Dream, Idea, Utopia
Daughters of right, sylphs of my dreams,
Equality! Liberty! my loves!
Will you always only be lies!
Fraternity! Will you always flee from us!
No, n’est-ce pas ? my darling goddesses;
The day approaches when the ideality
The old clock-face of reality
Will mark the hour of utopias!...
Dear utopia, ideal of my heart,
Oh! defy one more the ignorance and error.
What is a utopia? A dream unrealized, but not unrealizable. The utopia of Galileo is now a truth; it has triumphed despite the sentence of his judges: the earth turns. The utopia of Christopher Columbus was realized despite the clamor of his detractors: a new world, America, has risen at his call from the depths of the Ocean. What was Salomon de Caus? A utopian, a madman, but a madman who discovered steam. And Fulton? Another utopian. Instead, ask the academicians of the Institute and their emperor and master, Napoleon, called the Great... Great like the prehistoric monsters, with stupidity and ferocity. All innovative ideas were utopias at their birth; age alone, by developing them, makes them enter the world of the real. The seekers of ideal happiness, like the searchers for the philosopher’s stone, will never realize their utopia absolutely, but their utopia will be the cause of humanitary progress. Alchemy did not succeed in making gold, but it has drawn from its crucible something good more precious than a vain metal; it has produced a science, chemistry. Social science will be the work of the dreamers of perfect harmony.
Humanity, that conquering immortal, is an army corps that has its vanguard in the future and its rearguard in the past. To move the present and pave its way, it must have its outposts of skirmishers, lost sentries who shoot the idea at the limits of the Unknown. All the great stages of humanity, its forced marches on the terrain of social conquest have only been established in the steps of the guides of thought. “Forward!” cried these explorers of the Future, standing on the alpine summits of utopia. “Halt!” grumbled the laggards of the Past, squatting in the ruts of mired reactions. “March!” responded the genius of Humanity. And the great revolutionary masses set off at its voice.—Humanity! On the road of future centuries I fly the flag of the anarchic utopia, and cry to you: “Forward!” Let the stragglers of the Past sleep in their cowardly immobility and find death there. Respond to their death-rattle, to their deathly groans with a resounding call to movement, to life. Put the clarion of Progress to your lips, take your insurrectionary drumsticks in your hands, and beat and sound the marching tune.
—March! March!! March!!!
Today when steam exists in all its virility, and electricity exists in an infant state; today when locomotion and navigation are made with great speed; that there are no longer Pyrenees, nor Alps, nor deserts, nor oceans; today when the printing house publishes the word in hundreds of thousands of copies and commerce peddles in even the most unknown corners of the globe; today when exchange by exchange we open the ways of unity; today when the labors of generations have formed, stage by stage and arch by arch, this gigantic aqueduct that pours across the present world torrents of science and enlightenment; today when the motive and the force of expansion exceeds all that the most utopian dreams of ancient times could imagine of the grandeur of modern times; today when the word “impossible” scratched out of the human dictionary; today when man, new Phoebus directing the advance of steam, warms up the vegetation and produces where he pleases greenhouses where sprout, grow and flower the plants and trees of all climates, an oasis that the traveler encounters in the midst of the snow and ice of the North; today when human genius, in the name of its suzerainty, has taken possession of the sun, that focus of brilliant artists, when it has captured its rays, chained them in its workshop, and constrained them, like servile vassals, to etch and paint its image on zinc plates or sheets of paper; today, finally, when every march takes giant’s steps, is it possible that Progress, that giant among giants, will continue to advance gently, gently [piano-piano] on the railways of social science? No, no. I tell you that it will change its pace; it will put itself in step with steam and electricity, and it will struggle with them with peace and agility. Woe then to those who want to stop it in its course: they will be spewed out in shreds on the other side of the tracks by the cowcatcher of the colossal locomotive, that cyclops with an eye of fire that tows with all the heat of hell the satanic procession of humanity, and which, standing up on its axels, advances, brow high and head lowered, along the straight way of anarchy, shaking in the air its brown hair studded with sparks of flame! Woe to those who would want to go against this rolling volcano! All the gods of the ancient and modern worlds are not big enough to measure up to this new Titan. Make way! Make way! Step aside, crowned cowherds, merchants of human livestock who return from Poissy with your cart, Civilization. Pull over, Lilliputian bully-boys, and make way for utopia. Make way! Make way for the forceful breath of the Revolution! Step aside, money-changers and forgers of chains, make way for the idea-changers, to the forger of the thunderbolt!...
