Part II—Anarchist History: Margins and Problems (An Idiosyncratic Survey)
- Part I—Constructing an Anarchism [main page]
- Anarchist Beginnings archive
- The Rise and Progress of the Great Atercratic Revolution
II—Anarchist History: Margins & Problems:
- Anarchist History: Margins and Problems
- Margins and Problems: Reflections on “Constructing an Anarchism”
- Margins and Problems: The Bilge-Rat’s Gambit
- Margins and Problems: Anarchic Encounters with the Anarchist Past
- Margins and Problems: History and the Possibility of Anarchism
- Margins and Problems: Questions of Nature and Artifice
- Margins and Problems: A Philosophical Anarchism
- Margins and Problems: A Note on “Possible Anarchisms”
- Margins and Problems: Disquisitions and Demands
- Margins and Problems: Beyond Philosophical Anarchism
- Margins and Problems: Individualism and Socialism
- Margins and Problems: Enter the Anarchist
- Margins and Problems: Some Premature Conclusions
I—Constructing an Anarchism:
- Constructing an Anarchism: Approaching An-Archy
- Constructing an Anarchism: Notes on the Approach
- Constructing an Anarchism: An-Archy
- Constructing an Anarchism: Tradition
- Constructing Anarchisms: Clarifications and Additional Tools
- Constructing an Anarchism: Synthesis
- Constructing Anarchisms: Vital Things
- Constructing an Anarchism: Governmentalism
- Constructing an Anarchism: Collective Force
- Constructing Anarchisms: The Anarchist and « Their Own »
- Constructing an Anarchism: Aubaine
- Constructing Anarchisms: Halfway to Anarchism
- Constructing an Anarchism: Individualism
- Constructing an Anarchism: Guarantism (Theory)
- Constructing an Anarchism: Guarantism (Application)
- Constructing an Anarchism: Contr’un
- Constructing an Anarchism: Encounter and Entente
- Constructing an Anarchism: « My Anarchism »
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The essay that follows originally appeared in 2010 and, for a time, lent its name, “Two-Gun Mutualism and the Golden Rule,” to what is now the “Contrun” blog. It is very much a creature of certain contexts specific to the reemergence of mutualism as an anarchist tendency—contexts that alternately freed and constrained my projects at the time. But it is also a pretty good introduction to Pierre Leroux and his influence on the anarchist tradition.
Aside from the focus on Leroux’s work, the essay was the first in a series of fragments exploring questions of violence and justice in Proudhon’s work, particularly in the context of his failings with regard to certain kinds of social equality. Among the related posts are these:
- Pierre Leroux, “Individualism and Socialism“
- “Scraping Some Rust off the ‘Two Guns’ of Mutualism” (January 28, 2014)
- “Avengers Who Never Assemble” (June 13, 2014)
- “The Capitalist, the Prince, the Père de famille, and the Alternative” (June 23, 2014)
- “In Search of the Justicier” (July 18, 2014)
And we will pick up some of the threads dropped in this series as we move forward with the “Margins and Problems” survey.
For those who have not yet read it, the text of Leroux’s “Individualism and Socialism” is appended, with some notes on its publishing history.
“TWO-GUN” MUTUALISM and the GOLDEN RULE
Thus one remains in perplexity and uncertainty, equally attracted and repulsed by two opposite attractors. Yes, the sympathies of our era are equally lively, equally energetic, whether it is a question of liberty or equality, of individuality or association. The faith in society is complete, but the faith in individuality is equally complete. From this results an equal impulse towards these two desired ends and an equal increase of the exclusive exaggeration of one or the other, an equal horror of either individualism or of socialism.
That disposition, moreover, is not new. It already existed in the Revolution. The most progressive men felt it. Take the Declaration of Rights of Robespierre: you will find formulated there, in the most energetic and absolute manner, the principle of society, with a view to the equality of all; but, two lines higher, you will find, also formulated in the most energetic and absolute manner, the principle of the individuality of each. And nothing which would unite, which harmonizes these two principles, placed thus both on the altar; nothing which reconciles these two equally infinite and limitless rights, these two adversaries which threaten, these two absolute and sovereign powers which both [together] rise to heaven and which each [separately] overrun the whole earth. These two principles once named, you cannot prevent yourself from recognizing them, for you sense their legitimacy in your heart; but you sense at the same time that, both born from justice, they will make a dreadful war. So Robespierre and the Convention were only able to proclaim them both, and as a result the Revolution has been the bloody theater of their struggle: the two pistols charged one against the other have fired.
We are still at the same point, with two pistols charged and [pointed] in opposite directions. Our soul is the prey of two powers that are equal and, in appearance, contrary. Our perplexity will only cease when social science will manage to harmonize these two principles, when our two tendencies will be satisfied. Then an immense contentment will take the place of that anguish.—PIERRE LEROUX, “INDIVIDUALISM AND SOCIALISM.” (1834)
We have understood finally that the opposition of two absolutes—one of which, alone, would be unpardonably reprehensive, and both of which, together, would be rejected, if they worked separately—is the very cornerstone of social economy and public right: but it falls to us to govern it and to make it act according to the laws of logic.—PIERRE-JOSEPH PROUDHON, THE THEORY OF PROPERTY. (1864)
In 1834, when Pierre Leroux wrote “Individualism and Socialism,” the immediate occasion was “the massacres on the Rue Transnonain,” a particularly brutal and senseless slaughter of civilians by soldiers during a brief insurrection against the July Monarchy in Paris. After a soldier was killed by sniper fire in the street, members of the guard killed nearly all the inhabitants of No. 14 Rue Transnonain, in a room-to-room spree.
“Madame d’Aubigny: At five o’clock the soldiers came from the Rue de Montmorency; after a sustained fire they got possession of the barricade.
“A short time after another party of voltigeurs came down the Rue Transnonain, preceded by sappers; they endeavoured, but in vain, to break open the door of our house, which is unusually solid.
“‘It is the line!’ exclaimed the people in the house; ‘Ah, there are our liberators! We are saved!’
“M. Guitard, my husband, and myself went downstairs, in all haste, to open the door. Being quicker than the two gentlemen, I ran before them to the porter’s lodge, pulled the rope, and the door opened. The soldiers rushed into the passage, and, turning half round to the right, shot my husband and M. Guitard, at the moment they had reached the last step of the staircase. They fell amidst a shower of balls. The explosion was so great that the windows of the lodge, which I had not had time to shut before the soldiers ran in, were all broken to pieces. A giddiness seized me for a moment, and when I came to myself, it was to see the lifeless body of my husband stretched near that of M. Guitard, whose head was nearly separated from the neck by the numerous shots he had received. Quick as lightning the soldiers, headed by an officer, ran up to the second floor. A folding door soon gave way before them; a second door, one with glass windows, presented itself; they knocked at it furiously, and it was immediately opened by an old man, M. Breffort, senior. ‘We are,’ he said to the officer, ‘peaceable people here; we have no arms of any sort. Do not assassinate us.’ The words had scarcely passed his lips ere he fell, pierced with three bayonet wounds. He uttered a cry: ‘You old ragamuffin,’ exclaimed the officer, ‘if you don’t hold your tongue, I’ll finish you.’ Annette Besson rushed from an adjacent room to assist him. A soldier turned round, plunged his bayonet into her neck just beneath the jaw, and then, firing his musket at her, blew her head to pieces, the fragments sticking against ‘he opposite wall. A young man, Henry Larivière, was following her. He was fired upon so close that the powder set his clothes in flames; the ball was buried deep in his lungs. As he was falling, mortally wounded, a bayonet stroke cut open his forehead deeply, and exposed the skull; twenty other wounds were added to dispatch him. The room was already a mere pool of blood; M. Breffort, senior, notwithstanding his wounds, had managed to crawl to an alcove; he was pursued by soldiers, when Madame Bonneville came forward, and covering him with her body, her feet in the blood on the floor, her hands raised to Heaven, exclaimed: ‘All my family are stretched at my feet, there remains only myself to kill, only myself” And five bayonet wounds cut open her hands. On the fourth floor, the soldiers who had just killed M. Lepere and M. Robiquet, said to their wives: ‘My poor souls you are sadly to be pitied, as well as your husbands. But we are ordered to do this, we are compelled to obey, though it makes us as wretched as you can be.’—from LOUIS BLANC, THE HISTORY OF TEN YEARS, pp. 279-280.
The incident is now perhaps best remembered because of Daumier’s depiction of it, but for many years, until more horrifying massacres displaced it, it occupied a very important place in the catalog of crimes by authority against the people.
Leroux’s response to the events was interesting. The horror of the crime was not that it is in any way unprecedented. For from it—history has witnessed no shortage of massacres. Human beings have murdered one another for any number of reasons, not least because they believed it was the will of some god or gods, or of some god’s earthly representative. Such killing is criminal, but, Leroux suggests, it may at least retain a certain “grandeur.”
Our century is, it seems, quite vile, and we have degenerated even from the crimes of our fathers. To kill in the manner of Charles IX or Torquemada, in the name of faith, in the name of the Church, because one believes that God desires it, because one has a fanatic spirit, exalted by the fear of hell and the hope of paradise, this is still to have in one’s crime some grandeur and some generosity. But to be afraid, and by dint of cowardice, to become cruel; to be full of solicitude for material goods that after all death will carry away from you, and to become ferocious from avarice; to have no belief in eternal things, no certainty of the difference between the just and the unjust, and, in absolute doubt, to cling to one’s lucre with an intensity rivaling the most heated fanaticism, and to gain from these petty sentiments energy sufficient to equal in a day the bloodiest days of our religious wars—this is what we have seen and what was never seen before.
Crime, murderous crime, may even be “generous,” by Leroux’s reading—at least by comparison to the sort of petty, senseless murder which took place in the Rue Transnonain. “[W]e are ordered to do this, we are compelled to obey, though it makes us as wretched as you…” And what is it that is behind the “pitiless orders” that the soldiers are compelled to follow? “Business is bad, and it is the innovators, it is said, that stand in its way: war then against the innovators.” The rationale for slaughter is “neither an idea nor a principle,” but simply “material interests.” This is a “base” motivation—Leroux makes his opinion in this regard quite clear. Like so many other radicals of his time, he was a strong believer in progress, not just in the perfectibility of humanity, but of a strong impulse, knit within the very fabric of human history, towards ever-increasing perfection. William B. Greene would describe that impulse in terms of a “Blazing Star,” always shining in the distance, and always calling attentive human beings on to increasingly ideal projects and states. Proudhon would come to think of “the Revolution” as embodying it, not as an inevitability, but as a sort of immanent justice, with a tendency to shake up human affairs when it was ignored or thwarted. For progressives and perfectionists, the apparent senselessness or “baseness” of their age was potentially a rebuke. Strong critics of the absolutisms of the past, they were still drawn strongly to ideas and principles, and to the belief that, ultimately, there was some order to “universal history,” even if the responsibility for making that order real fell more and more squarely on human, rather than divine, shoulders.
It’s no great surprise, then, that a radical of Leroux’s type would end up seeing in the apparent disarray and exhaustion of his era, not just the end or the failure of something, but an indication of progress-to-come. If everything now revolves around “the shops,” if we make war and sacrifices for the sake of the day’s profits, it is because all of society’s forces are focused on a problem of overwhelming importance—“if the social question presents itself in our time primarily as a question of material wealth, it is because the human sciences are very close to finding the solution.”
In 1851, Proudhon’s Philosophy of Progress began with a similar denunciation of French society: “France has exhausted the principles that once sustained it. Its conscience is vacant, just like its reason.” It ended by asserting the primacy of revolutionary progress against all forms of absolutism, and it pointed to the extreme disarray of the present as evidence of a potential reorganization in progress. Despite some heated debates and significant differences between them, Proudhon and Leroux shared a good deal, with regard to their philosophies of history. Their relationship was nothing if not complex. Proudhon spoke highly of Leroux, even in the midst of their conflicts, using language which one suspects he would not have been unhappy to have had addressed to himself:
We need men who, like M. Leroux, call in question social principles,— not to diffuse doubt concerning them, but to make them doubly sure; men who excite the mind by bold negations, and make the conscience tremble by doctrines of annihilation. (WHAT IS PROPERTY? p. 401.)
Proudhon undoubtedly also learned a great deal from Leroux, although he made those lessons his own, incorporating them into a body of work in many ways superior to Leroux’s. Once the heat had died down in the debates of 1848-49, and particularly after the coup d’état, there were fewer reasons, either personal or practical, for Proudhon to distance himself from political rivals, fewer open debates, and with both men in exile for much of the remainder of Proudhon’s life, fewer opportunities for conflict. While he was never one to give too much credit to his influences, it seems fairly clear that his mature work benefited from a broader range of them.
