What is Property? Proudhon 1840
Nearly all the modern writers on jurisprudence, taking their cue from the economists, have abandoned the theory of first occupancy as a too dangerous one, and have adopted that which regards property as born of labor. In this they are deluded; they reason in a circle. To labor it is necessary to occupy, says M. Cousin. Consequently, I have added in my turn, all having an equal right of occupancy, to labor it is necessary to submit to equality. “The rich,” exclaims Jean Jacques, “have the arrogance to say, ‘I built this wall; I earned this land by my labor.’ Who set you the tasks? we may reply, and by what right do you demand payment from us for labor which we did not impose upon you?” All sophistry falls to the ground in the presence of this argument.
But the partisans of labor do not see that their system is an absolute contradiction of the Code, all the articles and provisions of which suppose property to be based upon the fact of first occupancy. If labor, through the appropriation which results from it, alone gives birth to property, the Civil Code lies, the charter is a falsehood, our whole social system is a violation of right. To this conclusion shall we come, at the end of the discussion which is to occupy our attention in this chapter and the following one, both as to the right of labor and the fact of property. We shall see, on the one hand, our legislation in opposition to itself; and, on the other hand, our new jurisprudence in opposition both to its own principle and to our legislation.
I have asserted that the system which bases property upon labor implies, no less than that which bases it upon occupation, the equality of fortunes; and the reader must be impatient to learn how I propose to deduce this law of equality from the inequality of skill and faculties: directly his curiosity shall be satisfied. But it is proper that I should call his attention for a moment to this remarkable feature of the process; to wit, the substitution of labor for occupation as the principle of property; and that I should pass rapidly in review some of the prejudices to which proprietors are accustomed to appeal, which legislation has sanctioned, and which the system of labor completely overthrows.
Reader, were you ever present at the examination of a criminal? Have you watched his tricks, his turns, his evasions, his distinctions, his equivocations? Beaten, all his assertions overthrown, pursued like a fallow deer by the in exorable judge, tracked from hypothesis to hypothesis, — he makes a statement, he corrects it, retracts it, contradicts it, he exhausts all the tricks of dialectics, more subtle, more ingenious a thousand times than he who invented the seventy-two forms of the syllogism. So acts the proprietor when called upon to defend his right. At first he refuses to reply, he exclaims, he threatens, he defies; then, forced to accept the discussion, he arms himself with chicanery, he surrounds himself with formidable artillery, — crossing his fire, opposing one by one and all together occupation, possession, limitation, covenants, immemorial custom, and universal consent. Conquered on this ground, the proprietor, like a wounded boar, turns on his pursuers. “I have done more than occupy,” he cries with terrible emotion; “I have labored, produced, improved, transformed, created. This house, these fields, these trees are the work of my hands; I changed these brambles into a vineyard, and this bush into a fig-tree; and to-day I reap the harvest of my labors. I have enriched the soil with my sweat; I have paid those men who, had they not had the work which I gave them, would have died of hunger. No one shared with me the trouble and expense; no one shall share with me the benefits.”
You have labored, proprietor! why then do you speak of original occupancy? What, were you not sure of your right, or did you hope to deceive men, and make justice an illusion? Make haste, then, to acquaint us with your mode of defence, for the judgment will be final; and you know it to be a question of restitution.
You have labored! but what is there in common between the labor which duty compels you to perform, and the appropriation of things in which there is a common interest? Do you not know that domain over the soil, like that over air and light, cannot be lost by prescription?
You have labored! have you never made others labor? Why, then, have they lost in laboring for you what you have gained in not laboring for them?
You have labored! very well; but let us see the results of your labor. We will count, weigh, and measure them. It will be the judgment of Balthasar; for I swear by balance, level, and square, that if you have appropriated another’s labor in any way whatsoever, you shall restore it every stroke.
Thus, the principle of occupation is abandoned; no longer is it said, “The land belongs to him who first gets possession of it. Property, forced into its first intrenchment, repudiates its old adage; justice, ashamed, retracts her maxims, and sorrow lowers her bandage over her blushing cheeks. And it was but yesterday that this progress in social philosophy began: fifty centuries required for the extirpation of a lie! During this lamentable period, how many usurpations have been sanctioned, how many invasions glorified, how many conquests celebrated! The absent dispossessed, the poor banished, the hungry excluded by wealth, which is so ready and bold in action! Jealousies and wars, incendiarism and bloodshed, among the nations! But henceforth, thanks to the age and its spirit, it is to be admitted that the earth is not a prize to be won in a race; in the absence of any other obstacle, there is a place for everybody under the sun. Each one may harness his goat to the bearn, drive his cattle to pasture, sow a corner of a field, and bake his bread by his own fireside.
But, no; each one cannot do these things. I hear it proclaimed on all sides, “Glory to labor and industry! to each according to his capacity; to each capacity according to its results!” And I see three-fourths of the human race again despoiled, the labor of a few being a scourge to the labor of the rest.
“The problem is solved,” exclaims M. Hennequin. “Property, the daughter of labor, can be enjoyed at present and in the future only under the protection of the laws. It has its origin in natural law; it derives its power from civil law; and from the union of these two ideas, labor and protection, positive legislation results.” ...
Ah! the problem is solved! property is the daughter of labor! What, then, is the right of accession, and the right of succession, and the right of donation, &c., if not the right to become a proprietor by simple occupancy? What are your laws concerning the age of majority, emancipation, guardianship, and interdiction, if not the various conditions by which he who is already a laborer gains or loses the right of occupancy; that is, property?
Being unable, at this time, to enter upon a detailed discussion of the Code, I shall content myself with examining the three arguments oftenest resorted to in support of property. 1. Appropriation, or the formation of property by possession; 2. The consent of mankind; 3. Prescription. I shall then inquire into the effects of labor upon the relative condition of the laborers and upon property.
“It would seem that lands capable of cultivation ought to be regarded as natural wealth, since they are not of human creation, but Nature’s gratuitous gift to man; but inasmuch as this wealth is not fugitive, like the air and water, — inasmuch as a field is a fixed and limited space which certain men have been able to appropriate, to the exclusion of all others who in their turn have consented to this appropriation, — the land, which was a natural and gratuitous gift, has become social wealth, for the use of which we ought to pay.” — Say: Political Economy.
Was I wrong in saying, at the beginning of this chapter, that the economists are the very worst authorities in matters of legislation and philosophy? It is the father of this class of men who clearly states the question, How can the supplies of Nature, the wealth created by Providence, become private property? and who replies by so gross an equivocation that we scarcely know which the author lacks, sense or honesty. What, I ask, has the fixed and solid nature of the earth to do with the right of appropriation? I can understand that a thing limited and stationary, like the land, offers greater chances for appropriation than the water or the sunshine; that it is easier to exercise the right of domain over the soil than over the atmosphere: but we are not dealing with the difficulty of the thing, and Say confounds the right with the possibility. We do not ask why the earth has been appropriated to a greater extent than the sea and the air; we want to know by what right man has appropriated wealth which he did not create, and which Nature gave to him gratuitously.
Say, then, did not solve the question which he asked. But if he had solved it, if the explanation which he has given us were as satisfactory as it is illogical, we should know no better than before who has a right to exact payment for the use of the soil, of this wealth which is not man’s handiwork. Who is entitled to the rent of the land? The producer of the land, without doubt. Who made the land? God. Then, proprietor, retire!
But the creator of the land does not sell it: he gives it; and, in giving it, he is no respecter of persons. Why, then, are some of his children regarded as legitimate, while others are treated as bastards? If the equality of shares was an original right, why is the inequality of conditions a posthumous right?
Say gives us to understand that if the air and the water were not of a fugitive nature, they would have been appropriated. Let me observe in passing that this is more than an hypothesis; it is a reality. Men have appropriated the air and the water, I will not say as often as they could, but as often as they have been allowed to.
The Portuguese, having discovered the route to India by the Cape of Good Hope, pretended to have the sole right to that route; and Grotius, consulted in regard to this matter by the Dutch who refused to recognize this right, wrote expressly for this occasion his treatise on the “Freedom of the Seas,” to prove that the sea is not liable to appropriation.
The right to hunt and fish used always to be confined to lords and proprietors; to-day it is leased by the government and communes to whoever can pay the license-fee and the rent. To regulate hunting and fishing is an excellent idea, but to make it a subject of sale is to create a monopoly of air and water.
What is a passport? A universal recommendation of the traveller’s person; a certificate of security for himself and his property. The treasury, whose nature it is to spoil the best things, has made the passport a means of espionage and a tax. Is not this a sale of the right to travel?
Finally, it is permissible neither to draw water from a spring situated in another’s grounds without the permission of the proprietor, because by the right of accession the spring belongs to the possessor of the soil, if there is no other claim; nor to pass a day on his premises without paying a tax; nor to look at a court, a garden, or an orchard, without the consent of the proprietor; nor to stroll in a park or an enclosure against the owner’s will: every one is allowed to shut himself up and to fence himself in. All these prohibitions are so many positive interdictions, not only of the land, but of the air and water. We who belong to the proletaire class: property excommunicates us! Terra, et aqua, et aere, et igne interdicti sumus.
Men could not appropriate the most fixed of all the elements without appropriating the three others; since, by French and Roman law, property in the surface carries with it property from zenith to nadir — Cujus est solum, ejus est usque ad cælum. Now, if the use of water, air, and fire excludes property, so does the use of the soil. This chain of reasoning seems to have been presented by M. Ch. Comte, in his “Treatise on Property,” chap. 5.
“If a man should be deprived of air for a few moments only, he would cease to exist, and a partial deprivation would cause him severe suffering; a partial or complete deprivation of food would produce like effects upon him though less suddenly; it would be the same, at least in certain climates! were he deprived of all clothing and shelter... . To sustain life, then, man needs continually to appropriate many different things. But these things do not exist in like proportions. Some, such as the light of the stars, the atmosphere of the earth, the water composing the seas and oceans, exist in such large quantities that men cannot perceive any sensible increase or diminution; each one can appropriate as much as his needs require without detracting from the enjoyment of others, without causing them the least harm. Things of this sort are, so to speak, the common property of the human race; the only duty imposed upon each individual in this regard is that of infringing not at all upon the rights of others.”
Let us complete the argument of M. Ch. Comte. A man who should be prohibited from walking in the highways, from resting in the fields, from taking shelter in caves, from lighting fires, from picking berries, from gathering herbs and boiling them in a bit of baked clay, — such a man could not live. Consequently the earth — like water, air, and light — is a primary object of necessity which each has a right to use freely, without infringing another’s right. Why, then, is the earth appropriated? M. Ch. Comte’s reply is a curious one. Say pretends that it is because it is not fugitive; M. Ch. Comte assures us that it is because it is not infinite. The land is limited in amount. Then, according to M. Ch. Comte, it ought to be appropriated. It would seem, on the contrary, that he ought to say, Then it ought not to be appropriated. Because, no matter how large a quantity of air or light any one appropriates, no one is damaged thereby; there always remains enough for all. With the soil, it is very different. Lay hold who will, or who can, of the sun’s rays, the passing breeze, or the sea’s billows; he has my consent, and my pardon for his bad intentions. But let any living man dare to change his right of territorial possession into the right of property, and I will declare war upon him, and wage it to the death!
