P.-J Proudhon, “The Social Revolution Demonstrated by the Coup d’Etat” (1852)

The Social Revolution is a radical book with a strangely reactionary reputation. Having already addressed his ideas to all the most likely audiences, during the period when revolutionary hopes were still widespread in France, he turned, during his prison sentence, to less likely audiences. For example, The General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, which has retained a very radical reputation, was addressed to the bourgeoisie. So it is only through an escalation of his existing strategy that his next work became a call to the newly self-proclaimed Emperor Napoleon III to recognize the inevitability of the Social Revolution.

The work occupies a central place in the large, but largely fragmentary body of work that Proudhon dedicated to the critique of Louis Napoleon, but, thanks to its concluding chapter, it also occupies an important place in the surprisingly small body of writings that Proudhon dedicated to the notion of anarchy. It is that conclusion that is present here in English translation.


Interesting tidbits from Proudhon’s notebooks: Before the coup d’état, he had planned a work called “The Revolution Demonstrated by Politics.” It would demonstrate that “the politics of centralization and nationalities was no longer anything but a chimera,” thanks to changed conditions, ushered in by universal suffrage. It would, apparently, have made suggestions about the kinds of leaders necessary for the political opposition. After the coup d’état, it appears that he simply adapted the work to the new situation. There is also the partial plan for a work, “France, Pioneer, or, The End of States and Nationalities in Europe.” It takes off from Proudhon’s familiar, if probably not understood, sense that France was the leader and teacher among nations. From there it gets interesting: “France, first author of the movement, initiator of the transformation, will perish first. All the states and nationalities of Europe will perish with it. “From now on, no government of any sort is possible in France. The new conditions not only demand a complete change of system, but eliminate the principle. “I play the role of Cassandra, but it is necessary that these predictions be brought to light.”

The Social Revolution Demonstrated by the Coup d’Etat of December 2, 1851

[EXCERPTS]

[…]

Chapter X.

Anarchy or Caesarism.—Conclusion.

If there is a fact that attests to the reality and strength of the revolution, it is indisputably the events of December 2. Let France listen to them, and let Europe be taught by them: after the days of February and June 1848, those of December 1851 must count as the third eruption of the volcano.

Let us give an account of this shock that, more that any other, has marked a decisive step in the revolution.

France, throughout its whole history, from the Romans and the Franks, through Charlemagne and the Capetians, marches, in a continuous advance, to 89; by way of 89, it reaches 1848.

In 1848, as in 1789, everything, IN THE REALM OF THINGS, called for a revolution. But, unlike in 1789, there was in 1848, in the realm of ideas, nothing, or next to nothing, to cause it. The situation was ripe, but opinion lagged behind. From this discord between things and ideas spring all the incidents that have followed…

First, the socialist teaching.

The revolution imposing itself as a necessity, and public opinion resisting it because it did not understand it, the first labor had to be to reveal the social revolution to the country. So while the Provisional Government, the Executive Commission and General Cavaignac occupied themselves with maintaining order, socialism, with all the energy that circumstances demanded, organized its propaganda. It has been reproached for having caused fear, and it is still accused today of having, through its extravagances, compromised, doomed the republic! Yes, socialism has been frightening, and it boasts of it! One dies of fear as from any other malady and the old society will not recover from it. Socialism has been frightening! Was it necessary then, because others did nothing, could do nothing, that we silence ourselves! Must we, muting our drums, drop the idea along with the action?… Socialism has been frightening! What powerful spirits, frightened by socialism, but who have not trembled before universal suffrage!…

Now, as socialism, frightening at first glance (and every idea is frightening what it first appears), could not pass without giving rise to a violent contradiction; just so, however, it was in the data of history and institutions that, on the one hand, socialism will grow under a general reaction and that, on the other, it will lay bare the foolishness of all its adversaries, from the Montagnards to the dynastics, and by that revelation of their lack of logic, cast them one after the other from the position of power they have used against it.

There is not a fact that does not attest to the progress of socialism and which does not show at the same time the successive, inevitable rout of its adversaries.