It is possible that Leroux’s influence may have been pressed on him as well. We know very little about his relations to the other anarchists of his time, but we know that Leroux’s thought had a decisive influence on both the American mutualist William B. Greene and the libertarian communist Joseph Déjacque. And we know that Greene and Proudhon were at least acquainted. Greene had forged his own variety of mutualism by joining the work of Proudhon and Leroux. While he was among the most prominent advocates of Proudhon’s system of “mutual banking” and free credit, he had obviously followed the French debates on the subject with some care, and seems to have taken Leroux’s side when it came to the question of joining the mutual bank to producer and consumer cooperatives. Greene was known for his tendency to speak his mind, even when it drew ridicule from his peers in New England. If he did indeed converse with Proudhon, would he have remained silent on those questions? They were certainly potential sore points: it is quite possible that the insistence by others on a “triad” of reforms was among the factors that led Proudhon to entirely separate from the project of the Bank of the People, when his erstwhile partners attempted to revive it as the “Laborers’ Mutuality.” At this point, we can only speculate. In any event, the later works certainly seem more open to the idea of supplementing credit reforms with other sorts of association.
But the relationship is really more complicated than the example of Greene, or even Déjacque, suggests. From our vantage point in the present, Leroux appears not just as an influence on various anarchists, but as himself a worker in the field of libertarian radicalism—and perhaps a fairly unique one. Leroux is famous, or infamous, for the notions of the circulus,—a sort of proto-ecological answer to Malthus, emphasizing the re-cycling character of natural system,—the triad,—an adaptation of Trinitarian thought to social science,—and the twin doctrines of life and humanity—which emphasized the interdependence of individuals and characterized all living beings as both objective and subjective, acting as agents and as a social environment (and source of social subsistence, even nutrition!) for other agents. The third set of notions was adopted in one form or another by Greene, Déjacque, and Proudhon, and enjoyed a short vogue in New England radical circles, thanks to Orestes Brownson. Its origins were in Christianity, and in Saint-Simonian neo-Christianity. The first tied Leroux to the early anarchist, or proto-anarchist, William Godwin, in the battle against Malthus. And the second, while it also had theological origins, was at the same time a response to the thought of another proto-anarchist figure, Étienne de La Boétie.
De La Boétie’s youthful anti-authoritarian tract, De la Servitude Volontaire (known in English as The Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, Slaves to Duty, or Slaves by Choice), was subtitled “Le Contr’un.” One translation attempts to render the phrase as “The Anti-Dictator,” which gets the gist of things, if it lacks the elegance of the original. “Contr’un” is apparently a rare construction, and it’s an enormously suggestive one in many ways. It’s tempting to survey all the ways in which one might be “against one” or the “counter-one,” from Proudhon’s theory of offsetting absolutisms to Derrida’s play with the intertwined notions of “(no more one/more than one) voice.” For our immediate purposes, however, it is enough to know that Leroux took this notion of the “contr’un” very seriously, making it one of the key elements of his 1846 “Discourse on the Doctrine of Humanity.” Given his other preoccupations, it will perhaps come as no surprise that he believed the counter-one could be found in another number, in the three of the triad.
Leroux never claimed to be an anarchist, and there is no particular reason to claim him for the tradition at this point. He probably falls fairly comfortably into the category of “mutualist,” which has always had connotations broader than, say, “Proudhonian” and which, in its most general form, has always, I think, leaned towards anarchism, but has never been precisely identical with it. (Even Proudhon considered the “approximation of an-archy” just one of the projects of mutualism.) What we probably can do, with some real present benefit, is to examine Leroux’s thought a little more closely, specifically in the context of other early anarchists, acknowledging his unusually direct connections to figures like Godwin and de la Boétie, as well as his equally direct influence on early mutualism and libertarian communism. In particular, we can look more closely at the moment where he made the other terminological contributions for which he is remembered—the invention of the terms “individualisme” and “socialisme.”
INDIVIDUALISM vs SOCIALISM
It is clear that, in all of this writing, it is necessary to understand by socialism, socialism as we define it in this work itself, which is as the exaggeration of the idea of association, or of society. For a number of years, we have been accustomed to call socialists all the thinkers who occupy themselves with social reforms, all those who critique and reprove individualism, all those who speak, in different terms, of social providence, and of the solidarity which unites together not only the members of a State, but the entire Human Species; and, by this title, ourselves, who have always battled absolute socialism, we are today designated as socialist. We are undoubtedly socialist, but in this sense: we are socialist, if you mean by socialism the Doctrine which will sacrifice none of the terms of the formula: Liberty, Fraternity, Equality, Unity, but which reconciles them all. (1847.) — I can only repeat here, with regard to the use of the word Socialism in all of this extract, what I said previously (pages 121 and 160 of this Volume). When I invented the term Socialism in order to oppose it to the term Individualism, I did not expect that, ten years later, that term would be used to express, in a general fashion, religious Democracy. What I attacked under that name, were the false systems advanced by the alleged disciples of Saint-Simon and by the alleged disciples of Rousseau led astray following Robespierre and Babœuf, without speaking of those who amalgamated at once Saint-Simon and Robespierre with de Maistre and Bonald. I refer the reader to the Histoire du Socialisme (which they will find in one of the following volumes of this edition), contenting myself to protest against those who have taken occasion from this to find me in contradiction with myself.—PIERRE LEROUX, “INDIVIDUALISM AND SOCIALISM.” (Note from 1850 COLLECTED WORKS.)
The debates over who coined what term are of largely antiquarian interest. We know that by 1843, some form of the word “socialism” already existed in English, in Owenite circles. But we also know that Leroux’s claim is not too far off the mark, in any language. And we do not seem to have any earlier treatment of the two terms—socialism and individualism—together.
Individualism and Socialism—these are the two rival solutions to the problem of “material interests,” and once they have been loosed on the field, their opposition threatens to become practically the whole of politics. Leroux identifies them in order to reject them both—at least individually. When Proudhon adopted roughly the same dynamic, the terms were “property” and “community,” but little else changed. Both look forward to a moment when the two tendencies will be “harmonized” or “synthesized.” Later, both would adopt a more dynamic sort of solution. Greene, tackling the problem in a different context and at a slightly later date, was able to name his third term more directly: “socialism” becomes, for him, the third, relational term, completing a triad with individualistic “capitalism” and “communism.” In some ways, of course, all of this is simply reinventing the wheel, since the three terms all seem to correspond to Fourier’s three “distributive passions:” centralizing Composite, decentralizing Cabalist, and alternating Papillion. And the target of the dynamic is the error Fourierists called simplism, “the fault of viewing a complex question from only one side, of advancing on one side by retreating on the other, so that real progress is null or negative.”
Leroux opens the debate between individualism and socialism in order to be done with it, to focus attention on a broader, more complete dynamic, which he sees as the key to solving the problem of “material interests.” But he is not prepared to offer much more than a statement of the problem, and the vaguest sketch of the solution. His analysis of individualism and socialism leads him to an affirmation of relation:
We are all responsible to one another. We are united by an invisible link, it is true, but that link is more clear and more evident to the intelligence than matter is to the eyes of the body.
But he can’t move far past the intuitive rejection of social simplism—a double rejection, coupled with a double affirmation. He has the outline of the triad, which he will come to see as the “true contr’un,” the key to a libertarian politics which should not simply fall prey to the internecine warfare between visions of freedom, and his general project is launched, but he has also named these two principles, in a more definite fashion that has been done before—and this conjuration is no small matter.
These two principles once named, you cannot prevent yourself from recognizing them, for you sense their legitimacy in your heart; but you sense at the same time that, both born from justice, they will make a dreadful war.
As we know, in the intervening years, individualism and socialism have “made a dreadful war.” And the libertarian movement which Leroux inherited and influenced has been split every bit as decisively as the cultures surrounding it, by that warfare. In some ways, we have made very little progress from the situation described by Leroux and Proudhon: the exhaustion of ideas, the wars in the service of commercial profit, the complicity of competing visions of liberty in the continuing misery and slaughter—all of these are familiar to us. What is perhaps least familiar to us is the notion that there is an alternative, the possibility of a “synthesis of community and property” (as Proudhon put it) in a liberty which would extend to all, and would harmonize and socialize the conflict of interests without sacrificing individuality. Where that notion has appeared, in those intervening years, it has often been called mutualism. But mutualism, too, has often proclaimed its philosophy, without being able to push very far towards its realization.
If the goal of mutualism, Proudhon’s “third form of society” or some timelier approximation, is our goal, then it’s up to us to trace its history back to the roots, strengthening and clarifying where we can. If mutualism is to be more than just an indistinct third option, a constant compromise, then it is necessary to take up the tradition precisely where it is most strongly “charged”—and most potentially dangerous. What better place to start, then, than Leroux’s description of those “two pistols charged one against the other”?
The passage, quoted at the beginning of the essay, is striking. Individualism and socialism first appear as “two opposite attractors,” equally attractive and repellant,” but as a magnet might attract or repulse. “Liberty and Society,” Leroux claims elsewhere in the essay, “are the two equal poles of social science.” The individual, all individuals, remains “in perplexity and uncertainty,” held in a complex field of forces, which pushes and pulls us in every direction at once. Drawing on Leroux’s work on the nature of “life,” we can conclude that our magnetic uncertainty is as much related to ourselves as to our attractors. Indeed, the “objective and subjective” nature of life makes such a distinction difficult at best. We, too, are “charged,” and bear at the very heart of our nature as living beings “two opposite attractors.” We, too, are a sort of magnet.
Leroux moves quickly through his exposition: the disposition of charges and forces moves things quickly to crisis. Uncertainty leads to increased tension, as forces attempt to align in one direction or another. This leads rapidly to “horror.” And it is fear, after all, that leads to the “base” violence of the Rue Transnonain, and all the violent uncertainty of the present age.
It has all happened before, Leroux assures us, citing the example of the French Revolution. And suddenly the charged poles are charged pistols—and they have been fired, putting an end to the promise of the Revolution.
And “we are still at the same point”—Leroux and his contemporaries, but also, it seems, ourselves in the present—but that “same point” seems to get richer and more highly charged every time Leroux returns to it. “We are still at the same point, with two pistols charged and pointed in opposite directions.” When the pistols appeared, in the midst of the discussion of magnetic uncertainty, they were in the hands of Robespierre and the Convention. Now “we” possess them, “pointed in opposite directions.”
Is that “we” a matter of opposed individuals? One stands with the pistol of individualism, and another with the pistol of socialism, while we reenact the standoff of the last revolution? Or is it somehow our general condition that we, each individually, bear both pistols, “pointed in opposite directions,” in order to fend off multiple foes? “Our soul is the prey of two powers,” Leroux says, but that hardly resolves things—particularly when examined in the light of Leroux’s other works. In that light, there is probably no choosing between interpretations. The individual is already social, already “prey” to two absolutist tendencies, even in conditions of relative isolation. We carry the potential for “dreadful war” in our “soul,” as we recognize the legitimacy of the antagonists in our heart, just as soon as they are named. And all of this seems entirely natural, as soon as human beings begin to seriously pursue their liberty.
ARMED AND DANGEROUS
Perhaps this has all taken a strangely martial turn, given mutualism’s generally peaceful reputation. Isn’t the core of mutualism the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you?” Yes, indeed. But there’s nothing simple about fulfilling the Golden Rule. The principle is not, for instance, Do unto others as if they were you. If I serve you Postum for coffee, or bake you a chocolate cake on your birthday, because, Hey, I like Postum!—and chocolate’s my favorite!—I haven’t acted according to a mutual or reciprocal principle. Instead, I have acted according to a rather narrow sort of egoism. If the terms are reversed, I certainly don’t want to be treated as just another instance of a type defined by someone else. Respect for the individuality of each actually seems to require a move into the realm of the general, recourse to a rule of individuality—a rule which ultimately tells us that there isn’t going to be any simple rule of thumb for how to fulfill the Golden Rule. If I assume that the way that I would like to be treated is as an individual—but as the specific individual that I am—then presumably I should treat the other as an individual (according to a fairly simple, general rule)—but also as an-other individual (and here all simple, general rules begin to break down.)
The individual-collective dynamic is a sort of antinomy, already pretty familiar to students of Proudhon and mutualism. No theory of the individual or society is going to be complete without constant recourse to the ways in which one influences the other. Leroux, Greene and Proudhon all embraced this particular antinomy as a key sociological insight, and Proudhon, taking cues from Leroux, gradually built his social science around the notion that not only are individuals and collectivities intimately connected, but collectivities may be themselves understood as individuals—let’s say individualities for the moment—to the extent that they manifest a single law of organization.
