Friday, May 07, 2010

To the Point! To Action!! (1 of 4)

To the Point! To Action!!

AN INTERPRETATION OF THE DEMOCRATIC IDEA
[Part 2] - [Part 3] - [Part 4]

Anselme Bellegarrigue

I am told that that I am governed for my own good. Now, since I pay my money to be governed, it follows that it is for my own good that I pay that money. This is possible, but it nevertheless deserves verification.

Moreover, it is a fact that no one could be more familiar than me with the means of making myself happy. I still find it strange, incomprehensible, anti-natural, and extra-human, to devote oneself to the happiness of people that one does not know, and I declare that I have not the honor of being known by the men who govern me.

It is therefore fair to say that, from my point of view, they are really too kind, and, in the end, a little indiscreet to concern themselves so much with my happiness, but, more importantly, there is no evidence that I am unable to pursue that happiness myself.

I would add that devotion involves disinterestedness, and that one does not have a right to impose caring attentions unless they cost the recipient nothing. I know better than to discuss a question of money here, and God preserve me from questioning the devotion, or, on the contrary, the disinterestedness of our men of state. But I ask permission to wait to express my gratitude until the delicate attentions with which they deign to surround me become cheaper.

Anselme Bellegarrigue, Toulouse, 1848.


I

HAD I a friend, just one friend—a good cook or a pleasant woman—I would not have written what follows; it would have been the subject of an intimate confession. Then, relieved of the weight of my concerns, I would have been consoled for my representative labors in the fraternal arms of the one who shared my burden.

I have, however, no cook and no pleasant woman; therefore, no friend, and, by extension, no confidante; so, for lack of anyone to talk to, I address myself to everyone. This manner of keeping to myself will, I trust, be appreciated by the Republic.

And while we’re on the subject of the Republic, I humbly request forgiveness from the high and mighty scribblers of the Rue Lepelletier, but I must declare that this word—I said this Word—is beginning to weary France not a little, from the Ocean to the Alps and from the Pyrenees to the English Channel.

The word “Republic” poses rather prettily on its three rhythmic syllables; but a word is, after all, nothing but a word, as a sound is only a sound; while a thing is a fact; and the people—this, at least, is what I believe—live much more on facts than on words.

Thus, if we leave the idea and pass on to the fact, I imagine that development would be sufficiently to the taste of everyone; though when I say everyone, I very seriously intend to exclude from my formula that polished class of citizens that reads Le Moniteur, that plodding congregation which condescends to spend its time dragging the budget by the tail and without which one would never really know what to make of public liberties, nor of the coins of the Treasury.

I would like to know—may it please God, I would not be found guilty of too much indiscretion!—I would like to know what is really meant by the word “Republic.”

II

Some months ago, when it was a question of electing agents in order to carry out the liquidation of the late government, those who had seen nations not under tutelage, major nations; those who, too proud to be ambitious, had made their democratic egoism consist of not belonging to anyone; those whose faces had never been seen in the back rooms of any regime; the true democrats, the gentlemen of humanity have been able to speak of the Republic, and its name is not soiled in passing their lips.

These said, or might have said, in speaking of the members of the provisional government:

Let us not count on verbose theorists to establish democracy in France, to introduce liberty into the practice of the social facts.

There are great intelligences in the improvised council, but these great intelligences have preserved intact both the governmental apparatus of the monarchies and the administrative body of the condemned constitutions; these great intelligences have not repealed any of the organic legislation, which had the condemned constitutions for its basis; these great intelligences have assumed all the powers whose usurpation had been the crime of the condemned royalties.

Further, they said, or might have said:

M. de Lamartine has written a Robespierréide wherein we find consecrated the autocratic principle of the personification of democracy, and that doctrine can cease to be a dream of the poet only by becoming an attack in the Russian or Chinese manner:—Case closed!

M. Ledru-Rollin was as much an exponent of exclusivism as M. Guizot:—Case closed!

M. Louis Blanc aristocratizes the workshop:—Case closed!

All the men who say that France has reconquered its liberties really hold in their hands, and do not wish to release, the liberties of France.

All the men who say that the people must govern themselves actually govern the people.

There are dreamers among them, and ambitious men, but no democrats.

And those who argued in this way expressed a very respectable opinion, for it was the opinion of France, of that France which wanted only two very simple and legitimate things: to be free and to pay little.

In the time of which I have been speaking—an epoch I will call “republican” since the authority was public, since all the citizens, instead of connecting to a government which existed only in name, connected to the country, as the only immutable fact, and felt the need to shake hands fraternally—at that time, I say, which preceded the Meeting of the National Assembly, one could speak of the Republic: there were no other parties then; there was only the party of good sense, the party of public morality, established, in fact, on the democratic law of confidence in each, and sanctioned by the security of all.

So when one spoke of the Republic, everyone knew what was meant.

Today, as soon as I utter this word, around me one wonders what color of republic I refer to, and the mayor of my commune, who is no one except when he is being something, asks the Prefect for permission to have me arrested.

III

We speak of a red republic, of a tricolor republic, of a moderate republic; we speak of a violent republic; we also speak of an Orleanist, an imperialist and a legitimist republic.

