Joseph Déjacque – The Human Being, I

[I’ve been working to track down the various feminist critiques of Proudhon by his contemporaries, and translate those which have not been translated. I was actually about half-way through a translation of Déjacque’s “On the Human Being, Male and Female,” when I stumbled across this translation that appeared in Lucifer the Lightbearer. I’ll try to post my own translation later , but Jonathan Mayo Crane rendering of the French certainly captures the spirit of Déjacque’s assault. Mayo’s translation appeared in two sections, and I’m posting them separately.]


(Letter written to P. J. Proudhon by Joseph Déjacque in 1857. Translated from Les Temps Nouveaux by Jonathan Mayo Crane).

In the depths of Louisiana, whither I have been driven by the vicissitudes of my exile, I have read in a United States paper, “La Revue de l’Ouest,” a fragment of correspondence between you, P. J. Proudhon, and a Madam Hericourt.

Some words of Madam Hericourt, cited in that paper, cause me to fear the feminine antagonist may not have the strength—polemically speaking—to cope with her brutal masculine adversary.

I know nothing of Madam Hericourt nor of her writings, if she is a writer, nor of her position in the word, nor of her personality. But to argue well concerning women, or to argue well concerning men, earnestness is not all that is necessary. One must have seen much and studied much. One must, I believe, have experienced their personal passions in all stations of society, from the silver-tipped summits where vice is happiness to the depths where misery seeks solace in debauchery, Upon the human rock thus battered by the shocks of life, the logic, the stenciled truth, may be read.

I should like to see the question of the emancipation of woman treated by a woman who has loved much and has loved many, and who in her past life has associated with both the aristocratic and the lowly; for the woman of the garret. I can penetrate and understand the private or official views and the thoughts of the luxurious grand dame more easily than the woman of the salon can comprehend the open or hidden privations of the daughter of poverty. However, in default of another Magdalen, bathing the feet of crucified humanity with her fecund tears and striving to lift it to a bettor world, for lack of this voice of civilized repentance, for lack of this woman who proudly and publicly abjuring all prejudices of sex and race, of laws and customs, will bring us back to the former world, I, a human being of the male sex, will endeavor to answer you, Aliboron-Proudhon. For the emancipation of woman is nothing else than the emancipation of humanity—both sexes.

Is it possible, great publicist, that under your lion’s skin so much of the ass may be found? You who have in your veins such powerful revolutionary pulsations for all that pertains to labor with the arms or filling the stomach, your transports are no less fiery, but are stupid and reactionary, when you come to consider the emotions of the heart and of the sentiments. Your nervous and unending logic in questions of industrial production and consumption is without force when you consider questions of moral production and consumption. Your intelligence, virile for nil that concerns man, seems emasculated when it is it question concerning woman. With hermaphrodite brain your thoughts recoil upon themselves in powerless efforts to conceive and give birth to social truth.

A masculine Joan of Arc who, it is said, has kept himself chaste for forty years, the maceration of love has ulcerated your heart, the rancor of jealousy has filled you with disgust and you cry “War against women!” as the maid of Orleans cried “War against the English!” The English burnt her alive. The women have made you a husband, oh, holy man, long time a virgin and always a martyr.

Father Proudhon, shall I say it? When you talk of women you appear like a college boy who talks very loudly and in a high key, at random and with impertinence, in order to appear learned, as you do to your callow hearers, and who like you knows not the first thing of the matter he is talking about.

After having profaned your flesh for forty years you now profane your intelligence, and passing from pollution to pollution you pour forth your impurities to besmirch women.

Is that what you call manly and honest civility, Narcissus-Proudhon? I quote your words:

“No, Madam, you know nothing about your sex; you know not the first thing about the questions you and your honorable associates agitate with so much noise and so little success. And if you do not understand this question, if in the eight pages of the response which you have made to my letter there are forty illogical conclusions, that shows the truth of what I have said of the infirmity of your sex. I mean by these words—the exactness of which may not be irreproachable—the quality of your understanding which will not permit you to seize the significance of thing:; which we men have at our fingers’ ends. In your skull, as in your abdomen, is a certain organ which is incapable of conquering its own inertia; which requires the male to make it perform its functions. And even then it is not always successful. Such madam, is my opinion, the result of my direct and positive observations. I leave it to your obstetrical sagacity to calculate from it for your thesis the incalculable consequences.”