There is ultimately more—much more—that needs to be said about the social theories that the early mutualists, and libertarian communists like Déjacque, elaborated, the ways in which peopling the world with collectivities and individualities at every imaginable scale—from the infinitesimal to the universal—did or did not contribute to a robust anarchist critique of hierarchy and a sustainable model for a free society. For now, it is important to simply note that in Proudhon’s theory—undoubtedly, the most fully and clearly developed of the bunch—he was moving towards a vision in which our all personal individualities, and whatever social individualities emerged from their free interactions, would be allowed their fullest development, bounded only by the principle of reciprocity—the Golden Rule.
Liberty then, nothing more, nothing less. Laissez faire, laissez passer, in the broadest and most literal sense; consequently property, as it rises legitimately from this freedom, is my principle. No other solidarity between citizens than that which rises accidentally from force majeur: for all that which relates to free acts, and manifestations of reflective thought, complete and absolute insolidarity.
Who does not see that the mutualist organization of exchange, of circulation, of credit, of buying and selling, the abolition of taxes and tolls of every nature which place burdens on production and bans on goods, irresistibly push the producers, each following his specialty, towards a centralization analogous with that of the State, but in which no one obeys, no one is dependent, and everyone is free and sovereign?—P.-J. Proudhon, “The Revolutionary Program” (1848).
This is the “communist ends by individualist means” that we find in his early work. In his later works, Proudhon acknowledged that even the state should be acknowledged as an individuality, along with all the human individuals, workshops, voluntary associations, and the like—but that all these individualities must be understood as equals. The state-individuality, to take the most contentious example, has its role, its law of development, and its “rights,” but they do not take trump the role or “rights” (scare-quoted here since the question of “rights” is itself contentious in this context) by virtue of belonging to a collectivity—since every individual is assumed to be a collectivity, a group, organized according to a unique law—nor by virtue of the size or scale of the individuality, nor by virtue of the participation of the constituent individuals in collective-individuality.
There are obviously some serious issues to wrestle with here. On the one hand, the approach radically levels the political playing field. If we were aiming for a democracy, it would be a one organizing principle = one vote sort of affair. … The radical leveling means that the mutual principle—“actors recognize enough of themselves in one another to build a basic relation of mutuality…or they do without…society”—ought to be applicable to essentially all relations, as long as we’re willing to allow some diversity in the means by which different sorts of individualities can “recognize” one another. Proudhon was hardly naïve about those sorts of differences. And, again, our current focus is on person-to-person mutuality. But what we’ve already suggested is that at least some of the radical difficulties of recognition between individualities of different scales or natures are just the writ-large versions of a problem we encounter in much more familiar settings.
In attempting to work within the antinomy, we encounter an aporia. If our rule is to treat the other as an other, as a unique individual (and not just another instance of some type we can assume we exemplify), then our rule isn’t enough. Our understanding of common human traits or shared circumstances may well be the thing that is least useful in addressing the other as individuality.
There is, of course, no question of attempting to dispense with generalization. It is, after all, our pursuit of a general rule which brings us to the brink of this new and particularly thorny set of problems. There is a common tendency to treat any road that leads us to an aporia as the wrong road, no matter how rational and rigorous the process that led us there. The desire for a priori ethical rules that can simply be applied, once we know the details of the case, is perfectly understandable, but the notion that any alternative to this sort of ethical technology is pure dispersion and despair, ethical relativism, quietism or defeatism—or even “anti-principled, in-your-face consequentialism”—may well be one of those effects of fear that Leroux warned against, pushing us towards one extreme or the other.
It would be easy here to rail a bit about how adherence to the principle of reciprocity, understood in this aporetic way, is transformed, in the minds of opponents, into “relativism” or “nihilism,” and countered with such unlovely beasts as the purely consequentialist defense of this or that “principle.” But, frustrating as this sort of thing is, it’s not the sort of thing that a mutualist can get too high-and-mighty about. Mutualism’s own history is replete with examples of how to fall short of the Golden Rule, provided by the very figures who have most powerfully advanced its doctrine. For now, we’ll concentrate on those internal examples of how giving in to logical simplism can have disastrous consequences—with particular attention to Proudhon.
First, however, let’s make sure we have the problem well defined: Mutualism, as understood by the figures we are examining, consisted of very little besides a commitment to the principle of mutuality—the Golden Rule—and a sense—presumably based in social science—that the individual and society were inextricably bound together, and that individuality and collectivity were neither logical nor social opposites, but instead characteristics of all beings, manifesting themselves at different scales. In Proudhon’s hands, this all led to the potential of a radically leveled social and political playing field, with all individuals—or all those that he could recognize as full and social individuals—interacting on essentially equal terms. The uncertainties and complexities of such a system make no real argument against it, from a mutualist point of view. With no exact means of knowing how to treat the other as an other like ourselves, and with the Golden Rule as guide, the only ethical option is obviously to “aim high,” to exceed the letter of the law, to exceed tit-for-tat, etc. Proudhon was skeptical about the exchange of values anyway, seeing “equal exchange” as largely a matter of convention, “approximation”—and such approximations are always open for improvement. As for complexity, Proudhon saw it as a key component of (positive) liberty. It might not be too much to say that it was precisely in the instances of incommensurability, uncertainty, interminable experiment and approximation, that Proudhon saw the openings—and the mechanism—for progress and perfection.
This is a sort of thought that tends to escape easy summary, and mutualists have not always been as clear as they might be. (I can only appeal to the difficulties myself.) For the progressive or perfectionist, a fair amount of ambivalence is perhaps unavoidable, and a certain messiness in exposition almost inevitable. All the evils and disarray of the present call for strong condemnation; but they may also signal, by their very intensity and vileness, at least the possibility of real change. Once again, it’s not simply that social disorganization marks the collapse of an old system. The progressive faith requires a fundamental belief in the reality of collective action and collective reason—a belief which can never be uncritical or quietist, and which indeed can probably never be critical enough, since the individual must engage the collective with their individual reason; a belief that must constantly be tested with social science and historical study, and which has no very specific content or context without that study; but a belief that leads the progressive or perfectionist to at least always entertain the possibility that human institutions are sound in their aims, however flawed they may be in their implementation.
Such an approach is full of pitfalls, of course. We can see that in the uneven and opportunistic ways in which its practitioners have applied it. Proudhon, even while completing his critique of property and the state, as he found them, turned to an engagement with their ends, and the best-developed elements of his writings map out the twists and turns of that engagement. In the end, in The Theory of Property, Proudhon embraced both property and the state, but only in a particular sort of opposition, and he acknowledged explicitly that it “it falls to us to govern [that opposition] and to make it act according to the laws of logic.” Proudhon picked up both pistols—and it is up to us, ultimately, to decide if that was the best that can be done, or whether perhaps, in embracing the aims of the institutions, he gave too much credit to their existing forms.
In “The Gift Economy of Property” and other writings, I have suggested some alternatives to Proudhon’s final approach to property—alternatives which are no less highly charged, but are perhaps less martial in their approach. I’m not certain that there is anything in that work, however, that clearly raises it to or above the level of The Theory of Property. But we can perhaps more clearly see the dangers of the progressive approach if we look at Proudhon’s response to potential changes in the institution of the family, and in gender roles. Proudhon was at once progressive and conservative when it came to most economic questions, and questions regarding institutional government. Even when he advocated the conservation of existing forms—or when he advocated a strengthening of private property, provided it was widely distributed—it was with the understanding that those forms would fulfill a substantially new function. When it was a question of changes to the family, he instead denied progress, at best bringing new justifications to bear for institutions which would ultimately pull against the general trajectory of his libertarian thought. With regard to women’s rights, his thought was worse than simply conservative. In “picking up the pistols” with regard to property, he sought to shelter individuals in such a way that liberty was preserved for all, and progressive change had a space within which to occur. When it came to women, his impulse was to shelter them from change. The defenses of the traditional family that he developed could just as easily have supported any number of non-traditional living arrangements. A strong case could be made—and was being made at the time—that the aims of the family could be at least as well addressed by other forms. The patriarchal rights that he ultimately defended were, like the private property rights of The Theory of Property, an intensification—Leroux might have said “exaggeration”—of existing rights, and we might suspect that they were driven by nothing other than “horror”—again the word is Leroux’s—of the polar alternative. Proudhon once again “picked up the pistols,” but because he turned against his own stated principles—affirmation of progress, opposition to the absolute, movement by an indefinite sequence of approximations—and, most seriously, quite simply denied women full participation in society, he could hardly do better than the soldiers in the Rue Transnonain. “[W]e are ordered to do this, we are compelled to obey, though it makes us as wretched as you…” Treating the traditional family and patriarchy as providential, Proudhon could hardly avoid discharging both pistols at women in general, jeopardizing his entire project in the process.
Proudhon’s particular failure was not intrinsic to his libertarianism or his social science. Leroux did not share it, nor did Greene. But they had their own failings. Every system has its attendant hazards, and, on one level, mutualism combines those of individualism with those of extreme collectivism—and when it is not in danger of slipping to extremes it has to be careful not to settle into some comfortable rut in the middle. Faith in collective reason has to be truly a matter of faith, as opposed to knowledge—and has to be treated as such. If a mutualist thought they knew that a given institution was correct in its aims—that it represented a manifestation of progress in the collective reason—they would be on shaky ground. And, as the historical record pretty clearly shows, radicals are not magically shielded from all the confusions of their era, no matter how critical they may manage to be. Leroux went through some truly peculiar gyrations in his work to explain the nature and extent of his own antisemitism; in the end, it isn’t clear if he entirely understood it himself. And he probably didn’t. His most extreme expressions are, from a more consistently logical and libertarian perspective, awkwardly grafted onto a critique of capitalism as obstruction of the circulus that is both perceptive, humorous, and well ahead of its time in its proto-ecological arguments. (If you were looking for the missing link between the physiocrats’ treatment of natural production and modern environmental science, this might be it.) But the seriousness of the failure is in some ways heightened—particularly for us, in an ideological environment that is very, very sensitive to such failures—by the promise of the thought surrounding it. Proudhon’s failure is colossal: it is in the very same works where he points most clearly to the possibility of a radical equality which does not efface individuality, and where he at least hints at a contr’un far more powerful than the triad, in the multiplication and association of free forces, that he excludes women from that potential promise land, denying them equality and the basic relations of society. Like Leroux, he twists and turns, but there is really no escaping the fact that he can recognize the role and rights of the (anarchist) state and the workshop, but not those of women. (Honestly…)
There, but for real care in our application of the one principle that drives mutualism, go we. The hard part of embracing continual progress is also embracing constant incompletion, approximation, non-innocence. Mutualism, by emphasizing complexity and attaching itself to institutions only provisionally and experimentally, makes tremendous demands—but they are essentially anarchistic demands. The trick is to really progress, but that, as Proudhon insisted, also involves a careful sort of conservation. We can’t settle solely for critique or celebration of the tradition as we have inherited it—to do so would perhaps be more comfortable, but it would also be a simplist betrayal of mutualism’s basic approach.
The alternatives should become clearer as we move to incorporate more of the mutualist tradition into the analysis
Pierre Leroux’s essay on individualism and socialism was part of (at least) three different larger projects. In the first volume of the Oeuvres de Pierre Leroux (1850) it appears as part of an “Appendice aux trois discours,” along with a number of other early essays. (This is the version translated here.) In the Revue Social (1845) it appears as part of a 6-part essay, “De la recherche des biens matériels ou de l’Individualisme et du Socialisme,” where the 1850 text makes up the first of two sections in the first part. (All but the first and sixth installments became part of the book Malthus et les économistes, ou, Y aura-t-il toujours des pauvres?) And if we go back to its first appearance in Revue encyclopedique (1834), it appears (along with another 1000 words of text, appended in translation at the bottom of this page) as part of an article, “Cours d’économie politique fait à l’Athénée de Marseille par M. Jules Leroux,” that is apparently a commentary on and introduction to the lectures given by his brother (and partially reproduced in the Revue.) Digging back into earlier issues of the Revue encyclopédique, we find another essay, “Du progrès législatif,” which discusses the dangers of individualisme, but without references yet to socialisme. In that essay, the contrast is between individualisme and association, with the latter clearly a more unambiguous good:
From the most general point of view, the social question does not today specifically concern one class of society more than another; but it embraces them all. It is not only a question of the proletarians: it is a question of humanity, of all its faculties, of all its heritage; it is a question of the coordination of all human knowledge; it is necessary to attach all the progress of science to legislation; and from this labor must emerge a new order, which realizes the higher ideas of justice and equality that the human mind has conceived as a consequence of its initiations. But from the particular point of view of politics, the entire question is summed up and laid out in the advent and elevation of the proletariat.