— I had hardly finished writing these lines when I was forced to stop, as I have been forced to do quite often in the course of this work. The excessive stress on all my faculties, to lift and cast off the burden of ignorance which weighs on my head, that fanatic overexcitement of thought, acting on my weak temperament, made tears pour from my eyes. I choked and sobbed. Blood beat in my temples and raised in my brain some torrential waves, boiling flood that my arteries did not stop precipitate there through all their channels. And while with the right hand I tried to contain and calm the frantic activity of my brow, with the left hand I tried in vain to contain the accelerated pulsations of my heart. The air no longer reached my lungs. I tottered like a drunken man, going to open the window of my room. I approached my bed and threw myself down on it.—I asked myself: Was I going to lose life or reason? And I got up, not being able to remain lying down, and I lay down again, unable to remain standing. It seemed to me that my head would explode, and that someone twisted my breasts with pliers. I choked: iron muscles grasped my by the throat... Ah! The Idea is a lover who in its ardent embraces bites you until you cry out, and only leaves you a moment, breathless and spent, to prepare yourself for new and more ardent caresses. To woo her, if you are not strong in science, you must be brave in intuition. “Back!” she says to the rogues and cowards, “You are unbelievers!” And she leaves them to mope outside the shrine. That languorous, splendid and passionate mistress requires men of saltpeter and bronze for lovers. Who knows how many days each of her kisses costs! Once the spasm subsided, I sat down at my desk. The Idea came to sit beside me. And, my head resting on her shoulder, one hand in her hand and the other in the curls of her hair, we exchanged a long look of calm intoxication. I went back to writing, and in her turn she leaned on me. and I felt her soft contact reawaken the eloquence in my brain and in my heart, and her breath again inflamed mine. After rereading what I had written, and in thinking of that inert mass of prejudices and ignorance that it was necessary to transform into active individualities, into free and studious intelligences, I felt a hint of doubt slip into my mind. But the Idea, speaking in my ear, soon dispelled it. A society, she told me, which in its most obscure strata, under the blouse of the worker, feels such revolutionary lava rumble, storms of sulfur and fire such as circulate in your veins; a society in which are found some disinherited to write what you have written, and thus appeal to all the rebellions of arms and intelligence; a society where such writings find presses to print them and men to clasp the hands of their authors; where these authors, who are proletarians, still find bosses to employ them,—with exceptions, naturally,—and where these heretics of the legal order can walk the streets without being marked on the forehead with a hot iron, and without anyone dragging them to the stake, them and their books; oh, such a society, although it is officially the adversary of new ideas, is close to going over to the enemy... If it still does not have a feeling of the morality of the Future, at least it no longer has a feeling for the morality of the Past. The society of the present is like a fortress surrounded on all sides, which has lost communication with the army which has protected it and which has been destroyed. It knows that it can no longer resupply. So it no longer defends itself except for appearances sake. One can calculate in advance the day of its surrender. Without any doubt, there would still be volleys of cannon shots exchanged; but when it has exhausted its last munitions, emptied its arsenals and its granaries of abundance, it must strike the flag. The old society no longer dares protect itself, or, if it does protect itself, it is which a fury which testifies to its weakness. Young people enthusiastic for the good can be bold and see success crown their audacity. The old, envious and cruel, always fail in their recklessness. There are still in our days, and more than ever, many priests to religionize souls, as there are judges to torture bodies; soldiers to pasture on authority, as there are bosses to live at the expense of the workers. But priests and judges, soldiers and bosses no longer have faith in their priesthood. There is in their public glorification of themselves, by themselves, something like an ulterior motive of shame for doing what they do. All these social climbers, these bearers of chasubles or robes, of belts garnished with pieces of gold or steel blades, do not feel at ease between the world that is coming and the world that is departing; their legs are reckless, and they feel like they’re walking on hot coals. It is true that they always continue to preside, to sentence, to shoot, to exploit, but, “in their heart of hearts, they are not sure they are not thieves and assassins!...” that is to say that they do not dare to admit it to themselves fully, for fear of being too afraid. They vaguely understand that they are at odds, that civilized society is a society of ill repute, and that one day or another the Revolution can accomplish a raid of justice in this dive. The footstep of the future echoes dully on the cobblestones. Three knocks on the door, three blasts of the alarm in Paris, and that’s it for the stakes and the players!
Civilization, the daughter of Barbarism, who has Savagery for a grandmother, Civilization, exhausted by eighteen centuries of debauchery, suffers from an incurable disease. She is condemned by science. She must pass away. When? Sooner than one might think. Her sickness is a pulmonary phthisis, and we know that consumptives maintain the appearance of life up to the last hour. One debauched night she will lie down, to rise no more.
When the Idea had finished speaking, I drew her gently into my lap and there, between two kisses, I asked her the secret of the future times. She was so tender and so good to those who love her ardently that she could not refuse me. and I remained hanging at her lips and gathered each of her words, as if captivated by the attractive fluid, by the emanations of light with which her pupil inundated me. how beautiful she was then, the graceful enchantress! I wish I could retell with all the charm with which she told me these splendors of the anarchic utopia, all these magical delights of the Harmonian world. My pen is not skillful enough to give anything but a pale glimpse. Let those who would know its ineffable enchantments appeal, as I did, to the Idea, and let them, guided by her, evoke in their turn the sublime visions of the ideal, the luminous apotheosis of future ages.
