But there are people who are still far from accepting this reasoning. The theoreticians, our masters, find ideas preferable to fact. And this doctrine that they maintain provides them with a dividend which strongly encourages them to continue maintaining it.
In their view, provided that tax payments continue and provided that the rain respects the words Republic and Liberty on the front of the public buildings, we are republicans and free.
These people are very bright!
As bright as that well-advised character in the Arab proverbs who, without touching the contents of a vase in any way, believed that by changing the label, he changed the liqueur.
As bright as those burlesque geniuses in the farces at the fair, who believe their clothes safe from catching alight because they wear the badge of a fire insurance company on their breast.
These people, I repeat, are extraordinarily bright!
Listening attentively to the intricacies of their arguments, we hear much spoken—and loudly—of the sovereignty of the people. Do you believe it has ever been permissible to insult the sovereign? You reply: No? Ah, well! That is because you were told that the people are sovereign and that you do not have the right to insult the people! I would like better, for my part, to deny the sovereignty of the people and believe in the sovereignty of the government that I am required to respect.
I say that I would rather believe in the sovereignty of government; but I am forced to believe in it, and everyone is forced to believe in it like me. I do not exist for myself. No one exists for themselves. Our existence is not at all our own. We do not live, whether civilly, commercially, industrially, religiously, or intellectually, except for the government.
Can we travel without a safe-conduct pass signed by it? Can we buy a property or make a transaction without it intervening? Can we profess a religion which it has not validated? Can we teach ourselves, except in the schools and with the books approved by its university? Can we publish anything other than what it permits us to publish? And to push these considerations of this regulating tyranny to the extremes of triviality: can we smoke a cigar which it has not itself sold to us? Are we lawyers, medics, teachers, merchants, artists, agents, town criers, without it giving us a license? No! We do not exist, I tell you; we are inert objects, parts belonging to a conscious and complicated machine whose crank handle is in Paris!
Well, I say that this is an irregular situation, a situation as embarrassing for the government as it is fatal for the nation.
I can understand that it was possible to for Richelieu to govern like this; the France of past centuries was completely and voluntarily under the crown of the king. But woe to those who do not take note of the difference in the times! Today, every citizen feels and deliberates for himself, and official acts are constrained from all directions!
There are, however, in the healthy part of the nation, in the core of good public sense, people who fear to look clearly at the situation; people who cannot bring themselves to understand why, by desperately bleeding themselves to maintain five hundred thousand employees and as many soldiers, they hold back a million men from production and create, for the benefit of some Minotaur or another, an official parasitism whose formidable manner dries up in the confidence in the heart of the country, along with the credit that precisely the source on which this same parasitism comes to quench itself.
They perpetuate the crisis, and they perpetuate it because they are afraid!
They are afraid of the socialists, and they fear for their property; they are afraid for their religion, and they are afraid for their family!
They are afraid of socialists? ... Of which socialists are they afraid?
There are the socialists of the school of Fourier.
There are the socialists of the school of Pierre Leroux.
There are the socialists of the school of Proudhon.
There are the socialists of the school of Considerant.
There are the socialists of the school of Louis Blanc.
There are the socialists of the school of Cabet.
There are, in fact, socialists that I know, and then those that I do not know and that I shall never know, because socialism fragments, subdivides, diversifies itself and separates into factions, just like everything that is not defined. And socialism is not defined.
Socialism is, in short, a very obscure philosophical system, highly complicated, and extraordinarily confusing, which erudite men are obliged to study in minute detail, though most often they end up understanding nothing at all.
Socialism, according to what we can grasp from all its proposals, wants to make society a huge hive, into each pigeon-hole of which will be placed a citizen, who will be enjoined to remain silent and wait patiently, while alms are made of their own money. The major dispensers of these alms, supreme tax-collectors of universal revenues, will create a general staff, reasonably well endowed, which on getting up in the morning may deign to satisfy the public appetite, and which, if it sleeps in longer than usual, will leave thirty-six million without food.
Socialism is an attempt at geometric equilibrium whose demonstration—based on a principle of immobility—does not know to base itself on human societies, which are essentially active and progressive.
Socialism is an abstract speculation, just as the current administration is an abstract speculation; the people who do not understand the latter do not understand the former either. And the people never freely adopt what they do not understand.
Socialism, in short, wants to carry on the affairs of the people, and for that it has come too late, or I am much mistaken.
But the socialists are philosophers who have the same right to teach their doctrines as their adversaries have to teach theirs. Just as the people have the right to judge the latter, they have the right to appraise the former.
No one can put himself in the place of the people to pronounce condemnation or recognition of the excellence of a doctrine; since in that diversity of tastes and inclinations that dapple society, there is no doctrine that is bad for all, nor is there one that is good for all.
Tolerance, in theological order, has not resolved the problem of civic harmony; the problem also depends on tolerance in the social and political orders.
State religions have caused, down through the centuries, discords and massacres which we now find pathetic.
State doctrines caused so much blood to flow in our own time that our children will assemble to erect a monument to our shame.
We have eliminated state religions. Why do we wait to crush state doctrines?