The Third estate and the Proletarians: to these two terms there today correspond two entirely opposite doctrines. One is individualism which, under the pretext of leaving each free in the use of their faculties, results only in the reign of a petty aristocracy. The other is the doctrine of association, the doctrine of the French Revolution, the doctrine of organized equality.
Equality in and through association, that is where all the avenues of the past steer us, where all the efforts of the present tend, where all the sparks cast by the future lead.
There is obviously a good deal here to digest and several threads to untangle before we can fully understand the essay that has come to be known as “Individualism and Socialism” in its original context(s). I’ll be adding and linking new translations providing those contexts as time allows.
- “Du progrès legislative,” Revue Encyclopédique 59 no. 167 (November, 1832): 259–276.
- “Cours d’économie politique fait à l’Athénée de Marseille par M. Jules Leroux,” Revue Encyclopédique 61 (October, 1833): 94–117.
- “De la recherche des biens matériels, ou de l’Individualisme et du socialisme, 1er article,” Revue Social 1 no. 2 (November, 1845): 18–25.
- Du progrès législatif
- Cours d’économie politique fait à l’Athénée de Marseille par M. Jules Leroux
De la recherche des biens matériels ou de l’Individualisme et du Socialisme (Revue social)
- 1er article. [de l’Individualisme et du Socialisme]
- 2ème article : Les Juifs rois de l’époque.
- 3ème article : L’Economie politique et l’évangile. A propos d’une conférence du R.P. Lacordaire.
- 4ème article : L’Humanité et le Capital
- 5ème article : Y aura-t-il toujours des pauvres?
- 6ème article : Relations du Travail et du Capital
Appendice aux trois discours.
- De l’Union Européenne.
- Étude sur Napoléon.
- De la Poésie de Style.
- Plus de Libéralisme impuissant
- De la Nécessité d’une Représentation spéciale pour les Prolétaires.
- De l’Individualisme et du Socialisme.
- De l’Economie Politique Anglaise.
- La France sous Louis-Philippe.
Malthus et les économistes, ou, Y aura-t-il toujours des pauvres?
- Les Juifs rois de l’époque.
- L’Economie politique et l’évangile.
- L’Humanité et le Capital
- Y aura-t-il toujours des pauvres?
INDIVIDUALISM AND SOCIALISM.
By Pierre Leroux
(1834.—After the massacres on the Rue Transnonain.)
At times, even the most resolute hearts, those most firmly fixed on the sacred belief of progress, come to lose courage and to feel full of disgust at the present. In the 16th century, when one murdered in our civil wars, it was in the name of God and with a crucifix in the hand; it was a question of the most sacred things, of things which, when once they have procured our conviction and our faith so legitimately dominate our nature that it has nothing to do but obey, and even its most beautiful appanage disappears thus voluntarily before the divine will. In the name of what principle does one today send off, by telegraph, pitiless orders, and transform proletarian soldiers into the executioners of their own class? Why has our epoch seen cruelties which recall St. Bartholemew? Why have men been fanaticized to the point of making them coldly slaughter the elderly, women, and children? Why has the Seine rolled with murders which recalls the arquebuscades of window of the Louvre? It is not in the name of God and eternal salvation that it is done. It is in the name of material interests.
Our century is, it seems, quite vile, and we have degenerated even from the crimes of our fathers. To kill in the manner of Charles IX or Torquemada, in the name of faith, in the name of the Church, because one believes that God desires it, because one has a fanatic spirit, exalted by the fear of hell and the hope of paradise, this is still to have in one’s crime some grandeur and some generosity. But to be afraid, and by dint of cowardice, to become cruel; to be full of solicitude for material goods that after all death will carry away from you, and to become ferocious from avarice; to have no belief in eternal things, no certainty of the difference between the just and the unjust, and, in absolute doubt, to cling to one’s lucre with an intensity rivaling the most heated fanaticism, and to gain from these petty sentiments energy sufficient to equal in a day the bloodiest days of our religious wars, this is what we have seen and what was never seen before.
What indeed is the principle conquerors of the day have put forward? In the name of what idea have they declared in advance that they would bequeath to posterity the example of a decimated generation? And what is the drive that they have made play to gain that victory? It is neither an idea nor a principle. Everyone knows it. It is not a secret for anyone that the great words order and justice today only conceal the interests of the shops. Business is bad, and it is the innovators, it is said, that stand in its way: war then against the innovators. The workers of Lyon associate in order in order to maintain the rate of their salary: war, then, and war to the death, against the works of Lyon. Always, at the bottom of all of this, are the interests of the shops. In the days of mourning, so often renewed these past three years, the people have been told: here is a holy, just, legitimate idea, by virtue of which you can kill men. It is not so. But on the eve of each riot one cries to the people: Tomorrow your profit will be diminished, your daily receipts will be less, your material satisfaction will be compromised And that has been enough, and we have seen the shopkeepers in hunting gear, armed with double-barreled rifles, to aim more accurately and to kill two instead of one, go merrily to hunt among the blocks. Is there in such a spectacle something to trouble our convictions, and to make us doubt progress; and, since we are condemned to civil war, must we long for civil war as our ancestors knew it, atrocious but religious, deliberately bathing itself in blood, but with eyes lifted towards heaven? In that fury which, according to Bonald, often sent the innocent and the guilty, pell-mell, before their eternal judge, because it deliberately sacrificed the earth to heaven, we must regret the presence of the monster egoism, which has nothing of God, which, like the harpies, has only the hunger of its belly!
In past times, there was the nobility, and there was the clergy: the nobility had a maxim not to occupy itself with lucre; the clergy condemned usury, and regarded as inferior the condition of merchants. There were certainly men then who knew no other morality than their own selfish interests, and no other reason for things than their calculating tables; but they had not set the tone and did not lay down the law for society; they were not the arbiters and legislators. If they wished to rise that far, and to apply their narrow rules to things in general, they were ridiculous, and the poets availed themselves gladly of the comedy and satire, where they came immediately below the lackeys. Today these men enjoy the leading role; the very same society has no other law, no other basis nor end, than the satisfaction of their affairs. Humanity has not lived and suffered to bring about the reign of the merchants. Jesus Christ once chased the merchants from the temple: there are today no other temples than those of the merchants. The palace of the Bourse has replaced Notre Dame; and we know no other blazon than the double-entry cash-books. One passes from a boutique to the Chamber of Deputies, and one carries in public affairs the spirit of the sales counter. Our ancestors made crusades: we, we wisely calculate that that cost the bourgeois the conquest of Algiers, and we will gladly abandon to the English the civilization of Africa, if it gets a little expensive. The zeal of St. Vincent de Paul appears stupid to the general councils: is it not a revolting iniquity to charge the rich for the upkeep of the children that the poor abandon! Since money is everything, and the order of the bourgeois has replaced nobles and priests, is it astonishing that the blood of one bourgeois does not appear to us overpaid by the blood of a thousand proletarians, and is it not completely natural put the interests of the shops on a level with the blood of men? I kill, says the merchant, because I have been disturbed in my affairs: it is a compensation that is due to me for the loss that I feel. By this account, Shylock was right to want to carve human flesh: had it not been purchased?
Seen in this way, our century could not be more base. Material interests, there is the great watchword of society; and many innovators have themselves ignominiously eliminated from their mottoes the moral and intellectual amelioration of the people, in order to preserve only their material betterment.
Is it the case that we will sink more and more in this way, and that the shame may be reserved for France that, having proclaimed to the world the brotherhood of man, it transforms itself into what Napoleon has called with scorn a nation of shopkeepers, supported in their avaricious domination by the facile courage of an army of stipendiaries?
We know of noble hearts, of high intelligences, which fear it. We fall back, they cry, into Roman corruption and into the moral of the barbarians: of what use to us are eighteen hundred years of Christianity, and the conquests of science and industry?
It is to these generous, but discouraged, hearts, that I intend to respond, in occupying myself with political economy, that is, with the material aspect of society. I will attempt first, today, to expose for them the sense of that greediness which shows itself, it is true, among all the classes, but which, among men of power, struts about so hideously, sheltered by the bayonets of our soldiers; and in the subsequent articles, I will attempt to demonstrate that if the social question presents itself in our time primarily as a question of material wealth, it is because the human sciences are very close to finding the solution.
We say, then, that that exclusive preoccupation with material things which reigns today, that species of domination by egoism and the material, is nothing which must surprise or discourage us. In all periods of renewal, the renovation of material things has been one of the forms of progress. Every great human evolution is at once material, moral, and intellectual, and cannot not have these three aspects. To imagine that Christianity, for example, or any other great religious revolution, has related solely in its principles what is called heaven and not to the things of the earth, to morals or ideas, and not to interests, would be an absurd illusion, conceivable only by those who know the foundation of Christianity only by the sermons of their priest, but impossible for whoever has glanced at history. Christianity has been able to say: “My kingdom is not of this world; but by doing so it has powerfully altered the material constitution of that world, out of which it would direct the contemplation of men, towards a mysterious future. In the presence of pagan society, founded on individualism and slavery, Christianity posed the Essene way of life and the community of good; and from that new form given to material life resulted the dissolution of pagan society, the overthrow of the Roman world, and, as a result, the uselessness of slavery and its abolition. In the Protestant era, wasn’t something analogous seen? Didn’t we then see Christianity, attempting to regenerate itself, struggle for earthly goods against the Church, holder of those goods? Material interests played a huge role in the Reformation. The Reformation began in the 14th century with a violent and general struggle in Europe against the religious orders. It was the religious orders, that society in community without women and children, which, consequently, was only an exception and allowed to subsist outside of it the great, the true society, had however amassed such an enormous portion of the property, that the other society could no longer live; it was necessary then to recapture from it the land and all the instruments of labor that it had monopolized. Thus in the greatest and most exalted epochs, one finds again the question of material life.
But today it is evident that that which was only a secondary characteristic of previous revolutions must become a principle characteristic. Indeed, what do we want and where do we tend, on the faith of all the prophecies? The one who truly follows Jesus Christ with an intelligent heart, and not as a copyist without intelligence, does not say so absolutely that the kingdom of God is not on earth.(1) He understands that the epoch of realization approaches more and more. The stoicism of Zeno and the Christian stoicism are with reason relegated to their place in history. These two doctrines, or rather that doctrine, is today without social value. That was the debut of an immense career that Humanity has had to follow up to us. But where we have arrived today, heaven and earth begin to be without connection and without relation; and, instead of returning us toward the point of departure, towards the detachment and the retreat into ourselves of Jesus Christ and of Zeno, we must, by the efforts of our thought and the energy of our soul, transform the earth in such a way that the justice of heaven reigns there, in order one day to find that heaven so promised to our wishes.
The idea has been elaborated and preached by Christianity to all men, of a better world than the one which existed, of a world of equality and fraternity, of a world without despots and without slaves. Christianity has raised up humanity by hope; it has mystically announced its destiny; it has connected to the memories of its cradle, to its primitive and natural liberty, to its traditions of a past golden age, of Eden and of the native parade, the firm and assured sentiment of a golden age to come, of a paradise on earth, where the good will reign after the defeat of evil, and where man, redeemed by the divine word, will again find happiness, and enjoy an unalterable felicity. And, at that prophecy, one sees human society divide itself in two: the religious society, indifferent to the present enjoyments of the earth, or only using them in order to practice complete equality, community, individual non-property, as symbol of what will one day be the justice of heaven; and the secular society, which continua, under the teachings of the other and under its spiritual government, human life such as one had known it previously. Now, by Protestantism and by Philosophy, the religious society has been destroyed, and there is today only one society. The consequence, I repeat, isn’t it clear and evident? Isn’t it obvious that the principles of the world prophesied and awaited for so many centuries by the religious society must be realized more and more in the only society that exists today? Or else Humanity would have declined and degenerated, Christianity would have been an imposture and a chimera, and everything, in the eighteen hundred years which have passed, would only be comedy and deception. The earth, then, is promised to justice and equality.
Christianity, Reform, Philosophy, follow one another like the acts of a drama which approaches its dénouement. Those who consider history on in a casual manner, and page by page, must often find contradictory and incoherent that which is harmonic and continuous. Seeing the Reformation succeed Catholicism, and Philosophy succeed the Reformation, how many people are shocked, and see there only negation, discord and uncertainty! It is because they do not understand the series and the generation of things. So for them, there is death, there is nothingness, in these alternations and these contrasts, while for us, it is life. Their eyes offended by deep darkness, there where a dazzling light shines in ours. For what contradiction is there between the successive acts of a single drama, between the connected and coherent phases of a single evolution? It is only necessary to rise up enough to grasp and contemplate all at once the spirit of evolution in its entirety; and for anyone who is enlightened, that effort is not difficult. That alleged anarchy of Catholic Christianity, of the Reformation, and of Philosophy, succeeding and combating each other by turns, is not a very obscure enigma, the sense of which would be difficult to discover. We see Christianity first raise above the world its mystical paradise, like the seed which begins to form in the air, and which then waits until the winds spill it on the ground. The Reformation came after, which spread the promise to all of society, and, by laying waste to all pious retreats where the spiritual life had been concentrated, made only one single people, that it raises to spiritual dignity. Then in its turn comes Philosophy, which further extends this level, and which finally, explaining the prophecy, interprets the reign of God on earth as perfectibility. Christianity, Protestantism, and Philosophy, have thus driven towards the same end, and accomplished by various phases one single work. We are the last wave that the hand of God has pushed up to here on the shore of time: but the consequence of all the previous progress has not escaped us, and that obvious competition of three great phases which divided the centuries which preceded us is the token of all the progress to come.
