Pierre Leroux in “The Present” and “The Spirit of the Age”

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From Humanity

  • Pierre Leroux, “The Nature and Destiny of Man,” The Present 1 no. 2 (October 15, 1843): 65-68.
  • Pierre Leroux, “The Education of the Human Race,” The Present 1 no. 3 (November 15, 1843): 105-110.
  • Pierre Leroux, “Charity, As the Remedy of Evil,” The Present 1 no. 5-6 (December 15, 1843): 203-205.

From Equality

  • Pierre Leroux, “Equality,” The Spirit of the Age 1 no. 10 (September 8, 1849): 156.
  • Pierre Leroux, “Humanity,” The Spirit of the Age 1 no. 17 (October 27, 1849): 261-262.
  • Pierre Leroux, “Necessity of Evil,” The Spirit of the Age 1 no. 18 (November 3, 1849): 273-275; 1 no. 19 (November 10, 184x): 289-291.
  • Pierre Leroux, “Happiness,” The Spirit of the Age 1 no. 22 (December 1, 1849): 339-341.

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Man, by nature and essentially is sensation—sentiment—intelligence, indissolubly united. Such is the psychological definition of man. His life then consists in the exercise and employment of these three faces of his nature, and his normal life consists in never separating them in any act. By means of these man holds relations with other men and with the world. It is other men then and the world which, uniting with this nature, determine and reveal the man, or enable him to reveal himself; they constitute his objective life, without which his subjective life remains latent and unmanifested.

The life of man then, and of every man, by the will of his Creator, is dependent upon an incessant communication with his fellow beings, and with the universe. That which we call his life, does not appertain entirely to him, and does not reside in him alone; it is at once within him and out of him; it resides partially, and jointly, so to speak, in his fellows and the surrounding world. In a certain point of view therefore it may be said, that his fellow beings and the world appertain also to him. For, as his life resides in them, that portion of it which he controls, and which he calls Me, has virtually a right to that other portion, which he cannot so sovereignly dispose of, and which he calls Not Me.

Hence arise two relations, between man and his fellow beings, and man and the universe, relations which may be productive of good or of evil. Man places himself in communion and society with his fellow men which is peace; or he seeks by violence to use them for his own purposes, which is war. Again when cultivated he establishes communication with the existences different from himself in kind, which make up the universe, by studying their qualities and laws; or as a savage he makes them his prey, and lives in hostility with a nature that he does not comprehend, which in turn resists and often subdues him. Man at his nearest approximation to the brute lives in perpetual war with all creatures and with his kind. But notwithstanding this, so strong is his need of peaceful relations with surrounding existences, that it is impossible to conceive of him as being without family, nation, and property. For it is absolutely necessary to his existence, and to his consciousness of existence, that he should have grouped harmonious^ ground him other beings, so that the Me which constitutes him, by incarnating itself in them may appear objectively and be present to him at every moment.

Property, the Family, the Nation, correspond, in part, to the three terms, Sensation, Sentiment, Intelligence, of the psychological definition of man, already given. Man manifests himself to himself and to others in this triplicity, because his nature is triple. The trinity of his spiritual nature, when sensation is predominant, gives rise to property; when sentiment is predominant to family; when intelligence is predominant to the city or state.

And now observe the immediate result of this condition, which makes man necessarily dependent upon family, nation, and property. He needs the family; but in a family there are parents and children; the parent may be a tyrant, and then the child is a slave. The duality of good and evil, of peace and war, re-appears here. Vainly would man, at war with nature and society, intrench himself within his family, there at least to live at peace; the family in giving too much power to the father robs of his rights the son. The Patriarch indeed, the chief of the family finds his Me, his personality, impressed on all about him, in the obedient group which responds to every wish. But the mother, the younger brethren, the children are lost and sacrificed to him. It is the same with the nation. Man allies himself with his fellows; families united make a state. But a state cannot exist without there being chiefs and simple citizens. That which leads a man to wish for a nation, is his need of being sensible of himself in other men, of recognizing his Me in those who constitute his society. But if those, who have most energetically acting in themselves this sentiment, become despots, all other citizens become slaves. Thus here again recurs the duality of good and of evil, of peace and of war, of liberty and slavery.

Finally, it is the same with property; where man, by an illusion, imagines that slavery cannot touch him. As his relation here has for its object inferior existences, he believes that he shall always have power over them, and that property will result only in good. But he deceives himself when he regards property as thus productive only of good, for this property may be either increased or diminished, and so prove insufficient. In wishing property for his own sake too, man creates the desire of property in others. There are then impassable limits which he sets up for himself; in becoming a proprietor, he becomes a slave; for by that act, he abdicates his right to the enjoyment of all things which do not belong to him. His property becomes thus, the representative sign of his power, and his power thus represented by his property, depends upon it, and is limited by it, and so is he the slave of the beings which he owns.

Man, by the very fact of life, by the inherent necessity of his being, constitutes then the family, the nation, property; and finds that these three modes of good may become for him a triple source of evil. And now will the family, the’ nation, property ever disappear from among humanity? In the course of ages, from time to time, have risen up single drinkers, and whole sects who have believed and taught this. In our own days such thinkers and sects have appeared anew. But so great is the error of these opinions, that those who have embraced them, have been invariably obliged to preserve in an exaggerated form one or the other of these three terms, either the family, the nation, or property, and to content themselves with sacrificing to the one they thus preserved, the other two. Anchorites alone have supposed it possible to live without either family, nation,’ and property; and with good reason has that kind of life been called a suicide.

You would have neither family, nor nation, nor property; but do you not see that this would be to destroy man, and even the name of man? You would no longer have the family; no more then marriage, and constant love; no more the ties of father and son, of brethren; you would be without relations then with any being in time; and so situated, you would be without a name. You would destroy the state, the nation. Behold yourself alone and isolated, then, among the myriads of men who people the earth. How should I distinguish you among such multitudes? As you would no longer have a name for me, to ‘me, you would really cease to live. Finally you would put away the distinctions of property; but could you live without a body 1 I do not now dwell on the point that you must nourish, clothe, preserve this body, and that you can satisfy these wants only by appropriating certain things; but I say that this body itself is property. This body is not you, though it belongs to you ; in certain respects it is a thing, and it is merely property in relation to the power which manifests itself through it. Consequently as this power can show itself and act only through the body, to destroy property would be to suppress the power. It is a certain truth in metaphysics, that the idea of the individuality of each man would disappear, if we should cast off from this idea the relations of family, nation and property. For, in order that man should exist to his own eyes and the eyes of others, he must be not only a force, but a force manifested.

We recognise the fact, then, that man is at once produced and made manifest by; 1. His parents who gave him life, and the children to whom he has transmitted life; 2. The fellow beings with whom he lives in society; 3. The things of nature over which he exercises control. Hence, three spheres without which he cannot exist. 1. The family; 2. society, the city, the nation; 3. property.

But this triple limit, which surrounds man, may either crush and en-” chain his existence, or simply be the point of departure and means of this existence. I have descended from my ancestors; but if I can only do and think what my ancestors did and thought, I am enchained, I am a slave. I associate with men who surround me, but if this society is absolute and oppressive, again I am enchained, again I am a slave. I have in my possession a certain portion of external nature, or of nature modified by man’s labor, but if I am limited to this portion which I actually own, I am once more enchained and a slave. Thus, as I have already said, these three relations, which are excellent in themselves, and absolutely necessary, may still by excess, become evils. The family, the nation, property, may swallow up the man. Man may become a slave by birth, by citizenship, by possession. And thus far in the history of man he has been enslaved in this threefold way, in proportion as one or the other of these relations has been predominant.

The problem for the future is, How can the family, the state, property, be so organized as to permit man to develope himself in constant progress without oppression?

All the evils which the human race has suffered come from castes. As soon as into your ideal of society and politics you admit the entire human race, these will cease. The true law of humanity is, that the individual tends, by means of the family, the nation, and property, to a complete communion, either direct or indirect, with his fellow beings and the universe, and that by restraining and limiting this communion there results imperfection and injury. The family is a good; but family caste is an evil. The nation is a good; but national caste is an evil. Property is a good; but the caste of property is an evil.



Who does not know Lessing’s little book, entitled “The Education of the Human Race?” It is a sublime book—a book of prophecy; one of those books interposed boldly at a solemn moment between the past and the future. It is pretended that when Paganism fell, the last oracle uttered these words, “ The gods are departing,” which the Christians interpreted by saying that the evil spirits, who, according to them, were those false gods, were yielding the world to Jesus Christ. At the close of the eighteenth century, it might well have been said, “the gods are departing.” All religions were overthrown, all creeds dissipated. Christianity was on its way to rejoin the Mosaic dispensation in the tomb. But where was the new principle, destined to save the world, and before whom were the old gods fleeing? Lessing, the greatest thinker of Germany was, to pursue the comparison, one of those magi who went to see the new born in his manger, and announced him to the universe. How touching to hear this theological enthusiast for Christianity proclaim his perception of a new light! “I have placed myself upon an eminence where I can see beyond the road which my times have marked out. But I do not call on the weary traveller who is only anxious to reach his resting place quickly, to leave the beaten track. I do not pretend that the point of view which has delighted me, must equally delight all spectators. And so methinks I might well be left up here in ecstasy, where I have chosen to stop to indulge my ecstasy. And yet if I were coming from the immense distance which the soft evening twilight neither conceals nor entirely opens to my view, to announce a sign, the absence of which has so often disturbed me!”