M. Ch. Comte’s argument disproves his position.
“Among the things necessary to the preservation of life,” he says, “there are some which exist in such large quantities that they are inexhaustible; others which exist in lesser quantities, and can satisfy the wants of only a certain number of persons. The former are called common, the latter private.”
This reasoning is not strictly logical. Water, air, and light are common things, not because they are inexhaustible, but because they are indispensable; and so indispensable that for that very reason Nature has created them in quantities almost infinite, in order that their plentifulness might prevent their appropriation. Likewise the land is indispensable to our existence, — consequently a common thing, consequently insusceptible of appropriation; but land is much scarcer than the other elements, therefore its use must be regulated, not for the profit of a few, but in the interest and for the security of all. In a word, equality of rights is proved by equality of needs. Now, equality of rights, in the case of a commodity which is limited in amount, can be realized only by equality of possession. An agrarian law underlies M. Ch. Comte’s arguments.
From whatever point we view this question of property — provided we go to the bottom of it — we reach equality. I will not insist farther on the distinction between things which can, and things which cannot, be appropriated. On this point, economists and legists talk worse than nonsense. The Civil Code, after having defined property, says nothing about susceptibility of appropriation; and if it speaks of things which are in the market, it always does so without enumerating or describing them. However, light is not wanting. There are some few maxims such as these: Ad reges potestas omnium pertinet, ad singulos proprietas; Omnia rex imperio possidet, singula dominio. Social sovereignty opposed to private property! — might not that be called a prophecy of equality, a republican oracle? Examples crowd upon us: once the possessions of the church, the estates of the crown, the fiefs of the nobility were inalienable and imprescriptible. If, instead of abolishing this privilege, the Constituent had extended it to every individual; if it had declared that the right of labor, like liberty, can never be forfeited, — at that moment the revolution would have been consummated, and we could now devote ourselves to improvement in other directions.
In the extract from Say, quoted above, it is not clear whether the author means to base the right of property on the stationary character of the soil, or on the consent which he thinks all men have granted to this appropriation. His language is such that it may mean either of these things, or both at once; which entitles us to assume that the author intended to say,
“The right of property resulting originally from the exercise of the will, the stability of the soil permitted it to be applied to the land, and universal consent has since sanctioned this application.”
However that may be, can men legitimate property by mutual consent? I say, no. Such a contract, though drafted by Grotius, Montesquieu, and J. J. Rousseau, though signed by the whole human race, would be null in the eyes of justice, and an act to enforce it would be illegal. Man can no more give up labor than liberty. Now, to recognize the right of territorial property is to give up labor, since it is to relinquish the means of labor; it is to traffic in a natural right, and divest ourselves of manhood.
But I wish that this consent, of which so much is made, had been given, either tacitly or formally. What would have been the result? Evidently, the surrenders would have been reciprocal; no right would have been abandoned without the receipt of an equivalent in exchange. We thus come back to equality again, — the sine qua non of appropriation; so that, after having justified property by universal consent, that is, by equality, we are obliged to justify the inequality of conditions by property. Never shall we extricate ourselves from this dilemma. Indeed, if, in the terms of the social compact, property has equality for its condition, at the moment when equality ceases to exist, the compact is broken and all property becomes usurpation. We gain nothing, then, by this pretended consent of mankind.
The right of property was the origin of evil on the earth, the first link in the long chain of crimes and misfortunes which the human race has endured since its birth. The delusion of prescription is the fatal charm thrown over the intellect, the death sentence breathed into the conscience, to arrest man’s progress towards truth, and bolster up the worship of error.
The Code defines prescription thus: “The process of gaining and losing through the lapse of time.” In applying this definition to ideas and beliefs, we may use the word prescription to denote the everlasting prejudice in favor of old superstitions, whatever be their object; the opposition, often furious and bloody, with which new light has always been received, and which makes the sage a martyr. Not a principle, not a discovery, not a generous thought but has met, at its entrance into the world, with a formidable barrier of preconceived opinions, seeming like a conspiracy of all old prejudices. Prescriptions against reason, prescriptions against facts, prescriptions against every truth hitherto unknown, — that is the sum and substance of the statu quo philosophy, the watchword of conservatives throughout the centuries.
When the evangelical reform was broached to the world, there was prescription in favor of violence, debauchery, and selfishness; when Galileo, Descartes, Pascal, and their disciples reconstructed philosophy and the sciences, there was prescription in favor of the Aristotelian philosophy; when our fathers of ‘89 demanded liberty and equality, there was prescription in favor of tyranny and privilege. “There always have been proprietors and there always will be:” it is with this profound utterance, the final effort of selfishness dying in its last ditch, that the friends of social inequality hope to repel the attacks of their adversaries; thinking undoubtedly that ideas, like property, can be lost by prescription.
Enlightened to-day by the triumphal march of science, taught by the most glorious successes to question our own opinions, we receive with favor and applause the observer of Nature, who, by a thousand experiments based upon the most profound analysis, pursues a new principle, a law hitherto undiscovered. We take care to repel no idea, no fact, under the pretext that abler men than ourselves lived in former days, who did not notice the same phenomena, nor grasp the same analogies. Why do we not preserve a like attitude towards political and philosophical questions? Why this ridiculous mania for affirming that every thing has been said, which means that we know all about mental and moral science? Why is the proverb, There is nothing new under the sun, applied exclusively to metaphysical investigations?
Because we still study philosophy with the imagination, instead of by observation and method; because fancy and will are universally regarded as judges, in the place of arguments and facts, — it has been impossible to this day to distinguish the charlatan from the philosopher, the savant from the impostor. Since the days of Solomon and Pythagoras, imagination has been exhausted in guessing out social and psychological laws; all systems have been proposed. Looked at in this light, it is probably true that every thing has been said; but it is no less true that every thing remains to be proved. In politics (to take only this branch of philosophy), in politics every one is governed in his choice of party by his passion and his interests; the mind is submitted to the impositions of the will, — there is no knowledge, there is not even a shadow of certainty. In this way, general ignorance produces general tyranny; and while liberty of thought is written in the charter, slavery of thought, under the name of majority rule, is decreed by the charter.
In order to confine myself to the civil prescription of which the Code speaks, I shall refrain from beginning a discussion upon this worn-out objection brought forward by proprietors; it would be too tiresome and declamatory. Everybody knows that there are rights which cannot be prescribed; and, as for those things which can be gained through the lapse of time, no one is ignorant of the fact that prescription requires certain conditions, the omission of one of which renders it null. If it is true, for example, that the proprietor’s possession has been civil, public, peaceable, and uninterrupted, it is none the less true that it is not based on a just title; since the only titles which it can show — occupation and labor — prove as much for the proletaire who demands, as for the proprietor who defends. Further, this possession is dishonest, since it is founded on a violation of right, which prevents prescription, according to the saying of St. Paul — Nunquam in usucapionibus juris error possessori prodest. The violation of right lies either in the fact that the holder possesses as proprietor, while he should possess only as usufructuary; or in the fact that he has purchased a thing which no one had a right to transfer or sell.
Another reason why prescription cannot be adduced in favor of property (a reason borrowed from jurisprudence) is that the right to possess real estate is a part of a universal right which has never been totally destroyed even at the most critical periods; and the proletaire, in order to regain the power to exercise it fully, has only to prove that he has always exercised it in part. He, for example, who has the universal right to possess, give, exchange, loan, let, sell, transform, or destroy a thing, preserves the integrity of this right by the sole act of loaning, though he has never shown his authority in any other manner. Likewise we shall see that equality of possessions, equality of rights, liberty, will, personality, are so many identical expressions of one and the same idea, — the right of preservation and development; in a word, the right of life, against which there can be no prescription until the human race has vanished from the face of the earth.
Finally, as to the time required for prescription, it would be superfluous to show that the right of property in general cannot be acquired by simple possession for ten, twenty, a hundred, a thousand, or one hundred thousand years; and that, so long as there exists a human head capable of understanding and combating the right of property, this right will never be prescribed. For principles of jurisprudence and axioms of reason are different from accidental and contingent facts. One man’s possession can prescribe against another man’s possession; but just as the possessor cannot prescribe against himself, so reason has always the faculty of change and reformation. Past error is not binding on the future. Reason is always the same eternal force. The institution of property, the work of ignorant reason, may be abrogated by a more enlightened reason. Consequently, property cannot be established by prescription. This is so certain and so true, that on it rests the maxim that in the matter of prescription a violation of right goes for nothing.
But I should be recreant to my method, and the reader would have the right to accuse me of charlatanism and bad faith, if I had nothing further to advance concerning prescription. I showed, in the first place, that appropriation of land is illegal; and that, supposing it to be legal, it must be accompanied by equality of property. I have shown, in the second place, that universal consent proves nothing in favor of property; and that, if it proves any thing, it proves equality of property. I have yet to show that prescription, if admissible at all, presupposes equality of property.
This demonstration will be neither long nor difficult. I need only to call attention to the reasons why prescription was introduced.
“Prescription,” says Dunod, “seems repugnant to natural equity, which permits no one either to deprive another of his possessions without his knowledge and consent, or to enrich himself at another’s expense. But as it might often happen, in the absence of prescription, that one who had honestly earned would be ousted after long possession; and even that he who had received a thing from its rightful owner, or who had been legitimately relieved from all obligations, would, on losing his title, be liable to be dispossessed or subjected again, — the public welfare demanded that a term should be fixed, after the expiration of which no one should be allowed to disturb actual possessors, or reassert rights too long neglected... . The civil law, in regulating prescription, has aimed, then, only to perfect natural law, and to supplement the law of nations; and as it is founded on the public good, which should always be considered before individual welfare, — bono publico usucapio introducta est, — it should be regarded with favor, provided the conditions required by the law are fulfilled.”
Toullier, in his “Civil Law,” says:
“In order that the question of proprietorship may not remain too long unsettled, and thereby injure the public welfare, disturbing the peace of families and the stability of social transactions, the law has fixed a time when all claims shall be cancelled, and possession shall regain its ancient prerogative through its transformation into property.”
Cassiodorus said of property, that it was the only safe harbor in which to seek shelter from the tempests of chicanery and the gales of avarice — Hic unus inter humanas pro cellas portus, quem si homines fervida voluntate praeterierint; in undosis semper jurgiis errabunt.
Thus, in the opinion of the authors, prescription is a means of preserving public order; a restoration in certain cases of the original mode of acquiring property; a fiction of the civil law which derives all its force from the necessity of settling differences which otherwise would never end. For, as Grotius says, time has no power to produce effects; all things happen in time, but nothing is done by time. Prescription, or the right of acquisition through the lapse of time, is, therefore, a fiction of the law, conventionally adopted.
But all property necessarily originated in prescription, or, as the Latins say, in usucapion; that is, in continued possession. I ask, then, in the first place, how possession can become property by the lapse of time? Continue possession as long as you wish, continue it for years and for centuries, you never can give duration — which of itself creates nothing, changes nothing, modifies nothing — the power to change the usufructuary into a proprietor. Let the civil law secure against chance-comers the honest possessor who has held his position for many years, — that only confirms a right already respected; and prescription, applied in this way, simply means that possession which has continued for twenty, thirty, or a hundred years shall be retained by the occupant. But when the law declares that the lapse of time changes possessor into proprietor, it supposes that a right can be created without a producing cause; it unwarrantably alters the character of the subject; it legislates on a matter not open to legislation; it exceeds its own powers. Public order and private security ask only that possession shall be protected. Why has the law created property? Prescription was simply security for the future; why has the law made it a matter of privilege?
