King of England, Henry V., having established a university at Caen, in 1432, the city and university of Paris opposed the registration of the edict.
“The communes once organized, the kings treated them as superior vassals. Now, just as the under vassal had no communication with the king except through the direct vassal, so also the commoners could enter no complaints except through the commune.
“Like causes produce like effects. Each commune became a small and separate State, governed by a few citizens, who sought to extend their authority over the others; who, in their turn, revenged themselves upon the unfortunate inhabitants who had not the right of citizenship. Feudalism in unemancipated countries, and oligarchy in the communes, made nearly the same ravages. There were sub-associations, fraternities, tradesmen’s associations in the communes, and colleges in the universities. The oppression was so great, that it was no rare thing to see the inhabitants of a commune demanding its suppression... .” — Meyer: Judicial Institutions of Europe.
26. Feudalism was, in spirit and in its providential destiny, a long protest of the human personality against the monkish communism with which Europe, in the middle ages, was overrun. After the orgies of Pagan selfishness, society — carried to the opposite extreme by the Christian religion — risked its life by unlimited self-denial and absolute indifference to the pleasures of the world. Feudalism was the balance-weight which saved Europe from the combined influence of the religious communities and the Manlchean sects which had sprung up since the fourth century under different names and in different countries. Modern civilization is indebted to feudalism for the definitive establishment of the person, of marriage, of the family, and of country. (See, on this subject, Guizot, “History of Civilization in Europe.”)
27. This was made evident in July, 1830, and the years which followed it, when the electoral bourgeoisie effected a revolution in order to get control over the king, and suppressed the émeutes in order to restrain the people. The bourgeoisie, through the jury, the magistracy, its position in the army, and its municipal despotism, governs both royalty and the people. It is the bourgeoisie which, more than any other class, is conservative and retrogressive. It is the bourgeoisie which makes and unmakes ministries. It is the bourgeoisie which has destroyed the influence of the Upper Chamber, and which will dethrone the King whenever he shall become unsatisfactory to it. It is to please the bourgeoisie that royalty makes itself unpopular. It is the bourgeoisie which is troubled at the hopes of the people, and which hinders reform. The journals of the bourgeoisie are the ones which preach morality and religion to us, while reserving scepticism and indifference for themselves; which attack personal government, and favor the denial of the electoral privilege to those who have no property. The bourgeoisie will accept any thing rather than the emancipation of the proletariat. As soon as it thinks its privileges threatened, it will unite with royalty; and who does not know that at this very moment these two antagonists have suspended their quarrels? ... It has been a question of property.
29. The same opinion was recently expressed from the tribune by one of our most honorable Deputies, M. Gauguier. “Nature,” said he, “has not endowed man with landed property.” Changing the adjective landed, which designates only a species into capitalistic, which denotes the genus, — M. Gauguier made an égalitaire profession of faith.
30. A professor of comparative legislation, M. Lerminier, has gone still farther. He has dared to say that the nation took from the clergy all their possessions, not because of idleness, but because of unworthiness. “You have civilized the world,” cries this apostle of equality, speaking to the priests; “and for that reason your possessions were given you. In your hands they were at once an instrument and a reward. But you do not now deserve them, for you long since ceased to civilize any thing whatever... .”
This position is quite in harmony with my principles, and I heartily applaud the indignation of M. Lerminier; but I do not know that a proprietor was ever deprived of his property because unworthy; and as reasonable, social, and even useful as the thing may seem, it is quite contrary to the uses and customs of property.
31. “Treatise on Prescription.”
32. “Origin of French Law.”
33. To honor one’s parents, to be grateful to one’s benefactors, to neither kill nor steal, — truths of inward sensation. To obey God rather than men, to render to each that which is his; the whole is greater than a part, a straight line is the shortest road from one point to another, — truths of intuition. All are à priori but the first are felt by the conscience, and imply only a simple act of the soul; the second are perceived by the reason, and imply comparison and relation. In short, the former are sentiments, the latter are ideas.
34. Armand Carrel would have favored the fortification of the capital. “Le National” has said, again and again, placing the name of its old editor by the side of the names of Napoleon and Vauban. What signifies this exhumation of an anti-popular politician? It signifies that Armand Carrel wished to make government an individual and irremovable, but elective, property, and that he wished this property to be elected, not by the people, but by the army. The political system of Carrel was simply a reorganization of the pretorian guards. Carrel also hated the péquins. That which he deplored in the revolution of July was not, they say, the insurrection of the people, but the victory of the people over the soldiers. That is the reason why Carrel, after 1830, would never support the patriots. “Do you answer me with a few regiments?” he asked. Armand Carrel regarded the army — the military power — as the basis of law and government. This man undoubtedly had a moral sense within him, but he surely had no sense of justice. Were he still in this world, I declare it boldly, liberty would have no greater enemy than Carrel.
It is said that on this question of the fortification of Paris the staff of “Le National” are not agreed. This would prove, if proof were needed, that a journal may blunder and falsify, without entitling any one to accuse its editors. A journal is a metaphysical being, for which no one is really responsible, and which owes its existence solely to mutual concessions. This idea ought to frighten those worthy citizens who, because they borrow their opinions from a journal, imagine that they belong to a political party, and who have not the faintest suspicion that they are really without a head.
