Here’s a translation of an article from Le Libertaire, originally published as “L’autorité. — La Dictature,” April, 1859. I’ve also recently translated his poem, “To the Ci-Devant Dynastics.” I think the difficulties, and the resulting rough spots, in both translations will be fairly obvious. [Translation revised, and introductory quote added: January, 2012]
aka “Down with the Bosses!”
Le Libertaire, no. 12 (April 7, 1859)
What assurance have I gained?
What conclusion can I draw?
The knowledge that I have gained is that there is only one right in the world: it is the right of the strongest.
Thus, no more doubt, no more uncertainty, no more equivocation: might is right; there is no other right than force, for that right is the only one which is inviolable, the only one which carries in itself its own inevitable guarantee and its effective sanction.
If that conclusion is true, “transforming force” is the only object that can suggest itself to the man desiring to remove himself more and more from the state of barbarism……….
But how is it to be transformed?
By applying ourselves, relentlessly and without exception, to taking from the material force all that which it will be possible to withdraw from it, in order to add it to the immaterial force.
I call “material force:” every corporeal power, every numerical power.
I call “immaterial force:” every intellectual power, every scientific power.
I call “material force:” every artificial law, any law for the performance of which the evidence of its necessity does not suffice.
I call “immaterial force:” every natural law, any law for the performance of which the evidence of its necessity suffices.
I call “material force:” the force by which man is like an animal.
I call “immaterial force:” the force by which man is superior to all other animated beings.
Wars, conquests, authorities, what are you? You are the right of the strongest, materially, nationally.
Sciences, discoveries, liberty, what are you? You are the right of the strongest, intellectually, individually.
Such is my conclusion, and by it I come to make human thought no less inviolable than human life.
A man has no more right to prevent another man from thinking, though he is mentally deformed and infirm, than he has to prevent a man from living, though he is deformed and infirm in body.
Society has no more right against evil thinking than it has against evil conduct.
But how shall we battle evil conduct?
By not proceeding in an allopathic, but a homeopathic manner, proceeding by similarities and not by contraries; by not opposing material force to intellectual force, but by opposing force intellectual force to intellectual force.
Either Right is nothing, or Right is human inviolability: intellectually and corporeally.
When we return from laws to rights, as one goes from the mouth of a river to its source, we recognize that right cannot exist by halves.
What is the right assuring man property in his body and not assuring him property in his mind?
Is the body of a man worth a greater source of value than his mind? Is his mind less sacred than his body?
The right which puts the corporeal value of the man at a price so high, and his intellectual value at a price so low, is a right which closely resembles a human body from which the mind is absent: it is an idiotic right.
And this is the right that of which we boast! And it is this right before which I am supposed to bow my knee in respect! that I should incline my head in superstition! — No.
That right is still barbarism.
Where barbarism has not ceased to reign, man has no more property in his body than he has property in his mind; ………….. it is that complete property in himself which constitutes the only right that it would be possible for my reason to recognize distinctly, the individual right of the strongest “intellectually, scientifically, industrially, …………” succeeding everywhere the collective right of the strongest “materially, numerically, legally, territorially,” the only Right, finally, which would not be a vain word.
Émile de Girardin
We are no longer in the fabulous times of Saturn, when the father devoured his children, nor in the times of Herod, when one massacred an entire generation of frail innocents—which, after all, did not prevent Jesus from escaping the massacre, or Jupiter the devouring. We live in an era in which we no longer kill many children, with the sword or the teeth, and it appears natural enough that the young bury the old. Hercules is dead; why seek to resuscitate him? We could at the most only galvanize him. The club is less mighty than saltpeter, saltpeter is less mighty than the electric battery, and the electric battery is less mighty than the idea.