Thus the origin of prescription is identical with that of property itself; and since the latter can legitimate itself only when accompanied by equality, prescription is but another of the thousand forms which the necessity of maintaining this precious equality has taken. And this is no vain induction, no far-fetched inference. The proof is written in all the codes.
And, indeed, if all nations, through their instinct of justice and their conservative nature, have recognized the utility and the necessity of prescription; and if their design has been to guard thereby the interests of the possessor, — could they not do something for the absent citizen, separated from his family and his country by commerce, war, or captivity, and in no position to exercise his right of possession? No. Also, at the same time that prescription was introduced into the laws, it was admitted that property is preserved by intent alone, — nudo animo. Now, if property is preserved by intent alone, if it can be lost only by the action of the proprietor, what can be the use of prescription? How does the law dare to presume that the proprietor, who preserves by intent alone, intended to abandon that which he has allowed to be prescribed? What lapse of time can warrant such a conjecture; and by what right does the law punish the absence of the proprietor by depriving him of his goods? What then! we found but a moment since that prescription and property were identical; and now we find that they are mutually destructive!
Grotius, who perceived this difficulty, replied so singularly that his words deserve to be quoted: Bene sperandum de hominibus, ac propterea non putandum eos hoc esse animo ut, rei caducae causa, hominem alterum velint in perpetuo peccato versari, quo d evitari saepe non poterit sine tali derelictione. “Where is the man,” he says, “with so unchristian a soul that, for a trifle, he would perpetuate the trespass of a possessor, which would inevitably be the result if he did not consent to abandon his right?” By the Eternal! I am that man. Though a million proprietors should burn for it in hell, I lay the blame on them for depriving me of my portion of this world’s goods. To this powerful consideration Grotius rejoins, that it is better to abandon a disputed right than to go to law, disturb the peace of nations, and stir up the flames of civil war. I accept, if you wish it, this argument, provided you indemnify me. But if this indemnity is refused me, what do I, a proletaire, care for the tranquillity and security of the rich? I care as little for public order as for the proprietor’s safety. I ask to live a laborer; otherwise I will die a warrior.
Whichever way we turn, we shall come to the conclusion that prescription is a contradiction of property; or rather that prescription and property are two forms of the same principle, but two forms which serve to correct each other; and ancient and modern jurisprudence did not make the least of its blunders in pretending to reconcile them. Indeed, if we see in the institution of property only a desire to secure to each individual his share of the soil and his right to labor; in the distinction between naked property and possession only an asylum for absentees, orphans, and all who do not know, or cannot maintain, their rights; in prescription only a means, either of defence against unjust pretensions and encroachments, or of settlement of the differences caused by the removal of possessors, — we shall recognize in these various forms of human justice the spontaneous efforts of the mind to come to the aid of the social instinct; we shall see in this protection of all rights the sentiment of equality, a constant levelling tendency. And, looking deeper, we shall find in the very exaggeration of these principles the confirmation of our doctrine; because, if equality of conditions and universal association are not soon realized, it will be owing to the obstacle thrown for the time in the way of the common sense of the people by the stupidity of legislators and judges; and also to the fact that, while society in its original state was illuminated with a flash of truth, the early speculations of its leaders could bring forth nothing but darkness.
After the first covenants, after the first draughts of laws and constitutions, which were the expression of man’s primary needs, the legislator’s duty was to reform the errors of legislation; to complete that which was defective; to harmonize, by superior definitions, those things which seemed to conflict. Instead of that, they halted at the literal meaning of the laws, content to play the subordinate part of commentators and scholiasts. Taking the inspirations of the human mind, at that time necessarily weak and faulty, for axioms of eternal and unquestionable truth, — influenced by public opinion, enslaved by the popular religion, — they have invariably started with the principle (following in this respect the example of the theologians) that that is infallibly true which has been admitted by all persons, in all places, and at all times — quod ab omnibus, quod ubique, quod semper; as if a general but spontaneous opinion was any thing more than an indication of the truth. Let us not be deceived: the opinion of all nations may serve to authenticate the perception of a fact, the vague sentiment of a law; it can teach us nothing about either fact or law. The consent of mankind is an indication of Nature; not, as Cicero says, a law of Nature. Under the indication is hidden the truth, which faith can believe, but only thought can know. Such has been the constant progress of the human mind in regard to physical phenomena and the creations of genius: how can it be otherwise with the facts of conscience and the rules of human conduct?
We shall show by the maxims of political economy and law, that is, by the authorities recognized by property, —
1. That labor has no inherent power to appropriate natural wealth.
2. That, if we admit that labor has this power, we are led directly to equality of property, — whatever the kind of labor, however scarce the product, or unequal the ability of the laborers.
3. That, in the order of justice, labor destroys property.
Following the example of our opponents, and that we may leave no obstacles in the path, let us examine the question in the strongest possible light.
M. Ch. Comte says, in his “Treatise on Property:” —
“France, considered as a nation, has a territory which is her own.”
France, as an individuality, possesses a territory which she cultivates; it is not her property. Nations are related to each other as individuals are: they are commoners and workers; it is an abuse of language to call them proprietors. The right of use and abuse belongs no more to nations than to men; and the time will come when a war waged for the purpose of checking a nation in its abuse of the soil will be regarded as a holy war.
Thus, M. Ch. Comte — who undertakes to explain how property comes into existence, and who starts with the supposition that a nation is a proprietor — falls into that error known as begging the question; a mistake which vitiates his whole argument.
If the reader thinks it is pushing logic too far to question a nation’s right of property in the territory which it possesses, I will simply remind him of the fact that at all ages the results of the fictitious right of national property have been pretensions to suzerainty, tributes, monarchical privileges, statute-labor, quotas of men and money, supplies of merchandise, &c.; ending finally in refusals to pay taxes, insurrections, wars, and depopulations.
“Scattered through this territory are extended tracts of land, which have not been converted into individual property. These lands, which consist mainly of forests, belong to the whole population, and the government, which receives the revenues, uses or ought to use them in the interest of all.”
Ought to use is well said: a lie is avoided thereby.
"Let them be offered for sale. ...”
Why offered for sale? Who has a right to sell them? Even were the nation proprietor, can the generation of to-day dispossess the generation of to-morrow? The nation, in its function of usufructuary, possesses them; the government rules, superintends, and protects them. If it also granted lands, it could grant only their use; it has no right to sell them or transfer them in any way whatever. Not being a proprietor, how can it transmit property?
“Suppose some industrious man buys a portion, a large swamp for example. This would be no usurpation, since the public would receive the exact value through the hands of the government, and would be as rich after the sale as before.”
How ridiculous! What! because a prodigal, imprudent, incompetent official sells the State’s possessions, while I, a ward of the State, — I who have neither an advisory nor a deliberative voice in the State councils, — while I am allowed to make no opposition to the sale, this sale is right and legal! The guardians of the nation waste its substance, and it has no redress! I have received, you tell me, through the hands of the government my share of the proceeds of the sale: but, in the first place, I did not wish to sell; and, had I wished to, I could not have sold. I had not the right. And then I do not see that I am benefited by the sale. My guardians have dressed up some soldiers, repaired an old fortress, erected in their pride some costly but worthless monument, — then they have exploded some fireworks and set up a greased pole! What does all that amount to in comparison with my loss?
The purchaser draws boundaries, fences himself in, and says, “This is mine; each one by himself, each one for himself.” Here, then, is a piece of land upon which, henceforth, no one has a right to step, save the proprietor and his friends; which can benefit nobody, save the proprietor and his servants. Let these sales multiply, and soon the people — who have been neither able nor willing to sell, and who have received none of the proceeds of the sale — will have nowhere to rest, no place of shelter, no ground to till. They will die of hunger at the proprietor’s door, on the edge of that property which was their birthright; and the proprietor, watching them die, will exclaim, “So perish idlers and vagrants!”
To reconcile us to the proprietor’s usurpation, M. Ch. Comte assumes the lands to be of little value at the time of sale.
“The importance of these usurpations should not be exaggerated: they should be measured by the number of men which the occupied land would support, and by the means which it would furnish them. It is evident, for instance, that if a piece of land which is worth to-day one thousand francs was worth only five centimes when it was usurped, we really lose only the value of five centimes. A square league of earth would be hardly sufficient to support a savage in distress; to-day it supplies one thousand persons with the means of existence. Nine hundred and ninety-nine parts of this land is the legitimate property of the possessors; only one-thousandth of the value has been usurped.”
A peasant admitted one day, at confession, that he had destroyed a document which declared him a debtor to the amount of three hundred francs. Said the father confessor, “You must return these three hundred francs.” “No,” replied the peasant, “I will return a penny to pay for the paper.”
M. Ch. Comte’s logic resembles this peasant’s honesty. The soil has not only an integrant and actual value, it has also a potential value, — a value of the future, — which depends on our ability to make it valuable, and to employ it in our work. Destroy a bill of exchange, a promissory note, an annuity deed, — as a paper you destroy almost no value at all; but with this paper you destroy your title, and, in losing your title, you deprive yourself of your goods. Destroy the land, or, what is the same thing, sell it, — you not only transfer one, two, or several crops, but you annihilate all the products that you could derive from it; you and your children and your children’s children.
When M. Ch. Comte, the apostle of property and the eulogist of labor, supposes an alienation of the soil on the part of the government, we must not think that he does so without reason and for no purpose; it is a necessary part of his position. As he rejected the theory of occupancy, and as he knew, moreover, that labor could not constitute the right in the absence of a previous permission to occupy, he was obliged to connect this permission with the authority of the government, which means that property is based upon the sovereignty of the people; in other words, upon universal consent. This theory we have already considered.
To say that property is the daughter of labor, and then to give labor material on which to exercise itself, is, if I am not mistaken, to reason in a circle. Contradictions will result from it.
“A piece of land of a certain size produces food enough to supply a man for one day. If the possessor, through his labor, discovers some method of making it produce enough for two days, he doubles its value. This new value is his work, his creation: it is taken from nobody; it is his property.”
I maintain that the possessor is paid for his trouble and industry in his doubled crop, but that he acquires no right to the land. “Let the laborer have the fruits of his labor.” Very good; but I do not understand that property in products carries with it property in raw material. Does the skill of the fisherman, who on the same coast can catch more fish than his fellows, make him proprietor of the fishing-grounds? Can the expertness of a hunter ever be regarded as a property-title to a game-forest? The analogy is perfect, — the industrious cultivator finds the reward of his industry in the abundancy and superiority of his crop. If he has made improvements in the soil, he has the possessor’s right of preference. Never, under any circumstances, can he be allowed to claim a property-title to the soil which he cultivates, on the ground of his skill as a cultivator.
To change possession into property, something is needed besides labor, without which a man would cease to be proprietor as soon as he ceased to be a laborer. Now, the law bases property upon immemorial, unquestionable possession; that is, prescription. Labor is only the sensible sign, the physical act, by which occupation is manifested. If, then, the cultivator remains proprietor after he has ceased to labor and produce; if his possession, first conceded, then tolerated, finally becomes inalienable, — it happens by permission of the civil law, and by virtue of the principle of occupancy. So true is this, that there is not a bill of sale, not a farm lease, not an annuity, but implies it. I will quote only one example.
