The Feuding Brothers (1850)

I ran across this one-act parody of French socialism in the January 5, 1850 issue of La Mode, a popular magazine, and was nearly finished with this (rough) translation before I realized that most of the dialogue was lifted straight from the debates between Proudhon, Blanc and Leroux. Indeed, most of the details may have come from a single source, a pamphlet, Actes de la Révolution: Résistance, which reprinted Proudhon’s essays “What is Government? What is God?” and “Resistance to the Revolution.” The second installment of the latter essay is, of course, the source of two partial translations, by William Batchelder Greene and Benjamin R. Tucker, under the title “The State.” This is one of Proudhon’s best-known essays, but it’s context, a far-flung debate launched by Proudhon’s treatment of the questions of government and God, is much less well known. The appearance of Blanc’s Le Nouveau monde; journal historique et politique in digital archives has provided access to some of the missing pieces, but Leroux’s responses in La Republique remain elusive (and more so since the Association des Amis de Pierre Leroux site went down.) I had dipped into all of this several years back, and have a partial translation of Leroux’s “Response to Proudhon” in my files, but at that point it looked like a big job to bring all the pieces together. But when I discovered that the dialogue I was translating for “The Feuding Brothers” was actually taken from parts of “Resistance to the Revolution” which Tucker had not translated, I got interested in the project again, and this time, having found a relatively affordable collection of the Proudhon-Leroux debate that I could order from France, I’m fairly certain I have most of the essays either in hand or in the mail. Perhaps this spring I can start to wade in and get the translating done. For now, however, here is:


Democratic and social reckoning for the year 1849.
A Terrible and Jovial Drama in One Act
The stage represents a newspaper office. — To the right, on the mantelpiece, sits a red cap perched on a mushroom; to the left, a library, on the shelves of which sprawl the works of Vadé and a copy of the Billingsgate Catechism, bound in red Moroccan leather; in the foreground, close to the door, a sturdy broom-handle.
Brother Louis BLANC.
Brother Pierre LEROUX.
(The scene takes place under the Republic.)
Brother CONSIDERANT (making a pince-nez with the eye at the end of his tail, and looking down his nose at brother Proudhon in an impertinent manner.)
I would be done with you, Mr. Proudhon. You are mad, my good man, mad with one of those follies which inspires a legitimate disgust. It is that sad sickness of the mind which gives to your writings the odor of hatred and that tawny color that characterizes them… Your life has been nothing but denigration and wounds; you have made a name for yourself only by detracting from the very people whose ideas you exploit. There is nothing, nothing, you understand, nothing serious about you, not a shred of an idea, not a wisp of thought. A zero—very large and bloated, full of noise and venom, I admit—but the numeral zero, and nothing else, that is your score… You have spoiled everything, burned everything, Mr. Proudhon, to make a name for yourself… If your outward, historical name is Erostratus, your private name is more sinister still: you call yourself destruction… I find in you, in a word, in the sphere of principles and ideas, that mysterious and sacrosanct character, that de Maistre found in the ancient and quasi-pontifical conception of the executioner.
(He lets his pince-nez fall and crosses his arms in a attitude defiant stance.)
Brother PROUDHON (steadying his glasses on his nose and taking two steps back, like a man who wants to pull a pistol from his pocket to fire on his adversary.)
I will be done with you, Mr. Considerant! It is necessary to have your mind dazed, for twenty-five years, by the mephitic vapors of the phalanstery, to conduct oneself in a manner as vacuous as Mr. Considerant. The Démocratie Pacifique, daily organ of the so-called societary school, is a sort of spillway for all the mad absurdities and impurities of the human mind. That spillway has for a symbol the name of the greatest hoaxer of modern times: Fourier. For real aim, it has a speculation of unprincipled schemers… There is no theory of Fourier, no social science according to Fourier; consequently, no phalansterian socialism. There is only a collection of charlatans, of which you (you, the subscribers of the Démocratie!) are the miserable dupes… Your inability, monsieur Considerant, shines out despite you… Your speech is like a horn coated with lead, a cracked cymbal. You are dead, dead to democracy and to socialism… What speaks, what writes, what jargonizes, what rattles on under the name of Victor Considerant, is only a shadow, the soul of a dead man who returns to demand prayers from the living. Go, poor soul, I will recite for you a de profundis and give you 15 sols to say a mass.
(He leaps for the broomstick, and, with a blow as deft as treacherous, pierces the eye on the tail of Considérant, who loses his name Victor in the battle.)
Brother Pierre LEROUX (making a comb with the five stiffened fingers of his left hand, and with the other anxiously twisting the middle button of his beaver coat at the proprietor).
You are a Malthusian, an eclectic, a liberal, an individualist, a bourgeois, an atheist, a proprietor.
(He lets out a plaintive Oh! Oh!, and signs himself with a charm, an offering of filial devotion from citizens Pauline Roland and Jeanne Deroin.)
Brother PROUDHON, (having let out a roar of laughter as mocking as it is satanic).
Listen, dear Theogloss, I will spare you today all the follies and absurdities that you have spread against me. I would make you suffer too much by noting them. You may characterize my ideas, as is your right; but I forbid you from characterizing my intentions, or else I will characterize you yourself, and mark you so aggressively and so hotly, that it will be remembered in the future generations. That will be a more certain means for you of being reaching posterity than the triad, the circulus and the doctrine.
(He takes him by the ears. Scene of hair-pulling.)
Brother LOUIS BLANC (waddling and finishing a sandwich spread with his favorite democratic delicacy, a filet of venison with pineapple puree.)
You are a gladiator by profession, a flesh-ripper renowned among the people, a panegyrist of tyrants (redoubling the volubility of his language); a juggler, a tender of limes, a sower of doubts (he nearly chokes in rage); a prompter of discord, a snuffer of light, a calumniator of the people (he lets his sandwich fall); a sort of Thrasymachus, of Lysander, of Tallien (he stamps on his sandwich); a sophist, a Philippist, a Hellenist, a Galimafron, a giant, a proud, vain, rude, brutal idolater of yourself, a Satan, a schoolboy, a Herostratus, an enragé, and finally a free student of the College of Besançon.
(He pretends he wants to pick up his sandwich and darts between the legs of his interlocutor, to make him, in the way kids do, fall backwards at full length.)
PROUDHON, (solemnly taking brother Louis Blanc by the ears and setting him back on his feet in front of him).
Child, child, you are only a pseudo-socialist and a pseudo-democrat, the stunted shadow of Robespierre, a puny nibbler of political crusts, a crass ignoramus, the vainest, most vacuous, most impudent, and most nauseating rhetorician, produced, in the most garrulous of centuries, by the loosest of literatures… But I excuse you, seeing your extreme youth.
(He gives him a little pat on the cheek; but the child pokes him in the eyes.
Radical boxing.)
We no longer see anything on the field of battle but a punctured eye, a pair of shattered spectacles, a fistful of hair and a slice of buttered bread.
We hear, as the curtain falls, a strident voice which murmurs: They have devoured one another with a truly brotherly appetite. That is all that remain of the Vadiuses of demagogy and the Trissottiuses of socialism! requiescant in pace!!
La Mode. Vol. 22 (January 5, 1850) 43-45. 
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur; revised March, 2012.]
About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.


  1. A few years ago I had a delightful correspondence with a reference librarian at the BNF who confirmed that there was no accent mark in Considerant.

    I’m being picky, but I am supposed to be.

  2. Hah! Thanks, Joan. In my hurry to make this available, but put the rest of the work it has generated away for awhile, I neglected to double-check.

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