And what was the sign he was declaring to that eighteenth century, which had heard the oracle re-echo, “the gods are departing?”

Madame de Stael says, “Lessing maintains in his essay on the education of the human race, that religious revelations have always been in proportion to the light which existed at the period when those revelations appeared. The Old Testament, the Gospel, and in many respects, the Reformation, were in their several periods entirely in harmony with the march of mind; and, perhaps, according to him, we are now on the eve of a development of Christianity, which will collect all the scattered rays into one focus, and will lead us to find in religion more than morality, more than happiness, more than philosophy, more than the sentiment of religion itself; because each of these will be multiplied by being united with the others.” This summary of Madame de Stael’s is a very imperfect expression of Lessing’s book. His profound idea is precisely that which we are maintaining throughout the whole of this work, to wit: “Mankind is a collective being, animated with a life of its own, whose education God is conducting.” And below this, and deeper still, we find in Lessing this other idea, which we are now trying to elucidate, to wit: that “Moses was right in not teaching the Jews the immortality of the soul, as the pagans generally understood it, as the vulgar in so many nations have received it, and as it is commonly received at this present time; for immortality so understood is an error and a chimera. Lastly, below this even, and deeper still, we find in Lessing the fundamental truth that we are proclaiming, to wit: that “the immortality of the souls of men is inseparably connected with the progress of our race; that we who live are not only the children and posterity of those who have lived before, but at bottom and really those generations themselves; and that it is thus, and only thus, that we shall always live, and be immortal.”

All these thoughts, I say, are in Lessing, very explicitly, although they are neither developed nor demonstrated. He comprehended them rather by the heart, than by the intellect; though he was so great a philosopher, that many judges in Germany, arid of the best’ too, declare him to be the prince of modern thinkers in that Germany, without excepting Kant, or anybody else.

But let us not anticipate what will find its proper place further on. We will quote as a part of our text, and almost entire, Lessing’s short chef d’oeuvre. The reader will then judge if his testimony is entitled to the weight we give it. We confine ourselves, in this place, to the answer he has furnished to the problem why Moses and all the old dispensations did not avow the doctrine of a future life.

Lessing answers, “Because mankind is progressive, because religion is progressive, because revelation, in the bosom of which the mind of man lives and developes itself, is progressive.”

To explain this progress, or successive development of religious truth or revelation, in connexion with the natural development of humanity, he begins by likening revelation to a sort of education, and lays down his ideas thus: “Revelation is to mankind what education is to the individual. Education is a revelation made to the individual, and revelation is an education which has been given, and is still given to mankind.”

We here see in the outset the Christian theologian, who is not willing to renounce a special revelation, distinct from the development of human reason. But what matters it, since Lessing agrees that revelation, as he understands it, is nothing more than a particular mode of that human reason, that it is that reason more enlightened, more directly inspired from God? Wherever reason beams, God shines. Only in certain men, in certain nations, at certain periods, reason beams with a greater brilliancy, that is to say, God, wishing to form mankind, shines more in certain points of mankind than in others. This is what Lessing says positively, when he adds, u Education does not give a man anything which he could not as well have had from himself, only it gives it to him quicker and more easily. In a like manner, Revelation does not give mankind anything to which human reason could not also have attained if it had been left to itself; but the latter has only given and is still giving important truths more rapidly.”

Religion, then, at any period is not absolute truth, but only relative truth, the truth such as men at that period could conceive it. It can never be falsehood, but it is not the whole truth. It contains the germ of future truth, but the germ only and, well wrapped round with leaves. One essential requisite, indeed, is that religion should be comprehended, and to be comprehended that it should not be too superior to the human race that accepts it. Of what advantage, I ask, would it be to that race if there were not between them and it any relation, affinity, harmony? This view, which is so true and reasonable in itself, shows us what feeling we should have at this day for the religions of the past. “Why,” says Leasing, “not rather see in all religions the necessary progress of the human mind in all times and places, in the past as well as in the future, than lavish our ridicule or anger on one of them. Nothing in the best of worlds should be thought worthy of our contempt or hatred, and shall religions only be excepted! ‘Shall God have a part in everything, and shall he not have a part in our errors?’

Leasing lays it down, then, as beyond doubt, that Revelation to be true has necessarily been accommodated to human reason, and that as this reason is progressive, revelation has necessarily been equally progressive. “In the same way that the order in which education develops the faculties of man is not a matter of indifference, and as it cannot give man everything at once, so God must have observed a certain order, a certain measure in revelation.”

It would be well to ask Lessing, on the ground of these very principles, to embrace in a broader acceptation than he has yet done, this word Revelation. It would be well to tell hum that Revelation is not to be confined to our West; that this western world itself, brought into being as it was, at a given period, had been brooded over in embryo in a former revelation; that it came at its appointed time, but had been preceded, prepared, and introduced; and that thus to limit revelation to the Jewish-Christian tradition, to Moses and to Jesus Christ, is to contract his scope of view most exceedingly, after having extended it so far. But let us not forget that he is a Christian theologian. It is only, therefore, in the Jewish Christian tradition, in the twofold Alliance, in Moses and Christ, that he sees the successive religious progress, the gradual development of revelation or true religion, and he explains this progress thus:—

“Though the first man may have been immediately endowed with the idea of one God, still this idea being communicated and not self-acquired, could not long remain in its purity. As soon as human reason, left to itself, began to elaborate it, it divided this one immense Being into parts, and in still further measuring those parts, it gave each of them a distinction mark.

“Such is the natural origin of polytheism and idolatry. And who knows how many millions of years human reason might have wandered in this path of error, notwithstanding the individuals who everywhere and in all times knew that it was a path of error, if it had not pleased God by a fresh impulse to give man a truer direction! But not being able, and not wishing further to reveal himself specially to every individual, he selected a particular people specially to educate them, and with justice he selected the most rude and most depraved, that he might be able to make a complete beginning with them. Such were the Israelites. We do not know what was their worship in Egypt. Certainly slaves, as much despised as they were, never participated in the religious worship of the Egyptians, and as to the God of their fathers, they had lost all knowledge of him. Perhaps the Egyptians had expressly forbidden the Jews any God, the only God or any other, by impressing them with the belief that they had not either one or many gods, the right of having one or many being the exclusive privilege of men more worthy than they, such as the Egyptians, and this to give a greater appearance of justice to the tyranny with which they crushed this unhappy people. Is the conduct of Christians of this day towards their slaves very different?

“God first announced himself to this intractable people merely as the God of their fathers, only wishing in the beginning to teach them and make them familiar with the idea that they, too, had a protecting God. Immediately afterwards, by the miracles which brought them out of Egypt and established them in Canaan, he proved himself to be a more powerful God than any other. And continuing to manifest himself as the most powerful of Gods, an attribute which can belong but to one only, he insensibly habituated them to the idea of one Only God. But still how inferior was this idea to the true transcendental idea of Unity which reason conceived so late, and which can only be drawn with certainty from the idea of the Infinite!

“The Jewish nation, however, were far from being able to elevate themselves to the true conception of Unity, though the leading spirits among them approached it more or less; and the true, the only cause of the Jews so often abandoning their One God, was their believing that they found the One God, that is to say, the most powerful one, in the first God introduced by any other people. But what moral education could be given a people so rude, unaccustomed to abstract ideas, so perfectly in a state of infancy? None but such as is suited to infancy, education by immediate and material rewards and punishments. Here, again, we see Revelation and education concur. God could not give his people a religion, a law, without attaching to its observance or violation the hope or the fear of happiness, or unhappiness in this world. For the views of the Jews did not yet extend beyond this life, they knew nothing of the immortality of the soul, and desired no future life. To reveal to them these things, when their reason was so backward, would have been on God’s part, would it not, to commit the fault of .a vain-glorious pedagogue, who had rather exceed his pupils strength in order to make a show of him than educate him in a solid manner.”

“But to what end, you will ask, educate a people so rude, whom God was obliged to commence with so entirely? I answer, to enable himself, in the course of time, to employ the more safely, individuals of this nation to conduct the education of all other nations. God raised up in this people the future teachers of humanity. It was the Jews, in fact, who continued, and greatly they did it, the education of the rest of men, and they could not be but Jews, men taken from the bosom of a people so educated.

“To resume our comparison; the child grew amid blows and caresses, and when he had come to years of discretion he was forced to quit at once his father’s house. Then he appreciates also at once the pleasures he had enjoyed and slighted under the paternal roof.

“While God was passing his people through all the degrees of the education of children, other nations of the earth had marched by the light of reason. The greater number remained far behind the chosen people, some only had surpassed them. This is also what happens to children who are left to their own strength, most of them remain clowns, sour.: accomplish themselves wonderfully. But as this small number of favored ones proves nothing against the utility and necessity of education, so the few pagan nations, who seemed to have taken the lead of the chosen people even in the knowledge of God, proves nothing against Revelation. The child of education begins by slow steps, but sure; he slowly overtakes many a child of nature more happily organized than he. But still he overtakes him, and without any power of the lutter ever in his turn to overtake him again.