How do we measure the value of land? By its product. If a piece of land yields one thousand francs, we say that at five per cent. it is worth twenty thousand francs; at four per cent. twenty-five thousand francs, &c.; which means, in other words, that in twenty or twenty-five years’ time the purchaser would recover in full the amount originally paid for the land. If, then, after a certain length of time, the price of a piece of land has been wholly recovered, why does the purchaser continue to be proprietor? Because of the right of occupancy, in the absence of which every sale would be a redemption.
The theory of appropriation by labor is, then, a contradiction of the Code; and when the partisans of this theory pretend to explain the laws thereby, they contradict themselves.
“If men succeed in fertilizing land hitherto unproductive, or even death-producing, like certain swamps, they create thereby property in all its completeness.”
What good does it do to magnify an expression, and play with equivocations, as if we expected to change the reality thereby? They create property in all its completeness. You mean that they create a productive capacity which formerly did not exist; but this capacity cannot be created without material to support it. The substance of the soil remains the same; only its qualities and modifications are changed. Man has created every thing — every thing save the material itself. Now, I maintain that this material he can only possess and use, on condition of permanent labor, — granting, for the time being, his right of property in things which he has produced.
This, then, is the first point settled: property in product, if we grant so much, does not carry with it property in the means of production; that seems to me to need no further demonstration. There is no difference between the soldier who possesses his arms, the mason who possesses the materials committed to his care, the fisherman who possesses the water, the hunter who possesses the fields and forests, and the cultivator who possesses the lands: all, if you say so, are proprietors of their products — not one is proprietor of the means of production. The right to product is exclusive — jus in re; the right to means is common — jus ad rem.
Admit, however, that labor gives a right of property in material. Why is not this principle universal? Why is the benefit of this pretended law confined to a few and denied to the mass of laborers? A philosopher, arguing that all animals sprang up formerly out of the earth warmed by the rays of the sun, almost like mushrooms, on being asked why the earth no longer yielded crops of that nature, replied: “Because it is old, and has lost its fertility.” Has labor, once so fecund, likewise become sterile? Why does the tenant no longer acquire through his labor the land which was formerly acquired by the labor of the proprietor?
“Because,” they say, “it is already appropriated.” That is no answer. A farm yields fifty bushels per hectare; the skill and labor of the tenant double this product: the increase is created by the tenant. Suppose the owner, in a spirit of moderation rarely met with, does not go to the extent of absorbing this product by raising the rent, but allows the cultivator to enjoy the results of his labor; even then justice is not satisfied. The tenant, by improving the land, has imparted a new value to the property; he, therefore, has a right to a part of the property. If the farm was originally worth one hundred thousand francs, and if by the labor of the tenant its value has risen to one hundred and fifty thousand francs, the tenant, who produced this extra value, is the legitimate proprietor of one-third of the farm. M. Ch. Comte could not have pronounced this doctrine false, for it was he who said: —
“Men who increase the fertility of the earth are no less useful to their fellow-men, than if they should create new land.”
Why, then, is not this rule applicable to the man who improves the land, as well as to him who clears it? The labor of the former makes the land worth one; that of the latter makes it worth two: both create equal values. Why not accord to both equal property? I defy any one to refute this argument, without again falling back on the right of first occupancy.
“But,” it will be said, “even if your wish should be granted, property would not be distributed much more evenly than now. Land does not go on increasing in value for ever; after two or three seasons it attains its maximum fertility. That which is added by the agricultural art results rather from the progress of science and the diffusion of knowledge, than from the skill of the cultivator. Consequently, the addition of a few laborers to the mass of proprietors would be no argument against property.”
This discussion would, indeed, prove a well-nigh useless one, if our labors culminated in simply extending land-privilege and industrial monopoly; in emancipating only a few hundred laborers out of the millions of proletaires. But this also is a misconception of our real thought, and does but prove the general lack of intelligence and logic.
If the laborer, who adds to the value of a thing, has a right of property in it, he who maintains this value acquires the same right. For what is maintenance? It is incessant addition, — continuous creation. What is it to cultivate? It is to give the soil its value every year; it is, by annually renewed creation, to prevent the diminution or destruction of the value of a piece of land. Admitting, then, that property is rational and legitimate, — admitting that rent is equitable and just, — I say that he who cultivates acquires property by as good a title as he who clears, or he who improves; and that every time a tenant pays his rent, he obtains a fraction of property in the land entrusted to his care, the denominator of which is equal to the proportion of rent paid. Unless you admit this, you fall into absolutism and tyranny; you recognize class privileges; you sanction slavery.
Whoever labors becomes a proprietor — this is an inevitable deduction from the acknowledged principles of political economy and jurisprudence. And when I say proprietor, I do not mean simply (as do our hypocritical economists) proprietor of his allowance, his salary, his wages, — I mean proprietor of the value which he creates, and by which the master alone profits.
As all this relates to the theory of wages and of the distribution of products, — and as this matter never has been even partially cleared up, — I ask permission to insist on it: this discussion will not be useless to the work in hand. Many persons talk of admitting working-people to a share in the products and profits; but in their minds this participation is pure benevolence: they have never shown — perhaps never suspected — that it was a natural, necessary right, inherent in labor, and inseparable from the function of producer, even in the lowest forms of his work.
This is my proposition: The laborer retains, even after he has received his wages, a natural right of property in the thing which he has produced.
I again quote M. Ch. Comte: —
“Some laborers are employed in draining marshes, in cutting down trees and brushwood, — in a word, in cleaning up the soil. They increase the value, they make the amount of property larger; they are paid for the value which they add in the form of food and daily wages: it then becomes the property of the capitalist.”
The price is not sufficient: the labor of the workers has created a value; now this value is their property. But they have neither sold nor exchanged it; and you, capitalist, you have not earned it. That you should have a partial right to the whole, in return for the materials that you have furnished and the provisions that you have supplied, is perfectly just. You contributed to the production, you ought to share in the enjoyment. But your right does not annihilate that of the laborers, who, in spite of you, have been your colleagues in the work of production. Why do you talk of wages? The money with which you pay the wages of the laborers remunerates them for only a few years of the perpetual possession which they have abandoned to you. Wages is the cost of the daily maintenance and refreshment of the laborer. You are wrong in calling it the price of a sale. The workingman has sold nothing; he knows neither his right, nor the extent of the concession which he has made to you, nor the meaning of the contract which you pretend to have made with him. On his side, utter ignorance; on yours, error and surprise, not to say deceit and fraud.
Let us make this clearer by another and more striking example.
No one is ignorant of the difficulties that are met with in the conversion of untilled land into arable and productive land. These difficulties are so great, that usually an isolated man would perish before he could put the soil in a condition to yield him even the most meagre living. To that end are needed the united and combined efforts of society, and all the resources of industry. M. Ch. Comte quotes on this subject numerous and well-authenticated facts, little thinking that he is amassing testimony against his own system.
Let us suppose that a colony of twenty or thirty families establishes itself in a wild district, covered with underbrush and forests; and from which, by agreement, the natives consent to withdraw. Each one of these families possesses a moderate but sufficient amount of capital, of such a nature as a colonist would be apt to choose, — animals, seeds, tools, and a little money and food. The land having been divided, each one settles himself as comfortably as possible, and begins to clear away the portion allotted to him. But after a few weeks of fatigue, such as they never before have known, of inconceivable suffering, of ruinous and almost useless labor, our colonists begin to complain of their trade; their condition seems hard to them; they curse their sad existence.
Suddenly, one of the shrewdest among them kills a pig, cures a part of the meat; and, resolved to sacrifice the rest of his provisions, goes to find his companions in misery.
“Friends,” he begins in a very benevolent tone, “how much trouble it costs you to do a little work and live uncomfortably! A fortnight of labor has reduced you to your last extremity! ... Let us make an arrangement by which you shall all profit. I offer you provisions and wine: you shall get so much every day; we will work together, and, zounds! my friends, we will be happy and contented!”
Would it be possible for empty stomachs to resist such an invitation? The hungriest of them follow the treacherous tempter. They go to work; the charm of society, emulation, joy, and mutual assistance double their strength; the work can be seen to advance. Singing and laughing, they subdue Nature. In a short time, the soil is thoroughly changed; the mellowed earth waits only for the seed. That done, the proprietor pays his laborers, who, on going away, return him their thanks, and grieve that the happy days which they have spent with him are over.
Others follow this example, always with the same success.
Then, these installed, the rest disperse, — each one returns to his grubbing. But, while grubbing, it is necessary to live. While they have been clearing away for their neighbor, they have done no clearing for themselves. One year’s seed-time and harvest is already gone. They had calculated that in lending their labor they could not but gain, since they would save their own provisions; and, while living better, would get still more money. False calculation! they have created for another the means wherewith to produce, and have created nothing for themselves. The difficulties of clearing remain the same; their clothing wears out, their provisions give out; soon their purse becomes empty for the profit of the individual for whom they have worked, and who alone can furnish the provisions which they need, since he alone is in a position to produce them. Then, when the poor grubber has exhausted his resources, the man with the provisions (like the wolf in the fable, who scents his victim from afar) again comes forward. One he offers to employ again by the day; from another he offers to buy at a favorable price a piece of his bad land, which is not, and never can be, of any use to him: that is, he uses the labor of one man to cultivate the field of another for his own benefit. So that at the end of twenty years, of thirty individuals originally equal in point of wealth, five or six have become proprietors of the whole district, while the rest have been philanthropically dispossessed!
In this century of bourgeoisie morality, in which I have had the honor to be born, the moral sense is so debased that I should not be at all surprised if I were asked, by many a worthy proprietor, what I see in this that is unjust and illegitimate? Debased creature! galvanized corpse! how can I expect to convince you, if you cannot tell robbery when I show it to you? A man, by soft and insinuating words, discovers the secret of taxing others that he may establish himself; then, once enriched by their united efforts, he refuses, on the very conditions which he himself dictated, to advance the well-being of those who made his fortune for him: and you ask how such conduct is fraudulent! Under the pretext that he has paid his laborers, that he owes them nothing more, that he has nothing to gain by putting himself at the service of others, while his own occupations claim his attention, — he refuses, I say, to aid others in getting a foothold, as he was aided in getting his own; and when, in the impotence of their isolation, these poor laborers are compelled to sell their birthright, he — this ungrateful proprietor, this knavish upstart — stands ready to put the finishing touch to their deprivation and their ruin. And you think that just? Take care! I read in your startled countenance the reproach of a guilty conscience, much more clearly than the innocent astonishment of involuntary ignorance.
“The capitalist,” they say, “has paid the laborers their daily wages.” To be accurate, it must be said that the capitalist has paid as many times one day’s wage as he has employed laborers each day, — which is not at all the same thing. For he has paid nothing for that immense power which results from the union and harmony of laborers, and the convergence and simultaneousness of their efforts. Two hundred grenadiers stood the obelisk of Luxor upon its base in a few hours; do you suppose that one man could have accomplished the same task in two hundred days? Nevertheless, on the books of the capitalist, the amount of wages paid would have been the same. Well, a desert to prepare for cultivation, a house to build, a factory to run, — all these are obelisks to erect, mountains to move. The smallest fortune, the most insignificant establishment, the setting in motion of the lowest industry, demand the concurrence of so many different kinds of labor and skill, that one man could not possibly execute the whole of them. It is astonishing that the economists never have called attention to this fact. Strike a balance, then, between the capitalist’s receipts and his payments.
