JUSTICE – Supremacy of Justice

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

§ IX. — Supremacy of Justice.

Philosophy defined;

Its dualism established;

Its levelling spirit and its democratic tendency demonstrated;

The formation of ideas, perceptions and concepts explained;

The criterium having been found, the goal indicated, the synthetic formula given, man’s purpose determined;

One can say, in a sense, that philosophy is finished.

It is finished, since it can present itself before the multitude and say to it: I am JUSTICE, Ego sum qui sum; it is I who shall draw you forth from misery and servitude. There is nothing more but to fill the cadres, which is the business of the professors and the scholars.

Indeed, what is this Justice, if not the sovereign essence that Humanity from time immemorial adored under the name of God; what philosophy has not ceased to seek its turn under various names: the Idea of Plato and Hegel, the Absolute of Fichte, the pure and practical Reason of Kant, the Rights of man and of the citizen of the Revolution? Since the beginning of the world, hasn’t human religious and philosophical thought, constantly revolved on this pivot?

It would not be difficult to bring back to this program all the theories—religious, philosophical, aesthetic, and moral—which since the beginning of the world have occupied the human spirit. We will exempt ourselves of this work. The people do not have time to give to such vast, wild imaginings. All that they ask, is that we summarize for them this new faith in a way that catches them, that enables them to take it seriously, and to make of it at this moment a force and a weapon.

We have known well how to make astronomy accessible to the children, without making them pass through the deserts of the higher mathematics; we, formerly, had found good means to make all the substance of the religion—history, dogmas, liturgy, scriptures—penetrate into the mind of the people, without for that obliging them to become theologians. Why, today, should we not teach them philosophy and Justice in the same way, without imposing any other condition on them than to make use of their good sense?

We will thus say to the People:

Justice is simultaneously, for any reasonable being, the principle and form of thought, the guarantee of the judgment, the code of conduct, the goal of knowledge and the end of existence. It is feeling and concept, manifestation and law, idea and action; it is universal life, spirit, and reason. Just as, in nature, all converges, all conspires, all consents, according to the old expression, in the same way, in a word, all the world tends to harmony and balance; in society, likewise, all is subordinated to Justice, all serves it, all is done by its command, according to its measure and for its sake; it is upon its foundation that the edifice of interests is constructed, and, to this end, that of knowledge: while at the same time, it is in itself subordinate to nothing, recognizing no authority beyond itself, serving as an instrument to no power, not even to freedom. It is, of all our ideas, the most understandable, the most present, and the most fertile; of our feelings, the only one that men honour without reserve, and the most indestructible. The ignoramus perceives it as fully as does the wise man, and, to defend it, becomes instantly as subtle as the doctors, as courageous as the heroes. Before the glare of right, mathematical certainty fades. So it is that the construction of Justice is the great enterprise of mankind, the most masterly of sciences, the work of the collective spontaneity much more than of the genius of legislators, and an unending task. We will thus say to the People:

This, O People, is why Justice is severe, and does not suffer mocking remarks. All knees bend before it, and all heads are bowed. It alone allows, tolerates, forbids or permits: it would cease to be, if it required, on behalf of that which it is, any permission, authorization, or tolerance. Any obstacle is an insult to it, and every man is called to arms to overcome it. Quite different is religion, which could not prolong its life except by making itself tolerant, which could not continue to exist without tolerance. It is enough to say that its role is done with. Justice, on the contrary, is fundamental and unconditioned; it suffers no opposition, it admits of no competition, neither in the conscience, nor in the mind; and whoever sacrifices it, even to the Idea, or even to Love, is excluded from the communion of mankind. No peace with iniquity, O democrats: may that be the motto of your peace and your war cry. — But, the last of the Christians will say to us, your Justice is the reign of God that the Gospel prescribes us from seeking in any thing, Quœrite primum regnum Dei et justitiam ejus; it is the sacrifice which God prefers, Sacrificate sacrificium justitiæ. How, then, can you not welcome our God, and how can you reject his religion?

It is because you yourselves, oh inconsistent worshippers, believe in Justice even more than you do in your God. You affirm his word, not because it is divine, but because your spirit finds it true; you follow its precepts, not because God is the author, but because they seem to you right. Theology wishes in vain to reverse this order, to give sovereignty to God and to subordinate Justice to him: the intimate sense protests, and, in popular teaching, in prayer, it is Justice that serves as witness to the Divinity and the pledge of the religion. Justice is the supreme God, it is the living God, God the Almighty, the only God who dares be intolerant with respect to those who blaspheme against him, beneath which are nothing but pure idealities and assumptions. Pray to your God, Christians, the law permits it; but be sure that you do not prefer him to Justice, if you would not be treated as conspirators and corrupters.

What man, now, in the presence of this great principle of Justice, would not have the right to call himself a philosopher? It would be a return immediately to the antique spirit of caste, to disavow the progress of twenty-five centuries, to hold, like the senate of old Rome, that the patrician alone has the privilege of the legal formulas and the sacred things, and that in the presence of fulgurating Jupiter the slave does not have the right to call himself religious. All the relations of men with one another are governed by Justice; all natural laws derive from that by which the beings, and the elements which compose them, are or tend to be equilibrated, all the formulas of the reason are reduced to the equation or series of equations. Logic, the art of right reasoning, can be defined, like chemistry since Lavoisier, as the art of maintaining balance. Whoever commits an error or a sin has faltered, one says, he has stumbled, he has lost his balance. Under a thousand different expressions, language unceasingly reproduces the same idea. Do we not recognize, by this sign, the existence of a popular philosophy, which is nothing other than the philosophy of right, a philosophy that comes simultaneously from reason and from nature? And this is not, at bottom, the same philosophy taught, in his barbaric language, by that philosopher who has never been equaled by any other, the immortal Kant, when he demanded from practical reason, from that which he called its categorical imperative, the supreme guarantee of speculative reason, and when he acknowledged with frankness that there was nothing certain beyond right and duty?


  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. (next)
  11. Law of Progress. Social destination.
  12. A word about the situation.
  13. Conclusion.

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Independent scholar, translator and archivist.