JUSTICE: Conditions for a philosophical propaganda

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, Volume I, “Program,” section X.

§ X. — Conditions for a philosophical propaganda.

It is when religions pass away, when monarchies fail, when the politics of exploitation is reduced, in order to preserve itself, to proscribing the worker and the idea, and when the republic, everywhere on the agenda, seeks its formula; at the hour when the old convictions are dilapidated, when consciences are routed, when opinion is abandoned, when the multitude of egoisms shouts Every man for himself! that the moment arrives for an attempt at social restoration by means of a new propaganda.

1. Let us not fear to repeat: Justice, under various names, controls the world, nature and humanity, science and conscience, logic and morals, political economy, history, literature and art. Justice is what is most primitive in the human heart, most fundamental in society, most sacred among the nations, and what the masses demand today with the greatest ardor. It is the essence of the religions at the same time as it is the form of reason, the secret object of faith, and the beginning, the middle, and the end of knowledge. What could possibly be more universal, stronger, more complete than Justice, Justice with respect to which any superiority would imply contradiction?

Now, the people possess Justice within themselves; they have preserved it better than their masters and their priests; it is stronger among them than among the savants who teach it, the lawyers who discuss it, and the judges who apply it. The people, finally, in their native intuition and their respect for right, are more advanced than their superiors; they are lacking, as they say themselves when speaking of the intelligent animals, only speech. It is speech which we want to give to the people.

Thus, we who know how to speak and write, we have but one thing to do, in order to preach to the people and to philosophize in the name of the Justice, which is to inspire ourselves with the feelings of our audience, and to take them for our arbiter. If the philosophy that we attempt to explicate is insufficient, they will tell us so; if we go astray in our controversies, if we are mistaken in our conclusions, they will inform us; if something better offers itself to them, they will take it. The people, in that which concerns Justice, are not, strictly speaking, disciples, much less neophytes. The idea is within them: the only initiation they call for, like the Roman plebs of former times, is that of the formulas. That they have faith in themselves, that is all that we ask of them; then, that that take note of the facts and the laws: our ministry does not go beyond that. We are the counselors of the people, not their initiators.

2. This first advantage entails another, no less precious: while presenting ourselves simply as missionaries of right, we need neither to prevail upon any authority, divine or human, nor to pose as geniuses, martyrs or saints. Modesty, frankness, zeal, above all, good sense—nothing more is required of us. The truths we carry are not ours; they were not revealed to us from on high by grace of the Holy Ghost, and we have no copyright or proprietary patent over them. These truths are shared by everyone; they are inscribed within every soul, and we are not called on, as a proof of our veracity, to apply them to prophecies and miracles. Speak to the slave of liberty, to the proletarian of his rights, to the worker of his salary: all will understand you, and if they see there a chance of success, they will not ask themselves in the name of whoever or whatever you hold up to them such a discourse. In matters of justice, nature has created all competent, because it has given us all the same faculty and the same interest. This is why we can weaken in our teaching without ever compromising our cause, and that no difference of opinion can lead to a schism between us. The same zeal for Justice that has divided us on a point of doctrine will reconcile us sooner or later. No authority, no priesthood, no churches. All of us who affirm right are in our belief necessarily orthodox, consequently eternally united. Heresy in Justice is a nonsense. Oh! If the apostles of Christ had been able to hold to this teaching! If the Gnostics had dared return to it! If Arius, Pelagius, Manès, Wyclef, Jan Huss and Luther had been strong enough to understand it! . . . But it was written that the popular Word had for its precursor the Word of God: how blessed are both!

3. But, one says, the people are incapable of a course of study; the abstraction of ideas, the monotony of science repels them. With them, one must always concretize, personalize and dramatize, employ ethos and pathos, constantly change object and tone. Constrained by imagination and passion, realist by temperament, they voluntarily follow the empirics, tribunes and charlatans. The fervor is not sustained; at every instant, it falls back into the materialism of interests. This proves one thing: the philosopher who devotes himself to teaching the masses instructs himself at base from theories, must be above all, in his lectures to the people, a practical demonstrator. In this, at any rate, he will not be an innovator. Isn’t the identity of the fact and the law, of the content and the form, the constant object of the tribunes? Does jurisprudence, in its schools and its books, proceed other than by formulas and examples?

Why, moreover, in teaching Justice, deprive ourselves of these two powerful levers, passion and interest? Has Justice any other end than to ensure the public happiness against the incursions of egoism? Does it not have poverty for its sanction? Yes, we know that the people feel themselves to be highly interested in Justice, and no one takes their material interests more seriously than we do. If it is a point on which we propose to return constantly, it is that all crimes and misdemeanors, all corporate privilege, all that is arbitrary in government, is for the people an immediate cause of pauperism and sorrow.

