Joseph Déjacque and “The Circulus in Universality”

It’s long, and the translation is still a little rough, but I would encourage folks to take the time to read Joseph Déjacque’s The Circulus in Universality and to look at the other texts by him: “To the Ci-Devant Dynastics,” Down with the Bosses!“The Theory of Infinitesimal Humanities,” and the excerpt from The Humanisphere published as “Authority and Idleness.” Once you have some sense of the terrain, you may also want to take a look at the in-progress translation of The Humanisphere that Jesse Cohn has posted.

Déjacque is another of those figures who deserves to be more than just a genealogical footnote in the histories of anarchism, an anarchist-communist predecessor whose work remains largely unknown. He called out Proudhon for being a sexist jerk (although his defense of Jenny d’Héricourt was itself a bit masculinist) and invited him to become “frankly and completely an anarchist” by giving up all forms of property—and of contract—demonstrating that he was a much more astute reader of Proudhon than many, then and since. He wrote a wild utopia incorporating lots of elements borrowed from Fourier and Leroux—all pushed to their libertarian extremes. I don’t think anyone can get very far into any of Déjacque’s works without sensing that the waters are deep—and rather uncharted for most of us.

It helps to know a bit about Fourier’s theory, according to which the motive force of everything is the action of “the passions,” which inspire not only human behavior, but the movement of animals, stars and planets, etc. (For “passional zoology,” for instance, check out these translations from Toussenel’s writings.) Fourier was convinced that the “civilized” tendency to treat the passions as opposed to reason and progress was entirely wrong-headed, and instead aimed towards a society where all the passions—even, or perhaps especially, those considered propagators of vice—would find harmonious outlets. When Proudhon claimed that there are “as many special rights as humans can raise different claims,” and insisted on seeking the progressive “aims” of presently-despotic institutions like property, he was working on Fourier’s turf. Fourier sketched out much of what Déjacque presents as “the circulus in universality,” and certainly paved the way for the account of “humanities” ranging from the “infinitesimal” to the “multiversal,” but Déjacque also drew inspiration from Pierre Leroux, who generalized from Fourier’s hints. Leroux understood the constant movement and complex interconnection of everything in terms of a kind of general “communion.” (For a taste of his secularized, neo-christian “gospel of humanity,” see “What If the Gospel was Right?” or the “Aphorisms” compiled by Luc Désages, Auguste Desmoulins. For William B. Greene’s take on all of this, see The Doctrine of Life.) Déjacque’s fierce anti-clerical feelings didn’t prevent him from picking up the sense of communion from Leroux, any more than his related anti-property position prevented him from placing the egoistic individual at the heart of his anarchist utopia.

What follows is one more section from The Humanisphere, which immediately precedes the section sometimes labeled “Authority and Idleness.” It’s strong stuff, in many ways, particularly in its treatment of all forms of “constraint.”

… Constraint is the mother of all vices. And it is banished by reason from the Humanisphere. Of course egoism, intelligent egoism, is too well developed there for anyone to think of assaulting their neighbor. And it is by egoism that they make fair exchanges.

