Proudhon, Liberty, Satan, and The Ladies Repository (oh, my!)

Very little of Proudhon’s 6-volume work on Justice in the Revolution and in the Church has been translated, but one in/famous passage has been treated to a number of English renderings. Section XLVII, which ends Chapter 5, “Function of Liberty,” which is itself the final chapter of the Eighth Study, “Conscience and Liberty” (which appears in Justice, Tome III in the Lacroix collected works) contains a passage that begins “Come, Satan, come. . . ,” and which has naturally been handy for those who wanted to demonstrate what an evil dude that French socialist Proudhon was.

There is a really rather lovely translation of part of the section in The Ladies Repository for August, 1858.

SATAN BEFRIENDED. — It is not often that a good word is spoken for the father of evil. Burns, it is true, wrote an “Address to the Deil,” in which he came to the charitable conclusion that even Old Nick might mend his ways and save his bacon : “But fare ye weel, auld Nickie-ben, / O wad ye tak a thought an’ men’! / Te aiblins might — I dinna ken — / Still hae a stake— / I’m wae to think upo’ yon den, / Ev’n for your sake!” But it has remained for Monsieur Proudhon, the noted French Socialist, to boldly embrace the cause of Satan as a friend! In his recent work, which has just been seized in France, by judicial process, he says : “Come, Satan, come, thou the calumniated of priests and of kings ! Let me embrace thee, let me press thee to my bosom ! Long is it that I have known thee, and long hast thou known me ! Thy works, 0 blessed one of my heart! not always are they beautiful and good ; but they alone give a meaning to the universe, and save it from absurdity. What would man be without thee? A beast. Thou alone animatest and fecundatest labor; thou ennoblest wealth, thou excusest power, thou puttest a stamp on virtue! Hope thou still, thou proscribed one! I have to serve thee a single pen, but it is worth millions of bulletins.”

Somehow, I don’t think that I could get away with “animatest and fecundatest” in my own translation, but it has a certain ring to it. There are a couple of other translations, from various periods, most of which seem to start off on the wrong foot, by translating “Viens, Satan, viens. . .” as just “come, Satan,” without the lovely repetition, which seems crucial to a passage which is obviously the finale of the study, or maybe the windup to the poetic lines with which Proudhon actually ended the study.

What is the context for all of this? It actually follows directly from the last section that I posted here. Here is a rough translation of the whole section:

There it is, that revolutionary liberty, cursed for so long, because it was not understood, because its key was sought in words instead of in things; there it is, as a philosophy inspired by it alone should in the end furnish it. In revealing itself to us in its essence, it gives us, along with the reason of our religious and political institutions, the secret of our destiny.

Oh! I understand, Monseigneur, that you do not like liberty, that you have never liked it. Liberty, which you cannot deny without destroying yourself, which you cannot affirm without destroying yourself still, you dread it as the Sphinx dreaded Oedipus: it came, and the riddle of the Church was answered; Christianity is no longer anything other than an episode in the mythology of the human race. Liberty, symbolized by the story of the Temptation, is your Antichrist; liberty, for you, is the Devil.

Come, Satan, come, slandered by priests and kings! Let me embrace you, let me clutch you to my breast! I have known you for a long time, and you know me as well. Your works, oh blessed of my heart, are not always beautiful or good; but you alone give sense to the universe and prevent it from being absurd. What would justice be without you? An instinct. Reason? A routine. Man? A beast. You alone prompt labor and render it fertile; you ennoble wealth, serve as an excuse for authority, put the seal on virtue. Hope still, proscript! I have at your service only a pen, but it is worth millions of ballots. And I wish only to ask when the days sung of by the poet will return:

You crossed gothic ruins; / Our defenders pressed at your heels; / Flowers rained down, and modest virgins / Mingled their songs with the war-hymn. / All stirred, and armed themselves for the defense; / All were proud, above all the poor. / Ah! Give back to me the days of my childhood,/ Goddess of Liberty!

And who is the hymn actually addressed to? Satan? Only if you accept that view, associated with a few minor figures like, say, Milton and Blake, that personifies the active principle as the devil. Proudhon’s invocation is to Liberty. But you’ve still got to hand it to the translators of The Ladies’ Repository item, methinks.

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


  1. In the General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, Proudhon cries: “Aid me, Lucifer, Satan, whoever you are, demon opposed to God according to the faith of my fathers! I will speak for you; and I ask nothing from you.”

  2. Yes. There are a number of other references. In the first volume of the System of Economic Contradictions, we find: “L’esprit d’analyse, Satan infatigable qui interroge et contredit
    sans cesse,…” (Tucker translates it: “The spirit of analysis, that untiring Satan who continually questions and denies…”) He didn’t always explicitly link Satan with skepticism, analysis or liberty, but he certainly did on a number of occasions.

  3. And here was what anarchist Mikhail Bakunin wrote about Satan. “If God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him

    A Boss in Heavan is the best excuse for a boss on earth, therefore If God did exist, he would have to be abolished.

    All religions, with their gods, demigods, prophets, messiahs and saints, are the product of the fancy and credulity of men who have not yet reached the full development and complete personality of their intellectual powers.God and the State

    If God is, man is a slave; now, man can and must be free; then, God does not exist. I defy anyone whomsoever to avoid this circle; now, therefore, let all choose.

    They [religious idealists] say in a single breath: God and the liberty of man, God and the dignity, justice, equality, fraternity, prosperity of men — regardless of the fatal logic by virtue of which, if God exists, all these things are condemned to nonexistence. For, if God is, he is necessarily the eternal, supreme, absolute master, and, if such a master exists, man is a slave. Now, if he is a slave, neither justice, nor equality, nor fraternity, nor prosperity are possible for him. In vain, flying in the face of good sense and all the teachings of history, do they represent their God as animated by the tenderest love of human liberty. A master, whoever he may be and however liberal he may desire to show himself, remains none the less always a master.

    But here steps in Satan, the eternal rebel, the first free-thinker and emancipator of worlds. He makes man ashamed of his bestial ignorance and obedience; he emancipates him, stamps upon his brow the seal of liberty and humanity, in urging him to disobey and eat of the fruit of knowledge.

    A jealous lover of human liberty, deeming it the absolute condition of all that we admire and respect in humanity, I reverse the phrase of Voltaire and say, ‘if God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.

    The first revolt is against the supreme tyranny of theology, of the phantom of God. As long as we have a master in heaven, we will be slaves on earth.

    Christianity is the complete negation of common sense and sound reason.

    God and the State, 1874″

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