To every idea, present and to come, welcome! Authority had reigned so long over men, it has taken such possession of humanity, that it has left garrisons everywhere in our minds. Even today, it is difficult, other than in thought, to chip it away completely. Each civilized person (civilizée) is a fortress for it, which, guarded of prejudices, stands hostile to the passage of that invading Amazon, Liberty. Thus, those who believe themselves revolutionaries and swear only by liberty, proclaim nonetheless the necessity of dictatorship, as if dictatorship did not exclude liberty, and liberty dictatorship. What big babies there are, if the truth be told, among the revolutionaries!—and big babies who cling to their daddy—for whom the democratic and social Republic is inevitable, doubtless, but with an emperor or a dictator—it’s all one—for the governor; people mounted sidesaddle, and faced towards the rump, on their donkey’s carcass, who, with eyes fixed on the prospect of progress, move away from it the more they try to approach it,—the feet in this position galloping in the opposite direction ahead of the head. These revolutionaries, bare-necked politickers, have preserved, along with the imprint of the collar, the moral stain of servitude, and the stiff neck of despotism. Alas! They are only too numerous among us. They call themselves republicans, democrats and socialists, but they have fondness, they have love only for authority with an iron grip: more monarchistic in reality than the monarchists, who could nearly pass for anarchists beside them.
Dictatorship, whether it is a hydra with a hundred heads or a hundred tails, whether it is autocratic or demagogic, can certainly do nothing for liberty: it can only perpetuate slavery, morally and physically. It is not by regimenting a nation of helots under a yoke of iron, since there is iron, by confining them in a uniform of proconsular wills, that the people will be made intelligent and free. All that which is not liberty is against liberty. Liberty is not a thing that can be allocated. It does not pertain only at the whim of whatever personage or committee of public safety orders it, and makes a gift of it. Dictatorship can cut off the people’s heads, but it cannot make the people increase and multiply; it can transform intelligences into corpses, but it cannot transform cadavers into intelligences; it can make the slaves creep and crawl under its boots, like maggots or caterpillars, flattening them under its heavy tread,—but only Liberty can give them wings. It is only through free labor, intellectual and moral labor, that our generation, civilization or chrysalis, will be metamorphosed into a bright and shiny butterfly, will assume a truly human type and continue its development in Harmony.
Many men, I know, speak of liberty without understanding it; they know neither the science of it, nor even the sentiment. They see in the demolition of reigning Authority nothing but a substitution of names or persons; they don’t imagine that a society could function without masters or servants, without chiefs and soldiers; in this they are like those reactionaries who say: “There are always rich and poor, and there always will be. What would become of the poor without the rich? They would die of hunger!” The demagogues do not say exactly that, but they say: “There have always been governors and governed, and there always will. What would become of the people without government? They would rot in bondage!” All these antiquarians, the reds and the whites, are just partners and accomplices; anarchy, libertarianism disrupts their miserable understanding, an understanding encumbered with ignorant prejudices, with asinine vanity, with cretinism. The plagiarists of the past, the retrospective and retroactive revolutionaries, the dictatorists, those subservient to brute force, all those crimson authoritarians who call for a saving power, will croak all their lives without finding what they desire. Like the frogs who asked for a king, we see them and will always see them exchange their Soliveau for a Grue, the government of July for the government of February, the perpetrators of the massacres of Rouen for those of the massacres of June, Cavaignac for Bonaparte, and tomorrow, if they can, Bonaparte for Blanqui… If one day they cry: “Down with the municipal guard!” it is in order to cry at the next instant: “Long live the guard mobile!” Or they swap the guard mobile for the imperial guard, as they would swap the imperial guard for the revolutionary battalions. Subjects they were; subjects they are; subjects they will be. They neither know what they want nor what they do. They complained yesterday that they did not have the man of their choice; they complain the next day of having too much of him. Finally, at every moment and every turn, they invoke Authority “with its long, sharp beak, helved on its slender neck,” and they find it surprising that it bites them, that it kills them!