Thus the earth, I repeat, is promised to justice and equality. Material goods are in themselves neither good nor bad. All the metaphysicians have come to see in matter and in body the limit of forces, the place where finite intelligences meet and are mutually revealed. Bodies and matter are the field of our faculties, the necessary means of their exercise, the milieu in which they are manifested. That there is in us, and in each of us, a force, created or uncreated, which animates us, constitutes us, and survives the destruction of what we call our body, is for me an obvious truth; but it is always the case that the force, either in this life, or in our previous or future lives, exerts itself only through the intermediary of bodies, precisely because it has limits and it is finite. The Christians, in the good days of Christianity, and even during the history of Christianity, have never understood the activity of the soul at the end of time without the resurrection of the body; and it has always been of the belief that man is, according to the expression of Bossuet, a soul and a body united together, an intelligence destined to live in a body. The Manicheans alone, exaggerating and distorting spiritualism, have entered into the error of regarding matter as absolute evil; and, by that same error, they fell inevitably under the empire of evil, in wanting to escape it.
Thus, whether we appeal to religious traditions and to the previous life of Humanity, or whether we consult only modern reason and the general agreement of the men of our era; far from condemning the use of material goods, we must see that none of our most noble faculties can be exercised without the mediation of these goods.
From this is follows that, all having been called to the spiritual life and to the dignity of men by the words of the philosophers, all must soar, and that legitimately, towards the conquest of material goods.
It is his dignity, it is his capacity as a man, it is his liberty, it is his independence, that the proletarian demands, when he aspires to possess material goods; for he knows that without these goods he is only an inferior, and that engaged, as he is, in the labors of the body, he partakes more of the condition of the domestic animals than that of man.
It is the same sentiment which pushes those who these goods to preserve them. Of course, we are not the apologists of the wealthy classes, we are with the people, and we will always be for the poor against the privileges of the wealthy; but we know that, whatever the softness and the egoism which reign in these classes, men absolutely corrupted and bad are the exception. In the present struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, that is of those who do not possess the instruments of labor against those who possess them, the bourgeoisie represents even, at first glance, more obviously than the proletarians, the sentiment of individuality and liberty. The wealthy possess that liberty, and they defend it, while the proletarians are so unhappy and so deprived of it, that a tyrant who promised to free them by enriching them could perhaps, in their ignorance, make of them for some time his slaves.
We find then good and legitimate that tendency of those who possess liberty and individuality to preserve it; but couldn’t they find equally just and legitimate the demands of those who do not possess them, and want to?
There is, we say, the sense and the justification of that struggle for material goods, which seems, at first glance, the dominant character of our era, and which would dishonor it if one did not consider what it reveals, and if one had not studied the religious necessity scope of it. That demand for material goods is not at all immoral: very far from that, it is the result and the consequence of all the previous progress of Humanity.
Certainly, the philosophers who only hold as good, in human nature, the side of devotion, must find our era deplorable in all regards. For pure devotion, where will they find it? In their hearts, doubtless, and in the hearts of a certain number of generous men who take up the cause of the people. But society, viewed en masse, and in its truest aspect, did not meet their expectations. Devotion, as they sanctify it, they will find it neither in the wealthy classes nor among the poor, neither in the bourgeoisie nor among the proletarians. The first want to preserve, and the others to acquire: where is the devotion?
Pure devotion, however noble it may be, is only an individual passion, or, if you wish, a particular virtue of human nature, but is not human nature in its entirety. A man who would, in every aspect of his life, act on the basis of devotion, would be an insane being; and a society of men for whom the single rule would be self-sacrifice, and who would regard every individual act as evil, would be an absurd society. Thus, every theory which would found itself on devotion as on the most general formula of society, and who would deduce then from that expression some laws and institutions that is would have a hope of applying with force to society, would be false and dangerous.
But, on the contrary, a general principle which represents and expresses complete human nature, is the principle of liberty and individuality.
Our fathers put on their flag: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. Let their motto still be our own. They did not conclude from I know not what social system to the individual; they did not say: Society must inevitably be organized in such and such a manner, and we are going to chain the citizen to that organization. They said: Society owes satisfaction to the individuality of all, it is the means of liberty for all.
The sentiment of liberty, as the Eighteenth Century and the French Revolution have felt and promulgated them, is an immense progress over the devotion or devoutness of Christianity, and it would be a regression to desire today to despotically organize society according to the particular views that one may have, instead of founding it on the principles of individuality and liberty.
Proclaim the system that will best satisfy the individuality and liberty of all, and do not fear that the devotion of the people would be lacking for you; for such an aim will be felt by all, and it is the only one which could excite devotion today. But devotion for its own sake would be as absurd a theory as the art for art’s sake of certain litterateurs.
One can paint a portrait, equally hideous and true, of man in the state of absolute individuality and of man in the state of absolute obedience. The principle of authority, even disguised under the good name of devotion, is no better than the principle of egoism, hiding itself under the good name of liberty.
We also reject with all the forces of our soul Catholicism under all its disguises and in all its forms, whether it attaches itself again, by I know not what puerile hopes, to the old debris which are at Rome with the ruins of so many centuries, or whether, by who knows what jesuitism [escobarderie], it pretends to incarnate itself anew in Robespierre, become the legitimate successor of Gregory VII and the inquisition. And at the same time we regard as a scourge, no less fatal than papistry, the present form of individualism, the individualism of English political economy, which, in the name of liberty, makes men rapacious wolves among themselves, and reduces society to atoms, leaving moreover everything to arrange itself at random, as Epicurus said the world is arranged. For us, the papal theories of every sort and the individualist theories of every species are equally false. They could be fatal, if they were not equally powerless; but papistry, dead for some many centuries, will not prevail against the entire modern era, and the modern era, as we have demonstrated elsewhere, carries in itself the promise and the seed of a society, and is not the destruction and negation of every society.
Liberty and Society are the two equal poles of social science. Do not say that society is only the result, the ensemble, the aggregation of individuals; for we will arrive at what we have today, a dreadful pell-mell with poverty for the greatest number. Theoretically you would have still worse; for, society no longer existing, the individuality of each has no limits, and the reason of each has no rule: you would arrive at moral skepticism, at general, absolute doubt, and in politics at the exploitation of the good by the malicious, and of the people by some rascals and some tyrants.
But do not say any more that society is everything and that the individual is nothing, or that society comes before the individuals, or that the citizens are not anything but some devoted subjects of society, functionaries of society who must find, for good or ill, their satisfaction in all that which contributes to the social aim; do not make of society a sort of large animal of which we would be the molecules, the parts, or the members, of which some would be the head, the others the stomach, the others the feet, the hands, the nails or the hair. Instead of society being the result of a free and spontaneous life for all those who compose it, will not want the life of each man to be a function of the social life that you would have imagined: for you will arrive by that path only at brutalization and despotism; you would arrest, you would immobilize the human spirit, all while pretending to lead it.
Do not attempt to bring back to us the government of the Church; for it is not in vain that the human spirit for six centuries against that government, and has abolished it.
Do not attempt to apply to our era that which was suitable in previous eras, the principle of authority and sacrifice; for the authority and self-sacrifice of the previous life of Humanity aimed precisely to arrive at individuality, at personality, at liberty. That was good in the past, but it was good precisely on the condition that it would lead to a goal, and that once Humanity arrived at that goal, it would cease to be, and that this government of the world would make place for another.
We are even today the prey of these two exclusive systems of individualism and socialism, pushed back as we are from liberty by that which claims to make it reign, and from association by that which preaches it.
Some have posited the principle that every government must one day disappear, and have concluded from it that every government must from now on be confined to the narrowest dimensions: they have made of government a simple gendarme charged with responding to the complaints of the citizens. Moreover, they have declared the law atheist in any case, and have limited it to ruling the disagreements of individuals with regard to material things and the distribution of goods according to the present constitution of property and inheritance. Property thus formed has become the basis of that which remains of society among men. Each, retired on his bit of land, became absolute and independent sovereign; and all social action is reduced to making each remain master of the plot of land that inheritance, labor, chance, or crime had obtained for him: Each by himself, each for himself. Sadly, the result of such a renunciation of all social providence is that each does not have his bit of land, and that the portion of some tends always to increase, and that of the others to diminish; the well-demonstrated result is the absurd and shameful slavery of twenty-five million men over thirty.
Others, on the contrary, seeing evil, have wanted to cure it by an entirely different process. Government, that imperceptible dwarf in the first system, becomes in this one a giant hydra which embraces in its coils the entire society. The individual, on the contrary, absolute sovereign and without control in the first, is no longer anything by a humble and submissive subject: he was once independent, he could think and live according to the inspirations of nature; he became a functionary, and only a functionary; he is regimented, he has an official doctrine to believe, and the inquisition at its door. Man is no longer a free and spontaneous being, he is an instrument who obeys in spite of himself, or who, fascinated, responds mechanically to the social action, as the shadow follows the body.
While the partisans of individualism rejoice or console themselves on the ruins of society, refugees that they are in their egoism, the partisans of socialism, (2) marching bravely to what they call an organic era, strive to discover how they will bury every liberty, all spontaneity under what they call organization.
The first, entirely in the present and without future, have come as well to have no tradition, no past. For them the previous life of Humanity is only a dream without consequence. The others, carrying in the study of the past their ideas of the future, have taken up with pride the line of the catholic orthodoxy of the Middle Ages, and they have said anathema to all of the modern era, to Protestantism and to Philosophy.
Ask the partisans of individualism what they think of the equality of men: certainly, they will keep themselves from denying it, but it is for them a chimera without importance; they have no means of realizing it. Their system, on the contrary, has for consequence only the most unspeakable inequality. From this point their liberty is a lie, for it is only the smallest number who enjoy it; and society becomes, as a result of inequality, a den of rascals and dupes, a sewer of vice, suffering, immorality and crime.
Ask the partisans of absolute socialism how they reconcile the liberty of men with authority, and what they make, for example, of the liberty to think and to write: they will respond to you that society is a grand being of which nothing can disturb the functions.
We are thus between Charybdis and Scylla, between the hypothesis of a government concentrating in itself all the lights and all human morality, and that of a government deprived by its very mandate of all light and all morality; between an infallible pope on ones side and and a vile gendarme on the other.
The first call liberty their individualism, they will gladly call it a fraternity: the others call their despotism a family. Preserve us from a fraternity so little charitable, and let us avoid a family so intrusive.
Never, it is necessary to avow it, have the very bases of society been more controversial. If one speaks of equality today, if one shows the misery and absurdity of the present mercantilism, let one blacken a society where the disassociated men are not only strangers among themselves, but necessarily rivals and enemies, and all those who have in their heart the love of men, the love of the people, all those who are children of Christianity, Philosophy and the Revolution, become inflamed and approve. But let the partisans of absolute socialism come to outline their tyrannical theories, let them speak of organizing us in regiments of scientists and regiments of industrials, let them go as far as declaring against the liberty of thought, at that same instant you feel yourself repulsed, your enthusiasm freeze, your feelings of individuality and liberty rebel, you start back sadly to the present from dread of that new papacy, weighty and absorbent, which will transform Humanity into a machine, where the true living natures, the individuals, will no longer be anything by a useful matter, instead of being themselves the arbiters of their destiny.
Thus one remains in perplexity and uncertainty, equally attracted and repulsed by two opposite attractors. Yes, the sympathies of our era are equally lively, equally energetic, whether it is a question of liberty or equality, of individuality or association. The faith in society is complete, but the faith in individuality individuality is equally complete. From this results an equal impulse towards these two desired ends and an equal increase of the exclusive exaggeration of one or the other, an equal horror of either individualism or of socialism.