“Likewise, too, and putting aside the doctrine of the Unity of God, which is found in the Old Testament, nothing is to be concluded against the divine origin of. these books from the fact, that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and that which is connected with it, of future rewards and punishments, are entirely .passed over in silence. There is nothing in this to prevent the miracles and prophecies of the Old Testament from being altogether authentic. Let us, indeed, suppose that these doctrines arc not only omitted there, but even that they are destitute of truth, that in this life everything is truly ended for man, would the existence of God be any less proved? Would it be any less allowable to God, or would it be any less good in him to interest himself personally in the temporal welfare of any people whatever taken from the bosom of this perishable race? The miracles which God wrought for the Jews, and the prophecies which he charged them to write, were not destined merely for the small number of Jewish mortals who were contemporary; God had in view the whole nation of Jews, all humanity, whose duration upon the earth will, perhaps, be eternal, though every Jew, every individual man should die forever. Once more, the absence of these doctrines from the Old Testament proves nothing against their divinity. Moses was commissioned by God, even though the sanction of his law extended only to this life. And why should it be extended beyond? Ho, was only sent to the Israelites, to the Israelites of that day, and his mission was altogether in consonance with the knowledge, the capacity, the disposition of the Israelites of that day, and with the destiny of the future Israelitish people.”

Thus, I trust, is Lessing’s idea beginning to show itself. It is of little importance, according to him, that Moses gave the Hebrews of that day, the Israelitish people of that day. ideas incomplete, erroneous and false, not only in themselves, but by the interpretation the Hebrews made of them, provided these views were conformable on the one hand to the capacity of the then Israelitish people, and on the other to the destiny of the future Israelitish people; or, further still, to the mission of this future Israelitish people in respect to the whole of humanity; that is, in short, provided these ideas were in accordance with the future development of humanity.

“One may doubt,” he says, “whether God wished, at this period, to communicate the doctrine of the future life. But certainly he did not wish to render this truth more obscure. An elementary book may pass over in silence this or that point in the science the book is teaching; but it would be absurd if it contained anything to obstruct or embarrass children in the path to those important points. All access, on the contrary, should be carefully kept open; and to turn children from even one of these approaches, or even simply to retard them in gaining these would be to change an incomplete book into an essentially defective one.

In like manner, the Old Testament having to serve as an elementary book to a people like the Jews, rude and young in the art of thinking, could not speak of the immortality of the soul and the rewards of a future life. But on no account could it contain anything likely to retard the people for whom it was written in the path to these truths.”

In Lessing’s eyes, then, the Bible contains, with respect to immortality and a future life, if not the truth, at least the relative truth. This he acknowledges, and in this sense he explains what he calls preparations, allusions, and indications with respect to future truth.

“I call,” he says, “a preparation for the doctrine of the immortality of the soul the divine threat for example, of punishing the misdeeds of the father in the person of his children to the third and fourth generation. Fathers were thus habituated to live in thought with their most remote offspring, and to feel in advance the sufferings they would draw down on their innocent heads. I call an allusion that which had for its object merely to excite curiosity and to call forth questions, as, for example, the phraze of being ‘united to his fathers’ so frequently used for death. An indication I call that which contains within itself any germ capable in developing itself, of disclosing a part of the truth which is yet kept secret. Such was the conclusion drawn by Jesus Christ from the designation of ‘The God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob.’ It seems to me possible to change this indication into a very strong proof. Preparations, allusions, and indications of this kind make the positive perfection of a book of elements, as the quality above mentioned, of never embarrassing or obstructing the way to ulterior truths, constitutes its negative perfection.”

Lessing forgot the most remarkable preparation, allusion, and indication furnished by the Bible to the true doctrine of immortality; it is the very doctrine of Humanity considered as forming a single collective being, a doctrine which is found expressly in the Bible, is found in every part of it, and which is not found in the same degree of clearness in any other monument of antiquity. I mean the Mythus of Adam.

W. C. R.



The sages of the olden time, Confucius, Jesus, said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We have hardly yet understood, it seems to me, the deep meaning of these words. Philosophy now furnishes the demonstration of their truth by saying, “Your neighbor—he is yourself; for he is your object.”

Life is a communion; a communion with God, a communion with our kind, a communion with the universe. But man cannot commune directly either with God or with any creatures other than man ; while on the other hand, by means of communion with man, he can commune legitimately and normally with God and the universe. If he relinquishes his necessary communion with his kind, in order to attach himself to the lower orders of creation, he degrades himself from his human nature; without being able to make himself like those lower orders with whom he has placed himself in contact. And in the same manner, if he leaves his necessary communion with his kind to enter into direct communion with God, as this direct communion with the Infinite Being is impossible, he equally degrades himself from his human nature, without any more on that account becoming like God. In the former case he vainly tries to become sensation, and he suffers; justly, because his normal nature is to be sensation —sentiment—intelligence, indissolubly united. In the latter case, again, he tries in vain to become intelligence, and he suffers; with equal justice, because his normal nature is to be sensation—sentiment—intelligence, indissolubly united.

But if on the other hand, he recognizes his true nature, and communes directly with his kind, indirectly with God through this direct communion with his kind, and indirectly too with the universe through this direct communion with his kind, man is in harmony with his nature and with truth.

Love then your neighbor, because he is united to you in life, and because your neighbor is in this sense yourself. Learn to love yourself where you are, that is to say, in your kind, whose existence manifests your existence. You cannot evade this law of love and union; you cannot violate it in the slightest degree without suffering. For you are indissolubly sensation—sentiment—intelligence; and your intelligence consists in recognizing this law; your sentiment consists in loving it and willing it; and your sensation or activity consists in practising it. And if you cannot recognize it, love it, and practice it, by a necessary consequence, by a necessity corresponding with the law itself, and which is a corollary identical with it, you violate the essence of your nature; and by the same act consequently yon corrupt yourself, and you suffer.

What becomes of the revulsions of Self-love before this law of life, which we have demonstrated. Inasmuch as our life is thus bound up with that of our kind, as we are united to humanity, as our kind are at bottom ourselves, what becomes of Self-love and of the false doctrines founded upon every man’s individual and isolated interest? Evidently Self-love defeats itself; it is destroyed by itself. You would love yourself, love yourself then in others, for your life is in others, and without others your life is nothing. Love yourself in others, for if you do not love yourself so, you do not know how really to love yourself at all. On the other hand you do not wish to love yourself. But can you live and still not live? In vain you repress nature, in vain you condemn the human aspirations of your soul as tainted with an innate, radical and incorrigible vice. Not to love yourself is not to love life, for life necessarily comprehends this self which you are not willing to love; and not to love life is to love death, that is to say, nothingness. ,

Again, you are not willing to have any other object than God, the Infinite Being. But the Infinite Being does not manifest himself to you except through yourself and other men. God then manifesting himself only in this way, and appearing only in an act, which makes you feel at the same time your own existence and that of other men, is not willing to be loved in any other way, that is to say, wishes that in loving him you should be conscious of yourself, and of other men. God does not ask to be removed far from us, and to be worshipped at a distance. God wills to live in us, and has no need of placing himself beyond us in order to command us. Is he not in all his creatures, without being either any one of these creatures, or all of these creatures together? He enters into life, and manifests himself only there; preserve then life, if you wish to communicate with him. Love God; but do not pretend to love him directly and, so to speak, face to face. He is the Infinite, and you are the finite. The finite cannot communicate with the infinite but by the intervention of life, which embraces at the same time the finite and the infinite. The love of God, then, always brings you in the ultimate analysis to this life, which comprizes the finite, the me and the not me, a subject and an object; while at the same time it comprises also the infinite, that is to say, an intervention of the Infinite Being, by which the me and the not me, the subject and the object are distinguished from each other in the very act of their union.

Finally, you are not willing to love your kind truly, because you are not willing really to love any thing but God. But this again is the same thing as a separation from yourself. In ceasing to love yourself I have just shown that you cease to live, and that instead of turning to life you are turning to death, to nothingness. The evil is greater still in this denial of real love applied to others; for you not only annihilate yourself, but you annihilate others so far as it is in your power to do so. You are made, you say, for God alone; and what then are your kind to you! In vain do you say that you will not truly love any but God, but that still on his account you will conduct yourself towards his creatures as if you loved them. You will not in this way love them as they ought to be loved. For you are their object, as they are yours; you are necessary to their life, as they are to your life; it is not then a semblance of love that is wanting, but a true love. To be truly useful to them, and to contribute truly and essentially to their life and perfection, you must feel yourself united to them, one with them.’

When once however, true charity becomes known, that is to say, when charity is understood to be the very law of life, the law of natures made one with each other, the law of identity and therefore of the identification of the me and the not me, of man and of his kind; then does all contradiction cease, and Self-love humble itself before charity, because so far as it is legitimate and holy, it finds itself again in charity. Self-love ceases to be Self-love to become liberty. This Self-love or this liberty is the foundation of right; and right is found to be charity. Thus charity becomes liberty itself. There is, then, no more division, no more a pathless abyss between the me or human liberty and our kind, or human charity. We can love at once ourselves and others, for we love ourselves in others, and others in ourselves. And thus to love is to love God, and to love him, as Christ says, above all things else.