Why, from February to December 1848, have the republicans of every shade successively toppled? Because they have held themselves apart from socialism, which is the revolution; because with the social revolution the republic makes no sense; because it seems a compromise, a doctrine, an arbitrary act.

But why have the republicans, worshipers of 93, held themselves apart from the movement in 1848? Because they realized from the first that the social revolution is the negation of all hierarchy, political and economic; that this void can’t bear their organizational prejudices, their habits of government; and that their minds, stopping at the surface of things, not discovering beneath the nakedness of the form the intelligible link of the new social order, recoil at that aspect, as before an abyss.

Thus, even as negation, as tabula rasa or rather as void, the revolution already exerts a power over the surrounding milieu; it is an attractive force, a destination, an aim, since by denying it the republicans seem to turn their backs on themselves and lose their way!

On December 10, Louis Bonaparte obtained the preference over General Cavaignac, who had however well deserved the peerage, whose civic-mindedness, selflessness and modesty will be noted by impartial history. Why that injustice in the election? Because General Cavaignac (destiny!) had to combat, in the name of law and order, the revolution in socialism; because then he was presented, in the name of revolution, as an adversary of the dynastic parties and as frankly republican; because, finally, in the face of that rigidity, at once constitutional […], the name of Bonaparte was raised: for the masses, as the hope of the swiftest revolution; for the partisans of the altar and throne, who steered them, as a hope of counter-revolution. Revolution, counter-revolution, the yes and the no, what does it matter! it is always the same passion that stirs, the same idea that directs.

Against whom was the war of Rome later undertaken? Against Mazzini? As if! Those who decreed the war on Rome were all as democratic as Mazzini. Like Mazzini, like Rossi, they had written on their flag: Separation of the spiritual and the temporal! Government, secular and free! The Revolution of Rome was waged against the social revolution.

Against what was the law of May 31 passed? — Against the revolution.

How, in 1849 and 1850, did the candidate selected by five and a half million votes manage to lose popularity? through his alliance with the reactionaries. How then did he recover his popularity? by affirming universal suffrage, the voice, one supposes, of the revolution. The people, in 1851, have received a remorseful Louis Bonaparte; like the father of the prodigal child, without listening to the observations of the wise son, they pardoned the repentant son.

Here we are, faced with the elections of 1852: on the left, the proposal for a recall of the Elysee, on the right the obstinacy of the law of May 31, and behind us the insurrection. The situation can not be more revolutionary: what will come of it?

Here, we can no longer judge the events from the point of view of legality and morals, of the regular exercise of power, of respect for the constitution, of the religion of the oath. History will pronounce on the morality of the acts: what is left to us it to note their inevitable side. Constitution, oath, laws, all have succumbed in the midst of the fierce competition: the bad conscience of one has absolved that of the other, and when royalty proclaims itself at the tribune, why should not the empire rise in the public square? Constitutional faith trampled underfoot by the majority, all that remains is the gross, immoral action of ambitions and parties, a blind instrument of destiny.

Such is then, in November 51, the situation of the antagonistic forces: the revolution is represented by the republican left, and incidentally by the Élysée, which joins with it for the repeal of the law of May 31; — the counter-revolution has for organ the majority, and incidentally also the Élysée, which unites with it for all the rest, against the republican party.

The Elysée, the ambiguous element, without significance by itself, is at this moment fought by both parties, which tend, with an equal ardor, to eliminate it. It is in fact a question of knowing if France will be for the revolution or the counter-revolution. What is Mr. Bonaparte, that he has come to say: Neither one nor the other; France will be for me?…

However, at the sight of this enclosed field where its destinies will play out, what does the populace think? The populace is loathe to regress, but it dreads the revolutionaries. It is not only socialism that makes it afraid: it is a Montagnard reaction, it is the reprisals of the democracy!… This disposition of minds, which equally rejects, on the one hand, the principle of the reaction and, on the other the men of the revolution, assures the fortunes of the Élysée. The same reason that could grind it between the two armies gives it triumph over both: it affirms the revolution, and it protects the conservatives! It is a bilateral, contradictory solution, but still a logical one, given the state of opinion, which circumstances render almost inevitable.