That disposition, moreover, is not new; it already existed in the Revolution; the most progressive men felt it. Take the Declaration of Rights of Robespierre: you will find formulated there the most energetic and absolute manner the principle of society, with a view to the equality of all; but, two lines higher, you will find equally formulated in the most energetic and absolute manner the principle of the individuality of each. And nothing which would unite, which harmonizes these two principles, placed thus both on the altar; nothing which reconciles these two equally infinite and limitless rights, these two adversaries which threaten, these two absolute and sovereign powers which both [together] rise to heaven and which each [separately] overrun the whole earth. These two principles once named, you cannot prevent yourself from recognizing them, for you sense their legitimacy in your heart; but you sense at the same time that, both born from justice, the will make a dreadful war. So Robespierre and the Convention were only able to proclaim them both, and as a result the Revolution has been the bloody theater of their struggle: the two pistols charged one against the other have fired.
We are still at the same point, with two pistols charged and pointed in opposite directions. Our soul is the prey of two powers that are equal and, in appearance, contrary. Our perplexity will only cease when social science will manage to harmonize these two principles, when our two tendencies will be satisfied. Then an immense contentment will take the place of that anguish.
In waiting for that desired moment, if one asks us for our profession of faith, we have just made it, and we are ready to repeat it; here it is: we are neither individualists nor socialists, taking these words in their absolute sense. We believe in individuality, in personality, in liberty; but we also believe in society.
Society is not the result of a contract. For the sole reason that men exist, and have relations between themselves, society exists. A man does not make an act or a thought which does not concern more or less the lot of other men. Thus, there is necessarily and divinely communion between men.
Yes, society is a body, but it is a mystical body, and we are not its members, but we live in it. Yes, each man is a fruit on the tree of Humanity; but the fruit, in order to be the product of the tree, is no less complete and perfect in itself; he contains in germ the tree which has engendered him; he becomes himself the tree, when the other will fall from old age under the shock of the winds, and it will be him who will bring new blood to nature. Thus each man reflects in his breast all of society; each man is in a certain manner the manifestation of his century, of his people and of his generation; each man is Humanity; each man is a sovereignty; each man is a law, for whom the law is made, and against which no law can prevail.
Because I live bodily in the atmosphere, and I cannot live an instant without breathing, am I a portion of the atmosphere? Because I cannot live in any way without being in relation and in communion with the external world, an I a portion of that world? No; I live with this world and in this world: that is all.
And just so, because I live in the society of men and by that society, am I a portion, a dependency of that society? No, I am a liberty destined to live in a society.
Absolute individuality has been the belief of the majority of the philosophers of the Nineteenth Century. It was an axiom in metaphysics, that there existed only individuals, and that all the alleged collective or universal beings, such as Society, Homeland, Humanity, etc., were only abstractions of our mind. These philosophers were in a grave error. They did not understand what is tangible by the senses; they did not comprehend the invisible. Because after a certain amount of time has passed, the mother is separate from the fruit that she carried in her womb, and because the mother and her child form then two distinct and separate beings, do you deny the relation which exists between them; do you deny what nature shows you even by the testimony of your senses, to know that that mother and that child are without one another beings that are incomplete, sick, and threatened with death, and that the mutual need, as well as the love, make from them one being composed of two? It is the same for Society and Humanity. Far from being independent of all society and all tradition, man takes his life in tradition and in society. He only lives because he as at one in a certain present and in a certain past. Each man, like each generation of men, draws his sap and his life from Humanity. But each man draws his life there by virtue of the faculties that he has in him, by virtue of his own spontaneity. Thus, he remains free, though associated. He is divinely united to Humanity; but Humanity, instead of absorbing him, is revealed in him.
If there are still in the world so many miserable and vicious men, of we are all affected by vice and misery, that reveals to us the ignorance and immorality which still afflicts Humanity. If Humanity was less ignorant and more moral, there would no longer be so many miserable and vicious beings in the world.
We are all responsible to one another. We are united by an invisible link, it is true, but that link is more clear and more evident to the intelligence than matter is to the eyes of the body.
From which it follows that mutual charity is a duty.
From which it follows that the intervention of man for man is a duty.
From which follows finally a condemnation of individualism.
But from that follows as well, and with an equal force, the condemnation of absolute socialism.
If God had desire that men should be parts of Humanity, he would have enchained them to one another in one great body, as the members of our body are connected to one another. To desire to enchain men thus, would have been as if, having recognized the invisible link that unites the mother and child, and which makes only one being of the two, you would desire to deny, because of that, their personality and enchain them to one another. You would return them by this to the previous state where they made strictly only one being; and, by reason of what they are now, you would constitute a state that is monstrous and as abnormal the state of absolute separation where you would have first desired to hold them. They are two, but they are united; there is relation and communion between them, but not identity. The one being who reunites them is God, who lives at once in the one and the other; and if he has separated them, it is in order that they should each have their individual life, even though they are connected to one another, and that under the relation that unites them they make only one single being. What is more, it is clear that the common life which unites them will be as much more energetic, as their individual lives are more grand. If the mother is happy, the child will be happy; and if the soul of the child is opened to enthusiasm and to virtue, the love of the mother will be will be exalted in it. Thus the social body will be made more happy and more powerful by the individuality of all its members, than if all men had been enchained to one another.
We arrive thus at that law, as evident and as certain as the laws of gravitation: “The perfection of society is the result of the liberty of each and all.”
At the end of the day, to adopt either individualism or socialism, is to not understand life. Life consists essentially in the divine and necessary relation of individual and free beings. Individualism does not comprehend life, for it denies that relation. Absolute socialism does not comprehend it better; for, by distorting that relation, it destroys it. To deny life or to destroy it, these are the alternatives of these two systems, of which one, consequently, is no better than the other.
(1) Jesus, in the Gospel, did not say, “My kingdom is not of this world; that was the bad translators who, by suppressing three words in one phrase of St. John, have made it say this. Jesus said literally, “My kingdom is not yet of these times.” And as his kingdom, as it is explained in the same passage, is the reign of justice and truth, and as it adds that this kingdom will come on the earth, it follows that, very far from have prophesied that the principles of equality will never be realized on earth, Jesus on the contrary prophesied their realization, their reign, their arrival.
(2) It is clear that, in all of this writing, it is necessary to understand by socialism, socialism as we define it in this work itself, which is as the exaggeration of the idea of association, or of society. For a number of years, we have been accustomed to call socialists all the thinkers who who occupy themselves with social reforms, all those who critique and reprove individualism, all those who speak, in different terms, of social providence, and of the solidarity which units together not only the members of a State, but the entire Human Species; and, by this title, ourselves, who have always battled absolute socialism, we are today designated as socialist. We are undoubtedly socialist, but in this sense: we are socialist, if you mean by socialism the Doctrine which will sacrifice none of the terms of the formula: Liberty, Fraternity, Equality, Unity, but which reconciles them all. (1847.) — I can only repeat here, with regard to the use of the word Socialism in all of this extract, what I said previously (pages 121 and 160 of this Volume). When I invented the term Socialism in order to oppose it to the term Individualism, I did not expect that, ten years later, that term would be used to express, in a general fashion, religious Democracy. What I attacked under that name, were the false systems advanced by the alleged disciples of Saint-Simon and by the alleged disciples of Rousseau led astray following Robespierre and Babœuf, without speaking of those who amalgamated at once Saint-Simon and Robespierre with de Maistre and Bonald. I refer the reader to the Histoire du Socialisme (which they will find in one of the following volumes of this edition), contenting myself to protest against those who have taken occasion from this to find me in contradiction with myself. (1850.)
“Cours d’économie politique fait à l’Athénée de Marseille par M. Jules Leroux”
[section excluded from subsequent publications]
We will say no more about this fundamental point of political science; that would divert us from our goal. It is enough that we have indicated the metaphysical demonstration of the principle that we would like to posit.
Now, what is the consequence of what we have just said about political economy?
It is that every theory of political economy of which the tendency or conclusion would be either the present individualism, which crushes and denies the individuality of the masses for the profit of a few, or a blind socialism, which, under the pretext of devotion, would crush and deny the individuality of each and all for the profit of who-knows-what pipe-dream of society, could not be true. The only political economy that could be true would be that which, revealing to us the true nature of economic phenomena, would demonstrate that it is in the nature of these phenomena to lend themselves more and more to the needs and the development of these individualities, in such a way as to realize the formula: “The perfection of society is the result of the liberty of each and all.”
Now this, I repeat, is precisely the character of the truly new science, the existence of which my brother has just noted in the lessons he gave at the Athenaeum of Marseille. In my turn, I will attempt to make the ideas of my brother known in this volume. They will be the subject of one or more articles. What I have just said today is the preamble and natural exordium of that exposition. I have seen the sort of fury that drives all of society toward the search for material goods. No more nobility, no more clergy; no other direction, no other attraction, no other influence than wealth. I have wanted to show how the good will emerge from the evil, how that universal passion is the token of a future progress; how, without backsliding, society advances in this way toward a better state; how, finally, that which today causes so many immoral acts, so many political crimes, and so much profound misery in all ranks of society, yet proceeds by a mysterious tendency toward a superior morality. I have been led in this way to lift myself toward the very principle of politics, seeking the goal that society pursues, shaped at once by the two powerful instincts of individuality and association.
The recognition of these two needs, and the presentiment that they must be reconciled and harmonized in the transformed society that is to come, is truly the only light that can enlighten us regarding the value of an economic theory. It is with this touchstone that we can test and judge the ideas of that order. Indeed, why and how are we to concern ourselves with political economy if we do not see the link between political economy and politics itself? I repeat, if politics tends to individualism, Smith and Malthus are right: if it tends to socialism, we must wait for a theocrat to give us its law and persuade us of it; there is no more political economy to be done, everything concerning that science obviously being only an appendage, a deduction, a detail of the theocratic law to come. But, on the contrary, if it is proven that politics must tend, through association, to give each citizen their liberty and personality, we will ask political economy to tell us by what means the phenomena that are the object of its study will come to transform themselves in such a way that each citizen finds in association the instruments of the liberty and personality. That is to say that we will be lead to suspect the existence of a new science; for obviously neither the theory of Smith, nor the sketches of industrial organization of the theocrats, satisfy the conditions of the problem. Thus, from the ideal that we make of politics is derived an insight by which to judge the true character of an economic science. And even just the sentiment that we conceive about present reality, about society considered in relation to its tendency for material goods, is a guide and a light to enlighten us on the true character of an economic science. Indeed, if the search for material goods, understood as we understand it today, is absolutely good and legitimate, Smith et Malthus are right; if that greed for wealth absolutely merits the anathema, and if it must be replaced by pure devotion, the theocrats of every sort can give free rein to their imaginations. But if that hideous plague on our era is revealed to be good and legitimate in a relative manner, insofar as it leads to the aim of society, we have to draw from it an entirely different induction. Based on the actual lives of our contemporaries, we can say to the theory of Adam Smith that it is misleading, since it does not lead to a true goal, and we can also reject all the plans of organization birthed willy-nilly by a blind socialism; then, freed from the false, we can seek the true.
In any event, then, whether we consult the actual live of society and study the present in order to understand its tendencies, or whether we take the ideal of political perfection for our guide, we arrive at this conclusion: The only political economy that could be true would be that which, revealing to us the true nature of economic phenomena, would demonstrate that it is in the nature of these phenomena to lend themselves more and more to the needs and the development of these individualities, in such a way as to realize the formula: “The perfection of society is the result of the liberty of each and all.”
Now does this theory exist?
In the name of actual reality, source of certainty, and in the name of the ideal that we are forming of politics, we would respond that even if this theory does not yet exist, the science would be no less existent: though veiled, though still not revealed, it would exist none the less in the nature of things.
But we can say more; we can affirm that the first steps, at least, have been made down that road. That is what we will attempt to demonstrate clearly in the next in article.
In the meantime, we will detach today a fragment from the course given at the Athenaeum of Marseille, consisting of the two lessons on the question of wages.
“De la recherche des biens matériels ou de l’Individualisme et du Socialisme”
[Second section of first article, not reprinted in either Malthus et les économistes or the Oeuvres.]
Quand les pages qui précèdent parurent, il y a douze ans, un des plus grands esprits de notre époque, alors fort attaché au système de Fourier, et très lié avec ce penseur, que la mort n’avait pas encore ravi, nous adressa la lettre suivante :
Versailles, 16 septembre 1834.
« Mon cher L.