Whoever calls themselves revolutionary and speaks of dictatorship are only dupes or rogues, imbeciles or traitors. They are imbeciles and dupes if they advocate it as the auxiliary of the social Revolution, as a mode of transition from the past to the future, for this is always to conjugate Authority in the present indicative; rogues and traitors if they only envision it as a means of taking their part of the budget and of playing representative everywhere and at all times.
Indeed, how many little men are there who would like nothing better than to have official stilts: a title, a salary, some representation to pull themselves out of the quagmire where ordinary mortals flounder and give themselves the airs of giants. Will the common people always be stupid enough to provide a pedestal for these pygmies? Will they always be told: “You speak of suppressing those elected by universal suffrage, to throw the national and democratic representation out the windows, but what will you put in its place? For, in the end, something is necessary, and someone must command: a committee of public safety, perhaps? You do not want an emperor, a tyrant. This is understood, but who will replace them: a dictator?… because everyone can not drive, and there must be someone who devotes himself to governing the others…” Well! Gentlemen or citizens, what good is it to suppress it, if it is only in order to replace it? What is needed is to destroy evil and not displace it. What does it matter to me whether it bears one name or another, whether it is here or there, if, under this mask or that appearance, it is still and always in my way.—One removes an enemy; one does not replace it.
Dictatorship, the sovereign magistracy, the monarchy, so to speak,—for to recognize that the Authority which is evil can do good, is this not to declare oneself monarchist, to sanction despotism, to renounce the Revolution?—If one asks them, these absolute partisans of brutal force, these advocates of demagogic and compulsory authority, how they would exercise it, in what manner they will organize this strong power: some will respond to you, like the late Marat, that they want a dictator in ball and chains, and sentenced by the people to work for the people. First let us distinguish: either the dictator acts by the will of the people, and thus will not really be a dictator, and will only be like a fifth wheel on a carriage; or else he will really be a dictator, will have the leads and whip in his hands, and he will act only according to his own good pleasure, for the exclusive profit of his divine person. To act in the name of the people is to act in the name of everyone, isn’t it? And everyone is not scientifically, harmonically, intelligently revolutionary. But I admit, in order to conform to the thought of the blanquists, for example—that tail-end of carbonarism, that ba-be-bou-vist freemasonry, those invisibles of a new species, that society of secret… intelligences, ——— that there is a people and a people, the people of the initiated brothers, the disciples of the great popular architect, and the uninitiated. These affiliates, these outstanding characters, do they always agree among themselves? Let one decree be issued on property, or the family—or you-name-it—some will find it too radical, and others not radical enough. A thousand daggers, for the moment, are raised a thousand times a day against dictatorial slavery. Whoever would accept a similar role would not have two minutes to live. But he would not accept it seriously, he would have his coterie, all the men scrabbling for gain who will squeeze around him, and they would be for him a consecrated battalion of menservants in exchange for the left-overs of his authority, the crumbs of power. Thus, perhaps, he could indeed command in the name of the people, I do not deny it, but without fail, against the people. He will deport or have shot all those who have libertarian impulses. Like Charlemagne or whatever other king, who measured men by the height of his sword, he would decapitate all the intelligences that surpassed his level, he would forbid all progress which goes beyond him. He will be like all men of public safety, like the politicals of 93, followers of the Jesuits of the Inquisition, and he will propagate the general dumbing-down, he will crush individual initiative, he will make the night of the dawning day, cast shadows on the social idea. He will plunge us back, dead or alive, into the charnel house of Civilization, and will make for the people, instead of intellectual and moral autonomy, an automatism of flesh and bone, a body of brutes. Because, for a political dictator as for a Jesuit director, what is best in man, what is good, is the carcass!…
Others, in their dream of dictatorship, differ somewhat from these, in that they do not want the dictatorship of one alone, of a one-headed Samson, but the jawbones of a hundred or a thousand asses, a dictatorship of the small wonders of the Proletariat, deemed intelligent by them because they once reeled off some banalities in prose or verse, because they have scribbled their names on the polling lists or on the registers of some small politico-revolutionary chapel; the dictatorship, in the end, of heads and arms hairy enough to compete with the Ratapoils, and with the mission, as usual, to exterminate the aristocrats or the philistines. They think, like the others, that the evil is not so much in the liberticidal institutions as in the choice of tyrants. Egalitarians in name, they are for castes in principle. And by putting the workers in power, in the place of the bourgeois, they do not doubt that all will be for the best in the best of all possible worlds.