The meaning of December 2, the idea that it represents is thus, quite genuinely, Revolution. The remainder is a matter of persons, of party intrigues, deals between coteries, private vengeance, autocratic manifestations, measures of public safety and state policy. This is the allowance left to the good pleasure of the government by the law of revolutions. But that ambiguity cannot last: every principle must produce its consequences, every power work through its idea. We have reach that point: what will Louis-Napoléon do?

I have reported the principal acts of December 2; I have highlighted their inspiration, half real, half personal, and the constant uncertainty. And we have been able to note that up until this moment the new power, arrested by the void of public opinion, abandoned to his own inspirations, directed, in the heart of the universal contradiction, more by the prudence of man than by the reason of things, instead of abandoning the double face that had given him the victory, tended instead, by virtue of his understanding of the delegation and according to his family traditions, to continue his seesaw game and to transform, probably without knowing it, the existing institutions into a capricious feudalism.

I have shown then, through the example of the Emperor, the vanity of every political conception apart from the social synthesis, from the reason of history, from the indications of economics and from the revolutionary data. And, authorized by the analogy of eras, I have reminded Louis Bonaparte of his true mission, defined by himself, at the time of his first advent, the end of the parties: a definition that translates into this other, the end of Machiavellian or personal politics, which is to say the end of authority itself.

The negation of authority, and thus the disappearance of every governmental organism, could still appear, in 1849, as an obscure idea; [1] after December 2, not the least cloud remains. December 2 has highlighted the contradiction between governmentalism and the economy, [as well as that] between the State and society, in present-day France; what, four year ago, we could only have surmised through the rules of logic, has been made palpable today by the facts, infallible interpreters: the paradox has become a truth.

Let us summarize these facts, and prove by their analysis the truth of that triple proposition, which represents the whole movement of the last 64 years:

  • Individual or despotic government is impossible;
  • Representative government is impossible;
  • Government is impossible.

The principles upon which French society—let us say all free society—has rested since 89, principles prior and superior to the very notion of government, are:

1. Free property, what was called quiritaire in Rome, and allodial among the barbarian invaders. That is absolute property, at least to the extent that we can find anything absolute among men; property that is directly and exclusively under the control of the owner, who administers, rents, sells, gives or hires it, at his pleasure, without giving any account to anyone.

Property must be transformed, undoubtedly, by the economic revolution, but not in the extent to which it is free: it must, on the contrary, ceaselessly gain in liberty and guarantees. The transformation of property centers on its equilibrium: it is something analogous to the principle that was introduced into the right of nations by the treaties of Westphalia and 1815.

2. Free labor, with all of its accessory notions—free profession, free trade, free credit, free science, free thought and free religion—which means the absolute right, a priori, without restriction or oversight, for every citizen to work, manufacture, cultivate, extract, produce, transport, exchange, sell, buy, lend, borrow, negotiate, invent, learn, think, discuss, popularize, believe or not believe, etc., within the scope of their means, without any condition other than that of honoring their commitments, and also not disturbing anyone else in the exercise of the same rights.

Labor must also be revolutionized, like property, but with regard to is guarantees, not its initiative. To take the corporative organization for labor’s guarantee would be to recommence the work of the middle ages, the eradication of slavery by feudalism.

3. The natural distinction, egalitarian and free, of industrial, mercantile, scientific, (etc.) specialties, according to the principle of the division of labor and apart from all spirit of caste.

Such are the principles of 89, subject of the celebrated Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, recognized by the last constitution; and such, since that time, are the bases of our society.

Now, as the government must be the expression of society, as Mr. de Bonald puts it, we ask what the government can be in a society established on such bases?

It could not be a territorial feudalism, since property is free; nor an industrial, mercantile or financial feudalism, since labor is free, commerce free and credit free, or at least obviously in the process of becoming free; nor a regime of castes, since the professional specialties, according to their economic principle, are free; nor a theocracy, since conscience is also free. Will it be an absolute monarchy? No. Since the faculties of the man and citizen, labor, exchange, property, etc., converted into rights, are free, and their exercise is free, there no longer remains anything that could serve as motive or object of any sort of authority, and because the sovereign, formerly the visible, personal incarnation of divine right, has become an abstraction, a fiction, namely the people.