Ten centuries have passed over the face of Humanity. We are in the year 2858. —Imagine a savage from the earliest ages, torn from the heart of his primitive forest and cast without transition forty centuries distant into the midst of present-day Europe, in France, at Paris. Suppose that a magical power had liberated his intelligence and walked him through the marvels of industry, agriculture, architecture, of all the arts and all the sciences, and that, like a cicerone, it had shown him and explained to him all their beauties. And now imagine the astonishment of that savage. He would fall down in admiration before all these things; he would not be able to believe his eyes or ears; he would cry out at the miracle, the civilization, the utopia!
Now imagine a civilisée suddenly transplanted from the Paris of the 19th century to the time of humanity’s beginnings. And imagine his amazement before these men who still have no other instincts but those of the brute, who graze and bleat, who bellow and ruminate, who kick and bray, who bite, claw and roar, men for whom their fingers, tongue, and intelligence are tools of which they do not know the use, a mechanism of which they are not in a state to understand the works. Picture this civiliseé, thus exposed to the mercy of savage men, to the fury of wild beasts and untamed elements. He could not live among all these monstrosities. For him it would be disgust, horror, and chaos!
Well! The anarchic utopia is to civilization what civilization is to savagery. For one who has crossed by thought the ten centuries that separate the present from the future, who has entered into the future world and explored its marvels, how has seen, heard and felt all its harmonious details, who has been initiated into all the pleasures of that humanitary society, for that person the world of the present is still an uncultivated, swampy land, a cesspool peopled with fossil men and institutions, a monstrous skeleton of society, something misshapen and hideous that the sponge of the revolutions must wipe from the surface of the globe. Civilization, with it monuments, its laws, and its customs, with its property boundaries and its ruts of nations, its authoritarian brambles and its familial roots, its prostitutional vegetation; Civilization with its English, German, French, and Cossack patois, with its gods of metal, its crude fetishes, its pagodian animalities, its mitered and crowned caimans, its herds of rhinoceros and deer, of bourgeois and proletarians, its impenetrable forests of bayonets and its bellowing artilleries, bronze torrents stretched out in their carriages, roaring and vomiting up cascades of bullets; Civilization, Civilization, with its caves of misery, its penal colonies and its workshops, its houses of prostitution and detention, with its mountainous chains of palaces and churches, of fortresses and shops, its dens of princes, bishops, generals, and bourgeois, obscene macaques, hideous vultures, ill-mannered bears, metalivores and carnivores who soil with their debauchery and make bleed with their claws human flesh and intelligence; Civilization, with its Penal gospel and its religious Code, its emperors and its popes — its gallows-constrictors which throttle a man in their hemp loops and then swing him on high from a tree, after having broken his neck, its guillotine-alligators which crush you like a dog between their terrible jaws and separate the head from the body with one blow of their triangular portcullis; Civilization, finally, with its habits and customs, its pestilential charters and constitutions, its moral cholera, all its epidemic religionalities and its governmentalities; Civilization, in a world, in all its vigor and exuberance, Civilization, in all its glory, is, for the one who has fixed in his sight the dazzling Future, what the savagery at the origin of the world would be for the Civilizee, the newly born man emerging from his terrestrial mold and still wading through the menses of chaos; so also the anarchic utopia is, for the civilisée, what the revelation of the civilized world would be for the savage; that is to say something hyperbolically good, hyperbolically beautiful, something ultra- and extra-natural, the paradise of man on the earth.
Man is an essentially revolutionary being. He does not know how to stay in place. He does not live the life of limits, but the life of the stars. Nature has given him movement and light, in order to orbit and shine. Isn’t the limit itself, although slow to move, transformed imperceptibly each day until it is entirely metamorphosed, and doesn’t continue in the eternal life its eternal metamorphoses?
So, Civilisees, do you want to be more limited than the limits?
“Revolutions are acts of conservation.”
So revolutionize yourself, in order to preserve yourself.
In the arid desert where our generation is camped, the oasis of anarchy is still for the caravan worn out from marches and counter-marches, a mirage floating at random. It is up to human intelligence to solidify that vapor, to settle the azure-winged phantom on the ground, to give it a body. Do you see over there, in the deepest depths of the immense misery, do you see a somber, reddish cloud gathering on the horizon? It is the revolutionary simoom. Look out, Civilisées. There is only time to fold the tents, if you do not want to be engulfed in that avalanche of burning sand. Look out! And flee straight ahead. You will find the fresh spring, the green lawns, the fragrant flowers, the tasty fruit, and a protective shelter under wide, high canopies. Do you hear the simoom that threatens you? Do you see the mirage that calls to you? Look out! Behind you is death; to the right and to the left, death; where you stand, death... March! Before you is life. Civilisées, Civilisées, I tell you: the mirage is not a mirage, utopia is not a utopia; what you take for a phantom is the reality!...
And, having given me three kisses, the Idea drew aside the curtain of the centuries and revealed to my eyes the main stage of the future world, where it would show me the Anarchic Utopia.
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]