The laborer needs a salary which will enable him to live while he works; for unless he consumes, he cannot produce. Whoever employs a man owes him maintenance and support, or wages enough to procure the same. That is the first thing to be done in all production. I admit, for the moment, that in this respect the capitalist has discharged his duty.
It is necessary that the laborer should find in his production, in addition to his present support, a guarantee of his future support; otherwise the source of production would dry up, and his productive capacity would become exhausted: in other words, the labor accomplished must give birth perpetually to new labor — such is the universal law of reproduction. In this way, the proprietor of a farm finds: 1. In his crops, means, not only of supporting himself and his family, but of maintaining and improving his capital, of feeding his live-stock — in a word, means of new labor and continual reproduction; 2. In his ownership of a productive agency, a permanent basis of cultivation and labor.
But he who lends his services, — what is his basis of cultivation? The proprietor’s presumed need of him, and the unwarranted supposition that he wishes to employ him. Just as the commoner once held his land by the munificence and condescension of the lord, so to-day the working-man holds his labor by the condescension and necessities of the master and proprietor: that is what is called possession by a precarious title. But this precarious condition is an injustice, for it implies an inequality in the bargain. The laborer’s wages exceed but little his running expenses, and do not assure him wages for to-morrow; while the capitalist finds in the instrument produced by the laborer a pledge of independence and security for the future.
Now, this reproductive leaven — this eternal germ of life, this preparation of the land and manufacture of implements for production — constitutes the debt of the capitalist to the producer, which he never pays; and it is this fraudulent denial which causes the poverty of the laborer, the luxury of idleness, and the inequality of conditions. This it is, above all other things, which has been so fitly named the exploitation of man by man.
One of three things must be done. Either the laborer must be given a portion of the product in addition to his wages; or the employer must render the laborer an equivalent in productive service; or else he must pledge himself to employ him for ever. Division of the product, reciprocity of service, or guarantee of perpetual labor, — from the adoption of one of these courses the capitalist cannot escape. But it is evident that he cannot satisfy the second and third of these conditions — he can neither put himself at the service of the thousands of working-men, who, directly or indirectly, have aided him in establishing himself, nor employ them all for ever. He has no other course left him, then, but a division of the property. But if the property is divided, all conditions will be equal — there will be no more large capitalists or large proprietors.
Consequently, when M. Ch. Comte — following out his hypothesis — shows us his capitalist acquiring one after another the products of his employees’ labor, he sinks deeper and deeper into the mire; and, as his argument does not change, our reply of course remains the same.
“Other laborers are employed in building: some quarry the stone, others transport it, others cut it, and still others put it in place. Each of them adds a certain value to the material which passes through his hands; and this value, the product of his labor, is his property. He sells it, as fast as he creates it, to the proprietor of the building, who pays him for it in food and wages.”
Divide et impera — divide, and you shall command; divide, and you shall grow rich; divide, and you shall deceive men, you shall daze their minds, you shall mock at justice! Separate laborers from each other, perhaps each one’s daily wage exceeds the value of each individual’s product; but that is not the question under consideration. A force of one thousand men working twenty days has been paid the same wages that one would be paid for working fifty-five years; but this force of one thousand has done in twenty days what a single man could not have accomplished, though he had labored for a million centuries. Is the exchange an equitable one? Once more, no; when you have paid all the individual forces, the collective force still remains to be paid. Consequently, there remains always a right of collective property which you have not acquired, and which you enjoy unjustly.
Admit that twenty days’ wages suffice to feed, lodge, and clothe this multitude for twenty days: thrown out of employment at the end of that time, what will become of them, if, as fast as they create, they abandon their creations to the proprietors who will soon discharge them? While the proprietor, firm in his position (thanks to the aid of all the laborers), dwells in security, and fears no lack of labor or bread, the laborer’s only dependence is upon the benevolence of this same proprietor, to whom he has sold and surrendered his liberty. If, then, the proprietor, shielding himself behind his comfort and his rights, refuses to employ the laborer, how can the laborer live? He has ploughed an excellent field, and cannot sow it; he has built an elegant and commodious house, and cannot live in it; he has produced all, and can enjoy nothing
Labor leads us to equality. Every step that we take brings us nearer to it; and if laborers had equal strength, diligence, and industry, clearly their fortunes would be equal also. Indeed, if, as is pretended, — and as we have admitted, — the laborer is proprietor of the value which he creates, it follows: —
1. That the laborer acquires at the expense of the idle proprietor;
2. That all production being necessarily collective, the laborer is entitled to a share of the products and profits commensurate with his labor;
3. That all accumulated capital being social property, no one can be its exclusive proprietor.
These inferences are unavoidable; these alone would suffice to revolutionize our whole economical system, and change our institutions and our laws. Why do the very persons, who laid down this principle, now refuse to be guided by it? Why do the Says, the Comtes, the Hennequins, and others — after having said that property is born of labor — seek to fix it by occupation and prescription?
But let us leave these sophists to their contradictions and blindness. The good sense of the people will do justice to their equivocations. Let us make haste to enlighten it, and show it the true path. Equality approaches; already between it and us but a short distance intervenes: to-morrow even this distance will have been traversed.
When the St. Simonians, the Fourierists, and, in general, all who in our day are connected with social economy and reform, inscribe upon their banner, —
“To each according to his capacity, to each capacity according to its results” (St. Simon);
“To each according to his capital, his labor, and his skill” (Fourier),
- they mean — although they do not say so in so many words — that the products of Nature procured by labor and industry are a reward, a palm, a crown offered to all kinds of preeminence and superiority. They regard the land as an immense arena in which prizes are contended for, — no longer, it is true, with lances and swords, by force and by treachery; but by acquired wealth, by knowledge, talent, and by virtue itself. In a word, they mean — and everybody agrees with them — that the greatest capacity is entitled to the greatest reward; and, to use the mercantile phraseology, — which has, at least, the merit of being straightforward, — that salaries must be governed by capacity and its results.
The disciples of these two self-styled reformers cannot deny that such is their thought; for, in doing so, they would contradict their official interpretations, and would destroy the unity of their systems. Furthermore, such a denial on their part is not to be feared. The two sects glory in laying down as a principle inequality of conditions, — reasoning from Nature, who, they say, intended the inequality of capacities. They boast only of one thing; namely, that their political system is so perfect, that the social inequalities always correspond with the natural inequalities. They no more trouble themselves to inquire whether inequality of conditions — I mean of salaries — is possible, than they do to fix a measure of capacity.
“To each according to his capacity, to each capacity according to its results.”
“To each according to his capital, his labor, and his skill.”
Since the death of St. Simon and Fourier, not one among their numerous disciples has attempted to give to the public a scientific demonstration of this grand maxim; and I would wager a hundred to one that no Fourierist even suspects that this biform aphorism is susceptible of two interpretations.
“To each according to his capacity, to each capacity according to its results.”
“To each according to his capital, his labor, and his skill.”
This proposition, taken, as they say, in sensu obvio — in the sense usually attributed to it — is false, absurd, unjust, contradictory, hostile to liberty, friendly to tyranny, anti-social, and was unluckily framed under the express influence of the property idea.
And, first, capital must be crossed off the list of elements which are entitled to a reward. The Fourierists — as far as I have been able to learn from a few of their pamphlets — deny the right of occupancy, and recognize no basis of property save labor. Starting with a like premise, they would have seen — had they reasoned upon the matter — that capital is a source of production to its proprietor only by virtue of the right of occupancy, and that this production is therefore illegitimate. Indeed, if labor is the sole basis of property, I cease to be proprietor of my field as soon as I receive rent for it from another. This we have shown beyond all cavil. It is the same with all capital; so that to put capital in an enterprise, is, by the law’s decision, to exchange it for an equivalent sum in products. I will not enter again upon this now useless discussion, since I propose, in the following chapter, to exhaust the subject of production by capital.
Thus, capital can be exchanged, but cannot be a source of income.
Labor and skill remain; or, as St. Simon puts it, results and capacities. I will examine them successively.
Should wages be governed by labor? In other words, is it just that he who does the most should get the most? I beg the reader to pay the closest attention to this point.
To solve the problem with one stroke, we have only to ask ourselves the following question: “Is labor a condition or a struggle? “The reply seems plain.
God said to man, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,” — that is, thou shalt produce thy own bread: with more or less ease, according to thy skill in directing and combining thy efforts, thou shalt labor. God did not say, “Thou shalt quarrel with thy neighbor for thy bread;” but, “Thou shalt labor by the side of thy neighbor, and ye shall dwell together in harmony.” Let us develop the meaning of this law, the extreme simplicity of which renders it liable to misconstruction.
In labor, two things must be noticed and distinguished: association and available material.
In so far as laborers are associated, they are equal; and it involves a contradiction to say that one should be paid more than another. For, as the product of one laborer can be paid for only in the product of another laborer, if the two products are unequal, the remainder — or the difference between the greater and the smaller — will not be acquired by society; and, therefore, not being exchanged, will not affect the equality of wages. There will result, it is true, in favor of the stronger laborer a natural inequality, but not a social inequality; no one having suffered by his strength and productive energy. In a word, society exchanges only equal products — that is, rewards no labor save that performed for her benefit; consequently, she pays all laborers equally: with what they produce outside of her sphere she has no more to do, than with the difference in their voices and their hair.
I seem to be positing the principle of inequality: the reverse of this is the truth. The total amount of labor which can be performed for society (that is, of labor susceptible of exchange), being, within a given space, as much greater as the laborers are more numerous, and as the task assigned to each is less in magnitude, — it follows that natural inequality neutralizes itself in proportion as association extends, and as the quantity of consumable values produced thereby increases. So that in society the only thing which could bring back the inequality of labor would be the right of occupancy, — the right of property.
Now, suppose that this daily social task consists in the ploughing, hoeing, or reaping of two square decameters, and that the average time required to accomplish it is seven hours: one laborer will finish it in six hours, another will require eight; the majority, however, will work seven. But provided each one furnishes the quantity of labor demanded of him, whatever be the time he employs, they are entitled to equal wages.
Shall the laborer who is capable of finishing his task in six hours have the right, on the ground of superior strength and activity, to usurp the task of the less skilful laborer, and thus rob him of his labor and bread? Who dares maintain such a proposition? He who finishes before the others may rest, if he chooses; he may devote himself to useful exercise and labors for the maintenance of his strength, and the culture of his mind, and the pleasure of his life. This he can do without injury to any one: but let him confine himself to services which affect him solely. Vigor, genius, diligence, and all the personal advantages which result therefrom, are the work of Nature and, to a certain extent, of the individual; society awards them the esteem which they merit: but the wages which it pays them is measured, not by their power, but by their production. Now, the product of each is limited by the right of all.
If the soil were infinite in extent, and the amount of available material were exhaustless, even then we could not accept this maxim, — To each according to his labor. And why? Because society, I repeat, whatever be the number of its subjects, is forced to pay them all the same wages, since she pays them only in their own products. Only, on the hypothesis just made, inasmuch as the strong cannot be prevented from using all their advantages, the inconveniences of natural inequality would reappear in the very bosom of social equality. But the land, considering the productive power of its inhabitants and their ability to multiply, is very limited; further, by the immense variety of products and the extreme division of labor, the social task is made easy of accomplishment. Now, through this limitation of things producible, and through the ease of producing them, the law of absolute equality takes effect.