So if a government forms in the society thus constituted, this government could only result from a delegation, convention or federation, in short from the free and spontaneous consent of all the individuals who make up the People, each of them stipulating and contributing in order to guarantee their interests. So that the government, if there is a government, instead of being the Authority, as in the past, will represent the relation of all the interests engendered by free property, free labor, free commerce, free credit and free science, and will consequently itself have only a representative value, like the paper money that only has value because of the crowns it represents. At basis, the representative government has for a symbol and can be defined as an assignat.

Thus the democratic and representative nature of the government flows from the essentially free nature of the interests whose relations it indicates: these interests given, every appeal to any sort of authority becomes nonsense. In order for the government to cease to be democratic, in a society formed in this way, and for authority to reappear, it would be necessary that the faculties that have been declared free cease to be so; that property was no longer property, but fief; commerce no longer commerce, but excise; credit no longer credit, but servitude, corvée, tithe and mortmain—all of which is contrary to the hypothesis.

Need I repeat what everyone knows, that the thought of ‘89, and that of all constitutions that have been inspired by it, has been to organize the movement in such a way that it was the representation of the free interests on which society rests, and that this is still the pretension of the [forces behind the events of] December 2! The government of December 2, like all the powers that have preceded it since ‘89, flatters itself that it represents par excellence the relation of the interests recognized as free, both by nature and a priori. Neither it nor any of its predecessors have ever suspected what role there is for a government—which, incidentally, aims for authority—but to be a representation, the representation of a relation, of a relation of interests, and of interests that are free!!!

So the government exists today only because it represents. It does not enjoy, as one says in school, aseity; it does not establish itself; it is a product of the good pleasure of the liberties, of the inclination of the interests. Is such a government possible? Is there not a contradiction between all these terms: Government, representation, interests, liberties, relation?… Instead of giving ourselves up at this point to a discussion of categories, to keep the reader immersed in metaphysics, let us engage in history.

Let us suppose that, in the order of political understanding, as in every other order of knowledge, abstract ideas gradually take the place of concrete ideas. The government, instead of being considered as the representation or personification of the social relations, which is only a materialist and idolatrous conception, should be conceived as being that relation itself, something less poetic perhaps, less favorable to the imagination, but more in conformity with the habits of logic. The government, no longer distinguishing itself from the interests and liberties to the extent that both are put in relation, ceases to exist. For a relation, a law, can be written, as one writes an algebraic formula, but does not represent, in the governmental and theatrical [scénique] sense of the word, does not embody and cannot become a whole army of performers, appointed to act out before the people the Relation of the Interests! A relation is a pure idea, which is recorded in a few figures, characters, symbols or terms, in a book, in an agreement, in a contract, but which has no reality except that of the very objects that are in relation.

Well! The most positive, the only positive result of all the governments that have passed through France since 89 has been to bring to light this simple truth as a definition, obvious as an axiom: Government is the relation of interests and liberties.

And that first proposition given, the consequences follow swiftly: that from now on politics and economics are merged; that in order for there to be a relation of interests, the interests themselves must be present, responding, stipulating, committing themselves and acting; that in this way the social reason and its living emblem are one and the same thing; that, in the last analysis, everyone being government, there is no longer any government. So the negation of government arises from its definition: Whoever says representative government, says relation of interests; whoever says relation of interests, says absence of government.

And indeed, the history of the last sixty years proves that the interests are no more free or in relation with the representative government than with the despotic; that in order for them to maintain themselves in the conditions of their declaration, which are those of their existence, they must negotiate directly among themselves, according to the LAW of their solidarity and without intermediary. Apart from that, property once again becomes fief, labor servitude, commerce toil; the corporations reform, philosophy is at the discretion of the Church, science, in the hands of the Cuviers and Flourenses, says only what pleases theology and the pope: there are no longer either liberties or interests!

