Anacharsis Cloots 1793

“Religion is the Greatest Obstacle”

Source: Jean Meslier, Oeuvres Complètes. Paris, editions Anthropos, 1970;
Translated: for by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2004.

Speech pronounced at the Tribune of the national Convention 27 Brumaire, year II [November 17, 1793].

Will you allow me, Citizen Colleagues, to put you in a position to repair an outrage to reason committed by the Legislative Assembly which, on the Christian observations of the Bishop of Calvados of guillotined memory put off the reception of one of my philosophical productions, the fruit of fifteen hours of work daily for four straight years? This work, unique in its methods and tactics and interesting in its details and development, with one blow undermined all revealed religions, both ancient and modern. It is entitled: “The Certainty of the Proofs of Mohammedanism,” for I throw a Moslem at the legs of other sectarians, who fall one after the other. My book takes the place of a vast library.

The philosophical explosion striking our revolutionary gaze is the result of fifty years of labor and persecution. It is by attacking with courageous tenacity all false revelations that we have arrived at the revelation of good sense. The conversion of a great people proves that philosophers have not planted in barren soil and that the proselytism of error is less rapid than that of eternal principles. It is today that the benedictions of truth make us forget the maledictions of falsehood. I am glad to have been persecuted by an Archbishop of Paris when I see the entire clergy of France abjure a doctrine against which I threw volumes ten years before the taking of the Bastille. Under the reign of kings and priests I was never forgiven my favorite motto: Veritas atque Libertas.

I owe to my continual voyages and my independent cosmopolitanism the fact that I have escaped the vengeance of sacred and profane tyrants. I was in Rome when they wanted to incarcerate me in Paris, and I was in London when they wanted to burn me in Lisbon. It was by shuttling from one end of Europe to the other that I was able to escape the hired assassins and informants of all masters and valets. The revolution has finally arrived, and I am in my natural element, for it is liberty and not the place that makes the citizen, as Brutus so aptly said, and as our rapporteur on the law against foreigners has so clearly forgotten [1]. I too was ungrateful enough to forget the cradle of my birth in thinking only of the cradle of the Universal Republic – if spreading enlightenment in the capitol of the world means forgetting your native land. Whatever the case, my emigration came to an end when the emigration of the villains began. Regenerated Paris was the post of the “Orator of the Human Race,” [2] and I haven’t quit it since 1790.

It was then that I redoubled my zeal against the so-called sovereigns of heaven and earth. I loudly preached that there is no other God but nature, no other sovereign than the human race: the people-God. This people is self-sufficient in meeting its own needs. It will forever stand: nature doesn’t kneel. Judge the majesty of the free human race by that of the French people, which is but a fraction of it. Judge the infallibility of all by the sagacity of a portion, which on its own is making the slave world tremble. The more the mass of free men grows, the less will great personages be feared. The suspect will disappear with tyrants. Universal leveling stands in opposition to any rebellion at all. The Surveillance Committee of the Universal Republic will have less work than the committee of the least Paris section. It will be thus for all ministerial offices. My republic is the antidote for bureaucracy: there will be few offices, few taxes, and no executioners. General confidence will replace a necessary mistrust. Reason will unite all men in one representative fasces, with no other connection than epistolary correspondence. This will be the true republic of letters.

Citizens, religion is the greatest obstacle to my utopia. But beyond a doubt, this obstacle is not invincible, for we see Christians and Jews dispute for the honors of the most solemn abjuration. It will be the same everywhere that the Montagnarde constitution is accepted, everywhere that men have five senses. A constitution that leaves nothing to priests but their mummeries, forcing them to restore to us our morality and our money, this constitution, by showing imposture in its horrifying nudity, will accomplish without cease the marvels that now pass before our eyes. And this is even more the case because the requisition of men and things is leading all spirits towards the theatre of the war of liberation.

I will not refute the illogic of those who see counter-revolutionary intrigues in this and who imagine that we are leading the people to a precipice. Rest assured, good people, that the people do not allow themselves to be led; it has burned its ties and knows more than all the doctors in the world. As for the disguised aristocrats who repeat their old slanders against the central commune, adding that the departments aren’t mature, I send them to the Nièvre, the Somme, to Rochefort, to Ris, etc, [3] unless they would prefer a stay in the Vendée, whose holy furies have accelerated the healing of our victorious republicans. Note, Citizens, that most of those who now play at the role of tremblers were the first to condemn the prudence of the Jacobins, who last fall opposed the premature motion of a member of the Finance Committee [4]. And these same Jacobins, always ready to catch the ball on the bounce, rise today to crush the religious hydra-head for good and all. A salutary terror is dissipating all fantastic terrors. An ancient said: “We only possess vigor the first day following a bad reign.” Let us profit from this first day, which we will prolong until the day after the deliverance of the world.

It is thus recognized that the adversaries of religion have deserved well of the human race. It is in keeping with this that I request a statue in the Temple of Reason for the first ecclesiastical abjurer. It will suffice to give his name to obtain a favorable decree from the National Convention: it is the intrepid, the generous, the exemplary Jean Meslier, curate of Etrépigny in the Champagne, whose Testament brought desolation to the Sorbonne and among all Christ-lovers. The memory of this honest man, condemned under the ancien régime, should be rehabilitated under nature’s regime.

Citizen Colleagues, you will honorably receive my two proposals, for the Archbishops of Paris and the Bishops of the Calvados are no longer on the order of the day.

1. Saint-Just, who had presented and had adopted a law ordering that foreigners born subjects of governments the republic was at war with would be detained until peace was declared.

2. A characterisation Cloots had given himself in 1790.

3. Regions where the dechristianization movement was especially strong.

4. Cambon, who had proposed in November 1792 the removing from the 1793 budget of the expenses of the Catholic religion.