Positivism 1870

Founding of a Positivist Club

By Eugène Sémérie

Source: Fondation d'un club Positiviste, Paris, Imprimerie Jouast, n.d. [1870];
Translated: for Marxists.org by Mitch Abidor.

For the third time in eighty years France has proclaimed a republic.

It was not the lack of noble sentiments in the republicans of 1792 and 1848 that prevented them from rendering their work lasting; it was a powerful doctrine that would allow them to give their generous but vague aspirations systematic precision and energetic cohesion.

Since the day when, breaking with its monarchical past, France began the great crisis which is still going on, it has not been able to succeed in digging deep and tracing straight the new road which it has taken. All of its force is exhausted in sterile hesitations and painful trials that engulf the happiness and life of entire generations and leave behind them nothing but discouragement and skepticism.

We want to henceforth spare our country those disastrous social oscillations that see it alternatively leave retrogression behind only to enter anarchy, and then escape anarchy only to retrogress.

Positivism is not only a philosophical doctrine, it is also a political party which claims to reconcile order – the necessary basis for all social activity – with Progress, which is its goal.

Convinced that our doctrine is the only one that can satisfy this dual condition we are founding a club in which all political, social and religious questions that the current crisis will bring forth will be treated and resolved in accordance with the principles of Positive politics owed the genius of Auguste Comte.

The fundamental principle of these politics is that social phenomena obey laws as immutable as those of other natural phenomena and cannot be arbitrarily modified, either by kings or peoples.

And so we saw the hereditary royalty desired by the last Bonaparte and consolidated this very year by more than seven million votes collapse a few weeks later and be replaced by the Republic, whose inevitable coming was long foreseen and announced by the study of sociological laws.

In this immense and eternal changing of men and things that is called the march of civilization the human spirit has finally succeeded in discovering the constant relations found in events, and in formulating the laws that explain the past and cast a light on the future.

Politics thus becomes a science whose knowledge will henceforth distinguish true statesmen from the vulgar ambitious, for those who will have the pretention to march at our head will be made to first prove that they know the goal and the road that will reach it.

This is the elevated point of view from which we judge men and acts. Without hiding from ourselves that our judgments and counsels will sometimes be stamped with the violent passions amidst which we live, better than others we can, thanks to our doctrine, enlighten both the governors and the governed, tell them what they must do and soften the inevitable conflicts which retrograde tendencies on one hand and revolutionary mistrust on the other will not fail to give rise to. It is necessary that the republicans, since power is now in their hands, prove that they are more than the others worthy and capable of governing. Positivism alone can guide and support them.

A club, which can only have as its object the application to current events of the principles accepted by all its members and not the abstract elaboration of these principles, whoever shall aspire to the title of card-carrying member must satisfy the following conditions:

1. Be free of any theological belief, and consequently believe neither in God nor king;

2. Be free of any metaphysical illusions and consequently believe neither in Equality nor the sovereignty of the People;

3. Renounce any military proceedings in order to make his opinions prevail, and consequently desire neither offensive war nor coup d'état, nor riots.

These are the indispensable negative conditions. But they cannot establish sufficient unity among all the members of the club if they are not also in agreement on a certain number of positive principles from which can be deduced their application to current politics.

A. Universal Principles

1. Social and moral phenomena are, like all others, subject to the natural laws of succession and similitude, which human activity can only modify the intensity or the speed of without ever hoping to change their course.

2. Human societies go from the theological and military state to the scientific and industrial state, via the metaphysical and defensive state (the law of the three states).

3. Progress consists in developing, perfecting, and consolidating the family, property and the government, the institutions that constitute the fundamental order. Consequently progress is nothing but the development of order.

B. General Principles of Politics

1. The solution to the social problem, being more moral than material, demands the complete separation of spiritual and temporal power and their reciprocal separation (separation of Church and state).

2. Wealth is social in its source and must be so in its destination, while preserving personal appropriation, the eternal debates on property only being able to be resolved by the substitution of obligations for rights.

3. Labor, like wealth, must be elevated to a civic dignity and be considered a social function, wages being nothing but the retribution necessary for the maintenance of the worker and his family without ever paying for the services rendered.

C. Synthesis

The reorganization of opinions and morals, which must precede that of institutions, can only be carried out in the name of Humanity.

On the ruins of conquered and dismembered Paris, when, with despair in their souls all repeat around us: France is finished, we come as consolers, and the heart full of profound faith intone for our country, not the prayer for the dead, but the hymn of resurrection. Purified of Bonapartism France can finally reassume its role among European nations. During the luminous century of Voltaire and Diderot it was the first and the most loved, and it was only on the day when, infatuated with militarism, it wanted to transform its moral domination into material oppression that it became odious to others. But the place it formerly occupied has remained vacant and it can be reassumed. While fighting without truce or weakness against the sorrows of the present time and the brutal pretentions of a backward nation, we must elevate our spirits to those summits full of light from which the past and the future are revealed and attach our destiny and that of our country to the eternal chain of human destiny. Only then will the merited punishment that strikes us cease to be able to lay us low and, however great our misfortunes grow to be, our energy will soar ever higher. Let France raise its head and regain awareness of its genius and its mission. The nation that since Charlemagne has participated in all the great things done in Europe; the nation that made and supported the Encyclopedists, the fathers of the Revolution; the nation that, ever fertile and active, made Positivism and, with intrepidity and resolution and despite oppression, pursued its clearly formulated goal to construct the regenerating doctrine: that nation is not dead. It still has before it many centuries of grandeur and power, and its name, inscribed in history’s pantheon, shall remain forever glorious and respected in grateful humanity’s most far-off memories.

Eugène Sémérie
31, rue de Provence
Paris, 28 Descartes 82 (November 4, 1870)