Is it possible to explain clearly what all that means? In my opinion, it is very simple:

It means that the citizens one calls red are opposed to France being exploited by the tricolors; that the tricolors are opposed to her being exploited by the reds; that the Orleanists, imperialists and legitimists are opposed to her being exploited by the reds and tricolors. But it signifies as well, to be fair, that both sides would willingly accept the patriotic task of exploiting her, whether for their own ends and in their own name or, in extremis, under an assumed name.

But unless we are calling wolves sheepfolds, I do not see why we must call all these gentlemen republicans.

The Republic does not accept this coarse ridicule of its official denominations. It is just a republic of which I am, of which we are citizens—we, honest folk, who do not engage in intrigue but pay for the irreverent domesticity of the nation. The Republic is us. That is the real France, that which is exploitable and exploited; the quarry of all these frantic republics, of all these parties who have the wealth of others for dream and the laziness for idol.

The Republic is to parties what a tree is to parasites; parties are the vermin of nations, and it is important not to forget that it is because of the various claims of these political religionaries that we have to jolt along through revolutions resulting from insurrections, and of insurrections resulting from states of siege, to arrive periodically at the burial of the dead and at the payment of the bills of revolution, which are the premiums resulting from the imbecility of everyone, responding to the audacity of a few.

Our forefathers witnessed the France of the great vassals and that of the absolute monarchs. Our fathers saw that of Marat, of Danton, of Robespierre, of Barras, of Bonaparte and of Napoleon. We have seen the France of Louis XVIII, the France of Charles X, the France of Louis-Philippe, the France of the provisional government, the France of the National Assembly; but France in person, that is to say, the France of everyone, the France of France, has yet to be seen. No one, therefore, has seen the Republic, because the Republic is nothing other than the liberation of France from the tutelage of governments.

IV

Do not ask a democrat if they are a socialist and of which faction, if they are conservative and of which faction; if they are an Orleanist, imperialist, legitimist and of which faction. At the bottom of all these doctrines and social policies we could look for all we’re worth for free men and respect for private money. One will only find paid masters and paying servants. The Democrat is not of those who rule because he is the one who does not obey at all. There are shy or timid people who take shelter in Fourier, who lodge with M. Cabet or M. Proudhon, who take refuge in Louis-Philippe, in Bonaparte, in Henri de Bourbon, but I declare for my part that I do not know how to live except within myself, and I am not about to renounce my own identity.

Hear how others call with all their voice for the rise of a sovereign authority before which to bend! I proclaim my own accession to the sovereignty of action.

I am not at all opposed to the fact that, for recognition, for devotion or for charity, some men sacrifice some of their time, their work, their intelligence, their lives to provide comfort for some needy princes or for philosophers in poor accommodation; each can do as he feels fit, provide alms from what he has to whom he likes; and when, renouncing being themselves and acting for themselves, some people decide to live, think and produce for the benefit of dreamers, soldiers and princes. So be it! The princes are poor and the dreamers even poorer than the princes; the dreamers are idle, and the princes are more idle than the dreamers; the soldiers are vainglorious, and the dreamers and princes are more vainglorious than the soldiers. But that those who give themselves to the dreamers, to the soldiers or to the princes claim the right to give up, along with their own, my time, my work, my intelligence, my life, my liberty; that there is an obligation for me to accept and pay the master who becomes my neighbor; that, just in order for a dreamer, a soldier or a prince to be installed in the Hôtel de Ville, I, myself, am required to become the devoted servant of this dreamer, soldier or prince, that is beyond the limits of my comprehension!

If it is a profession to govern, then I demand to see the products of that profession, and if those products are not to my liking, then I proclaim that to force me to consume them is the oddest abuse of authority that one man can exercise on another. The truth is that that abuse exercises itself by force and that it is I who maintain, with my own funds, this force of which I complain. Considering this, I withdraw within myself and recognize that while I am a victim, I am also stupid.

But my stupidity depends on my isolation, and that is why I say to my fellow citizens: Hold your heads up! We have confidence in no one but ourselves. We say: liberty now and hereafter!

V

In this France of lords, princes, philosophers and generals; in this France, whipped and castigated, like a rebelling child by who-knows-whom for who-knows-what; in this France at the heart of which the governments have inoculated an administrative cancer with so many millions of francs, every last one of them a link in the chain that binds us; in this France, finally, where everything is denied us, from the freedom to educate ourselves to the right to freely season our food, everyone, in what concerns them, must shake off his torpor and proclaim himself minister of himself, governor of his own France.

The France of each and every one is the undeniable, egoistic achievement of one’s individuality with all that belongs to it: thought, production, commerce, property.

For me, as a writer, my France is my thought, over which I wish to have supreme control, the production of my thought that I wish to administer; the marketing of that product over which I have charge; the property of the acquired result that I wish to keep and to use when I like, within the limits of the respect I owe to the thought, to the products, to the market, to the property of that France comprised by others, whatever their profession or way of life.

