On human emancipation (1850)

P.-J. Proudhon, Carnets, Vol. 4, Carnet No. 8, P. 43-44.


The history of the human race has only been one long effort of the working classes to free themselves from tyranny and theft.–

All government is tyrannical.

All property is theft.

All religion is mystification. [177]

It seems that tyranny, theft and illusion are eternal in the human race. As for me I would dare to affirm otherwise!

In any case, this is what takes place.

That effort of emancipation is the very life of our species.

– The economic order is beneath all that; and itself, steeped in arbitrariness, theft and mystification, to the point of that it is impossible not to recognize in the theft, the tyranny and the philosophical lie, a sin against the Holy Spirit, superstition or religion, as one wishes, a necessity that is imminent, eternal and providential.

As for the hypothesis of a complete negation of all theft, of all tyranny, of every illusion of the Catholic and religious mind, it is the highest utopia, it is a nonbeing!…

Community, Materialism, is chaos, the nothingness of thought, death.

Justice is only a lie, an impossibility; what is necessary is a mutual tolerance, a charity,–a reciprocal pardon of injuries, which constantly washes the governmental, tyrannical and religious guilt.

A perpetual transaction, without which society is impossible. No constitution with which one cannot batter the people or the government. No religion that does not lead to a hideous quietism, to an infernal simony. No commerce that does not contain a fraud.–

I will demonstrate all of that.

In any case, I will begin by describing what is best known in the movement of humanity.

The human species being given, with its essential necessities of tyranny, theft and mental alienation, – the necessity of eternal struggle against its own essence [is also given];–

Describe the laws of that struggle.–

Thus, the stable point in humanity is the laws of movement, the laws that preside over instability itself.

It is starting from this stable point that we arrive at some conceptions of practical fraternity, of mutual amnesty [178], that we conceive the dogma of pardon and expiation. Thus we have the last word of Society, a word that is also the first: Love, fraternity and charity, consequently devotion. The cult of humanity!

Reason cannot give exact results.

As numbers cannot resolve certain problems, logic, rational instrumentation, cannot give complete satisfaction to Justice.

So justice becomes charity? – If we cannot love one another, let us be slaves of one another.

Political economy, science of approximation.

Jurisprudence, idealism more than realism.

Morals is the worship of ourselves and of those close to us, consequently charity rather than rule; counsel more than precept; still an ideal.–

Everything carries man to the ideal. – He is more than a reasoning animal; – Reason is only good for making us devour one another.

On all these points, it is necessary to take communion with the Communists: Community, ideal of humanity, is hell, as soon as it is reduced to theory and precepts.

Thus, do not await the science of absolute and integral solutions: there is none.

Limit ourselves to determining each day the practical thing, make up for the rest with love and devotion.

Thus, to cultivate love and devotion, tend to education, and cast off absolutist and intolerant doctrines.


Conclude with these laws and these facts:

  • the necessity for the respect of transactions,
  • the necessity for patience,
  • scorn for ignorant agitators,
  • the sovereignty of CONSCIENCE, superior to Reason.–

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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