This is why, as missionaries for democracy, having to combat the most detestable passions, and the cowardly and obstinate egoism, we never intend to make the mistake of arousing popular indignation by the vehemence of our discourse. Justice is demonstrated by sentiment as well as by logic. The penal code of despotism calls this to incite the citizens to hate one another, to mistrust and hate the government. Shall we be the dupes of a hypocritical legislation, of which the sole end is to paralyze consciences in order to assure, under a false appearance of moderation, the impunity of the most guilty parties?

Man’s life is brief: the people can receive but rare and rapid lessons. What purpose do they serve if we do not render those lessons as positive as existence; if we do not put men and things in play; if, in order to seize minds, we do not give impetus to imaginations and hearts? Shall we scruple, in speaking of Justice, to be of our time, and will we not merit what is said of us by the false apostles, if, as our adversaries wish, we reduce it to a pure abstraction?

It is in the contemporaneity of facts that one must show the people, as in a mirror, the permanence of ideas. The history of religion, the Church tells us, is an uninterrupted stream of miracles. But the faithful has no need, in order to be convinced of the truth of his belief, of having seen them all; it suffices that he contemplates this Church, the establishment of which, according to the doctors, is itself the greatest of miracles. Thus it is with Justice. The history of its manifestations, of its developments, of its constitutions, of its theories, encompasses the lives of many hundreds of men. Happily, the people have nothing to do with this burden. In order to sustain their faith in Justice, it suffices for one to show it, by striking examples, Justice oppressed and then revenged, crime triumphant and then punished; it suffices that they hear the protestations of generous souls in eras of unhappiness, and that they feel that this Revolution so calumniated, which for three millenia has pushed the working masses toward liberty, is Justice.

4. But what order to follow in this teaching? What is especially painful in the study of sciences is the yoke of the methods, the length of the preliminaries, the sequence of propositions, the accuracy of the transitions, the rigor of the analyses; it is this obligation never to pass on to a new subject, before that which precedes it on the staircase of method is exhausted. Thus, before approaching the study of philosophy, the student requires six or seven years of grammar, languages, humanities, and history; logic, metaphysics, psychology, then come morals, not to mention mathematics, physics, natural history, etc. These studies having been completed, if the poor student has obtained his diplomas, he may begin studying law, which takes at least three years. It is in these conditions that the young man, rich enough pass his time thus, becomes legist, lawyer, Justice of the Peace, or substitute for the imperial prosecutor.

The people, undoubtedly, cannot traverse this entire succession; if philosophy can be acquired only under such conditions, it is condemned without reprieve. Either democracy is only a word, and there is not, outside of the language of the Church, apart from feudality and of the divine right, communion between men; or it is necessary here to change approaches. I want to say that, in agreement with popular reason, it is necessary to abandon the analytical and deductive method, glory of the School, and to replace it with a universalist and synthetic method, more in touch with the reason of the masses, which sees everything concretely and synthetically. I will explain.

Since everything, in nature and in society, pivots on Justice, since it is center, base, and summit, substance and form of every fact as well as any idea, it is obvious, à priori, that everything can be reduced directly to Justice, consequently that the true philosophical method consists in breaking all these patterns. In that sphere of the universal where we are going to move, and of which he center is called Justice, harmony, equilibrium, balance, equality, all the graduations and specifications of school vanish. Little matter that we take our point of departure at such a meridian or such a parallel, at the equator or at the pole; that we begin with political economy rather than logic, with aesthetic or moral philosophy rather than counting and grammar. For the same reason, it matters little to us to change the subject as many times as we please, and as it pleases us; for us, there can result from it neither confusion nor mix-ups. It is always the higher reason of things that we seek, that is to say the direct relation of each things with Justice, which does not undermine in any way classifications of school, and does not compromise any of his faculties.

To philosophize about this and that, in the manner of Socrates, will thus be then, except for the adjustments demanded by the circumstances, the approach to follow in a philosophico-juridical education destined for the people.—A method of this sort, one with say, is no method at all.—Perhaps: with regard to science, rigor of method is a sign of the mistrust of mind, arising from it weakness. If we should address ourselves to superior intelligences, it is the method of Socrates that they prefer, and universal reason itself, if it could speak, would not proceed otherwise. Now nothing resembles univeral reason more, as to form, than the reason of the people; in treating it thus, we do not flatter it, but serve it.


  1. The coming of the people to philosophy
  2. The definition of philosophy
  3. On the quality of the philosophical mind
  4. The origin of ideas
  5. That metaphysics is within the province of primary instruction
  6. That philosophy must be essentially practical
  7. The character that must be presented by the guarantee of our judgments and the rule of our actions.–Conversion from speculative to practical reason: determination of the criterion.
  8. Justice, universal reason of things: science and conscience.
  9. Supremacy of Justice.
  10. Conditions for a philosophical propaganda.
  11. Law of Progress. Social destination. (next)
  12. A word about the situation.
  13. Conclusion.

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