Put the workers in power! In truth, we need only to think back. Haven’t we had Albert in the provisional government? Is it possible to imagine anything more idiotic? What was he, if not a plastron? In the constituent or legislative assembly we have had the delegates from Lyons; if it was necessary to judge the represented by the representatives, that would be a sad specimen of the intelligence of the workers of Lyon. Paris gave us Nadaud, a dull nature, intelligent enough for a porter, who dreamed of transforming his trowel into a presidential scepter,—the imbecile! Then also Corbon, the reverend of the Atelier, and perhaps much the least Jesuitical, for he, at least, was not slow to cast off the mask and to take his place in the midst of, and side by side with, the reactionaries.—As on the steps of the throne the lackeys are more royalist than the king, so in the echelons of official or legal authority the republican workers are more bourgeois than the bourgeoisie. And that is understood: the freed slave who becomes master always exaggerates the vices of the planter who has trained him. He is a disposed to abuse his command just to the extent that he has been prone or forced into submission and baseness by his commanders.
A dictatorial committee composed of workers is certainly the thing most inflated with self-importance and nullity imaginable and, consequently, the most anti-revolutionary. If we could take the notion of public safety seriously, it would be a matter of, first and always, of unseating the workers from all governmental authority, and then and always to unseat, as much as possible, governmental authority itself from society. (Better for power to have suspected enemies than doubtful friends.)
Official or legal authority, whatever name one decorates it with, is always false and harmful. Only natural or anarchic authority is true and beneficial.
Who had authority in fact and in law, in 48? Was it the provisional government, the executive commission, Cavaignac or Bonaparte? None of the above. Although they possessed violent force, they were themselves only instruments, the meshed gears of the reaction; they were not motors, but machinery. All governmental authorities, even the most autocratic, are nothing but that. They function at the will of a faction and in the service of that faction, except for chance intrigues, and the explosions of compromised ambition. The true authority in 48, the authority of universal salvation, cannot be in the government, but, as always, outside the government, in individual initiative: Proudhon was its most eminent representative (among the people, I mean, not in the Chamber). It was he who personified the revolutionary agitation of the masses. And for that representation, he had no need of a legal title or mandate. His only title came to him from his work, his science, and his genius. He did not hold his mandate from another, from the arbitrary suffrage of brute force, but from itself alone, from conscience and from the spontaneity of his intellectual power. Natural and anarchic authority had the full share of influence to which it was entitled. And that is an authority which has no use for praetorians, for it is the dictatorship of the Intelligence: it stirs and it invigorates. Its mission is not to bind or shorten people, but to grow them all the full height of a head, to develop in all of them the expansive force of their mental nature. It does not produce, like the other dictatorships, slaves in the name of public liberty; it destroys slavery in the name of private authority. It does not impose itself on the plebs by walling itself up in a palace, by armoring itself with iron mail, by riding among its archers, like a feudal baron;—it becomes apparent in the people, as stars become apparent in the firmament, by shining on its satellites!!
What greater power would Proudhon have had being a governor? He would not have had more of it, but much less, supposing that he could have preserved his revolutionary passions while in power. His power coming to him from his brain, anything which would have tended to impede the labor of his brain would have been an attack on his power. If he had been a dictator, in boots and spurs, armed from head to toe, invested with the suzerain sash and cockade, he would have lost, politicking with his entourage, all the time that he employed to socialize the masses. He would have created reaction instead of revolution. Think instead of the chatelaine of the Luxembourg, Louis Blanc, perhaps the best-intentioned in all the provisional government, and yet the most perfidious, the one who has delivered the sermonized workers to the armed bourgeois; he has done what all preachers in vestments or authoritarian badges have done, preached Christian charity to the poor in order to save the rich.