» J’ai lu avec un bien vif plaisir votre article Economie politique dans le dernier numéro de la Revue (1). Vous arrivez enfin sur un terrain pratique, et dès l’entrée vous vous y établissez solidement. Bien souvent, j’ai regretté de ne pouvoir tomber d’accord avec vous sur quelques uns de ces grands principes qui entraînent après eux tout le détail d’une doctrine. Mais ce que vous dites aujourd’hui me va à merveille; et comme ce que vous dites est fondamental, j’espère bien pouvoir vous suivre avec le même consentement dans le développement ultérieur de vos idées, dans l’exposition de cette nouvelle science, de cette complète théorie que vous nous promettez Toutefois, je ne puis m’empêcher de vous faire observer, dès ce moment, que les principes que vous venez d’établir sont identiques avec ceux que les partisans de l’association-domestique-agricole, avec ceux que les adeptes de la théorie sociétaire se sont efforcés d’établir de leur côté, sinon avec un grand succès, au moins avec une ferme conviction, que la coïncidence actuelle de vos vues avec les leurs ne peut qu’affermir. Peut-être attachez-vous peu d’importance à vous trouver, par quelque point, en connexion de principes avec Fourier; mais les partisans de Fourier, et moi surtout, ne vous rendons pas la pareille. D’ailleurs, ne serait-il pas trop singulier que cet inventeur n’eût rien trouvé de réalisable, puisqu’il a adopté dès longtemps des principes qui enfin commencent aujourd’hui à surgir de tous côtés. D’une autre part, je vous crois trop de justice pour vous refuser à reconnaître, s’il y a lieu, le droit de premier occupant à cet homme tant méconnu, et si honteusement livré aux feuilletonistes. Permettez-moi donc de passer en revue les idées véritablement progressives que vous venez d’émettre, et de les comparer successivement avec les nôtres, pour vous en montrer l’analogie.
» PREMIERE IDÉE :« Soit que nous en appelions aux traditions religieuses et à la vie antérieure de l’Humanité, soit que nous consultions seulement la raison moderne et le consentement général des hommes à notre époque, loin de condamner l’usage des biens »matériels, nous devons voir qu’aucune de nos facultés les plus généreuses ne peut s’exercer sans l’intermédiaire de ces biens. »
» De cela, et de ce que vous dites sur le caractère principal de rénovation matérielle que doit avoir la définitive transformation sociale, il suit que vous devez imposer à la vraie doctrine une première condition, savoir de créer de nouvelles ressources matérielles, de nouvelles richesses pour subvenir aux besoins de la multitude. Ainsi, vous ne vous bornerez plus à demander, comme Saint-Simon, l’amélioration morale, intellectuelle, et physique. Vous savez maintenant, de plus que lui, qu’il faut commencer par l’amélioration physique; que telle est la première et indispensable garantie à exiger de tout novateur; que sans cela, sans la solution des grands problèmes industriels, toute élucubration philosophique sur les destinées ultérieures de l’Humanité est absolument inopportune, sinon inutile.
» Et, par exemple, si nous admettons comme but définitif l’association universelle, et si nous en possédons la formule, nous devons nous préoccuper essentiellement de l’application de cette formule au fait particulier de l’association domestique-agricole. Car, d’une part, comment aurions-nous une formule générale, si nous n’apportions pas cette solution particulière ? et, d’autre part, comment notre formule serait-elle réalisable, si elle ne fournissait point aux hommes les moyens d’exercer leurs facultés les plus généreuses, moyens qui dépendent, selon vous-même, des biens matériels, et qui ne peuvent sortir, par conséquent, que de l’organisation des travaux de fabrique, culture et ménage.
» Nous sommes donc sur ce premier point parfaitement d’accord avec vous. Mais voici ce que vous avez craint. Vous avez craint que nous ne soyons tout absorbés dans ces soins de ménage, de culture, et de fabrique. Le pot au feu, les légumes, la navette, voilà tout ce vous aurez vu en nous. Vous avez pensé que nous circonscrivions toute prévoyance sociale dans l’approvisionnement des cuisines, et que nous mettions toutes les réalités du monde dans l’étroit enclos d’un phalanstère, toute la science générale et infinie dans la science qui apprend à former un ménage, une association domestique-agricole !
» Mais c’est là une grossière méprise, que mille fois nous avons relevée. Dans l’établissement du ménage sociétaire, nous avons toujours vu le commencement de l’œuvre, et non pas l’œuvre entière.
» A ce commencement nous attachons une immense valeur pratique, parce que c’est le commencement; mais nous le savons très bien, et maintes fois nous l’avons dit, après l’établissement de ce premier terme, il faudra s’élever successivement aux termes d’ordre supérieur: du ménage sociétaire, au canton sociétaire; du canton, à la province ; de la province, à l’empire, et finalement à l’unité sphérique.
» A la vérité, nous attachons aussi à ce commencement une grande importance philosophique, et cela a pu contribuer à donner le change; mais cela, au contraire, devait prouver à tout esprit non prévenu que nous ne voulions pas du tout abdiquer les vues supérieures de la religion et de la philosophie. Car nous considérions l’application d’une formule générale à la création d’une association très limitée, mais enfin formant un tout complet et un mécanisme intégral, nous considérions cette application comme suffisant à justifier la formule même dans sa généralité; et nous n’avions cesse de dire : Daignez, messieurs, soumettre à l’examen, à la discussion, à l’expérimentation, la théorie du phalanstère; car si le grand problème d’employer harmoniquement toutes les classes, tous les âges, tous les sexes, tous les caractères, a été résolu, c’est un signe manifeste que M. Fourier possède la clef des vraies destinées sociales.
» En cela nous étions du même sentiment que Wronsky, lorsqu’il dit : « Il faut reconnaître la nécessité d’une loi uniforme pour la création de toute réalité, parce que, sans une pareille loi, aucune unité ne serait concevable, dans les diverses réalités qui composent l’univers; ou plutôt, sans une loi créatrice, la réalité elle-même ne saurait subsister. Comme telle, cette loi, qui préside à la génération de toutes les réalités, et qui forme ainsi manifestement la loi de création, est précisément ce qui détermine l’essence même de »tout ce qui existe dans l’univers; et par conséquent c’est de la découverte de cette auguste loi, dont l’homme n’a pu concevoir l’idée jusqu’à ce jour, que dépend l’établissement péremptoire du savoir humain (Messianisme, 1831). » Donc, comme il est bien avéré aujourd’hui que c’est à l’Humanité elle-même qu’il appartient de créer l’organisation sociale, dont tous les matériaux lui ont été donnés dans sa propre nature et dans la nature extérieure, nous demandions à la publicité et à l’expérimentation d’examiner et éprouver si Fourier, en appliquant au travail humain l’organisation par groupes et séries, qui est le mode universel de la distribution de tous les êtres dans l’univers, n’avait pas véritablement indiqué cette auguste loi de toute réalité, dont il serait facile après de déduire l’organisation, non pas d’une simple commune, mais de l’Humanité entière , et de laquelle on pourrait finalement conclure les destins généraux de l’espèce Aussi bien, c’est ainsi que Fourier lui-même l’a toujours entendu; et, dès son prospectus (1808), il exprimait, en d’autres termes, mais avec non moins de clarté et d’énergie, la haute pensée de Wronsky. »
» Il me semble donc, mon cher L., que nous sommes d’accord sur cette première idée que j’ai extraite de votre article; et il n’est pas moins notoire que cette idée a pour nous la seule portée et la seule valeur qu’elle doive avoir; c’est-à-dire que nous n’avons jamais prétendu borner la science sociale à l’édification du ménage, ni aucunement effacer de notre devise l’amélioration morale et intellectuelle; ce qui serait extrêmement honteux. Mais, à vrai dire, je ne crois pas qu’on puisse attribuer une pareille faute à aucun penseur, pas même à ceux que vous poursuivez du nom de Doctrinaires. Et maintenant je continue.
« SECONDE IDÉE : « C’est sa dignité, sa qualité d’homme, c’est sa liberté, c’est son indépendance, que le prolétaire revendique, lors» qu’il aspire à posséder des biens matériels. C’est le même sentiment qui pousse ceux qui possèdent ces biens à les conserver… Dans la lutte actuelle des prolétaires contre la bourgeoisie, c’est-à-dire de ceux qui ne possèdent pas les instruments de travail contre ceux qui les possèdent, la bourgeoisie représente même, au premier aspect, plus évidemment que les prolétaires, le sentiment de l’individualité et de la liberté. Les riches possèdent cette liberté et ils la défendent. Nous trouvons bonne et légitime cette tendance de ceux qui possèdent la liberté et l’individualité à les conserver, etc. »
» Comme la première idée était le point de départ essentiel de toute doctrine absolue, ceci est le point de départ non moins précieux de toute doctrine transitoire; ceci est la véritable appréciation de l’actualité; c’est la vraie base de toute politique pratique conforme à la raison.
» Par là vous rompez définitivement avec la tradition du Saint-Simonisme, dont la fallacieuse manœuvre voulait tout doucement, sans violence et par bénigne persuasion, amener les riches à déposer tous leurs privilèges, de plein gré et par volontaire consentement.
» Et, en même temps, vous vous séparez non moins tranchement du vulgaire républicanisme. Car, en vertu de ces principes, vous montrerez sans doute la radicale fausseté du rapprochement qu’on a voulu faire entre les deux grands moments de la transformation sociale provoquée par la France. Le premier moment a été la lutte de la bourgeoisie qui ameutait le peuple contre les privilèges de la noblesse et du clergé. Le deuxième moment, tel qu’on voudrait nous le faire, serait la lutte du prolétariat contre les privilèges de la bourgeoisie, la lutte de ceux qui ne possèdent pas contre ceux qui possèdent.
» Mais vous rétablirez la vérité dans sa lumière, et vous direz : Non, il n’y a pas là identité, égalité de positions. Les privilèges de la noblesse et du clergé étaient injustes et immérités, leur tendance mauvaise et illégitime, leur supériorité illusoire au fond ; car enfin quel bourgeois de 89 aurait cru se hausser en se faisant moine ou marquis ! Mais les privilèges actuels de la bourgeoisie, c’est-à-dire ses richesses, ses biens, la propriété des biens matériels, ah! ce sont de justes et bien mérités privilèges; la tendance qu’ils ont à les conserver est bonne en soi et légitime : c’est pour eux le prix d’un travail antérieur, et, sans vouloir les abaisser à notre infimité, nous autres prolétaires, sachons trouver les moyens de nous élever à leur supériorité.
» En un mot, il ne s’agira plus, par violence ou par sympathie, par Babouvisme ou par Enfantinisme, d’enlever quoi que ce soit à la classe supérieure; et cependant il faudra donner aux classes inférieures.
» Donner aux classes qui ne possèdent pas, sans rien ôter à ceux : possèdent; voilà le grand et délicat engagement que vous venez e prendre. Et c’est la grande difficulté de la dernière crise ! Hic opus, hic labor est !
» Mais quoi! n’est-ce pas aussi la difficulté que s’est proposée la théorie sociétaire? et, si j’ose ainsi parler, ne demeurez-vous pas encore en arrière de nous dans cette voie ? Car non seulement nous garantissons aux riches la conservation de leurs richesses, mais, pour les intéresser directement à l’amélioration du peuple, nous augmentons dans une haute proportion tous leurs plaisirs, toutes leurs jouissances ; pour tout dire en un mot, nous apportons au plus riche un accroissement de richesses.
» Ainsi, ce point si essentiel de politique pratique, cette légitimation des tendances de la bourgeoisie, cette doctrine qui condamne implicitement toute révolution violente, toute émeute, et même toute pacifique tentative de rénovation, si une telle rénovation ne consolide pas avant tout les naturels et légitimes privilèges de la bourgeoisie; cette doctrine qui va vous dessiner nettement au milieu des partis, et qui déjà vous sépare de vous-même, c’est-à-dire des moyens antérieurement proposés par vous dans la Revue, comme je l’établirais sans peine si j’en avais le temps ; cette doctrine vous est encore tout à fait commune avec nous. Voyons si cette heureuse coïncidence se maintiendra dans ce qui suit.
» Troisième idée. « Le dévouement pur, quelque noble qu’il soit, n’est qu’une passion particulière, ou, si l’on veut, une vertu particulière de la nature humaine ; mais ce n’est pas la nature humaine tout entière. Un homme qui, dans toute sa vie, serait placé au point de vue du dévouement, serait un insensé, et une société d’hommes dont la règle unique serait le dévouement, et qui regarderait comme mauvais tout acte individuel, serait une absurde société. Toute théorie, donc, qui voudrait se fonder sur le dévouement comme sur la formule la plus générale de la société, » et qui déduirait ensuite de cette formule les lois et les institutions qu’elle aurait l’espérance d’appliquer de force à la société, serait fausse et dangereuse. Mais, au contraire, un principe général qui représente et formule la nature complète, c’est le principe de liberté et d’individualité, etc. »
» Voilà ce que l’on dit ;—eh! que dis-je autre chose !