If we do not see any problem with those who wish to have churches, temples or synagogues constructed, at their expense, on land that is their own. I do not see any problem at all with those who wish to construct convents, phalansteries or palaces, at their own expense, on land that is their own.
And if it is simple enough to let the Catholics, the protestants and the Jews have the right to maintain, at their own expense, in those churches, temples and synagogues, some priests, ministers and rabbis. It is just as simple for the monks, socialists and men of court to maintain, at their own expense, in the convents, phalansteries, and palaces, some superiors, patriarchs and princes.
All these things fall under the accommodations of taste, faith, and conscience for each one of us, and it is perhaps possible that one can be a monk, a socialist, a man of court and an excellent citizen at the same time, since the religions, which must remain outside the laws of the State, do not exempt anyone from obedience to the laws of the State.
But what is buffoonish and strange is the decision made by so many systems to attempt political campaigns, and their pretensions to make the whole country contribute to the costs of their establishment and the inauguration of their authority all in the name of the public and the nation!
We only need to provide a circus acrobat with five hundred thousand bayonets for the act to become a social doctrine and for the wishes and caprices of Pulcinella to be made into the laws of State. We are, certainly, very close to this, and it surprises me that we are not there already.
But I have digressed enough on this subject. Let us return.
People fear for their property, their religion, and their family?
They are the ultimate intolerant sectarians, those who babble among us in the language—still intelligible, alas!—of the tyrants of humanity, and constantly repeat their disheveled chapters on the subject of religion, property, and the family.
These ridiculous defenders of God and of society lack the intelligence to understand that the ability to save what they claim necessarily implies the ability to lose it. They do not perceive, as seriously as they take their puerile Quixotism, that the guard they mount at the temple door and at home puts, in their eyes, God and society at their discretion. It just does not enter the heads of these big children, that by saying to God and to society “we have saved you from destruction,” it is as if they were saying “it is because of us that you continue to exist; you owe us your life.”
Do you see a mere organic apparatus, claiming responsibility the existence of God and society?
Do you see the moral and material universe under the control of a degenerate beast which could be finished off by a catarrh, or the flick of a finger?
Shame and pity!
Enough of this wretched and discordant bragging!
Enough of this grandeur founded on the abasement of the public!
Enough of this audacity built on fear!
Religion, property, and the family have survived Geneva rationalism, the philosophy of Voltaire, forfeiture agreements, and the dissolution of social ties from antiquity; religion, property, and the family are, in fact, unassailable by individuals. To defend them is to exploit them! To protect them is to plunder them!
How well the intriguers of every hue—those who believe themselves powerful enough to threaten these institutions as well as those who claim the ability to defend them, all those, in a word, who, living by intimidation and terrorism, have an interest in perpetuating universal panic—how well do all these intriguers know that religion, property, and the family have never had a more efficacious protector than time. There has, consequently, never been a possibility of their being attacked other than by time.
Time, without anyone taking any notice, without anyone formulating a complaint—time modifies them all: religion, property, and the family. The current state of the Church with its degenerate discipline and its neutrality in secular politics would make the audacious Hildebrand die of a fit of rage.
The current state of property, with its infinite divisions and the melancholy surrender of the chateaus, would bring despair to the great landlords of the last century.
The current state of the family, with its incessant displacement of individuals, its submission to the domestic yoke, and its separations resulting from cosmopolitanism, would profoundly wound the patriarchal traditions of our ancestors.
The goings-on of future generations, if we were to see them, would shock our prejudices, our customs, and our way of life.
Thus, everything changes without destroying itself, and the human spirit only accepts that for which it is prepared. Every day, it opens itself to new interests, to which it can accommodate itself without shock. After a period of time, the convergence of interests gives rise to a new institution, which, having arrived en bloc beforehand, would have surprised and injured everyone, but having arrived in a providential way will not hurt anyone and will satisfy all.
Let us speak and have no fear.
Fear is nothing but the condemnation of oneself, and once one is condemned there is no shortage of executioners.
The hypothesis of plunder has been put forward.
No one can believe in the corruptibility of the majorities, without denying at the same time human reason and the principle of its demonstration. If the majorities are incorruptible, they are equitable, since the basic law of equity is respect for acquired right.
Acquired right has been respected even among people where the means of acquisition have been denied to the majority. How can this right be violated among us, where the acquisition, although it is still impeded, can nonetheless be considered public.
Let no one speak to me of brigandage, when it is proven that it can only be carried out by minorities and that its exercise requires its organization.
Let no one speak to me of brigandage, when in the place of a plan by some impossible organization one brings me some shouts in the street or some argument at a club.
The people are not responsible for the insanity of a few spirits. The mad are the lost children of humanity.
Brigandage is not organizable. Or, rather, I am wrong—one can organize it, and here is how: put in each commune an authority more jealous of individual law than public law; establish in each arrondissement, in each department hateful magistrates, intolerant and fanatical; put at the top of this hierarchy a supreme head, blinded by the pride of domination and nourished by impious dogmas; give to this man four or five thousand armed men for support, and plunder as a rallying call and the violation of acquired rights is accomplished. But you say to me that this picture is of nothing but administrative organization, founded on the constitution. I admit it, and it follows from it that a malefactor who does not embrace the administration of the State would be nothing to fear. But this also amounts to saying that this administration squashes us in some way, that we are at the complete mercy of anyone bold enough that chance can allow to happen.