From the moment that the human me is thus reinstated in its rights in the very formula of charity, does the living principle of charity become capable of organization. For as soon as the me is legitimated, do all the different modes of this communion of this me with men and with nature become legitimate. The family, then, and the nation, and property, are legitimate and right. Then society, which comprises the family, city, property, is also legitimate and necessary. This family, this nation, this property, require to be organized not solely on their own account, but on account of humanity; for human Self-love, knowing its true interest and its right, requires communion with the whole of humanity. Politics, which is the science of these things, rests on this principle of the harmony between the individual and humanity; and the manifestation of this science, which is government, is commissioned to realize this principle.

Man ceases to be isolated, or to have an isolated family, or an isolated property, or an isolated city. He exists, he exists by himself, he exists as an individual; he possesses, he has a family, a city, a property. His me is found in all these things, and living therefore in the normal order of nature and of life, he is no less in communion with all other men, receiving from them and giving to them, having them all for his object, and being an object to them all directly or indirectly. He has, I repeat, this capacity of living in nature, that is, in egoism, and still of living in humanity; for knowing his law, he realizes this law by politics and government.

In Christianity, it was the Church, living out of nature, which was charged with the task of organizing charity. Temporal society had egoism as its principle. Hence arose a dualism, which has filled history throughout. On the contrary, with the principle of charity comprehended as we understand it, that is, by the principle of the unity of humanity, temporal society is charged with the duty of organizing charity; because charity at bottom is Self-love. So that temporal society, which until now had no religious principle, now possesses one. The Church can cease to exist. What was her mission has become our mission. The Church was, in fact, in the purposes of Providence, only the type of that great Church, which will reunite in its bosom what until now has been falsely separated, the reign of God and the reign of nature.





For many years I surveyed history, with tormenting anxiety, seeking to discover the general law of past ages, whereby Order might become apparent amidst the seeming disorder of bygone generations; so that there might be no longer room for that heartfelt grief which Herder thus expresses: “How many have I known, who through the boundless sea of human history have sought in vain for traces of that Deity, whom they behold Wherever they look in the physical universe, and to whom their hearts turn with ever fresh gratitude from every flower of the field, each grain of sand. In the temple of terrestrial creation, a hymn rises on all sides to the glory of eternal power and wisdom. But in the theatre of human actions appears only an unending strife of blind passions, uncontrolled forces, destructive arts, abortive plans of good. History looks like the web of a spider hanging; from a palace roof, whose inextricable threads preserve traces of recent carnage even when the insect weaver has hidden in his hole. Yet surely, if there is a God in Nature, there must be also a God in History. For Man is a part of creation, and amidst the extremest bewilderments of passion must still be guided and constrained by laws as beautiful, immutable, as those Which determine the revolutions of the heavenly bodies.

What is the law of the past?

So far as History and metaphysics have enabled me to perceive, it is as follows:

The Human Race, according to the idea of Lessing, passes through all the phases of a successive education.

It has reached the phasis of Equality, only after having passed through the three possible forms of Inequality:

  1. The Regime of Castes of Family,
  2. The Regime of Castes of Nationality,
  3. The Regime of Castes of Property.

The human mind aspires to break loose from this threefold role of castes, which is slavery, and to attain to liberty. This aspiration it is that characterizes the present ago.

To day we stand between two worlds,—the world of Inequality and Slavery, which is coming to an end; the world of Equality, which is opening before us.

Translated for The Spirit of the Age.


In his dedication to Beranger, Leroux says that it is his object by the study of the ancient religions and positive philosophies to find the presence of the supreme Divine Law which is at the foundation of these philosophies and religions; to find in the depth of traditions the germ of the modern doctrines of liberty, equality, fraternity.

In his preface this work is stated to be the result and continuation of his Essay on Equality, in which book it was shown that this new doctrine of equality made of the actual man, the man of to-day, a very different being from the antique man and the man of the middle ages. The notion of Lessing is that the human race passes through successive educational phases; arriving at the phase of equality, after having passed through the possible phases of inequality]; that is, the course of family castes, national castes and property castes; at present it is at the limit of this last phase. Freeing himself from this triple service, man begins. All castes vanish before the universal caste Humanity, and on the principle of humanity actual society is based.

Such is the substance of his anterior work having to do with the past and present; before proceeding to the future he finds it necessary to recapitulate himself in an exposition, and to demonstrate an assumed proposition. This exposition is to bring under a single and undoubted formula the anterior life of humanity; by this study of the past and present to find the law of progress which shall enable us to foresee the future. (This is the service of humanity.) But besides this, the individual soul asks, what relation between it and this future of humanity that it foresees? is this future united to its own future? The soul like Archimedes demands a fixed point and this cannot be found in history or politics, but only in philosophy, in religion; only in a certain intuition of the very essence of life; God communicating himself to us; the Infinite Being manifesting himself in our conscience and in his eternal relation.

The object is to find if there is not some fixed point in God and in us, on which to plant ourself for the perfecting of ourself and humauity, as in ordinary mechanics we need a force, a lever […] point for the lever. The force is ourself, the lever the idea of progress, and the fixed point must be a self-evident positively-existent truth or ontological axiom on life, on being, a religious axiom. What Leroux considers this ontological axiom, this fixed point to be, is the doctrine of communion of the Human Race or the natural solidarity of men. This is to be demonstrated as far as life can be demonstrated. The ancient myth of the Jewish Bible makes the race solid in Adam; Christianity is engrafted on Mosaism, and the myth of Christ Savior of the world by the mode of reversibility (dying for man) corresponds to that of Adam. The truth is that we are a whole; live by a common life as Jesus said. The author takes the idea at the bottom of these myths and proceeds to demonstrate it by philosophical reasons and natural order.

The introduction opens with the nature of the questions to be examined; What is man and his destination? consequently, what is his right, his duty, and his law? Is he united to his fellows accidentally or in a necessary manner? Is the tie as frail as the manifestation of being called life, or eternal as being itself? What is humanity? a collective being or only a series of successive generations? The resolution of these problems is necessary to a solid principle of religion, polity or morals. Religions are only the forms of the solution of these problems. All men are of necessity interested in them; all men seek happiness and it is the primitive object of philosophy to. determine in what happiness consists, and the discussion of this necessarily leads to the general question, What is man? and what is humanity? Philosophy proceeds from the individual to the universal, and thence back to the individual. A falling stone gave rise to all the mecanique celeste, and has not the whole mecanique celeste definitively for aim to throw some light on the phenomenon of a falling stone by attaching it to all analogous phenomena of the universe? Just so; there is no question of practical life, simple as we may imagine it, which does not draw on the mind to fathom the profoundest mysteries, and. which does not conduct us at last to the most difficult questions of philosophy; and reciprocally the doctrines of philosophy have definitively for aim the very practice of life.

The questions what is man, and what is humanity? are so bound up with the individual question, What is happiness, that you cannot touch this last without going into the former as the author did in his article on happiness in the New Encyclopedia, of which article he proceeds to give the contents. He contends in that work that the special question of individual happiness conducts directly to philosophy and religion. The doctrines given forth on this fundamental question of individual wellbeing are primarily four, viz.: Platonism, Epicuriuism, Stoicism, Christianity. He argues that each of these, after having by their intrinsic virtue contributed to the perfecting of humanity are at this day exhausted; that they have mutually modified each other by mingling and amalgamating, by combating and refuting; that from them have resulted two principles equally invincible by the other, equally unreasonable taken by itself, viz.: Spiritualism and Naturalism; that under the false form of each of two principles lies a legitimate idea, which need to be united in a new synthesis, need to be conciliated in a new conception of life. The synthesis must come forth from a revision of the question What is life? and then by showing that our life is not only in us but out of us, in other men, in humanity, we come to the question What is Humanity? and what the tie that unites the individual to humanity? We must then investigate the subject of happiness and the doctrines to which the study of its nature has given rise. The universal melancholy of thinkers, the confessions of poets and philosophers show the non-existence of absolute happiness. Solomon having experienced all felicity concludes that everything is vanity and falsehood. Pindar calls the life of man the dream of a shadow; and Shakspeare says, happiness is not in being born. Anacreon finds the grasshopper happier than men, and Horace repeats in every tone that life is short and fugitive.

Among the moderns is the same attestation that happiness is an idea without reality. This question of happiness and the problems relative thereto, returned ever to trouble Voltaire in the midst of his attacks against Christianity. Bolingbroke and Pope pretended to escape from theology by establishing that the order of Nature is perfect in itself, that the condition of man is what it should be, that he enjoys the sole measure of happiness of which his being is susceptible. Voltaire could not hold to this system ; he wrote Candide, wrote his poem on Lesbonne, wrote twenty other works against the axiom that all is well. In the three last centuries since the faith in the heaven of Christianity has died out, these cries of melancholy have increased; as soon as man believes only in the present reality he is desperate.

Omnia ortaturo ingemiscit is the confession of Christian theology, and the same expression of melancholy is found in the ancient myths and in the eras of skepticism.

Translated for The Spirit of the Age.



