Jean Meslier 1728

On the Great Good and Advantages for Men if They All Lived Peaceably, Enjoying in Common the Goods and Conveniences of Life

Source: Mémoire contre la religion, in Oeuvres Complètes. Anthropos, Paris, 1970;
Translated: for by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) 2008.

If men equally possessed and enjoyed in common... the goods, wealth, and conveniences of life, if they were all unanimously occupied some honest and useful exercise, or some honest and useful labor of the body or spirit, and if they wisely managed the goods of the land and the fruits of their labor and industry, they would all have sufficient place to live happy and content, for the earth almost always produces sufficient and even abundantly enough to nourish them and sustain them, if they would always make good use of these goods, and it’s quite rare that the earth fails to produce the necessities of life; and thus all would have enough to live peacefully, no one would lack what is necessary to him, no one would suffer in order to have for himself or his children what they need to live or clothe themselves; no one would suffer for himself or his children not knowing where he would be lodged or sleep, for all would find all of this surely, abundantly, easily and comfortably in a well regulated community; and thus no one would have any interest in resorting to fraud or shrewdness and falsehood in order to surprise his neighbor. No one would have any interest in lawsuits to defend his goods. No one would have any interest in envying his neighbor, nor to be envious of each other, because all will be more or less in a state of equality. No one would have any interest in stealing what others might have, no one would have any interest in killing or murdering anyone in order to have his purse or his money or his goods, for this would do him no good as an individual; no one would have any interest in so to speak killing himself with work and fatigue, as is now done by countless numbers of poor people, who are more or less forced to kill themselves with work, to kill themselves with tasks and fatigues in order to barely have what they need to live as well as to meet the expenses and taxes that are rigorously demanded of them. No one, I say, would have any interest in killing himself in this way with tasks and fatigue, because each for his part would assist in supporting the sufferings of labor, and no one would remain uselessly idle while others occupy themselves usefully at labor.

You are surprised, my dear friends? You are surprised, poor peoples that you have so much evil and so much suffering in life? It’s that all alone you bear the weight of the day and the heat, like the workers spoken of in a parable in your Gospels. It’s that you and your like are charged with all the burdens of the state, you are charged not only with all the burdens of your kings, your princes who are your tyrants, but you are also charged with the entire burden of the nobility, with the entire burden of the clergy; you are charged with the entire burden of monkery and all those of the justice system, you are charged with all the lackeys and all the stable boys of the great and the servants and maids of the others, you are charged with all the warriors, with all those who claim taxes not due, of all the watchmen over salt and tobacco; and finally, of all the do-nothings and the useless of the world; for it is only on the fruit of your difficult labors that all these people live; you furnish by your labors all that is necessary for this, but even more all that could serve their entertainments and pleasures. What, for example, would the greatest princes and the greatest potentates of the earth be if the people didn’t support them? It is only from the people (who they hardy treat kindly) that they draw all their grandeur, all their wealth, and all their power; in a word they would be nothing but weak and small men like you if you didn’t support their grandeur; they would have no more wealth than you if you didn’t give them theirs. And finally they would have no more power or authority than you if you didn’t submit to their laws and will. If all these men I am speaking of shared with you the difficulties of labor, and if they left for you as they do for themselves a fitting portion of those goods you earn and you so abundantly bring forth by the sweat of your brows, you would on the one hand be less charged and much less tired; on the other you would also have much more rest and sweetness in life than you now have. But no, all the suffering is yours and your like, and all the good is for the others, though they deserve it less, and this is why the poor people have so much evil and so many sufferings in life.

We see, says M. de la Bruyère in his “Characters,” certain ferocious animals, male and female, spread about the countryside, black and livid and burned by the sun, attached to the land that they dig through and up with an invincible stubbornness; they have a voice that is almost articulated, and when they stand on their feet they show a human face, and in fact they are men. At night they retreat into their lairs where they live on black bread, water, and roots; they spare other men the suffering of planting, laboring and harvesting in order to live, and so deserve, he says, to not lack this bread they planted and that they have brought forth in so much suffering. Yes, to be sure they deserve not to lack for it, and even more they deserve to eat it first, and to have the better part, as well as to have the better part of the good wine that they also bring forth in so much suffering and fatigue. But, O, inhuman and detestable cruelty, the rich and the great of the earth steal the better part of the fruits of their hard labors, and leave them nothing but the straw of the good grain, and the dregs of the good wine they bring forth with so much suffering and labor. The author I quoted doesn’t say this, but he makes it clearly enough understood. If as I said all goods were wisely governed and dispensed, no one would have any interest in fearing for himself and his own either famine or poverty, for all goods and riches would be equally for all, which would certainly be the good and the greatest happiness that could arrive for men.