Yes, life is a struggle. But this struggle is not between man and man — it is between man and Nature; and it is each one’s duty to take his share in it. If, in the struggle, the strong come to the aid of the weak, their kindness deserves praise and love; but their aid must be accepted as a free gift, — not imposed by force, nor offered at a price. All have the same career before them, neither too long nor too difficult; whoever finishes it finds his reward at the end: it is not necessary to get there first.
In printing-offices, where the laborers usually work by the job, the compositor receives so much per thousand letters set; the pressman so much per thousand sheets printed. There, as elsewhere, inequalities of talent and skill are to be found. When there is no prospect of dull times (for printing and typesetting, like all other trades, sometimes come to a stand-still), every one is free to work his hardest, and exert his faculties to the utmost: he who does more gets more; he who does less gets less. When business slackens, compositors and pressmen divide up their labor; all monopolists are detested as no better than robbers or traitors.
There is a philosophy in the action of these printers, to which neither economists nor legists have ever risen. If our legislators had introduced into their codes the principle of distributive justice which governs printing-offices; if they had observed the popular instincts, — not for the sake of servile imitation, but in order to reform and generalize them, — long ere this liberty and equality would have been established on an immovable basis, and we should not now be disputing about the right of property and the necessity of social distinctions.
It has been calculated that if labor were equally shared by the whole number of able-bodied individuals, the average working-day of each individual, in France, would not exceed five hours. This being so, how can we presume to talk of the inequality of laborers? It is the labor of Robert Macaire that causes inequality.
The principle, To each according to his labor, interpreted to mean, Who works most should receive most, is based, therefore, on two palpable errors: one, an error in economy, that in the labor of society tasks must necessarily be unequal; the other, an error in physics, that there is no limit to the amount of producible things.
“But,” it will be said, “suppose there are some people who wish to perform only half of their task?” ... Is that very embarrassing? Probably they are satisfied with half of their salary. Paid according to the labor that they had performed, of what could they complain? and what injury would they do to others? In this sense, it is fair to apply the maxim, — To each according to his results. It is the law of equality itself.
Further, numerous difficulties, relative to the police system and the organization of industry, might be raised here. I will reply to them all with this one sentence, — that they must all be solved by the principle of equality. Thus, some one might observe, “Here is a task which cannot be postponed without detriment to production. Ought society to suffer from the negligence of a few? and will she not venture — out of respect for the right of labor — to assure with her own hands the product which they refuse her? In such a case, to whom will the salary belong?”
To society; who will be allowed to perform the labor, either herself, or through her representatives, but always in such a way that the general equality shall never be violated, and that only the idler shall be punished for his idleness. Further, if society may not use excessive severity towards her lazy members, she has a right, in self-defence, to guard against abuses.
But every industry needs — they will add — leaders, instructors, superintendents, &c. Will these be engaged in the general task? No; since their task is to lead, instruct, and superintend. But they must be chosen from the laborers by the laborers themselves, and must fulfil the conditions of eligibility. It is the same with all public functions, whether of administration or instruction.
Then, article first of the universal constitution will be: —
“The limited quantity of available material proves the necessity of dividing the labor among the whole number of laborers. The capacity, given to all, of accomplishing a social task, — that is, an equal task, — and the impossibility of paying one laborer save in the products of another, justify the equality of wages.”
It is objected, — and this objection constitutes the second part of the St. Simonian, and the third part of the Fourierstic, maxims, —
“That all kinds of labor cannot be executed with equal ease. Some require great superiority of skill and intelligence; and on this superiority is based the price. The artist, the savant, the poet, the statesman, are esteemed only because of their excellence; and this excellence destroys all similitude between them and other men: in the presence of these heights of science and genius the law of equality disappears. Now, if equality is not absolute, there is no equality. From the poet we descend to the novelist; from the sculptor to the stonecutter; from the architect to the mason; from the chemist to the cook, &c. Capacities are classified and subdivided into orders, genera, and species. The extremes of talent are connected by intermediate talents. Humanity is a vast hierarchy, in which the individual estimates himself by comparison, and fixes his price by the value placed upon his product by the public.”
This objection always has seemed a formidable one. It is the stumbling-block of the economists, as well as of the defenders of equality. It has led the former into egregious blunders, and has caused the latter to utter incredible platitudes. Gracchus Babeuf wished all superiority to be stringently repressed, and even persecuted as a social calamity. To establish his communistic edifice, he lowered all citizens to the stature of the smallest. Ignorant eclectics have been known to object to the inequality of knowledge, and I should not be surprised if some one should yet rebel against the inequality of virtue. Aristotle was banished, Socrates drank the hemlock, Epaminondas was called to account, for having proved superior in intelligence and virtue to some dissolute and foolish demagogues. Such follies will be re-enacted, so long as the inequality of fortunes justifies a populace, blinded and oppressed by the wealthy, in fearing the elevation of new tyrants to power.
Nothing seems more unnatural than that which we examine too closely, and often nothing seems less like the truth than the truth itself. On the other hand, according to J. J. Rousseau, “it takes a great deal of philosophy to enable us to observe once what we see every day;” and, according to d'Alembert, “the ordinary truths of life make but little impression on men, unless their attention is especially called to them.” The father of the school of economists (Say), from whom I borrow these two quotations, might have profited by them; but he who laughs at the blind should wear spectacles, and he who notices him is near-sighted.
Strange! that which has frightened so many minds is not, after all, an objection to equality — it is the very condition on which equality exists! ...
Natural inequality the condition of equality of fortunes! ... What a paradox! ... I repeat my assertion, that no one may think I have blundered — inequality of powers is the sine qua non of equality of fortunes.
There are two things to be considered in society — functions and relations.
I. Functions. Every laborer is supposed to be capable of performing the task assigned to him; or, to use a common expression, “every workman must know his trade.” The workman equal to his work, — there is an equation between functionary and function.
In society, functions are not alike; there must be, then, different capacities. Further, — certain functions demand greater intelligence and powers; then there are people of superior mind and talent. For the performance of work necessarily involves a workman: from the need springs the idea, and the idea makes the producer. We only know what our senses long for and our intelligence demands; we have no keen desire for things of which we cannot conceive, and the greater our powers of conception, the greater our capabilities of production.
Thus, functions arising from needs, needs from desires, and desires from spontaneous perception and imagination, the same intelligence which imagines can also produce; consequently, no labor is superior to the laborer. In a word, if the function calls out the functionary, it is because the functionary exists before the function.
Let us admire Nature’s economy. With regard to these various needs which she has given us, and which the isolated man cannot satisfy unaided, Nature has granted to the race a power refused to the individual. This gives rise to the principle of the division of labor, — a principle founded on the speciality of vocations.
The satisfaction of some needs demands of man continual creation; while others can, by the labor of a single individual, be satisfied for millions of men through thousands of centuries. For example, the need of clothing and food requires perpetual reproduction; while a knowledge of the system of the universe may be acquired for ever by two or three highly-gifted men. The perpetual current of rivers supports our commerce, and runs our machinery; but the sun, alone in the midst of space, gives light to the whole world. Nature, who might create Platos and Virgils, Newtons and Cuviers, as she creates husbandmen and shepherds, does not see fit to do so; choosing rather to proportion the rarity of genius to the duration of its products, and to balance the number of capacities by the competency of each one of them.
I do not inquire here whether the distance which separates one man from another, in point of talent and intelligence, arises from the deplorable condition of civilization, nor whether that which is now called the inequality of powers would be in an ideal society any thing more than a diversity of powers. I take the worst view of the matter; and, that I may not be accused of tergiversation and evasion of difficulties, I acknowledge all the inequalities that any one can desire.
Certain philosophers, in love with the levelling idea, maintain that all minds are equal, and that all differences are the result of education. I am no believer, I confess, in this doctrine; which, even if it were true, would lead to a result directly opposite to that desired. For, if capacities are equal, whatever be the degree of their power (as no one can be coerced), there are functions deemed coarse, low, and degrading, which deserve higher pay, — a result no less repugnant to equality than to the principle, to each capacity according to its results. Give me, on the contrary, a society in which every kind of talent bears a proper numerical relation to the needs of the society, and which demands from each producer only that which his special function requires him to produce; and, without impairing in the least the hierarchy of functions, I will deduce the equality of fortunes.
This is my second point.
II. Relations. In considering the element of labor, I have shown that in the same class of productive services, the capacity to perform a social task being possessed by all, no inequality of reward can be based upon an inequality of individual powers. However, it is but fair to say that certain capacities seem quite incapable of certain services; so that, if human industry were entirely confined to one class of products, numerous incapacities would arise, and, consequently, the greatest social inequality. But every body sees, without any hint from me, that the variety of industries avoids this difficulty; so clear is this that I shall not stop to discuss it. We have only to prove, then, that functions are equal to each other; just as laborers, who perform the same function, are equal to each other. — Property makes man a eunuch, and then reproaches him for being nothing but dry wood, a decaying tree.
Are you astonished that I refuse to genius, to knowledge, to courage, — in a word, to all the excellences admired by the world, — the homage of dignities, the distinctions of power and wealth? It is not I who refuse it: it is economy, it is justice, it is liberty. Liberty! for the first time in this discussion I appeal to her. Let her rise in her own defence, and achieve her victory.
Every transaction ending in an exchange of products or services may be designated as a commercial operation.
Whoever says commerce, says exchange of equal values; for, if the values are not equal, and the injured party perceives it, he will not consent to the exchange, and there will be no commerce.
Commerce exists only among free men. Transactions may be effected between other people by violence or fraud, but there is no commerce.
A free man is one who enjoys the use of his reason and his faculties; who is neither blinded by passion, nor hindered or driven by oppression, nor deceived by erroneous opinions.
So, in every exchange, there is a moral obligation that neither of the contracting parties shall gain at the expense of the other; that is, that, to be legitimate and true, commerce must be exempt from all inequality. This is the first condition of commerce. Its second condition is, that it be voluntary; that is, that the parties act freely and openly.
I define, then, commerce or exchange as an act of society.
The negro who sells his wife for a knife, his children for some bits of glass, and finally himself for a bottle of brandy, is not free. The dealer in human flesh, with whom he negotiates, is not his associate; he is his enemy.
The civilized laborer who bakes a loaf that he may eat a slice of bread, who builds a palace that he may sleep in a stable, who weaves rich fabrics that he may dress in rags, who produces every thing that he may dispense with every thing, — is not free. His employer, not becoming his associate in the exchange of salaries or services which takes place between them, is his enemy.
The soldier who serves his country through fear instead of through love is not free; his comrades and his officers, the ministers or organs of military justice, are all his enemies.
The peasant who hires land, the manufacturer who borrows capital, the tax-payer who pays tolls, duties, patent and license fees, personal and property taxes, &c., and the deputy who votes for them, — all act neither intelligently nor freely. Their enemies are the proprietors, the capitalists, the government.
Give men liberty, enlighten their minds that they may know the meaning of their contracts, and you will see the most perfect equality in exchanges without regard to superiority of talent and knowledge; and you will admit that in commercial affairs, that is, in the sphere of society, the word superiority is void of sense.
Let Homer sing his verse. I listen to this sublime genius in comparison with whom I, a simple herdsman, an humble farmer, am as nothing. What, indeed, — if product is to be compared with product, — are my cheeses and my beans in the presence of his “Iliad"? But, if Homer wishes to take from me all that I possess, and make me his slave in return for his inimitable poem, I will give up the pleasure of his lays, and dismiss him. I can do without his “Iliad,” and wait, if necessary, for the “æneid.” Homer cannot live twenty-four hours without my products. Let him accept, then, the little that I have to offer; and then his muse may instruct, encourage, and console me.