We exist only in relation with the exterior world, or with internal ideas which have their source in our previous relation with this world. If this relation is agreeable we call it pleasure, but this is a transient thing. Happiness is such a state that we should demand its duration without change. Now if the exterior world were unchangeable, immutable, there would be no reason nor possibility of our intervening or acting upon it; and if in changing it should excite only pleasure, or if 4he ideas and passions awakened by this exterior relation were immutable, or pleasant only, all this would preclude any wish to interfere with these relations, they would awake no desire, consequently no activity, no personality, and the result of this immutability would be not life but death, not happiness but annihilation.

If, as a celebrated myth says, man had his beginning in happiness, he existed only as an appendix to his creator; he lived in the bosom of God, innocent but unconscious. In passing from this state ho has not fallen, but has exchanged happiness for virtue, unconscious innocence for activity, for personality, that is for true life.

Evil is then necessary to awaken desire and consequently activity and personality, that is, it is the very condition or actual life; its need ceases, as soon as the force within us is sufficiently vital to act in the perfecting of life and the world, without being pricked into action by its sting.

Under the myth of the three places, Eden, Earth, Paradise, lies the fact of an unconscious inactive life, then a life active through suffering, thence to a life active without suffering; but the placing of the first and last of these states in a chimerical Eden and Paradise has caused the middle term Earth to fail of being appreciated, and it has been so slandered by theologians that from time to time there have arisen up partisans in its behalf, defenders of earth from the charge of absolute evil laid upon it.

In fact, absolute evil is as impossible as absolute happiness The same instability of things, which precludes the one, precludes also the other. Evil is transformed by time, by memory, by the development of contrary passions, even by the exhaustion of the power of suffering. But although there is in nature, apart from any religious ideas, a perpetual resource and remedy against suffering, yet the doctrine of compensation which teaches that the happiness of all is equal, and that a deficiency in one point is made up by a superfluity in another, and the reverse, is not true.

This point of view has arisen and should arise in the train of Protestantism, for Protestantism was already to a certain extent a return to nature. Next to Protestantism came the controversy of Boyle; then the religious Optimism of Leibnitz; then the Epicurean Optimism of which we speak.

The first point of this philosophy is that happiness is the law and rule of all beings.

The second that in the destiny of each, good and evil are mutually compensated.

The third that consequently all destinies share equally in good and evil: so says Voltaire.

As heaven about us wove our human life
It used a mingled thread of peace and strife;
Desire, distaste, calm reason, folly free,
Moments of pleasure, days of misery;
These wake up man, in these his essence lies,
His nature formed of blended contraries;
All equal weighed in God’s impartial scale,
All taste the sweet and none the bitter fail*

The conclusion of this system is immobility; for if all conditions are equal, if all have the same measure of good and evil, and if the sole law of our being is happiness as this system understands it, then it would be folly to wish to change the conditions of the world. As well fool as wise man; as well barbarous as civilized; and one may finally arrive at the conclusion, that the happiest of organized beings is the most simple—an oyster or a coral.

The principle of the system is absurd. Happiness, as it is understood, in the first axiom of Voltaire, is not the end of created beings. Creatures are not made to be happy, but to live and to become developed by advancing towards a certain type of perfection.

The lyric Pindar said “Life is the track of a chariot; but it is of elapsed life, of dead life, he speaks. Living life is the wheel in movement. The revolving, advancing wheel is never fixed; it is never between the points, yet it passes successively all points. So of life: we are never in an idea nor pleasure nor suffering; but we are ever coming out of one to pass into another.

Our life is the emersion from an anterior state and immersion into a future state. Therefore the only permanent condition of our being is aspiration.

The problem of Happiness is the foundation of philosophy and religion. What is good the only question among the sects of Greece; it gave rise to the hundred and eighty sects enumerated by Varro which may be reduced essentially to three: that of Plato, Zeno and Epicurus. 1. Those satisfied with nature or if not satisfied, accepting it as a master from whom there is no appeal; (Epicurus). 2. Those discontented with nature and appealing from it to themselves; (Zeno). 3. Those who regard nature as an imperfect and transitory state, the faults of which it is possible to correct by conforming one’s self to a certain ideal; (Plato).

Plato preceded the others by a century: a century before Plato, Democritus and Heraclitus represented the contrasted ideas of Zeno and Epicurus.

The principle of the school of Epicurus was the acceptance of nature as it is; of Zeno, the reprobation of nature and the complete substitution of a different life called virtue; Plato neither absolutely accepts or rejects nature, but imports into Greece the oriental ideas of the fall and redemption.

The philosophic partisans of nature in the eighteenth century, the Deism of Bolingbroke, Pope and Voltaire, the egotism of Rochefoucauld, the sensualism of Condillac, the well-understood interest of Helvetius, the atomic materialism of the French Savans, the utilitarianism of Bentham are all comprised in Epicurus. This great man appears in history among the greatest of sages. By a curious symbol of his destiny he was called in his childhood a hunter of spectres, because he went with his poor mother from house to house making lustrations in order to put to flight evil spirits. He has ever been and will be the hunter of Spectres, he who saves from superstition. It is useful and necessary to bring men back to a view of an earth. What distinguishes Epicurus from his followers is the sanctity with which he did this work, instaurating a contentment with the earth in a manner altogether religious. Among all the ancient sects Epicurianism endured the longest; it flourished around the author in his garden and still subsisted six hundred years later, when Christianity carried all before it. It flourished at the fall of Paganism as it was re-born at the fall of Christianity; and thereby is shown the necessity humanity is under, of destroying through doubt the old religions, which obstruct its path; thus its reign at certain epochs is good and necessary When religions fall into decay, man is forced to accept the present life as it is; the sage seeks to pass it away with the least possible torment; the fool wastes and devours it. Then come those epochs so marked in history of double-refined passions, of unbridled pleasures and profound melancholy, of incredulity and superstition. Then also comes Epicurus, under this or some other name, calming the insatiable desire of happiness with which men are enfevered, and saving them as far as possible from false voluptuousness itself. This doctrine is a retreat for humanity, preventing a complete overthrow. Yet humanity having rallied and under this shelter re-taken confidence in itself, it soon perceives that its fate is not to fly, not to take refuge in anything, but to march onward to new conflicts. Epicurianism, at all times an influence useful in some respects, has at certain epochs an office of incontestable legitimacy.

This system, which has for its principle the acceptance of and satisfaction with nature, can only be comprehended and adopted by the favored few; the slave Epictetus needs a Zeno. Thence arises a sect which reproves and rejects nature. The nature of man, according to the Stoics, consists only in his liberty. He is free only in attaching himself to nothing which is not completely in his power. The participation of the Stoic in life consists only in voluntarily obeying destiny, that is in voluntarily doing the part destiny bestows, but without being interested in it; for in being interested he ceases to be free. The morality of the Stoics was to despise life by taking refuge in one’s self; to leave to destiny the responsibility of its work; not to temper the passions but to uproot them ; to make of one’s self a free intelligence, a liberty. Such was their disdain of life that they were desirous to demonstrate that the human soul is perishable; and such their disgust of the world, that their system gave to the sage the right of taking away his own life, this right being the natural result of his liberty and the need of his virtue.

Plato, as it has been said, neither absolutely accepted or rejected nature. His works are a mingling of Socratic inspirations and Oriental solutions. The double character, of a Greek who had conversed eight years with Socrates and then, long a disciple of the Pythagoreans and the priests of Egypt, is seen in his works. With Socrates all investigation turned upon the question of morality and happiness; Plato accepts this direction, but solves the problem with a Theology drawn from the Egyptians and the Pythogoreans of Magna Graecia, themselves a branch of eastern philosophy. Plato, following Socrates, says that the object of all study is to find The Good; and the mode to this is the study of man, self-knowledge; but instead of adhering to this mode, he solves the question of “the good” and “the best” by some ancient religious solution—no longer a Socratic Greek but a priest of Memphis. The soul, according to Plato, is a selfactive force, but fallen and united to matter ; it lives in a kind of imprisonment and exile, so that man is composed of two different principles: 1st, the rational; 2nd, the animal. The former has power to return to the blessedness of spirits. How is this return possible? By renewing its knowledge of Ideas, the eternal types and models of things.

These Ideas exist in God and traverse the world, for God has made the world on the model of Ideas. How can the soul gain knowledge of Ideas, disembarrass itself of Nature and so rise to God?

Through love. Love of the supreme Beauty; great in proportion as the soul is pure; adoration of this Beauty produces virtue.

Happiness consists not in the relation we have to terrestrial objects, but in our relation to the supreme Beauty which is concealed behind these objects as behind a veil. These Ideas, archetypes of things exist, in God; he is therefore the Supreme Good, and man’s happiness consists in being as like to him as possible; thus the two guides to God, or good, are reason and love.

Let what Plato calls love be named Grace; explain moreover the real and objective existence of Ideas, the mysterious tie between God and the world; realize completely this Word, this Wisdom, which Plato distinguishes in God, the creative thought of God in potentia, as the Ideas are his creative thought already effectuated ; find for this Word a man in which to incarnate it; make for him a history, a tradition; and all the links of the mysterious chain that unites man to God are illuminated and lo!—Christianity.