You wild boar—which is merely an undomesticated hog—if it is true, as you say, that woman can give birth to nothing from either the brain or the abdomen without man’s assistance—and it is true—it is equally true the other way; it is reciprocal; neither can man produce from his flesh or his brain without woman’s assistance. That is logic and good logic, Madelon-Proudhon, that an apprentice who has always been your obedient servant can snatch from your hands and throw in your face.

Emancipation or non-emancipation of woman, emancipation or non-emancipation of man—what does it mean? Is it that by nature one has rights and the other has no rights? Is it that humanity is singular and not plural, masculine and not feminine! Is it that the difference in the sexes is a difference in the nature of humanity. Are the drops of rain which fall from the clouds not the same whether they are few or many, whether they are large or small?

Place the question of the emancipation of woman in line with the emancipation of the serf—woman as well as man; or to say the same thing differently, the human slave—whether in the seraglio or the workshop. This understood and it is revolutionary. But from the privileged man’s point of view of social progress, it is senseless and reactionary. To avoid quibbling and equivocation we must demand the emancipation of the human being. In such terms the question is complete.

From day to day humanity gravitates from revolution to revolution towards its ideal of perfectibility—liberty. But the man and the woman will advance with the same step, the same heart fortified by love, toward their natural destiny, the community of anarchy. But man and woman enter thus arm in arm, the face of one shedding its radiance on the face of the other, until they reach the garden of Social Harmony. But the group of the Human Being, the dream of happiness realized, the animated picture of the future, the harmonic tones and the radiant glory of equality offend your ears and dazzle your eyes. Your understanding, distorted by petty vanity, makes you see in posterity a man-statue erected on a woman-pedestal, a man-patriarch and a woman-servant.

Flogger of woman and absolute serf of man, Proudhon Magnan, you use your words for a lash. Like a slave-driver you seem delighted to disrobe your beautiful victims (on paper) and flagellate them with invectives. Moderate anarchist, liberal, but not libertarian, you want free exchange of cotton and candles and you seek to protect man against woman in the exchange of affectional human passion. You cry against the great barons of capital, and you would rebuild a proud barony of man on vassal-woman. Logician with misfit eyeglasses, you are unable to read the lessons of the present or the past; you can discern nothing that is elevated or at a distance or in the perspective of the future.

You should know that woman is the mover of man, as man is the mover of woman. There is not an idea in your deformed brain, no, nor in the brain of any other man, that was not given life by woman; not one voluntary motion of your muscles or of your intelligence but what its object has been to attract the attention of woman and to please her, even including that which seems the most contradictory, your insults. Everything beautiful that man has made, everything grand that man has produced, all the masterpieces of art and of industry, all the discoveries of science, the titanic steps which man has taken into the fields of the unknown, all conquests and all aspirations of man are duo to woman who imposes the tasks upon him as a queen of a tournament assigns a task to a knight and rewards him with a smile when he has accomplished if. All man’s heroism, all his physical and moral valor comes from love. Without woman he would still crawl on his belly or on all fours and browse on herbs and roots. He would equal the ox in intelligence. He is superior to the beast only because woman has said, “Be so.” It is her will that has created him and made him man instead of brute. It is to satisfy the supreme exigencies of the feminine soul that he had attempted sublime things.

See what woman has done for man, and then see what man has done for woman!

Alas! to please her lord and master it is not necessary for her to possess great intelligence and moral force. If she will only mimic the she monkey in antics and grimaces, hang a few bits of glassware to her neck and ears, dress herself in ridiculous finery, pad her hips until she resembles a Hottentot Venus with the aid of whalebone and crinoline, if she knows how to handle a fan like a skimmer, or can make porridge or strum on the piano, that is all her Sultan demands of her, all that is necessary to bring joy to the masculine soul—the alpha and omega of his desires and aspirations. If she can do these things she is rewarded with a lace handkerchief.

She who has regarded such a role as shameful and has shown her good sense by finding beauty in worthiness and by her self-reliant conduct testified to her sane intelligence has been set upon and pitilessly stoned by the multitude of Proudhons, past and present, called a blue stocking and persecuted with imbecile sarcasm and forced to stifle her individuality. For the crowd of heartless and brainless men she has sinned by having too much heart and too much intelligence. They have thrown stones at her and rarely has she the good fortune to meet a man who will take her by the hand and say: “Woman, rise; you are worthy of love; you are worthy of liberty.”

[concluded in Part II.]
About Shawn P. Wilbur 2283 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.