From “The System of Economic Contradictions”

[I discovered that one section of the chapter on property did not appear among the translations I have posted online. After some searching, however, it did appear among my working files.]


The subject and object of science are found; the truth of thought and being are authentically established: it remains for us to find the method.

Philosophy, in it more or less deep researches on the object and legitimacy of thought, has not been slow to perceive that it followed, without knowing it, certain forms of dialectic which recurred unceasingly, and which, studied more closely, were soon recognized as being the natural means of investigating the common sense. The history of the sciences and arts offers nothing more interesting than the invention of these machines of thought, true instruments of our knowledges, scientiarum organa, of which we limit ourselves here to making known the principals.

First of all is the syllogism.

The syllogism is by its nature and by temperament spiritualist. It belongs to that moment of philosophical investigation when the mind dominates the affirmation of matter, when the intoxication of the self leads to neglect the non-self, and refuses, so to speak, all access to experience. It is the argument favored by the theologians, the organ of the a priori, the formula of authority.

The syllogism is essentially hypothetical. A general proposition and a subsidiary proposition or a particular case being given, the syllogism teaches us to deduce in a rigorous manner the consequence, but without guarantee of the extrinsic truth of that consequence, since, by itself, it does not guarantee the truth of the premises. The syllogism thus offers only utility as a means to tie a proposition to another proposition, but without power to demonstrate truth: like arithmetic, it responds with accuracy and precision to that which is asked of it; it does not teach us how to pose the question. Aristotle, who traced the rules of the syllogism, was not taken in by that instrument, and he indicated its faults, as well as analyzing its mechanism.

Thus the syllogism, proceeding invariably by an a priori, by a prejudice, does not know from whence it comes: little acquainted with observation, it posits its principle rather than exposing it; it tends, in a word, less to discover science than to create it.

The second instrument of the dialectic is the induction.

The induction is the opposite or the negation of the syllogism, as materialism, the exclusive affirmation of the non-self, is the opposite or negation of spiritualism. Everyone knows that form of reasoning, lauded and recommended by Bacon, which should, according to him, revitalize the sciences. It consists in going back up from the particular to the general, the reverse of the syllogism, which descends from the general to the particular. Now, as the particular can be classified, according to the infinite variety of its aspects, in an innumerable multitude of categories, and as the principle of induction is to suppose nothing that has not been previously established, it follows that unlike the syllogism, which does not know where it comes from, induction does not know where it is going: it remains grounded, and cannot rise and succeed. Like the syllogism, then, the induction has only the power to demonstrate the truth already known: it is without the power to discover. This is seen today in France, where the absence of what one calls the philosophical mind, that is the lack of superior dialectical instruments, holds science stationary, at the very moment when observations accumulate with a frightening abundance and rapidity. It is also true to say that that the progress accomplished since Bacon is not due, as is so often repeated, to induction, but to the sustained observation of the small number of prejudices that the ancient philosophy has bestowed on us, and that observation has only confirmed, modified or destroyed. Now that it seems we have worn out our framework, induction halts and science no longer advances.

In short, induction giving all to empiricism, and the syllogism giving all to the a priori, knowledge oscillates between two voids: while the facts multiply, philosophy is derailed, and all too often experience remains lost.

What is needed at this moment is thus a new instrument which, reuniting the properties of the syllogism and the induction, beginning at once from the general and the particular, leads by reason and experience, imitating, in a word, the dualism which constitutes the universe and which makes all existence come out from nothing, leading always and infallibly to a positive truth.

Such is the antinomy.

By the fact alone that it is an idea, a fact, that it presents a contradictory relation, and develops its consequences in two opposed series, there is room to anticipate a new and synthetic idea. Such is the principle, universal and consequently infinitely varied, of the new organ, formed from the opposition and combination of the syllogism and the induction, an organ only glimpsed by the ancients, no matter what is said, which Kant revealed, and which has been put to work with so much force and brilliance by the most profound of his successors, Hegel.

The antinomy knows from whence it came, where it is going, and what it carries: the conclusion that it furnishes is true without condition of prior or subsequent evidence, true in itself, by itself and for itself.