Give the people plunder as a rallying call and this rallying call will wrap itself in the probity of numbers.
Let this rallying call go out from the administration, whose systematic webs embrace all individuals and all territory, and the supreme thought propagates like electricity to be lost in blood!
That is the only possible organization of brigandage, and that is, finally, a usage perhaps applied by the government of representative monarchies.
Do those that have fear that they might be individually plundered by those who have not? I sympathize with them, while still being able to condemn them, since by that fear they tell me what they would be disposed to do if they had nothing.
And, yet, they err. They are more honest than they think. They reason from the point of view of the needs that their fortunes has given them. I understand that if they were suddenly deprived of the satisfaction of those needs, which have become for them, in some way, natural, they would suffer, and that it is under this impression that they reason. But there is one thing that they forget, which is that if they had never had their fortunes, they would not have had their needs.
Is it not, moreover the case, by virtue of the same principle, that he who would come to dispossess me today, could himself be dispossessed tomorrow? And if things go on like that with each dispossessing the other, what is going to become of production?
Can such an absurd state of things be feared by sensible people, the day after a revolution where everything is at the discretion of the masses, and where perversity, in the state of emergency, finds itself drowned in integrity of the public?
If the majority, who do not own anything, had an instinct for plunder, the minority of proprietors would have long since lost all they have.
If there are criminals in our communities, let us count them. It is an easy job; and whether we find a few or do not find any, let us not believe that we exercise a monopoly on fairness: people are the same everywhere.
The domineering and insolent rage of a few men tear popular magnanimity to shreds and bring human character into disrepute. That is understandable. But the dogma of popular dishonesty is the rationale of tyrannies, and the security of tyrants is based on the hatred and mistrust of citizens among themselves.
As for myself, separating from the parties in order to remain human, I defend humanity with esprit de corps.
But I hear someone say:
If socialism comes to power, it could impose itself. That have expected that objection.
It is quite true that as philosophers, as apostles of a doctrine, as teachers, the socialists are not at all frightening. All of their opinions might be expressed without danger, seeing that these opinions do not aspire to government.
Well! Do we think that the good sense of the public would make justice laughable? Do we fear being governed by absurdity? Do we think that we could be governed in opposition to our good sense? Do we feel someone could violate or surprise our religion as soon as they come to govern us? If we admit that, then we are constantly in danger of being betrayed! I say that, as soon as we are in danger, we have already been betrayed. In matters of public security, probabilities are as good as certainties.
At the moment when we recognize that someone could do violence to us, then violence is done; this is an inevitable law, inescapable and inherent in all states of dependence.
It is therefore not the socialists that we need to fear, or that we need to exorcise. We must fear, we must exorcise the institution of government, because it can strike us. This institution alone is bad and dangerous, and whoever is put at the head of it will immediately be as dangerous as the socialists: first, because he can become the institution, and second, because he could be surprised and conquered by the socialists, and, finally, because his system could be as bad as, or worse than, theirs.
As long as there is no untrammeled freedom of opinion in France, in order for a doctrine to emerge, it will be forced to attempt the overthrow of the government, for its sole means of action will be to become official State doctrine, to govern; and as long as an official State doctrine governs, it will necessarily consider other doctrines as dangerous rivals and proscribe them.
This is why we continue to see these vicious struggles to which society lends its children and its money, these battles of scheming and ambition that I would call ridiculous if they weren’t so atrocious, the outcomes of which makes criminality or heroism a mere question of the date. Those outcast today will be lauded tomorrow.
It is therefore shown that socialism is no more to be feared in itself than any other philosophical doctrine. It can become dangerous only if it governs. That amounts to saying that nothing is dangerous which does not govern; from this it follows that whoever governs is already or can become dangerous—and the strict consequence is still that the nation can have no public enemy but the government.
That having been said, it is beyond doubt that the only important thing in modern times, as well as the only one against which our representatives have not prepared themselves, consists of simplifying the administrative organism to the degree demanded by individual liberty, which has been without guarantee until this day, and by the reduction of taxation, which will be impossible as long as we persist on the path already beaten by the governments with their fat budgets.
The present governmental institution is the same as that of last year, and that of last year encapsulates all the powers of Louis XIV, with the sole exception that the unity of action of the royal trust finds itself re-divided among six or seven ministerial departments set up by a parliamentary majority. Can we be a free people, as long as our entire existence, from the civil order to the hygienic order, is regulated in this way?
If we posit the guarantee of our individual liberty, if we resolve to move ourselves by our own power, the nation will acquire again that power of which it was relieved—which has been usurped from it—the power necessary, indispensable, for the balancing of popular prerogatives with governmental initiative.
If the nation recovered its strength, the assembly, which comes from its own ranks, would not soon forget its real master, where true sovereignty lies, and in the contract that would be set forth between France and its stewards, there would remain no means for those stewards to make themselves masters.
[to be concluded...]
[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.]