The interests, in their famous declaration, had said that conscience would be free. — The representative of those interests declares, in 1814, that the Catholic religion is the religion of the State; in 1830, that it is the religion of the majority, which, in terms of practice and finances, amounts to exactly the same thing. In fact, in 1852, the Catholics, under the pretext that they are the majority, exclude the dissidents from public education, remove [academic] chairs, and close the schools to the Protestants and the Jews. So that every citizen, whether or not they have an interest in any belief, pays first for all the religions; and if they have the misfortune to be Jew or Protestant, they are excommunicated by the Catholics, not as Jew or a Protestant, but as part of the religious minority. Where is the liberty and where is the relation?

In the same declaration, the interest express their wish that thought be free. — The representative of the interests, of the relation of interests, maintains, on his side, that he cannot fulfill his mandate in the presence of that liberty; that he needs the interests to say nothing, write nothing and read nothing, since, if they look too closely at things, if they gave an opinion, their security and that of the State would find itself compromised. The Emperor suppresses the newspapers, the Restoration creates the censorship, the July Monarchy makes the September laws, the republic septemberizes the papers, the [government of] December 2 gives them warnings. Where is the liberty of the interests? Where is their relation? And what a strange manner of representing the interests, which reduces them to silence!…

In the expectations of the interests, war should be the last argument to which the nation would have recourse in order to preserve the peace. Apart from the case of war, the maintenance of a permanent army seemed to them an anomaly that the institution of the national guards had especially aimed to end. — But the representative of the interests, leader of the armies of land and sea, always finds some reason to assert his title; and when he does not make war, he still keeps his armies complete, under the pretext that without them he cannot address domestic order, maintain the peace between the interests! So the interests are not in relation or, to put it better, that relation is not represented, since the representative can only keep the peace by force.

The interests demand government at the lowest price, the moderation of taxes, their equitable division, economy in expenditures, the payment of debts! — To this the representative of the interests responds that in order to be governed well, one must pay well; that a large budget is a mark of wealth and strength, an enormous debt a condition of stability. And the budget, along with the debt, doubles in fifteen years! Isn’t this the mystification of the interests?

Vineyards are one of the principal sources of wealth for the country. It would be necessary, in order to encourage cultivation, to insure the wines and brandies the outlets they need, by eliminating at least three quarters of the duties on beverages, which would at the same time give great pleasure to the people, who go without wine. — What does the representative of the interests say regarding this? That the duties on beverages are the most important category of his revenue, the finest jewel in his crown; that to replace them is impossible; that to eliminate them would be to drive him to bankruptcy. To complete the contradiction, he closes the cabarets! So that, if the wine-growing interest is not repressed, crushed, sacrificed, the other interests cannot be represented! Where is the liberty for the vineyard? Where is its relation with the other cultures, with industry and commerce?…

But, excuse me! It is not the wine-growers alone who complain: agriculture demands salt; the worker demands meat, sugar, tobacco, coal, leather, canvas and wool. The worker is naked and dies of hunger. — The representative of the suffering interests — and these interests are all the interests! — says through his newspapers and his orators that it is not true that that salt is indispensable to agriculture and livestock, as if he would know better than the farmers! As if it was up to him, their representative, to decide the matter!… That, moreover, that he would be happy to achieve for the people the wish of Henri IV, the chicken in the pot, but that the interest of the French breeders, that of the manufacturers of native sugar, etc., etc., does not allow the introduction into the country, franc de port, of the livestock, sugar, coal, etc. that the people need for their consumption. So much that the interests are sacrificed, by their own representative, to the relation of the interests, and that by virtue of that relation, according to the testimony of the representative, the nation could not become rich without at the same instant being ruined! So what use is the government? Isn’t it clear that the representation of the relation only represents one thing, which is that the relation does not exist?