The titles and government mandates are only good for those non-entities who, too cowardly to be anything by themselves, want to be seen. They have no reason to be, except reasons of these runts. The strong man, the man of intelligence, the man who is everything by labor and nothing by intrigue, the man who is the son of his works and not the son of his father, of his uncle or of any patron, has nothing to sort out with these carnivalesque attributions; he despises and hates them as a travesty which will sully his dignity, as something obscene and infamous. The weak man, the ignorant man, who still has the feeling for Humanity, must also fear them; he needs for that only a little common sense. For if every harlequinade is ridiculous, it is more horrible when it carries a stick!
Every dictatorial government, whether it be understood in the singular or the plural, every demagogic Power can only delay the coming of the social revolution by substituting its initiative, whatever it may be, its omnipotent reason, its civic and inevitable will to anarchic initiative, to the reasoned will, to the autonomy of each. The social revolution can be made only by all, individually; otherwise it is not the social revolution. What is necessary then, what it must tend towards, is to give each and every person the possibility, the necessity of acting, in order that their movements, communicating with each other, give and receive the impetus of progress and thus increase the force tenfold or a hundredfold. What is necessary in the end, is as many dictators as there are thinking beings, men or women, in society, in order to shake it, to rise up against it, to pull it from its inertia,—and not a Loyola in a red hat, or a general politics to discipline, to immobilize one another, to settle on chests, on hearts, like a nightmare, in order to suppress their pulsations, and on foreheads, on brains, as a compulsory or catechismal instruction, in order to torment their understanding.
Governmental authority, dictatorship—whether it is called empire or republic, throne or chair, savior of order or committee of public safety; whether it exists today under the name of Bonaparte or tomorrow under the name of Blanqui; whether it comes out of Ham or Belle-Ile; whether it has in its insignia an eagle or a stuffed lion…—dictatorship is only the violation of liberty by a corrupted virility, by the syphilitic; it is a caesarian sickness innoculated with the seeds of reproduction in the intellectual organs of popular generation. It is not a kiss of freedom, a natural and fruitful manifestation of puberty; it is a fornication of virginity with decrepitude, an assault on morals, a crime like the abuse of the tutor towards his pupil. It is humanicide!
There is only one revolutionary dictatorship, only one humanitary dictatorship: the dictatorship of the intellectual and morals. Is not everyone free to participate there? The desire is sufficient to the deed. There is no need apart from it, and no need, in order to make it recognized, for battalions of lictors nor of trophies of bayonets; it advances escorted only by its free thoughts, and has for scepter only its beam of enlightenment. It does not make the Law, it discovers it; it is not Authority, but it makes it. It exists only by the will of labor and the right of science. He who denies it today will affirm it tomorrow. For it does not command the maneuver by buttoning itself up in inactivity, like the colonel of a regiment, but it orders the movement, teaching by example, and demonstrates the principle of progress by its own progress.
— Everyone marching in step! says one, and it is the dictatorship of brute force, the animal dictatorship.
— Let he who loves me follow me! says the other, it is the dictatorship of force intellectualized, the hominal dictatorship.
One has the support of all the shepherds, all the herders, all those who command or obey in the fold, all those who live in Civilization.
The other has has the support of individualities that have become truly human, decivilized intelligences.
One is the last representation of the modern Paganism, the eve of final closure, its farewells to the public.
The other is the debut of a new era, its entry onto the scene, the triumph of Socialism.
One is so old that it has one foot in the grave; the other so young that it has one foot in the cradle.
— Old one! It is the Law, — you must perish!
— It is the law of nature, child! — you will grow!!
 According to the historical scheme of Charles Fourier, the civilizée is anyone who lives in the era of Civilization, the very imperfect present age, which will be succeeded by eras of Guarantee and Harmony.
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]