“What! do you say that such should be the condition of one who sings of gods and men? Alms, with the humiliation and suffering which they bring with them! — what barbarous generosity!” ... Do not get excited, I beg of you. Property makes of a poet either a Croesus or a beggar; only equality knows how to honor and to praise him. What is its duty? To regulate the right of the singer and the duty of the listener. Now, notice this point, which is a very important one in the solution of this question: both are free, the one to sell, the other to buy. Henceforth their respective pretensions go for nothing; and the estimate, whether fair or unfair, that they place, the one upon his verse, the other upon his liberality, can have no influence upon the conditions of the contract. We must no longer, in making our bargains, weigh talent; we must consider products only.
In order that the bard of Achilles may get his due reward, he must first make himself wanted: that done, the exchange of his verse for a fee of any kind, being a free act, must be at the same time a just act; that is, the poet’s fee must be equal to his product. Now, what is the value of this product?
Let us suppose, in the first place, that this “Iliad” — this chef-d’ oeuvre that is to be equitably rewarded — is really above price, that we do not know how to appraise it. If the public, who are free to purchase it, refuse to do so, it is clear that, the poem being unexchangeable, its intrinsic value will not be diminished; but that its exchangeable value, or its productive utility, will be reduced to zero, will be nothing at all. Then we must seek the amount of wages to be paid between infinity on the one hand and nothing on the other, at an equal distance from each, since all rights and liberties are entitled to equal respect; in other words, it is not the intrinsic value, but the relative value, of the thing sold that needs to be fixed. The question grows simpler: what is this relative value? To what reward does a poem like the “Iliad” entitle its author?
The first business of political economy, after fixing its definitions, was the solution of this problem; now, not only has it not been solved, but it has been declared insoluble. According to the economists, the relative or exchangeable value of things cannot be absolutely determined; it necessarily varies.
“The value of a thing,” says Say, “is a positive quantity, but only for a given moment. It is its nature to perpetually vary, to change from one point to another. Nothing can fix it absolutely, because it is based on needs and means of production which vary with every moment. These variations complicate economical phenomena, and often render them very difficult of observation and solution. I know no remedy for this; it is not in our power to change the nature of things.”
Elsewhere Say says, and repeats, that value being based on utility, and utility depending entirely on our needs, whims, customs, &c., value is as variable as opinion. Now, political economy being the science of values, of their production, distribution, exchange, and consumption, — if exchangeable value cannot be absolutely determined, how is political economy possible? How can it be a science? How can two economists look each other in the face without laughing? How dare they insult metaphysicians and psychologists? What! that fool of a Descartes imagined that philosophy needed an immovable base — an aliquid inconcussum — on which the edifice of science might be built, and he was simple enough to search for it! And the Hermes of economy, Trismegistus Say, devoting half a volume to the amplification of that solemn text, political economy is a science, has the courage to affirm immediately afterwards that this science cannot determine its object, — which is equivalent to saying that it is without a principle or foundation! He does not know, then, the illustrious Say, the nature of a science; or rather, he knows nothing of the subject which he discusses.
Say’s example has borne its fruits. Political economy, as it exists at present, resembles ontology: discussing effects and causes, it knows nothing, explains nothing, decides nothing. The ideas honored with the name of economic laws are nothing more than a few trifling generalities, to which the economists thought to give an appearance of depth by clothing them in high-sounding words. As for the attempts that have been made by the economists to solve social problems, all that can be said of them is, that, if a glimmer of sense occasionally appears in their lucubrations, they immediately fall back into absurdity. For twenty-five years political economy, like a heavy fog, has weighed upon France, checking the efforts of the mind, and setting limits to liberty.
Has every creation of industry a venal, absolute, unchangeable, and consequently legitimate and true value? — Yes.
Can every product of man be exchanged for some other product of man? — Yes, again.
How many nails is a pair of shoes worth?
If we can solve this appalling problem, we shall have the key of the social system for which humanity has been searching for six thousand years. In the presence of this problem, the economist recoils confused; the peasant who can neither read nor write replies without hesitation: “As many as can be made in the same time, and with the same expense.”
The absolute value of a thing, then, is its cost in time and expense. How much is a diamond worth which costs only the labor of picking it up? — Nothing; it is not a product of man. How much will it be worth when cut and mounted? — The time and expense which it has cost the laborer. Why, then, is it sold at so high a price? — Because men are not free. Society must regulate the exchange and distribution of the rarest things, as it does that of the most common ones, in such a way that each may share in the enjoyment of them. What, then, is that value which is based upon opinion? — Delusion, injustice, and robbery.
By this rule, it is easy to reconcile every body. If the mean term, which we are searching for, between an infinite value and no value at all is expressed in the case of every product, by the amount of time and expense which the product cost, a poem which has cost its author thirty years of labor and an outlay of ten thousand francs in journeys, books, &c., must be paid for by the ordinary wages received by a laborer during thirty years, plus ten thousand francs indemnity for expense incurred. Suppose the whole amount to be fifty thousand francs; if the society which gets the benefit of the production include a million of men, my share of the debt is five centimes.
This gives rise to a few observations.
1. The same product, at different times and in different places, may cost more or less of time and outlay; in this view, it is true that value is a variable quantity. But this variation is not that of the economists, who place in their list of the causes of the variation of values, not only the means of production, but taste, caprice, fashion, and opinion. In short, the true value of a thing is invariable in its algebraic expression, although it may vary in its monetary expression.
2. The price of every product in demand should be its cost in time and outlay — neither more nor less: every product not in demand is a loss to the producer — a commercial non-value.
3. The ignorance of the principle of evaluation, and the difficulty under many circumstances of applying it, is the source of commercial fraud, and one of the most potent causes of the inequality of fortunes.
4. To reward certain industries and pay for certain products, a society is needed which corresponds in size with the rarity of talents, the costliness of the products, and the variety of the arts and sciences. If, for example, a society of fifty farmers can support a schoolmaster, it requires one hundred for a shoemaker, one hundred and fifty for a blacksmith, two hundred for a tailor, &c. If the number of farmers rises to one thousand, ten thousand, one hundred thousand, &c., as fast as their number increases, that of the functionaries which are earliest required must increase in the same proportion; so that the highest functions become possible only in the most powerful societies. That is the peculiar feature of capacities; the character of genius, the seal of its glory, cannot arise and develop itself, except in the bosom of a great nation. But this physiological condition, necessary to the existence of genius, adds nothing to its social rights: far from that, — the delay in its appearance proves that, in economical and civil affairs, the loftiest intelligence must submit to the equality of possessions; an equality which is anterior to it, and of which it constitutes the crown.
This is severe on our pride, but it is an inexorable truth. And here psychology comes to the aid of social economy, giving us to understand that talent and material recompense have no common measure; that, in this respect, the condition of all producers is equal: consequently, that all comparison between them, and all distinction in fortunes, is impossible.
In fact, every work coming from the hands of man — compared with the raw material of which it is composed — is beyond price. In this respect, the distance is as great between a pair of wooden shoes and the trunk of a walnut-tree, as between a statue by Scopas and a block of marble. The genius of the simplest mechanic exerts as much influence over the materials which he uses, as does the mind of a Newton over the inert spheres whose distances, volumes, and revolutions he calculates. You ask for talent and genius a corresponding degree of honor and reward. Fix for me the value of a wood-cutter’s talent, and I will fix that of Homer. If any thing can reward intelligence, it is intelligence itself. That is what happens, when various classes of producers pay to each other a reciprocal tribute of admiration and praise. But if they contemplate an exchange of products with a view to satisfying mutual needs, this exchange must be effected in accordance with a system of economy which is indifferent to considerations of talent and genius, and whose laws are deduced, not from vague and meaningless admiration, but from a just balance between debit and credit; in short, from commercial accounts.
Now, that no one may imagine that the liberty of buying and selling is the sole basis of the equality of wages, and that society’s sole protection against superiority of talent lies in a certain force of inertia which has nothing in common with right, I shall proceed to explain why all capacities are entitled to the same reward, and why a corresponding difference in wages would be an injustice. I shall prove that the obligation to stoop to the social level is inherent in talent; and on this very superiority of genius I will found the equality of fortunes. I have just given the negative argument in favor of rewarding all capacities alike; I will now give the direct and positive argument.
Listen, first, to the economist: it is always pleasant to see how he reasons, and how he understands justice. Without him, moreover, without his amusing blunders and his wonderful arguments, we should learn nothing. Equality, so odious to the economist, owes every thing to political economy.
“When the parents of a physician [the text says a lawyer, which is not so good an example] have expended on his education forty thousand francs, this sum may be regarded as so much capital invested in his head. It is therefore permissible to consider it as yielding an annual income of four thousand francs. If the physician earns thirty thousand, there remains an income of twenty-six thousand francs due to the personal talents given him by Nature. This natural capital, then, if we assume ten per cent. as the rate of interest, amounts to two hundred and sixty thousand francs; and the capital given him by his parents, in defraying the expenses of his education, to forty thousand francs. The union of these two kinds of capital constitutes his fortune.” — Say: Complete Course, &c..
Say divides the fortune of the physician into two parts: one is composed of the capital which went to pay for his education, the other represents his personal talents. This division is just; it is in conformity with the nature of things; it is universally admitted; it serves as the major premise of that grand argument which establishes the inequality of capacities. I accept this premise without qualification; let us look at the consequences.
1. Say credits the physician with forty thousand francs, — the cost of his education. This amount should be entered upon the debit side of the account. For, although this expense was incurred for him, it was not incurred by him. Then, instead of appropriating these forty thousand francs, the physician should add them to the price of his product, and repay them to those who are entitled to them. Notice, further, that Say speaks of income instead of reimbursement; reasoning on the false principle of the productivity of capital.
The expense of educating a talent is a debt contracted by this talent. From the very fact of its existence, it becomes a debtor to an amount equal to the cost of its production. This is so true and simple that, if the education of some one child in a family has cost double or triple that of its brothers, the latter are entitled to a proportional amount of the property previous to its division. There is no difficulty about this in the case of guardianship, when the estate is administered in the name of the minors.
2. That which I have just said of the obligation incurred by talent of repaying the cost of its education does not embarrass the economist. The man of talent, he says, inheriting from his family, inherits among other things a claim to the forty thousand francs which his education costs; and he becomes, in consequence, its proprietor. But this is to abandon the right of talent, and to fall back upon the right of occupancy; which again calls up all the questions asked in Chapter II. What is the right of occupancy? what is inheritance? Is the right of succession a right of accumulation or only a right of choice? how did the physician’s father get his fortune? was he a proprietor, or only a usufructuary? If he was rich, let him account for his wealth; if he was poor, how could he incur so large an expense? If he received aid, what right had he to use that aid to the disadvantage of his benefactors, &c.?
3. “There remains an income of twenty-six thousand francs due to the personal talents given him by Nature.” (Say, — as above quoted.) Reasoning from this premise, Say concludes that our physician’s talent is equivalent to a capital of two hundred and sixty thousand francs. This skilful calculator mistakes a consequence for a principle. The talent must not be measured by the gain, but rather the gain by the talent; for it may happen, that, notwithstanding his merit, the physician in question will gain nothing at all, in which case will it be necessary to conclude that his talent or fortune is equivalent to zero? To such a result, however, would Say’s reasoning lead; a result which is clearly absurd.