Man is egoism. Without egoism, man would not exist. It is egoism which is the motive of all his actions, the motor of all his thoughts. It is what makes him think of his own preservation, and of his development, which is also his preservation. It is egoism which teaches him to produce in order to consume, to care for others because they are in agreement, to like others because they like him, to work for others because those other have worked for him. It is egoism which stimulates his ambition and excites him to distinguish himself in all the careers where man employs his strength, skill, and intelligence. It is egoism which elevates him to the height of genius; it is to improve himself, to enlarge the circle of his influence, that man carries his head high and sets his gaze on the distance. It is for his own gratification that he marches off to win collective satisfactions. It is for himself, individually, that he wants to participate in the lively effervescence of the general good fortune; it is for his own sake that he dreads the thought of the suffering of others. His egoism, constantly goaded by the instinct of his gradual development, and by the sentiment of solidarity which ties him to his fellows, demands perpetual expression of his existence in the existence of others. It is what ancient society improperly called devotion, but which is only speculation—more humanitarian as it is more intelligent, and more humanicidal as it is more idiotic. Man in society only reaps what he sows. If he reaps disease, he sows disease. He reaps health if he sows health. Man is the social cause of all the effects he suffers in society. If he is brotherly, he will create fraternity among those around him, if he is fratricidal, he will create fratricide. It is not humanly possible to make a move, to act with the arms, the heart or the brain, without the sensation reflecting back from one to the other like an electric shock. And that takes place in the state of anarchic community, in the state of free and intelligent nature, as in the state of civilization, the state of domesticated man, of nature enchained. Only, in civilization, man being institutionally at war with man, he can only envy the good fortune of his neighbor, and howl and gnash his teeth at his expense. He is a mastiff, tied, crouching in his kennel and gnawing his bone, growling in ferocious and constant menace. Under anarchy, man, being harmonically at peace with his fellows, will know that competition with them, in the pursuit of their passions, will bring universal good fortune. In the Humanisphere, a hive where liberty is the queen, man gathering from men only perfumes, will know how to produce only honey. So don’t curse egoism, for to curse egoism is to curse man. The suppression of our passions is the sole cause of their disastrous effects. Man, like society, is perfectible. General ignorance has been the inevitable cause of our misfortunes; universal science will be the remedy. Let us educate ourselves, therefore, and let us spread the knowledge around us. Let us analyze, compare, contemplate and thus arrive at the scientific knowledge of our natural mechanisms.

In the Humanisphere, there is no government. An attractive organization takes the place of legislation. The liberty of sovereign individuals presides over all collective decisions. The authority of anarchy, the absence of all dictatorship of number or strength, replaces arbitrary authority, the despotism of the sword and the law. Faith in ourselves is the religion of the Humanisphereans. Gods and priests, religious superstitions will rouse against themselves universal disapproval. It is by their own laws that each governs themselves, and it is on that government of each by himself that the social order is founded.

Consult history, and see if authority has ever been anything but universal suicide. The destruction of man by man—do you call that order? Is it order that reigns in Paris, in Warsaw, in St. Petersburg, in Vienna, in Rome, in Naples and Madrid, in aristocratic England and democratic America? I tell you that it is murder! Order with dagger or cannon, gallows or guillotine; order with Siberia or Cayenne, with the knout or the bayonet, with the watchman’s baton or the sword of the policeman; order personified in that homicidal trinity: iron, gold, and holy water; the order of gunshots, or shots from bibles or bank-bills; the order which sits enthroned on corpses and feeds on them, that can pass for order in moribund civilizations, but it will never be anything but disorder, a gangrene in societies lacking the sentiment of life. Authorities are vampires, and vampires are monsters who only live in cemeteries and only walk in darkness.

Consult your memories and you will see that the greatest absence of authority has always produced the greatest amount of harmony. See the people atop their barricades, and say if in these passing moments anarchy, they do not testify, by their conduct, in favor of natural order. Among these men who are there, arms bare and black with powder, there are certainly no lack of ignorant natures, men hardly smoothed by the plane of social education, and capable, in their private life and as heads of families, of many brutalities towards their wives and children. See them, then, in the midst of the public insurrection and in the role of men momentarily free. Their brutality has been transformed as by magic into sweet courtesy. Let a woman pass by, and they will have only decent and polite words for her.

Now then the absence of orders is the true order. The law and the sword is only the order of bandits, the code of theft and murder that presides at the division of the spoils, at the massacre of the victims. It is on that bloody pivot that the civilized world turns. Anarchy is its antipode, and that antipode is the axis of the humanispherean world.

— Liberty is all their government.
— Liberty is all their constitution.
— Liberty is all their legislation.
— Liberty is all their regulation.
— Liberty is all their contracts.
— Everything that is not liberty is outside of morals.
— Liberty, all liberty, nothing but liberty — such is the formula engraved on the tablets of their conscience, the criterion of all their relations with one another.

  If I were presenting all of this in a classroom, I suspect my questions to students would be about what kind of “anarchist communism” is implied by Déjacque’s work….

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.