The antinomy is the pure expression of necessity, the intimate law of beings, the principle of the fluctuations of the mind, and consequently of its progress, the condition sine qua non of life in society, as well as in the individual. We have, in the heart of this book, sufficiently made known the mechanism of that marvelous instrument: what remains for us to say will successively find its place in the parts which remain for us to treat.

But if the antinomy can neither mislead nor lie, it is not all truth; and, limited to that instrument, the organization of the common sense would be incomplete, in that it would leave to the arbitrariness of the imagination the organization of the individual ideas determined by the antinomy. It would not explain the genus, the species, the progression, the evolutions, the system finally, which is precisely what constitutes the science. The antinomy would have quarried a multitude of stones, but those stones would remain scattered. There would be no edifice.

It is thus that the most superficial observation suffices to show the distribution by pairs of the organs of the human body; but he who would only know this dichotomy, true incarnation of the great law of contraries, would be far from having an idea of our organization, so complicated and yet so single. Another example: The line forms by the movement of a point which is opposed to itself; the plane rises from a movement analogous to the line, and the solid from a movement like the plane. Mathematics is full of this dualistic insights: dualism, employed alone, is nonetheless sterile for the understanding of mathematics. Try to deduce, by dualism, the triangle from the idea of the line. Can you extract, from the antithetical concepts of quantity, quality, etc., the idea of the seven colors of the rainbow, or the scale of seven tones?… Thus ideas, after having been determined individually by their contradictory relations, still have need of a law which groups, represents and systematizes them: with which they would remain isolated, like the state that the caprice of the first astronomers we able to reunite in fantastic constellations, but which were nonetheless strangers to one another, until the more profound science of Newton and Herschel discovered the relations which coordinate them in the firmament.

Science, such as it can result from the antinomy, is not enough for the intelligence of man and of nature: a last dialectical instrument thus becomes necessary. Now, that instrument, what can it be, apart from a law of progression, of classification and of series; a law which embraces in its generality, the syllogism, induction, the antinomy itself, and which is to that last as in music the song is to the harmony?…

That law, known in all times, as one can convince oneself by rereading the first chapter of Genesis, where the one called God creating the animals and plants according to their genera and their species, has been especially illuminated by the modern naturalists; it is sovereign in mathematics; the philosophers, as well as the artists, have proclaimed it as being the pure essence of the beautiful and the true. But no one, that I know, has given the theory of it: one will pardon me then for returning for that purpose to another work, in which one will doubtless find that I have made proof with more good faith than ability.

Progression, series, association of ideas by natural groups, such is the last step of philosophy in the organization of common sense. All the other dialectical instruments come down to that: the syllogism and induction are only fragments detached from higher series, and considered in various senses; the antinomy is like the theory of the two poles of a small world, leaving aside the middle points and the internal movements. The series embraces all the possible forms of classification of ideas, it is unity and variety, the true expression of nature, consequently the supreme form of reason. Nothing becomes intelligible to the mind but that which can be related to a series, or distributed in series; and every creature, every phenomenon, every principle which appears to us as isolated, remains unintelligible for us. Despite the testimony of the senses, despite the certainty of facts, reason rejects and denies it, until it has found its antecedents, consequences and corollaries, that is its series, its family.

In order to render all this more sensible, let us apply it to the very question which is the subject of this chapter, property.

Property is unintelligible outside the economic series, we have said it in the summary of this chapter. This means that property is not sufficiently understood or explained by means of any a priori whatsoever, moral, metaphysical or psychological (formula of syllogism); nor by means of any legislative or historical a posteriori (formula of induction); nor even by exposition of its contradictory nature, as I have done it in my Memoir on Property (formula of antinomy). It must be recognized in which order of manifestations, analogies, similarities or adequacies, property is ordered; it is necessary, in short, to find its series. Indeed, all that isolates, all that is only affirmed in itself, by itself and for itself, does not enjoy a sufficient existence, does not assemble all the conditions of intelligibility and duration; it requires also the existence within the whole, by the whole and for the whole; it is necessary, in short, to unite internal relations with external relations.

What is property? Where does property come from? What does property want? That is the problem that interests philosophy to the highest degree; the logical problem par excellence, the problem on the solution of which man, society and the world are dependent. In fact, the problem of property is, in another form, the problem of certainty; property is man; property is God; property is everything.