Now, it is impossible to place a money value on any talent whatsoever, since talent and money have no common measure. On what plausible ground can it be maintained that a physician should be paid two, three, or a hundred times as much as a peasant? An unavoidable difficulty, which has never been solved save by avarice, necessity, and oppression. It is not thus that the right of talent should be determined. But how is it to be determined?
4. I say, first, that the physician must be treated with as much favor as any other producer, that he must not be placed below the level of others. This I will not stop to prove. But I add that neither must he be lifted above that level; because his talent is collective property for which he did not pay, and for which he is ever in debt.
Just as the creation of every instrument of production is the result of collective force, so also are a man’s talent and knowledge the product of universal intelligence and of general knowledge slowly accumulated by a number of masters, and through the aid of many inferior industries. When the physician has paid for his teachers, his books, his diplomas, and all the other items of his educational expenses, he has no more paid for his talent than the capitalist pays for his house and land when he gives his employees their wages. The man of talent has contributed to the production in himself of a useful instrument. He has, then, a share in its possession; he is not its proprietor. There exist side by side in him a free laborer and an accumulated social capital. As a laborer, he is charged with the use of an instrument, with the superintendence of a machine; namely, his capacity. As capital, he is not his own master; he uses himself, not for his own benefit, but for that of others.
Even if talent did not find in its own excellence a reward for the sacrifices which it costs, still would it be easier to find reasons for lowering its reward than for raising it above the common level. Every producer receives an education; every laborer is a talent, a capacity, — that is, a piece of collective property. But all talents are not equally costly. It takes but few teachers, but few years, and but little study, to make a farmer or a mechanic: the generative effort and — if I may venture to use such language — the period of social gestation are proportional to the loftiness of the capacity. But while the physician, the poet, the artist, and the savant produce but little, and that slowly, the productions of the farmer are much less uncertain, and do not require so long a time. Whatever be then the capacity of a man, — when this capacity is once created, — it does not belong to him. Like the material fashioned by an industrious hand, it had the power of becoming, and society has given it being. Shall the vase say to the potter, “I am that I am, and I owe you nothing"?
The artist, the savant, and the poet find their just recompense in the permission that society gives them to devote themselves exclusively to science and to art: so that in reality they do not labor for themselves, but for society, which creates them, and requires of them no other duty. Society can, if need be, do without prose and verse, music and painting, and the knowledge of the movements of the moon and stars; but it cannot live a single day without food and shelter.
Undoubtedly, man does not live by bread alone; he must, also (according to the Gospel), live by the word of God; that is, he must love the good and do it, know and admire the beautiful, and study the marvels of Nature. But in order to cultivate his mind, he must first take care of his body, — the latter duty is as necessary as the former is noble. If it is glorious to charm and instruct men, it is honorable as well to feed them. When, then, society — faithful to the principle of the division of labor — intrusts a work of art or of science to one of its members, allowing him to abandon ordinary labor, it owes him an indemnity for all which it prevents him from producing industrially; but it owes him nothing more. If he should demand more, society should, by refusing his services, annihilate his pretensions. Forced, then, in order to live, to devote himself to labor repugnant to his nature, the man of genius would feel his weakness, and would live the most distasteful of lives.
They tell of a celebrated singer who demanded of the Empress of Russia (Catherine II.) twenty thousand roubles for his services: “That is more than I give my field-marshals,” said Catherine. “Your majesty,” replied the other, “has only to make singers of her field-marshals.”
If France (more powerful than Catherine II.) should say to Mademoiselle Rachel, “You must act for one hundred louis, or else spin cotton;” to M. Duprez, “You must sing for two thousand four hundred francs, or else work in the vineyard,” — do you think that the actress Rachel, and the singer Duprez, would abandon the stage? If they did, they would be the first to repent it.
Mademoiselle Rachel receives, they say, sixty thousand francs annually from the Comédie-Française. For a talent like hers, it is a slight fee. Why not one hundred thousand francs, two hundred thousand francs? Why! not a civil list? What meanness! Are we really guilty of chaffering with an artist like Mademoiselle Rachel?
It is said, in reply, that the managers of the theatre cannot give more without incurring a loss; that they admit the superior talent of their young associate; but that, in fixing her salary, they have been compelled to take the account of the company’s receipts and expenses into consideration also.
That is just, but it only confirms what I have said; namely, that an artist’s talent may be infinite, but that its mercenary claims are necessarily limited, — on the one hand, by its usefulness to the society which rewards it; on the other, by the resources of this society: in other words, that the demand of the seller is balanced by the right of the buyer.
Mademoiselle Rachel, they say, brings to the treasury of the Théâtre-Français more than sixty thousand francs. I admit it; but then I blame the theatre. From whom does the Théâtre-Français take this money? From some curious people who are perfectly free. Yes; but the workingmen, the lessees, the tenants, those who borrow by pawning their possessions, from whom these curious people recover all that they pay to the theatre, — are they free? And when the better part of their products are consumed by others at the play, do you assure me that their families are not in want? Until the French people, reflecting on the salaries paid to all artists, savants, and public functionaries, have plainly expressed their wish and judgment as to the matter, the salaries of Mademoiselle Rachel and all her fellow-artists will be a compulsory tax extorted by violence, to reward pride, and support libertinism.
It is because we are neither free nor sufficiently enlightened, that we submit to be cheated in our bargains; that the laborer pays the duties levied by the prestige of power and the selfishness of talent upon the curiosity of the idle, and that we are perpetually scandalized by these monstrous inequalities which are encouraged and applauded by public opinion.
The whole nation, and the nation only, pays its authors, its savants, its artists, its officials, whatever be the hands through which their salaries pass. On what basis should it pay them? On the basis of equality. I have proved it by estimating the value of talent. I shall confirm it in the following chapter, by proving the impossibility of all social inequality.
What have we shown so far? Things so simple that really they seem silly: —
That, as the traveller does not appropriate the route which he traverses, so the farmer does not appropriate the field which he sows;
That if, nevertheless, by reason of his industry, a laborer may appropriate the material which he employs, every employer of material becomes, by the same title, a proprietor;
That all capital, whether material or mental, being the result of collective labor, is, in consequence, collective property;
That the strong have no right to encroach upon the labor of the weak, nor the shrewd to take advantage of the credulity of the simple;
Finally, that no one can be forced to buy that which he does not want, still less to pay for that which he has not bought; and, consequently, that the exchangeable value of a product, being measured neither by the opinion of the buyer nor that of the seller, but by the amount of time and outlay which it has cost, the property of each always remains the same.
Are not these very simple truths? Well, as simple as they seem to you, reader, you shall yet see others which surpass them in dullness and simplicity. For our course is the reverse of that of the geometricians: with them, the farther they advance, the more difficult their problems become; we, on the contrary, after having commenced with the most abstruse propositions, shall end with the axioms.
But I must close this chapter with an exposition of one of those startling truths which never have been dreamed of by legists or economists.
This proposition is the logical result of the two preceding sections, which we have just summed up.
The isolated man can supply but a very small portion of his wants; all his power lies in association, and in the intelligent combination of universal effort. The division and co-operation of labor multiply the quantity and the variety of products; the individuality of functions improves their quality.
There is not a man, then, but lives upon the products of several thousand different industries; not a laborer but receives from society at large the things which he consumes, and, with these, the power to reproduce. Who, indeed, would venture the assertion, “I produce, by my own effort, all that I consume; I need the aid of no one else"? The farmer, whom the early economists regarded as the only real producer — the farmer, housed, furnished, clothed, fed, and assisted by the mason, the carpenter, the tailor, the miller, the baker, the butcher, the grocer, the blacksmith, &c., — the farmer, I say, can he boast that he produces by his own unaided effort?
The various articles of consumption are given to each by all; consequently, the production of each involves the production of all. One product cannot exist without another; an isolated industry is an impossible thing. What would be the harvest of the farmer, if others did not manufacture for him barns, wagons, ploughs, clothes, &c.? Where would be the savant without the publisher; the printer without the typecaster and the machinist; and these, in their turn, without a multitude of other industries? ... Let us not prolong this catalogue — so easy to extend — lest we be accused of uttering commonplaces. All industries are united by mutual relations in a single group; all productions do reciprocal service as means and end; all varieties of talent are but a series of changes from the inferior to the superior.
Now, this undisputed and indisputable fact of the general participation in every species of product makes all individual productions common; so that every product, coming from the hands of the producer, is mortgaged in advance by society. The producer himself is entitled to only that portion of his product, which is expressed by a fraction whose denominator is equal to the number of individuals of which society is composed. It is true that in return this same producer has a share in all the products of others, so that he has a claim upon all, just as all have a claim upon him; but is it not clear that this reciprocity of mortgages, far from authorizing property, destroys even possession? The laborer is not even possessor of his product; scarcely has he finished it, when society claims it.
“But,” it will be answered, “even if that is so — even if the product does not belong to the producer — still society gives each laborer an equivalent for his product; and this equivalent, this salary, this reward, this allowance, becomes his property. Do you deny that this property is legitimate? And if the laborer, instead of consuming his entire wages, chooses to economize, — who dare question his right to do so?”
The laborer is not even proprietor of the price of his labor, and cannot absolutely control its disposition. Let us not be blinded by a spurious justice. That which is given the laborer in exchange for his product is not given him as a reward for past labor, but to provide for and secure future labor. We consume before we produce. The laborer may say at the end of the day, “I have paid yesterday’s expenses; to-morrow I shall pay those of today.” At every moment of his life, the member of society is in debt; he dies with the debt unpaid: — how is it possible for him to accumulate?
They talk of economy — it is the proprietor’s hobby. Under a system of equality, all economy which does not aim at subsequent reproduction or enjoyment is impossible — why? Because the thing saved, since it cannot be converted into capital, has no object, and is without a final cause. This will be explained more fully in the next chapter.
To conclude: —
The laborer, in his relation to society, is a debtor who of necessity dies insolvent. The proprietor is an unfaithful guardian who denies the receipt of the deposit committed to his care, and wishes to be paid for his guardianship down to the last day.
Lest the principles just set forth may appear to certain readers too metaphysical, I shall reproduce them in a more concrete form, intelligible to the dullest brains, and pregnant with the most important consequences.
Hitherto, I have considered property as a power of exclusion; hereafter, I shall examine it as a power of invasion.
1. Precarious, from precor, “I pray;” because the act of concession expressly signified that the lord, in answer to the prayers of his men or slaves, had granted them permission to labor.
2. In St. Simon’s system, the St.-Simonian priest determines the capacity of each by virtue of his pontifical infallibility, in imitation of the Roman Church: in Fourier’s, the ranks and merits are decided by vote, in imitation of the constitutional régime. Clearly, the great man is an object of ridicule to the reader; he did not mean to tell his secret.
3. I cannot conceive how any one dares to justify the inequality of conditions, by pointing to the base inclinations and propensities of certain men. Whence comes this shameful degradation of heart and mind to which so many fall victims, if not from the misery and abjection into which property plunges them?
4. How many citizens are needed to support a professor of philosophy? — Thirty-five millions. How many for an economist? — Two billions. And for a literary man, who is neither a savant, nor an artist, nor a philosopher, nor an economist, and who writes newspaper novels? — None.