35. In a very short article, which was read by M. Wolowski, M. Louis Blanc declares, in substance, that he is not a communist (which I easily believe); that one must be a fool to attack property (but he does not say why); and that it is very necessary to guard against confounding property with its abuses. When Voltaire overthrew Christianity, he repeatedly avowed that he had no spite against religion, but only against its abuses.
36. The property fever is at its height among writers and artists, and it is curious to see the complacency with which our legislators and men of letters cherish this devouring passion. An artist sells a picture, and then, the merchandise delivered, assumes to prevent the purchaser from selling engravings, under the pretext that he, the painter, in selling the original, has not sold his design. A dispute arises between the amateur and the artist in regard to both the fact and the law. M. Villemain, the Minister of Public Instruction, being consulted as to this particular case, finds that the painter is right; only the property in the design should have been specially reserved in the contract: so that, in reality, M. Villemain recognizes in the artist a power to surrender his work and prevent its communication; thus contradicting the legal axiom, One cannot give and keep at the same time. A strange reasoner is M. Villemain! An ambiguous principle leads to a false conclusion. Instead of rejecting the principle, M. Villemain hastens to admit the conclusion. With him the reductio ad absurdum is a convincing argument. Thus he is made official defender of literary property, sure of being understood and sustained by a set of loafers, the disgrace of literature and the plague of public morals. Why, then, does M. Villemain feel so strong an interest in setting himself up as the chief of the literary classes, in playing for their benefit the rôle of Trissotin in the councils of the State, and in becoming the accomplice and associate of a band of profli-gates, — soi-disant men of letters, — who for more than ten years have labored with such deplorable success to ruin public spirit, and corrupt the heart by warping the mind?
Contradictions of contradictions!” Genius is the great leveller of the world,” cries M. de Lamartine; “then genius should be a proprietor. Literary property is the fortune of democracy.” This unfortunate poet thinks himself profound when he is only puffed up. His eloquence consists solely in coupling ideas which clash with each other: round square, dark sun, fallen angel, priest and love, thought and poetry, gunius and fortune, leveling and property. Let us tell him, in reply, that his mind is a dark luminary; that each of his discourses is a disordered harmony; and that all his successes, whether in verse or prose, are due to the use of the extraordinary in the treatment of the most ordinary subjects.
“Le National,” in reply to the report of M. Lamartine, endeavors to prove that literary property is of quite a different nature from landed property; as if the nature of the right of property depended on the object to which it is applied, and not on the mode of its exercise and the condition of its existence. But the main object of “Le National” is to please a class of proprietors whom an extension of the right of property vexes: that is why “Le National” opposes literary property. Will it tell us, once for all, whether it is for equality or against it?
37. M. Leroux has been highly praised in a review for having defended property. I do not know whether the industrious encyclopedist is pleased with the praise, but I know very well that in his place I should mourn for reason and for truth.
“Le National,” on the other hand, has laughed at M. Leroux and his ideas on property, charging him with tautology and childishness. “Le National” does not wish to understand. Is it necessary to remind this journal that it has no right to deride a dogmatic philosopher, because it is without a doctrine itself? From its foundation, “Le National” has been a nursery of intriguers and renegades. From time to time it takes care to warn its readers. Instead of lamenting over all its defections, the democratic sheet would do better to lay the blame on itself, and confess the shallowness of its theories. When will this organ of popular interests and the electoral reform cease to hire sceptics and spread doubt? I will wager, without going further, that M. Leon Durocher, the critic of M. Leroux, is an anonymous or pseudonymous editor of some bourgeois, or even aristocratic, journal.
38. “Impartial,” of Besançon.
39. The Arians deny the divinity of Christ. The Semi-Arians differ from the Arians only by a few subtle distinctions. M. Pierre Leroux, who regards Jesus as a man, but claims that the Spirit of God was infused into him, is a true Semi-Arian.
40. It should be understood that the above refers only to the moral and political doctrines of Fourier, — doctrines which, like all philosophical and religious systems, have their root and raison d'existence in society itself, and for this reason deserve to be examined. The peculiar speculations of Fourier and his sect concerning cosmogony, geology, natural history, physiology, and psychology, I leave to the attention of those who would think it their duty to seriously refute the fables of Blue Beard and the Ass’s Skin.
41. A writer for the radical press, M. Louis Raybaud, said, in the preface to his “Studies of Contemporary Reformers:” “Who does not know that morality is relative? Aside from a few grand sentiments which are strikingly instinctive, the measure of human acts varies with nations and climates, and only civilization — the progressive education of the race — can lead to a universal morality... . The absolute escapes our contingent and finite nature; the absolute is the secret of God.” God keep from evil M. Louis Raybaud! But I cannot help remarking that all political apostates begin by the negation of the absolute, which is really the negation of truth. What can a writer, who professes scepticism, have in common with radical views? What has he to say to his readers? What judgment is he entitled to pass upon contemporary reformers? M. Raybaud thought it would seem wise to repeat an old impertinence of the legist, and that may serve him for an excuse. We all have these weaknesses. But I am surprised that a man of so much intelligence as M. Raybaud, who studies systems, fails to see the very thing he ought first to recognize, — namely, that systems are the progress of the mind towards the absolute.
42. The electoral reform, it is continually asserted, is not an end, but a means. Undoubtedly; but what, then, is the end? Why not furnish an unequivocal explanation of its object? How can the people choose their representatives, unless they know in advance the purpose for which they choose them, and the object of the commission which they entrust to them?