In the same way, if men do not stop their vain and harmful distinctions between families, and if they were to truly look upon each other as brothers and sisters, as they should in keeping with the principles of their religion, no one of them would prevail or brag of being of better or nobler birth than their companions, and consequently they would have no reason to detest each other or to insultingly reproach each other for their birth or family; but each would find himself worthy of esteem in keeping with his own personal merit and not according to the imaginary merit of a pretended better or more noble birth; which would also be a great good for men.

In the same way, if men, and particularly our Christ-lovers, didn’t make marriages indissoluble as they do, and if on the contrary they always left conjugal unions and friendship free among them, without forcing the ones or the others, that is without forcing men or women to remain their entire lives inseparably bound against their inclinations, we would certainly not see so many bad marriages or so many bad couples as there are among them, and there would not be as much discord and dissension as there is between husbands and wives; they would have no interest in resorting every day to reproaches or insults or ill treatment as they so often do against each other, they would have no interest in so often being angry with each other; they would have no interest in speaking ill of each other, they would have no interest in beating each other or of tearing each other apart with such fury, as they often do to each other, because they could freely quit each other peacefully as soon as they ceased to love or be happy together, and they could each freely seek their happiness elsewhere. In a word, there would no longer be unhappy husbands or unhappy wives, as there are now so many who are unhappy throughout their lives under the fatal yoke of an indissoluble marriage. On the contrary, they would both always have, agreeably and peaceably, their pleasures and contentment with whomever is fitting for them, for from that point it would always be good fellowship which would be the principle and the main reason for their conjugal union, which would be a great good for both. Also as for the children who would issue from this, because they wouldn’t be like so many poor children who remain orphaned of father or mother and often of both together, and who for this reason are as if abandoned by all, and who we often see unhappy under the law of brutal stepfathers or evil stepmothers who force them to starve and mistreat them with blows, or under the guidance of tutors or guardians who neglect them and who even eat up and dissipate their goods; they would also not be like so many poor children who we see unhappy under the guidance of their fathers and mothers and who suffer from their most tender years all the miseries of poverty, cold in the winter, heat in the summer, hunger, thirst, lack of clothing; who are always in filth and ordure, without an education, without instruction and who can’t even grow or flourish because they lack the sustenance necessary for life.

But they would all be equally well raised, all equally well nourished and given all they need because they would all be raised, nourished and maintained in common from the public and common goods. In the same way as well they would be equally instructed in good morals and honesty, as well as in the sciences and arts to the extent it would be necessary and fitting for each of them to be so in relation to public utility and the need there might be of their services, in such a way that, all being instructed in the same principles of morality and in the same rules of good conduct and honesty, it would be easy to make them all wise and honest, to have them all work together for the same good, and to make them all capable of usefully serving their fatherland. Which would certainly be advantageous for the public good and human society. Things are not the same when men are raised and educated in different principles of morality and they have taken on different rules and different ways of living, for from that point this diversity of education, instruction and ways of living only inspires contrariety and a diversity of humors, opinions, and sentiments that ensures that they can’t peacefully accommodate each other nor, consequently, unanimously work together for the same good, which causes continual troubles and divisions between them. But when they are all brought up and educated from youth in the same moral principles, and they have learned to follow the same rules of life and conduct, from that point all sharing the same sentiments and having the same views they all work more easily together for the same good, which is the common good of all.

It would this be better for men to always permit freedom of marriage and conjugal unions. It would be better for them to have all their children equally well raised, fed, maintained and educated in good morals as well as the sciences and the arts. It would be better for them to look on each other and love each other as brothers and sisters. It would be better for them to not make family distinctions among themselves and to not believe themselves from a better family or of better birth than each other. It would be better for them for all of them to occupy themselves with some good labor or some honest and useful exercise, and for each to bear his part of the harshness of labor and the inconveniences of life, without unjustly leaving to one group all the suffering and the entire weight of the burden, while others do nothing but take their pleasure and contentment. Finally, it would be better for them to possess everything in common and to peaceably enjoy in common the goods and the conveniences of life, and all of this under the guidance and the leadership of the wisest; they would certainly all be incomparably happier and more content than they are, for we would no longer see any destitute, or any unfortunates or even any poor on earth, so many of whom we see every day..

M. Pascal in his “Reflections” testifies clearly to having the same sentiments when he remarks that the usurpation of all the land and all the ills that have followed from it only come from the fact that each individual has wanted to appropriate those things they should have left in common. This dog is mine, these poor children said, and that is my place in the sun. This, that author says, is the beginning and the image of the usurpation of all the land. Plato, divine Plato, wanted to construct a republic whose citizens could live agreeably with each other rightly banished from it the words of mine and yours. Know well that as long as there will be something to share there will always be found discontent, from which is born troubles, divisions, wars and suits.