Plato applies his doctrine not to the rejection of but to the perfecting of human life; he also held the Pythagorean opinions of metempsychosis and successive existences, and so was saved from the total rejection of nature and life, into which the Stoics and Christians fell. Our being, according to him is an aspiration to reach the Sovereign Good, but this can be reached only through the world; not immediately but progressively by uniting one’s self with all the finite manifestations of good. Science, art, polity, draw their reason of being from the Idea of the Sovereign Good, which is their aim.

Platonism, Stoicism, Epicureanism, the three solutions of the question proposed by Socrates, being largely developed, the work of Greece was accomplished and then Christianity appeared, a mingling of Platonism and Stoicism; its theology Platonic, its morality Stoic. Like the Stoics the Christians rejected the world, but the former took refuge in man; the latter, realizing the Word of Plato bowed to the divine Word, and substituted grace or divine action for human virtue; the Stoics abolished nature and substituted virtue or human force; the Christians abolished both nature and man and substituted divine action or grace. The protest of nature and man against this sacrifice appears in the revival of the Epicureanism or modern Deism.


*Discourse in verse

Translated for The Spirit of the Age,



In answer to the question: “What is our condition in this life and how should we comport ourself in relation to the good and ill found in it?” Plato replies: we must live this life and concern ourselves with it, but idealize it. Epicurus merely accepts it; and Zeno inculcates the not being interested In it, making of one’self a free force, an absolute power, emancipating one’self from life by contemning it. The doctrine of St. Paul, developed by S. Augustin, is to free one’self from this life, to consider it as Plato did, contrary to the original nature of man, but to find the Savior in the Incarnate Word, the Wisdom of God in God.

The Means, indicated by these different philosophers, are conformable to the different aims they assign.

What says, “Love—seeking God in thy love.” Epicurus “Love thyself.” Zeno: “Deny thyself.” Paul: “Love only God.”

Love is the means equally indicated by Platonism, Epicureanism, Christianity. The Stoics perish from havine no object; the Christians turn away from man to love God. If one loves neither the world nor its creatures, it is necessary to love God and this is what Christianity has done; while Stoicism disappears from being no object of love. Stoicism, true at its commencement, soon became an error. Its principle, that we should aspire to be a free force, is true; but the pretension, that we should be a force entirely free, destroys instantly all the goodness of its principle. Its fundamental error is in having exaggerated the effort we should make; so that believing nothing done as long as we have not arrived at a complete emancipation, we thereby destroy all tie with life and the world. To be a Stoic and to take a real interest in the world was an inconsistency. Some great men doubtless committed this happy inconsistency and having by force made of themselves Gods, they regarded this holy Spirit, which they believed to be in them, as a kind of favoring Providence, whose duty it was to watch over the human race. But this was an inconsequence that the theorists of the sect never committed. This doctrine taught nothing as the end of love; therefore it had no solution of life. Why be a Free Force, a will, a God? Is it to act on the world? But in order to be that Free Force one must detach himself entirely from the World. Therefore why live? why should the world continue to exist? Thus Stoicism taught disdain of Society, contempt of life, suicide and the end of the world.

Epicureanism is ordinarily represented as the doctrine of pleasure; nothing is more false as far as it regards the teaching of Epicurus. His true doctrine was on the contrary very sad. One should seek contentment, it is true, but of an altogether negative kind. The aim was merely not to be unhappy; to avoid agitation, cares, inquietudes, all occasions of suffering. Conceal thy life was the proverb of the Epicureans. Their maxim was not to intermeddle in public affairs. Sensual luxury was considered as a necessity; but far from maintaining that voluptuousness was in itself a good, the wise man strove only to diminish this necessity, to live more and more in repose, out of the reach both of the passions and of the world.

The sovereign good of Epicurus consisted in a calm with a certain sort of contentment, founded on the consciousness of not suffering and of having escaped numberless perils. This quietude is altogether negative; so that Epicureanism has never been able to remain in it: and this is so true that what is commonly understood by this word is rather the doctrine of the Cyrenian school than that of Epicurus. Deprived of all ideal, one is insensibly habituated to regard sensuality as a good and not as a cure of ill ; it is sought rather than waited for. Such a tendency is inevitable. The profound cause of this is, that our life is a continual aspiration, and without some firm resting place we cannot resist the force that draws us on. Epicureanism necessarily results in a narrow egotism or in sensualism; the maxim of Epicurus “Love-thy-self” is transformed either into egotistic prudence, full of void and weariness, or into irregulated earthly loves.

To Platonism is opened equally two different routes. “Love God,” said Plato, “love the Beautiful, love the Celestial Goodness from which thou hast sprung and whither thou returnest.” If though lovest not this end, in vain wilt thou seek thy happiness in created things; thou will find no sustenance for thy, soul for thy soul can be nourished only on the beautiful. One may understand this precept in two ways. One may, as Plato positively indicates, seek the beautiful, through the world, by the means of the world, in the world; extract it thence and return it thither again: or considering only the object God, the Infinite Beauty, one may fancy one’self capable of being put in immediate relation with that object independently of the world, and so call out with passionate appeal for every thing to disappear before it. This last has Christianity done.

The maxim of Plato was “Strive to become like to God as much as this is in thy power.” The Christians cut off this restrictive condition which preserves nature and life. Like the Stoics they have desired a prompt, rapid, instantaneous salvation.

They have said to the world as the sage of Seneca: “Non placet; Liceat to reverti, wide venio.” In this consists the separation of Christianity from Platonism. Plato has two means to remount to God, reason and love: the Christians recognize only Grace; this is the doctrine of St. Paul and St. Augustin, and the true doctrine of Christianity, whatever efforts may have been made to preserve the principle of free Reason.

Socrates, Plato, Zeno, Epicurus, Paul, Augustine, are the successive terms of the development of the question of Happiness; Socrates begun in the west the philosophic antiquity that Augustine terminated, by opening the religion of the Middle Ages. It is a continuous argument. This sublime dialogue lasted ten centuries, and yet it might be formulated in a few words: Socrates. Let the sophists be silent. Let the learned cease to puff themselves with pride and heap up foolish hypotheses to explain the world. Let the artists know that art without aim is a puerility and a poison. The sole knowledge worthy of man, which gives to Science and Art a true distinction, is the knowledge of “the good” and “the best,” and this is acquired only by study of ourselves; know thyself therefore.

Plato. From the study of ourselves we learn that man is a force originally free, not actually united to matter which appears co-eternal with God. We tend to return to our source by the natural effect of life, which is an aspiration, a continual and endless love; we can return thither only by attaching ourselves to the perceptible rays of Divine Beauty. It is therefore towards God that Science, Art and all Life should aim. 0! Greeks, you are children. I have travelled among those who have given you all the knowledge you possess, and this is what those masters have taught me.

Zeno. If man is originally a free force, why not emancipate himself at once? Why not recover his true nature by separating himself rationally from the world?

Epicurus. You are dreamers. I am the first of sages. Are you not all under the yoke of Nature which has created you in one of its infinite combinations? All wisdom consists in obeying Nature’s inevitable prescriptions, shielding one’self from its blows as one does from a fierce animal that one wishes to use.

St. Paul. I am at once free and bound. I am carnal, sold to sin. I do not the good I love, but the evil I hate. Who shall deliver me? The Grace of God through Jesus Christ.

Pelagius. At least we are free in something; if we tend to God, it is in virtue of an inherent force, by our own liberty and merit.

St. Augustine. No. Sin has reft us of all. The love which saves us is not of us; there is in us no trace, no vestige of it; God gives it when and as he pleases. We are free in nothing. 0 my God! Thou commandest that I love thee; give me what thou commandest, and command what thou wilt.

The advantage resulting from Epicureanism is the perfecting of the material life. By sanctifying the care of the material life, Epicureanism has been the indirect cause of those numerous capabilities of perfection that human intelligence has found in the properties of matter.

If the life that we hold in common with animals had not met a reasonable justification, human intelligence would have been still farther precipitated into that purely contemplative route into which Christianity plunged with so much ardor. It is evident, that all the sciences of experiment, which consist in discovering the will of Nature in order to turn away evil effects and to accumulate good, have fundamentally a certain affinity with Epicureanism; so they have always sought in it the justification of their efforts. And let it not be said that men would have made these discoveries without this philosophy, from the sole fact that they are useful. If there were no doctrine which presented utility under a moral aspect, humanity would utterly have condemned it: for the law of humanity is to be moral.

A sublime effort towards liberty, Stoicism has given birth the benefits of another order. With Epicurus the work is to avoid evils by obeying Nature as an intelligent slave; with. Zeno it is necessary to be free. Twenty centuries have rolled away; and now let us ask if the revolutions of the world have not wrought a growth of liberty in our natural and social condition, and if this aspiration to be free,—source of Stoicism— has not had its realization. Man has enfranchised himself from man and nature. He will free himself more and more. Man will become more and more the equal of man, and nature will become obedient to him. We arc to-day almost as powerful over Nature as the Jupiter of the Greek Olympus: and the time approaches, in which Epictetus can no longer be another’s slave.