For twenty years the interests have demanded, without the power to obtain them, some institutions of credit. Finally, a decree of the [government of] December 2 organizes the crédit foncier: that is all that it can do. But as it has no funds, the institution is only a coffer that will remain empty until it pleases the interests to fill it. It is clear — despite what has been said by the famous Law, cited by Mr. Thiers — that the State does not give credit, but on the contrary receives it: which means that the representative of the interest finds himself, in the matter of credit, absolutely incapable of action, if he is not himself represented by the interests that he represents!

The relation of the interests demonstrates that the canals must be delivered to the inland shipping trade gratis. The representative of the interests establishes a tariff on the canals and leases them. Why? Because that helps out his friends and provides him with an income. So the representative of the interests has other interests than the interests!

The relation of interests demands that the posts, the railways and all the instruments of public utility be operated at the lowest price, and without interest to capital. The representative of the interests makes the people pay for the transport of letters, persons and goods, at the highest price; individuals do not even have the security of their correspondence. Thus far we have believed that it was up to the principals to testify their confidence in the agent: not at all, it is the agent who says they do not have confidence in their principals!

The interest of families, a universal and absolute interest, which no one can gainsay, demands that instruction be given to the child by men who have the confidence of the father, according to principles that are agreeable to him. The representative of the family interest, the highest expression of paternal power, hands education over to the ignorant and the Jesuits; and that, under the pretense that he not only represents the fathers, but also represents the children!… What do you say, fathers, regarding this conscientious representation? …

On every point, the representative of the liberties and interests is in contradiction with liberty, in revolt against the interests: the only relation that it expresses is their common servitude!

So what will it be necessary to say to you, race of sheep, to prove to you that a relation, an idea is not represented, as you are inclined to understand it; that liberty, even more so, is not represented either; that to represent it is to destroy it; and that from the day when our fathers made, before God and men, the Declaration of their rights, positing in principle the free exercise of the faculties of the man and citizen — from that day, authority was denied in heaven and on earth, and government, even by means of delegation, became impossible?

Return, if you wish, to feudal customs, to theocratic faith, or to the piety of Caesar; regress ten, twenty or forty centuries, but speak no more of liberties represented, of rights and interests represented, because the liberties and interests, taken collectively and in their relations, do not represent themselves, and because the representative of a nation, just like the representative of a family, of a property or of an industry, can only be its leader and master. The representation of the interests is the reconstitution of authority!

Anarchy or Caesarism then, M. Romieu has told us; the Jesuits say it to you, and for the hundredth time I repeat it. Seek no more red herrings, no more middle ground. For sixty years that has all been exhausted and the experience has made you see that this middle ground is only, like Dante’s purgatory, a sphere of transition where souls, in an agony of conscience and thought, are prepared for a higher existence.

Anarchy, I tell you, or Caesarism: you will no longer escape from that choice. You didn’t want the honest, moderate, conservative, progressive, parliamentary and free republic; you are caught between the Emperor and the Social Revolution! Decide, now, which you want more: for, in truth, Louis-Napoléon, if he falls, will only fall, like his uncle, by revolution, and for the revolution; and the proletarian, whatever happens, will tire less than you. Is it not for him that the revolution will be made, and until the revolution, isn’t he the friend of Caesar?…

But Caesarism! Has the merry councilor of the Elysee thought about it? Caesarism became possible among the Romans when the conquest of the world was added to the victory of plebes over the patricians, as a guarantee of subsistence. Then Caesar could pay his veterans with land taken from the foreigners, pay his praetorians with foreign tributes and feed his plebes with products from abroad. Sicily and Egypt furnished grains; Greece its artists; Asia its gold, perfumes and courtesans; Africa its monsters; the Barbarians their gladiators. The pillage of nations organized for the consumption of the Roman plebes — the lazy, ferocious, monstrous masses — and for the security of the Emperor: that is Caesarism. That lasted, as best it could, three centuries, until the coalition of the foreign masses, under the name of Christianity, had filled the empire and conquered Caesar.