Now, the jurists respond to this formidable question, by mumbling their a priori. Property is the right to use and abuse, a right that results from an act of will, manifested by occupation and appropriation; it is clear they teach us absolutely nothing. For, admitting that appropriation is necessary to the realization of man’s destiny and the exercise of his industry, all that can be concluded from all this is that, appropriation being necessary to all man, possession must be equal, although always changing and mobile, susceptible of increase and of diminution, notwithstanding the possessors’ consent, which is the very negation of property. In the system of the jurists, the a priori reasoners, property, to be in agreement with itself, should be like liberty, reciprocal and inalienable, by means of which all acquisition, or in other words, every ulterior exercise of the right of appropriation, would be at the same time, on the part of the acquirer, the enjoyment of a natural right and, with regard to his fellows, an usurpation: which is contradictory, impossible.

But the economists, backed by their utilitarian inductions, come in their turn and tell us: the origin of property is labor. Property is the right to live by laboring, to dispose freely of one’s own savings, of one’s own capital, of the fruits of one’s own intelligence and industry; their system is no more solid. If labor, fruitful and effective occupation, is the principle of property, how do we explain the property of those who does not labor. How do we justify land-rent? How do we deduce from this formation of property through labor, the right of possess without laboring? How can we conceive that, from a labor maintained for thirty years, eternal property results? If labor is the source of property, this means that property is the reward from labor; well, what is the value of labor? What is the common measure of the products, whose exchange brings such monstrous inequalities in property? Would it be said that property should be limited to the period of real occupation, to the time duration of labor? Then property ceases to be personal, inalienable and transferable: this is property no more. Is it not evident that, if the jurists’ theory is purely arbitrary, that of the economists is purely routine? Besides, it seemed so threatening because of its consequences, that it was abandoned almost as soon as it appeared. The jurists across the Rhine, among others, almost all returned to the system of first occupation, a difficult thing to believe in the country of dialectics.

And what to speak about the divagations of the mystics, men whom reason horrifies and for whom the fact is always sufficiently explained, justified, by the sole fact that it exists? Property, they say, is a creation of social spontaneity, the effect of a law of providence, against which we only have to humiliate ourselves as against everything that comes from God. Oh! What could we find more respectable and authentic, more necessary and more sacred than that which the human race wanted spontaneously, and which has realized through a permission from on high?

Thus, religion comes in its turn to consecrate property. By this sign, it is possible to judge the lack of seriousness of that principle. But society, otherwise known as Providence, could not consent to property except with a view to the general welfare; is it permitted, with all due respect to Providence, to ask from whence then come the exclusions?… If the general welfare does not demand the absolute equality of property, at least it implies a certain responsibility on the part of the proprietor; and when the poor begs, it is the sovereign who calls for his tithe. How does it happen, then, that the proprietor is a master of never giving an account, of not granting, no matter for whom and how little the cost, any sharing?

From all points of view, property remains unintelligible; and those who have attacked it could be certain in advance that they would not be answered, as they could also count on the fact that their criticisms would not have the least effect. Property indeed exists, but reason condemns it: how are we to reconcile here the reality and the idea? How are we to make reason become fact? That is what remains for us to do, something that nobody seems to have clearly comprehended. Nevertheless, as long as property is defended by so poor means, property is in danger; and as long as a new and more powerful fact is not opposed to property, the attacks on property will not be anything other than insignificant protests, good to stir up the poor and annoy the proprietors.

Finally, a critic has come that, proceeding with the aid of a new kind of argument, says:

Property, in fact and in right, is essentially contradictory and it is for this very reason that it is anything at all. In fact,

Property is the right of occupancy; and at the same time the right of exclusion.

Property is labor’s reward; and the negation of labor.

Property is the spontaneous product of society; and the dissolution of society.

Property is an institution of just; and property is theft.

From all this it results that one day property transformed will be a positive idea, complete, social and true; a property that will abolish the older one and will become for all equally effective and beneficent. And what proves this is once again the fact that property is a contradiction.