But of these various solutions, that which has had the greatest influence on the World is incontestably the idealism of Plato. This was truly the spark of life that animated the West. Like the statue of Pygmalion, which is marble until the moment of contact with divine love, the West remained without moral light until the revelation of Plato. It is Plato, so long surnamed the Divine, happy interpreter of the anterior philosophy, who first caused to descend upon us the fire by which we live.

When he taught that the distinction of men consisted in the satisfaction of an innate need of beauty and goodness, human morality awoke to self-consciousness. Then truly for the first time Western man turned his face towards heaven. For the revelation of this attraction towards the beautiful was the revelation of what is called Heaven.

The sciences were for Plato the incomplete but accessible realization of the human ideal. The known sciences received a new impulse from Idealism j those almost unknown sprung to life. In the bosom of Plato was found Aristotle, as strongly attracted towards virtue as his master. Aristotle produced Alexander, that missionary of philosophy, Bo penetrated with ideal that the earth could neither satisfy or contain him. Alexander transported Greece into Egypt, to its cradle. Then from Alexandria the flume spread to Rome, and the Romans begun to ask towards what star humanity was marching.

Idealism, realized anthropomorphically by the Jews, produced Christianity. Then the whole West became directed with so much earnestness towards the Ideal, that not only was the material life despised, but map fancied himself able to unite himself, without the mediation of this life, to the Divine Beauty. Thence Monkery and the Christianity of the Middle Ages; thence the Anthonys, Basils and Benedicts, those sublime practicians of Platonism interpreted by Paul. Athanasius and Augustine; thence two orders, two worlds.

When St. Thomas in the thirteenth century explained St Paul by Baying, that it was sufficient to have God virtually for object in our love for his creatures, the ascendant period of idealistic Stoicism was terminated. Then revive the Sciences with the study of Aristotle, the Arts with the Crusades; and ancient Platonism is set forth anew in Italy as a rival of Christianity. There is a passing out from the phase of absolute Christianity, which would have God alone for object; and while this doctrine is always admitted, another route to it is followed. Man reverences the Ideal, but still does not reject the Earth. He has Religion, but admits Science. He has the Gospel and the Fathers, and introduces the doctrines of the Peripatetics. He has hope of Paradise, and meanwhile painting seeks to realize on earth divine forms. He still believes in the celestial Jerusalem, when Leo x. raises his temples and his palaces towards the heavens. It was at this epoch that the doctrine of the Ideal largely produced its fruits.

Science and Art had received the illumination of baptism. Plato embraces the whole modern world by two universal ties, love and art. What artists have come forth from Idealism! If Lucretius and Horace are the sons of Epicurus, how much more numerous is the posterity of Plato! In his Divine Comedy Dante relates that it was Virgil who was his guide to Heaven. In reality Virgil is a reflection of Plato, and a reflection which announces Christianity. From Virgil to us what tolerably sublime monument of art is there that is not imprinted with Idealism.

The alliance of Stoicism and Platonism in Christianity that is, a supreme contempt of earth united to a love of the ideal, was absolutely necessary, in order to effect the emancipation of Women and Slaves, and to civilize the Barbarians. It is by elevation to absolute purity, absolute isolation from humanity through renunciation of the world, celibacy and convents, that the human typo was at first perfected.

But this consideration must not make us forget that Epicureanism has been the counterpoise to the excess of Platonic Stoicism. It has said to the proud Idealism that menaced to destroy the terrestrial basis of existence, Thou shall go no farther. It has sanctified that kind of devotion to the natural laws which has been the source of so many discoveries, and whence has resulted the industrial power.

Already, it is the alliance of this power over nature with the social sentiments sprung from Platonism, which has caused the result that we now see thirty millions of men living in a kind of Equality, while ancient nations knew only the condition of Castes.


Translated for The Spirit of the Age.



We have seen that the permanent state of our being is aspiration. Emersion from an anterior and immersion into a future state is our life, from birth to death. That which is really in us is not the being modified by pleasure or pain, but the being who passes out from this modification and demands another. We are never, so to say, in the fact of modification by joy or grief,—we are always this side or that side. This is the reason that the present is said not to exist, and that we know only the past and future.

Therefore our happiness essentially and only consists in the stale to which we aspire. This is what we might call the tone of our life. Sensations successively experienced influence this tone of our soul, but they do not constitute our me, our personality, our life.

Our me, our personality, our true life consists essentially and only in our mode of existence, while passing from one situation to another, from one point to another.

When a moving body traverses a certain distance, it passes successively from point to point, and these points are a measure of its velocity. But its velocity is quite another thing from that which serves to measure it. The medium through which it passes may influence this velocity by retarding it, but while force remains in the moving body, this force will cause its velocity. Just so. our being is that which endures after sensation, and not that which is in sensation.

It is this state of aspiration which properly constitutes man: therefore it is this state that we must seek to perfect. The way to render ourselves happy is to cause this fundamental state, what we have just called the tone of our being, to he more and more happy.

This is what we should directly consider. Pleasures and goods of every kind arc but an indirect means of perfecting this fundamental condition of the soul.

The state of the aspirations is that which really distinguishes men among themselves, that which constitutes the mc, the personality o beings. Nothing therefore is more puerile than to compare the condition of men relatively to happiness, by weighing their various destinies, the pains and pleasures which have happened to them. Everything lies in the nature of their soul. Pleasures and pains have no absolute and constant value. For the same reason it is foolish to ask if the man of the nineteenth century is happier than he of the eighteenth, or the man of the middle ages or antiquity; or if the inhabitants of Asia are happier than those of Europe; and as absurd to seek upon this subject terms of comparison between the existence ef animals and of men.

From one being to another, the me, the personality is different. We must reject the reigning habit of reasoning on the subject of happiness by deductions from the false system of compensations. This system necessarily conducts to the abandonment of all virtue; for happiness being confounded with sensation, what remains to be perfected in us? Nothing. Everything depends solely on Destiny and the two casks of Jupiter.

On the contrary, by seizing the truth we reconquer virtue. Since our being, instead of consisting in sensations, is that which traverses and incessantly survives them. Our happiness cannot depend only on exterior things. Philosophy returns, and with her virtue, which is the fruit of her lessons.

But in forsaking the doctrine of sensation and compensations, we need not fall into the errors of actual psychology. The -light reaction made in this name against the sensualism of the eighteenth century, was very insufficient. We are about to seize—what is so difficult to comprehend from the psychologists—the notion of the me. We have deduced it from the very sentiment of life. The psychologists make it originate from the will, which is erroneous. There is no will in animals: in what then consists the me of animals? When we do not exercise our will, when we give ourselves up to sensation or fall into sleep, what becomes of our me?

It is with this chimerical me, of Psychologists that we are armed against the doctrine of sensation.

Our argument is founded on the permanence of our being, successive to and independent of sensation.

The ignorant, like animals, constantly obey this interior, permanent force, by passing from sensation to sensation, from desire to regret, without embarrassing themselves with questions concerning it; but the wise man constantly asks, What is to be done with this force within us, whose property it is incessantly to aspire? Shall we, with Plato, direct it towards God, and stop with the Platonicians at the imperfect manifestations of the absolutely Fair? Or rather shall we with the Christians, precipitate ourselves immediately into the Divine bosom? Shall we, with Epicurus, attach ourselves to Nature; seek like him, to quiet, to restrict, to lull this aspiring force, and endeavor to procure for ourselves an artificial sleep, accompanied with a certain tranquil sentiment of existence; or rather, like his false disciples, shall we deliver ourselves over to a search for pleasures which we know will constantly escape?

Men have talked much, in these later ages, of Attraction, and have wished to make it the only law of the material world. They have gone farther and have pretended to introduce this law into the moral world, as if the moral world, once subjected to attraction, would take the fixed and immoveable condition, that prejudice attributes to physical nature. It is true that those who have spoken of generalizing in human society what they call the discovery of Newton, have comprehended of the moral world only its appearances, and it is a kind of material attraction they would introduce into it. But in reality, this system of attraction has existed in the spiritual world for many centuries. Long time before it was imagined that the particles of matter gravitated towards one another, that the heavenly spheres were natural centres of attraction, that the groups of suns themselves gravitated towards unknown centres; long time before the material world was revealed under this aspect, the spiritual world was thus revealed. What is the attracting power of which Plato speaks under the name of Love, and which according to him brings us back towards God? Does not St. Augustine call Love the gravitation of spiritual natures?* All the innumerable works of Christians on perfection hive been nothing else but an application of this principle of attraction towards God.

But in these last centuries, the return to Nature brought about the revival of the physical sciences, of which the culminating point was the discovery of the attraction of bodies. This truth has so dazzled us, that the spiritual world, which for so many ages solely occupied the preceding generations, has been eclipsed, and we have fallen into the darkness of materialism. Will man never be able to bear two truths at a time?

We are therefore now between two kinds of revelations: on the one side, the system of spiritual attraction, which tells us that we are a soul, which should tend only towards God; and on the other, the system of material attraction, which says that we are a body, which should tend only to matter. In order to pass out of this infinite contradiction, which distracts and rends us, there is but one way—that is to recur to tho axiom of Socrates, and make our own self our study.

Rousseau, full of inconsistencies because he bore within him the contradictory elements of a synthesis which he had not time to make, once said: “The man who thinks is a depraved animal.”