It is a question today of something very different. We have lost our conquests, those of the Emperor and those of the republic. We do not draw a penny from abroad with which we can pay alms to the last of the Decembrists, and Algeria costs us, in good years or bad, 100 million. In order to triumph over the bourgeoisie, the capitalists and proprietors, and to contain the middle class, [which is] industrious and liberal, and reigning through the plebes, it is no longer a question of maintaining the masses with the remains of the vanquished nations; it is a question of making them live on their own product, of making them work. How will Caesar do it? That is the question. Now, however it is done, he addresses himself to Saint-Simon, Fourier, Owen, Cabet, Louis-Napoléon, etc., we are in full socialism, and the last word of socialism is, along with non-interest, non-government! . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Do you believe, I am asked at this moment, by an indiscreet, perhaps malicious curiosity, that the December 2 accepts the revolutionary role in which you confine it, as in the circle of Popilius? Would you have faith in its liberal inclinations? And based on this inevitability, so well demonstrated by you, of the mandate of Louis-Napoléon, would you rally to his government, as to the best or least worst of transitions? That is what we want to know and what we await from you!…

— I will respond to that question, which is a bit suggestive, with another:

Do I have a right to suppose, when the ideas that I have defended for four years have obtained so little success, that the head of the new government will adopt them straightaway and make them his own! Have the taken on, in the eyes of opinion, that character of impersonality, reality, and universality, which would impose them on the State? And if these ideas, all still young, are still hardly anything but the ideas of one man, from whence would come the hope that the December 2, who is also a man, will prefer them to his own ideas!…

I write so that others will reflect in their turn and, if there is cause, so that they will contradict me. I write so that, truth being manifested and elaborated by opinion, the revolution — of the government, with the government or even against government — can be accomplished. As for men, I readily believe in their good intentions, but even more in the misfortune of their judgment. It is said in the book of Psalms: Put not your trust in prince, or in the children of Adam, — that is to say in those whose thought is subjective, — because salvation is not in them! So I believe, and unfortunately for us all, that the revolutionary idea, ill-defined in the minds of the masses, poorly served by its popularizers, still leaves to the government the full choice of its politics; I believe that power is surrounded with impossibilities that it does not see, contradictions that it does not known, traps that the universal ignorance conceals from it. I believe that any government can endure, if it wishes, by affirming its historical reasons and placing itself under the direction of the interests that it is called to serve, but I also believe that men change little and that if Louis XVI, after having launched the revolution, have wanted to withdraw it, if the Emperor, or if Charles X and Louis-Philippe have preferred to be doom it than to continue it, it is improbable that those who succeeded them would have straightaway and spontaneously made themselves its promoters.

That is why I hold myself apart from government, more inclined to pity it that to make war against it, devoted solely to the homeland, and I join myself body and soul with that elite of workers, head of the proletariat and middle class, the party of labor and progress, of liberty and the idea, which, understanding that authority is nothing, that popular spontaneity is of no use; that liberty which does not act is lost, and that the interests that need to put themselves in relation with an intermediary which represents them are interests sacrificed, accepts for its goal and motto the Education of the People.

O homeland, French homeland, homeland of the bards of the eternal revolution! Homeland of liberty, for, despite all your servitude, in no place on the earth, neither in Europe, nor in America, is the mind, which is all of man, so free as it is with you! Homeland that I love with that accumulated love that the growing son bears for his mother, that the father feels grow along with his children! I will see you suffer for a long time yet, suffer not for yourself alone, but for the world which rewards you with its envy and its insults; to suffer innocent, only because you do not know yourself?… It seems to me at every instant that you are at your last ordeal! Awaken, mother. Neither can your princes, your barons and your counts do anything for your salvation, nor can your prelates know how to comfort you with their benedictions. Guard, if you wish, the memory of those who have done well and go sometimes to pray at their monuments, but do not seek their successors. They are finished! Commence your new life, O first of immortals; show yourself in your beauty, Venus Urania; spread your perfumes, flower of humanity!

And humanity will be rejuvenated, and its unity will be created by you: for the unity of the human race is the unity of my homeland, as the spirit of the human race is nothing but the spirit of my homeland.


[1] See Confessions d’un révolutionnaire, § xvi, 3rd edition.


[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

About Shawn P. Wilbur 1961 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.