From the moment that property started being recognized: its intimate nature was unveiled, its future predicted. However, it could be said that the critique had not realized even half of its task, because, to definitely constitute property, to remove its exclusion characteristics and give it its synthetic form, it was not sufficient to have analyzed it in itself, it was also necessary to find the order of the things, of which property was not more than a particular moment, the series that surrounded it and that outside of which it was impossible either to comprehend or to initiate property. Without this condition, property, guarding the status quo, remained unassailable as a fact, and unintelligible as an idea; and every reform attempted against this status quo could be, with regard to society, nothing but a retreat, if it was not, perhaps, a parricide.

Let us deign to reflect, indeed, that, at the very moment we write, property is still everything, for our legislative science as for our economic habits; that nothing is conceived, nothing is imagined outside of property, despite the efforts made by socialism in recent times; that neither in jurisprudence, commerce nor industry is there a way out; that if property is destroyed, society falls into an endless disorganization and that, having learned to acknowledge property in its antinomic nature, we do not know any better how is it going to realize its definite formula, how starting from the present order a new one will emerge, an order that nothing in the world yet gives us an idea about. Let us think, I say, on all this things, and then let us ask how, by virtue of the antinomy alone, from the present organization, which exhausts at once our experience and reason, will we be able to determine a social form for which we lack equally the ideas and the facts?

It must be recognized: the antinomy, by demonstrating what property in itself is, has said its last word, it cannot go further. We require another logical construction; it is necessary to find the progression of which property is only one of the terms, to construct the series outside of which property, appearing only as an isolated fact, a solitaire idea, remains always inconceivable and sterile; but also in which property, regaining also its rightful place and, by consequence, its real form, will become an essential part of a harmonic and true whole, and, losing its bad qualities, will assume the positive attributes of equality, mutuality, responsibility and order.

Thus, when we wished to discover the role and the philosophic sense of money, of that fact which appears to us isolated and without ***** in the books of the economists and by this reason it had remained unexplained until today, we looked for the chain we supposed currency was a detached ring; and, through this simple hypothesis, we found out without difficulties that the currency was the first of our products whose value was socially constituted and that, by this reason, it served as a model to all the others. Likewise, when we had the need of knowing the nature and elaborate a theory of taxation, this other isolated fact, object of so many clamors in political economy, we just had to complete the family of the workers, making enter on it as a genre the unproductive workers, or in another words, those whose remuneration is not effected by exchange and whose job is in lessening, while the jobs of the other workers is growing.

By the same method, to attain property’s full comprehension, to acquire the idea of the social order, we have to do two things: 1º. Determine the series of contradictions that property belongs; 2º. To give, by a general equation, the positive formula of this series.

If our hopes do not fool us, soon we will have realized the first part of this task. Property is one of the general facts that determine the oscillations in value; it is integrant part of this long series of spontaneous institutions that begin with the division of labor, an ends at the community, to resolve itself at the constitution of all values. We could just even show at System of economic contradictions, as in a reverse tapestry, the inverted image of our future organization, so that, to pass the last hand at our work and solve the second part of the problem, we will not have to wait anymore, or even better, wait only a redirection.

So, in principle, all solitary being, in other words, not divided or without a fellow, is in itself unintelligible; is, like spirit and matter, all non manifested essences, or, what ends up being the same thing, non serried, something inaccessible to the understanding and that resolves itself by the spirit in sentiment, in mystery. That’s why the infinite being, logic already leads to believe so, will always be to men, even after observation had confirmed its existence, as if it was not. As nothing in it neither outside it can put a end to concentration and solitude, neither eternity, ubiquity, neither omnipotence, infinite science, creation, neither the progressive humanity that is the principle and sustenance, but from which it distinguishes essentially, similar being remains forever unknown; and all reasons asks us in this concern is the negation, or what comes to be the same, faith.

Syllogism, induction, antinomy and series form, thus, the complete armament of intelligence; it is east to see that no other dialectic instrument can be further discovered.

Syllogism develops the idea, we can say, from up to the bottom; induction reproduces it bottom up; antinomy grasps it abreast and in side face; the series chases it and penetrates in solidity and deepness.

Have already seen that the field of knowledge has no other dimensions, there are no other methods. We can say that logic is already done, common sense already organized; and as the organization of labor is the unavoidable corollary of the organization of the common sense, it is impossible that society does not arrive soon at its certain and definitive constitution.


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