In the infinite number of diverse thoughts that find their social expression in various products, each producer carries, infallibly, an instinct for the public taste, for the producer seeking the consumer cannot ignore the fact that the latter will only surrender his money for a product that he likes and needs. Production could not be controlled by someone who cannot find an immediate interest in it, i.e., the producer, without it becoming bothersome and being discontinued, but if everyone governs their own thought, as a producer, production will necessarily tend towards a single goal: the satisfaction of the consumer who is everyone. In the same way if everyone governs their thoughts, as a consumer, a sure market is prepared as a result of their labor, and production will tend, in its turn, towards a single end, the satisfaction of the producer, which is also everyone.

In this way, each individual is the beneficiary administrator of all, and all are the beneficiary administrators of each individual; that is to say, the producer does well for himself in doing well by the consumer, and the consumer fortifies his existence while creating the wealth of the producer. And this without effort, without anyone having to concern himself with anything other than his own individual interest, which is necessarily in the interest of all. This is social harmony in its democratic simplicity, in what the Americans call, as they practice it, self-government, the government of oneself.

Either I govern myself, and my instinct cannot fail me in searching for my well-being; or else someone governs me, and I am sacrificed, because the instincts of my governor which, subjected to the same law as me, also seek his well-being, not only are not and cannot be mine, but rather are and must be opposed to mine.

Either my thought is free, that I can produce, that my product can find a market, that the market will provide me with resources the exchange of which I can bring home and allow me the consumption of the products of others. Or else, on the contrary, my thought is held in check by an authority; that I am not allowed to express myself according to the infallible law of my own instinct, and I do not produce anything or produce badly; not having a product of any value, I cannot effect any exchange, from which it follows that I consume nothing; I am dependent on others and on myself; I am paralyzed at the center of a circle.

Let us make a general application of that isolated fact, and we will find that swirling flurry of a social residue unknown in the United States, but which governmental barriers have rendered familiar in France; that collection of stationary existences, which pass and pass again before the administration like bodies that pursue a restricted course, returning to the obstacle, and we have nothing more than a society where we all bump and run into each other, or else a society immobile, interdicted, annihilated, cadaverized.

VI

The organization of society is the enslavement of the individual, and its dismantling leads to the liberty

affixed by the revolution on the governmental succession of the royals. We were the inheritors of that succession; they thought it was they:—Madness! What was their dream? That they bore well-liked names? That they were more honest than those conquered? As if, in free nations, the government was a matter of proper names! As if, in a democracy, usurpation could argue for the probity of the usurper!

That they were more capable? As if it were possible to have the intelligence of everyone, when everyone withholds his intelligence.

They should have understood something completely simple, completely elementary, which is, that since the divine right has been consigned to the depths of the priesthood, no one has which deploys in the social body those providential rules of harmony, whose observance, being in the interest of everyone, finds itself being the inclination of all.

But one says that unlimited liberty is a menace.

Whom does it menace?

Who must fear the proud horse, if not he who would tame it?

Who is afraid of an avalanche, if not the one who wants to stop it?

Who, therefore, trembles before freedom, if it is not tyranny?

Liberty! Menacing? One should say the opposite. What is frightening about it is the noise of its chains. Once it has broken them, it is no longer tumultuous, it is calm and wise.

Let us not forget the order that followed the revolt of 24 February and let us recall above all the disorder that arose from the revolt in June.

The gentlemen of the Hôtel de Ville ruled; that was their mistake. They were nothing but simple keepers of the seals affixed by the revolution on the governmental succession of the royals. We were the inheritors of that succession; they thought it was themselves:—Madness! What was their dream? That they bore well-liked names? That they were more honest than those conquered? As if, in free nations, the government was a matter of proper names! As if, in a democracy, usurpation could argue for the probity of the usurper!

That they were more capable? As if it were possible to have the knowledge of everyone, when everyone withholds his knowledge.

They should have understood something completely simple, completely elementary, which is, that since the divine right has been consigned to the depths of the priesthood, no one has received a mandate to act in the name of all and in the place of all.

But what the provisional government has not done at all, the Assembly could do; one might hope that it would democratize France; whatever might be the attitude of the vast majority of representatives, a single, truly democratic man, that is to say a man who has lived in association with the practice of democracy and liberty, would suffice to clarify the situation and free the country. Well, this man, if he exists, has not shown himself; no one has addressed parliament in the noble, disinterested, grandiose language of democracy. There are, no doubt, some generous intentions at the Palais National; but unintelligent intentions are the miscarriages of human grandeur, the stillbirths of God, and the Assembly, like the provisional government that sanctioned its taking of control, failed to recognize its mandate.

We have only seen emerge from within it party men, theoreticians, political casuists who have only practiced monarchy, administrative exclusivism, ruling governments; men who have only seen liberty through the jealous veil of royalism.

We can therefore say of the majority of the Assembly what we said of the members of the provisional government: do not count on these theorists to establish democracy in France, to introduce freedom in the practice of social facts.


[to be continued...]

[Translation by Collective Reason (Robert Tucker, Jesse Cohn, and Shawn P. Wilbur.) Robert did most of the hard work, and I'm responsible for the final choices. Revised 3/2/2102 by Shawn P. Wilbur.]

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