It was sufficient, in order to do justice to his paradox, to ask, if by the same reason, the animal which feels is a depraved vegetable. It is certain, that we find again the mineral in the plant, the plant in the animal, the animal in man. In some respects the animal appears to be a being superadded to the vegetable and mineral, which are both in him. Man also appears as a being superadded to the animal, which is at the root of his existence. But in reality, is there in us one kind of being purely material, a second vegetable, a third sensitive, and a fourth rational? Assuredly not. There is but one sole being, man.

When I consider an animal, I may indeed, by an effort of thought, separate the faculties of the animal from those purely vegetative, found in him, in common with other beings which I call plants. But this is a mental abstraction. In reality, these two orders of faculties are so united in the animal, that it is difficult to make the demarcation, or rather the separation is impossible; for all the faculties of the plant are so to say transformed in the animal. That which is a vegetable property in the vegetable, has become an animal property in the animal. The animal is an annualized plant, a plant metamorphosed into an animal. Through the process of thought, you find in the animal everything which constitutes the life of the vegetable, only transformed. Over and above all the properties of the vegetable anew faculty appears, the faculty of feeling. And as soon as this faculty is linked and mingled with all the vegetable faculties, there results a being essentially different from the vegetable, and in which all the functions of the vegetable are metamorphosed. Will you go with the scalpel of your analysis to separate this new faculty from all the others, and because it docs not overrule the whole organization and all the functions, although it merges in them, will you say: This is animal, the rest is plant? That would be absurd. The animal is a new being, in whom the vegetative life is transformed; but he consists as much of this transformed vegetable life as the vegetable itself, although ho has no consciousness of it. in so much as sensible, save in the very sensibility. He has no consciousness of it, in so much as sensible, but he has consciousness of it, in so much as living. For, modify by illness, steel, or poison, this vegetative life which is in him, and immediately sensations will appear, therefore, in the regular and normal order, his very faculty of feeling was not only linked to. but founded upon, this vegetable life and conscious of it in a certain mysterious way. Just so with man. The man of to-day is perhaps more removed from the animal, than the animal is from the vegetable. But man is not an animal, to which is superadded some mysterious being called a soul. Man is a soul assuredly; but ho is, in totality, a soul united to a body, as Bossuet says:† that is, in him all the animal faculties are transformed into human faculties.

The plant lives by its roots, immovable: this is one of its properties. The animal moves about to seek its sustenance: in this, in part, consists its being: to this is in part its life devoted. The plant breathes through its leaves and its respiration is subjected to two great alternations, day and night. The more perfected animal, of more complex organization in our eyes, still produces this phenomenon, its life from birth to death is resolved by a continual systole and diastole of the heart, and a continual inhalation and expiration of1 the sir through the lungs. Respiration and the circulation of the blood is in the animal mingled with sensibility, in order to give him a certain feeling of existence. His life under this relation is therefore still the transformation of a property of the plant, but in the passage from the vegetable that it once was, this property has become animal. There cannot be cited an act or property or mode whatever of existence in the animal of which the analogy is not found in the vegetable Sensibility even that characteristic property of the animal, shows itself very apparently in some vegetables, and probably exists to a greater or less degree among all.

But even if one choose to consider sensibility as proper and special to animals, it does not follow that it alone really constitutes their life; for it is indissolubly united in them to all the properties which they have in common with vegetables; so that their life is a combination of sensibility and of vegetable life, but a combination in which one of the elements is as indispensible as the other. If you pretend by analysis to strip the animal idea of every thing which it has in common analogically with the vegetable idea you destroy completely the first; just so if you pretend to consave in the animal idea a single property of the vegetable intact and without metamorphosis, you do not really have an animal, but an absurd and impossible, because contradictory being.

This metamorphosis, which makes the life of the animal to be at once so analogous to and yet so essentially foreign from the life of the vegetable, is reproduced in the passage from animal to man.

Man has reason over and above the animal, as the animal has sensibility over and above the plant. The animal is so to say a sensitive vegetable; man is so to say a rational animal.

But by the effect of sensibility, organised in particular organs called senses, the animal is entirely different from the vegetable, and just so in consequence of reason, man is an essentially different being from the animal. In the animal all the vegetable functions and faculties are found, and yet exist no more ns vegetable, that is they are transformed. So, in man all the animal functions are found, but transformed. The ancient definition repeated from age to age, “Man is a rational animal,” is not to be understood as saying that man is an animal plus reason but in the sense that man is an animal transformed by reason.

It has been elsewhere observed, that all true metaphysicians had attained, even under the empire of christian prejudices to a recognition of this unity of our nature. We have cited the words of Bossuet: “The body is not a simple instrument fit to be applied from without not a vessel that the soul governs after the manger of a pilot. The soul and body makes together one natural whole.” The same Bossuet also defines the soul as “an intelligent substance born to live in and to be intimately united to a body.” It has been shown how preferable this definition is to that of a blind and extreme spiritualism. M. de Donald’s for example, who says: Man is an intelligence served by organs,” which definition is incomplete and may lead to error. To the articles to which we refer‡ the emptiness and absurdity of the new psychologists have also been proved, who abstracting from the complete being, Spirit-Body, what is called the Me, and attributing by an inconceivable begging of principles, to the Me thus abstracted all the properties which belong to the complete being spirit-body, reason afterwards quite at their ease, without perceiving that they have taken for solid basis a most chimerical assumption. Descartes, in an answer made to Gassendi called the latter “flesh.” Gassendi ends his reply by these words, “By calling me flesh you do not take away from me spirit. You call yourself spirit, but you do thereby quit your body. It is enough that by God’s aid I am not so much flesh but that I am still spirit, and you are not so much spirit, but that you are still flesh. So that neither you nor I are above or below human nature. If you blush for humanity, I do not.”

Human nature is in truth not a spirit and a body but spirit-body. “Man,” says Pascal, “is neither angel nor beast.”

Strange, that these words of Pascal’s are not yet comprehended.

We distinguish three kingdoms, mineral, vegetable and animal, and we comprehend man in the animal kingdom. Then changing suddenly our point of view we recognize in him a spiritual nature, give to it the name of soul, and lo! here is another world. Man appears to us now an animal, now a soul. The animal has its exclusive partisans who by their precepts degrade man to the condition of animals; the soul has its partisans also: who considering man a species of angel inculcate upon him a life impossible and contrary to nature. Thence two systems of morals equally absurd and pernicious.

For twenty-two centuries men have been divided on this question; from Pinto to the end of the Middle Ages the general tendency is spiritualistic; the six centuries of the modern era have on the contrary tended to materialism. Both parties have conquered and been conquered; both are right and both wrong.

The Materialists have rarely said: Nihil est in intellectu quod non sit prius in sensu. One may always answer with Leibnitz Nisi ipse intellectus.

Spiritualists have vainly extolled intelligence and reason; it can be proved to them always that this intelligence and reason are united to a body, molded and nourished by sensations and corporeal wants subject to the health and life of the body, to nature and earth.

Man is an animal transformed by reason and united to humanity. United to humanity; this second point of our definition cannot here be developed. We will content ourselves with saying that as the animal cannot exist without a medium through which to exercise his sensibility; so man, the reasonable being, lives in a certain medium which is society and of which the more general name is humanity. Morality, Politics, Science, Art are the various aspects which this medium presents to reason and human sensibility; and it is man himself who by the successive developments of his nature has created this medium.

Society, which can hardly be said to exist with the animal, is the true and sole medium in which is developed the existence of this new being, who has come forth from the animal condition, and is called man.

Thus, by considering that our being is a constantly aspiring force, and that this aspiration accompanies and survives sensation, we escape at the outset the doctrine of sensation. By considering the unity of our being, at once soul and body, we escape christian asceticism. Finally, by comprehending that the life of man is united to humanity, we discover the route in which we should walk, wherein converge the two tendencies which have divided philosophy; for through humanity we may satisfy our spiritual thirst for goodness and beauty, without going out of nature and life. We thus escape the two rocks of Materialism and a misapprehended Spiritualism.

Plato said truly; we do gravitate towards God, drawn to him who is the Sovereign Beauty by our loving and reasonable nature.

But as bodies on the surface of the earth only gravitate towards the sun all together, the attraction of the earth being, so to say, the centre of their mutual attraction, so we gravitate towards God, through the medium of humanity.

Philosophy like humanity has had its phases. With Plato it has indicated to us our true route by giving us Clod for our end, and for guides Benson and Love. With Aristotle it has perfected the instruments of our Reason. With the christians it has perfected our Love. Epicurus has done good service by preventing the impulse towards deity from making man a suicide. And Stoicism has been a strong support during these long and trying centuries.

New Philosophy shows that the sovereign good consists in loving the world and life religiously, and teaches how while remaining in nature to elevate ourselves towards the Spiritual centre. Christians during eighteen centuries have aspired after the future life in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy-Spirit. Philosophy, explaining their formula, teaches us to march onward in the name of Reality of the Ideal, and of Love.


* Confessions: Book 18, chap. ix.

† The knowledge of God and of one’s self.

‡ These various articles of psychology are now summed up |n a work entitled. Refutation of Eclecticism.


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