» Avons-nous jamais nié la sublime faculté qu’a l’homme de sacrifier des penchants inférieurs à de nobles passions? Ne savons-nous pas qu’à lui seul, dans toute la création, il a été permis de donner sa fortune et sa vie en témoignage des éternels principes de justice et de vérité! Et sans nous élever si haut, dans le détail minime de l’organisation sociétaire, M. Fourier a-t-il pu méconnaître, lui qui prétend utiliser toutes les passions, l’utile passion du dévouement? Dans le problème pivotal de l’accord passionné en répartition des bénéfices, n’emploie-il pas concurremment, et comme se faisant réciproquement contrepoids, la cupidité et la générosité ? N’a-t-il pas institué comme rouage indispensable de son mécanisme des corporations vouées par essence au service du bien public, comme les petites et grandes hordes, le vestalat, etc. ? Non seulement nous honorons le dévouement, mais nous employons cette sublime portion de la nature humaine dans une convenable mesure. D’autre part, nous partons de ce principe que l’harmonie sociale ne doit rien emprunter à la contrainte ni au sacrifice; qu’elle doit reposer essentiellement sur le libre essor des passions, caractères et instincts; et, pour donner à cet égard la mesure de notre libérale théorie, nous prétendons employer même les discords, répugnances et antipathies naturelles, que jusqu’ici toute doctrine a considérés comme des erreurs de la création, des produits du mal, des anomalies ! Pourtant vous savez bien, de par Geoffroy, qu’il n’y a pas d’anomalies dans les grandes œuvres de la nature. Mais alors vous avez cru que nous acceptions tous les vices d’une société monstrueusement déviée de ses destins; et, voyant dans toutes les corruptions qui sont chez les civilisés d’incontestables effets de passions, vous vous êtes éloigné de nous, pensant que nous allions diviniser ces vices et ces corruptions. M. Fourier vous répond par un seul mot aussi profond que décisif : ce sont des effets de passion en essor subversif Mais c’est dans ses livres qu’il faut en voir la preuve.
Maintenant la théorie sociétaire procure-t-elle en effet le développement de l’individualité? assure-t-elle à tous une complète et vraie liberté ? C’est ce qu’on doit examiner séparément. Mais enfin, si la science que vous nous annoncez tient, sur le fait de la liberté et de l’individualité, les promesses que vous faites, quelle autre marche devra-t-elle suivre cette science, que la marche méthodique adoptée par nous : premièrement étudier les instincts, les goûts, les passions des individus, des différents âges et des différents sexes; et, quand elle aura fait complètement cette analyse, présenter un mode d’organisation qui promette, qui assure un libre essor à ces passions, à ces goûts, à ces instincts.
» Car ces mots de liberté et d’individualité, vous ne les voulez pas vides de sens, comme ils l’ont été jusqu’ici pour toutes les écoles révolutionnaires. Vous ne vous bornez point à ces libertés négatives, comme liberté de la presse, liberté de l’enseignement, de la religion, etc., qui sont le fonds commun de toutes les doctrines critiques, et qui sont pareillement le fonds de la pensée de M. Lamennais, comme vous l’avez pu voir dans son article de la Revue des Deux-Mondes (Dialoghetti), inconcevable pauvreté dans un homme tout nourri des doctrines organiques ! Mais telle est la précieuse justice de notre temps : on élève aux nues M. Lamennais pour avoir, après quarante ans, reproduit sous une forme nouvelle ce qui a été dit déjà, et surtout établi au prix de tant de sang; mais si quelque obscur sergent de boutique apporte de grandes et véritables nouveautés, on s’obstine à l’ignorer. Que nous apporte-il donc ce prêtre , si éloquent qu’il soit, que nous n’ayons su avant lui certainement, et peut-être aussi bien que lui, nous enfants de la Révolution ? Ah ! prosternons-nous devant le haut génie de De Maistre. Celui-ci a dessillé nos yeux; il nous a réduit à confesser que toute vérité n’était pas comprise dans les vérités proclamées par la Révolution française; il nous a montré sur combien de points était frivole, superficielle, et aveuglément injuste, cette philosophie du dix-huitième siècle dont nous avons été nourris. Mais lorsque nous ne trouvons sous l’effervescence poétique de M. Lamennais que les purs principes de la Révolution, que pouvons-nous voir dans son échappée inattendue qu’un nouveau signe des temps, qu’une preuve nouvelle de l’irréfragable antinomie des deux doctrines qui se partagent le monde, et qui, bien qu’exclusives aujourd’hui l’une de l’autre, renferment pourtant chacune leur part de vérité !
» Le Saint-Simonisme avait commencé cette preuve, et M. Lamennais est venu l’achever. M. Lamennais forme la contre-partie du Saint-Simonisme; rien de plus, rien de moins.
» Le Saint-Simonisme, issu du plus radical libéralisme, s’éprit un jour à admirer les principes d’ordre, d’unité, de religion ! et d’admiration en admiration, il s’est laissé tomber dans les doctrines du plus complet despotisme.
» Représentant parmi nous du Catholicisme, M. Lamennais a reconnu ce qu’il y a de vrai, d’absolu, d’éternellement impérissable dans les idées d’égalité et de liberté; et alors, ignorant la fatale antimonie qui, au moment actuel du développement de l’esprit humain, sépare ces mêmes idées des principes d’ordre et d’unité que lui, prêtre catholique, avait mission de nous rappeler incessamment, M. Lamennais a été précipité dans les doctrines dissolvantes de la liberté négative (voyez les Dialoghetti).
» Mais parce que M. Lamennais bégaye les mots incompris de progrès et d’association, c’est un oracle; un génie! un poète ! un prophète ! un apôtre ! et on a entendu dans le fond du sanctuaire une voix retentissante qui criait : Il est sauvé ! ! !(Revue des Deux Mondes, 1er août). O littérateurs ! littérateurs! nous gâterez-vous l’œuvre sociale, comme vos cousins les avocats nous ont gâté l’œuvre politique ? Littérateurs, n’aurez-vous jamais des yeux et des oreilles, et des phrases si agréables, qu’en faveur des hommes qui sont dans votre voie ? Car il y a un homme qui croit à la liberté et à l’individualité, et qui, sur ces grands principes, a fondé une vaste doctrine, mais qui croit aussi à la société, à l’association, et qui a signalé la loi naturelle, le principe universel, dont l’application permettra de réunir, d’associer, de socialiser sans despotisme, sans contrainte, sans sacrifice, toutes les libertés, toutes les individualités. Et les travaux de cet homme sont pour vous à néant! Ces travaux qui mettraient l’école française, incontinent et sans conteste, à la tête de toutes les autres, vous n’en voulez pas tenir compte. Vous aimez mieux vous faire les applaudisseurs des inconséquences de Lamennais et de Chateaubriand. Certes nous avons dû les aplanir lorsqu’ils remettaient en honneur le génie d’une religion stupidement méconnue, ou bien qu’ils réveillaient par des foudres de logique et d’éloquence notre honteuse indifférence en matière de religion. Mais aujourd’hui lorsqu’ils viennent rendre hommage aux vérités que de leur part ils avaient méconnues, laissons ces illustres génies compléter leur éducation, et cherchons des maîtres moins sujets à l’erreur. Donc aidez-nous à faire reluire aux yeux du peuple le nom d’un homme sorti du peuple, d’un homme qui depuis vingt-cinq ans n’a encore été remontré sur aucune grande idée du passé ou de l’avenir; d’un homme qui, sans varier aucunes fois, n’a Jamais eu qu’une pensée, un seul but, une foi unique : la libre association; l’association par et pour la liberté, l’association de toutes les classes; l’association qui rappellera les riches au travail par la création de l’industrie attrayante, et qui, par cette vraie et naturelle industrie, sauvera les ouvriers de l’abrutissement où les réduit un odieux industrialisme !
» Tout ceci, mon cher L. n’est pas digression; car j’en ai tiré l’occasion de toucher la quatrième idée qui est en saillie dans votre article si important et si décisif
» Quatrième idée : « Liberté et Société sont les deux pôles égaux de la science sociale. Ne dites pas que la société n’est que le résultat, l’ensemble, l’agrégation des individus, mais ne dites pas non plus que la société est tout, et que l’individu n’est rien, ou que la société est avant les individus, ou que les citoyens ne sont pas autre chose que des sujets dévoués de la société, des fonctionnaires de la société, qui doivent trouver bon gré malgré leur satisfaction dans tout ce qui concourt au but social, etc. Nous sommes aujourd’hui la proie de ces deux systèmes exclusifs. Notre perplexité ne cessera que lorsque la science sociale sera parvenue à harmoniser ces deux »principes, etc. »
»Vous avez là saisi et signalé le fait qui véritablement caractérise notre époque sous le rapport philosophique. C’est, comme vous ledites, l’Humanité suspendue entre deux attractions contraires; des deux cotés, il y a vérité, quoique, par un fatal mystère qu’il est réservé à la science sociale d’éclaircir, chaque côté soit la négation de l’autre. Telle est la grande et terrible antinomie qui a causé la double chûte du Saint-Simonisme et de M. Lamennais, et qui a été si admirablement dévoilée par Wronsky; antinomie qui sépare la doctrine de l’expérience de celle du sentiment, le parti libéral du parti illibéral.
» J’attends avec impatience de vous voir aux prises avec ces grandes difficultés. Mais c’est déjà rendre un grand service que de les signaler avec tant d’exactitude, et de partager si nettement toutes les doctrines qui ont été jusqu’ici produites en deux seules classes distinctes; car entre ce que vous appelez socialisme et individualisme, que pourra-t-il s’interposer (sauf la découverte promise à la science sociale), que de vaines et illogiques doctrines, impuissantes à nous satisfaire.
» Entre temps, je dépose sur votre conscience cette simple question : La théorie sociétaire se range-t-elle parmi les doctrines de socialisme, ou bien parmi celles d’individualisme? Reduisons-nous le gouvernement aux fonctions de gendarme ? Intronisons-nous une loi athée? Plaçons-nous chacun sur sa motte de terre, indépendant, et absolu souverain, avec la devise abrutissante du Chacun chez soi, chacun pour soi’Ou, d’autre part, avons-nous absorbé toute individualité dans le giron d’un gouvernement tyrannique ? Avonsnous fait de chaque citoyen un sujet humble et soumis, sans spontanéité aucune? Est-ce un fonctionnaire enregimenté, ayant une doctrine officielle à croire, et l’inquisution à sa porte’. Ah ! répondez, mon cher L., à ces graves questions.Que nous sachions, enfin, si c’est seulement faute de la connaître que vous passez toujours notre doctrine sous silence, ou bien si vous avez sur elle une opinion quelconque fondée en droit et en raison.
» Ou bien est-ce que vous nieriez à M. Fourier une véritable doctrine, une doctrine digne de ce nom? Si cela était, ce que je ne puis croire, je n’aurais plus qu’une chose à vous dire : » Vous résumez tout votre article dans cette large et fondamentale proposition : « La seule Economie politique qui puisse être vraie » serait celle qui, nous révélant la véritable nature des phénoménes » économiques, démontrerait qu’il est de la nature de ces phéno» mènes de se prêter de plus en plus au besoin et au développement » des individualités, de manière à réaliser la formule : La perfection » de la société est en raison de la liberté de tous et de chacun. »
» Eh bien ! si vous voulez prendre avec moi cent pages à peu près quelconques des écrits de Fourier, je m’engage à vous y montrer la nature dévoilée des phénomènes économiques, aussi bien que l’irrécusable déduction des deux faits suivants :
1° Que dans l’incohérence et le morcellement (individualisme) qui caractérisent la phase actuelle de la civilisation, tout aussi bien que dans la fausse association dont l’industrialisme nous menace, dans laquelle nous entraîne le fatal exemple de l’Angleterre, dans la fausse association qui deviendrait le caractère éminent de la phase ultérieure, les phénomènes économiques (production, distribution, et consommation) sont absolument et forcément incompatibles avec le développement des facultés indiiduelles aussi bien chez les riches, ou au moins à peu près autant, que chez les pauvres ;
2° Que dans les sociétés à base sociétaire, dans lesquelles le travail sera organisé suivant la loi de distribution naturelle et universelle, les mêmes phénomènes économiques deviennent, au contraire, le moyen assuré de développer toutes les individualités, et de faire sortir de la liberté de tous et de chacun le vrai perfectionnement social.
» Ainsi, mon cher L., j’ai montré que la théorie sociétaire se trouve en conformité avec vous à l’égard des principales idées que vous avez émises dans votre article, et, finalement, j’ai accepté pour critérium de notre doctrine, à nous, la base que vous prenez pour la vôtre. Après tout cela, je n’entends rien préjuger sur la nouveauté des idées que vous promettez de produire. Lorsque vous les aurez exposées, je vous en dirai ma façon de penser, si toutefois vous ne craignez pas de perdre temps à toutes mes longueurs. Aujourd’hui j’ai voulu seulement constater la conformité de nos principes; et comme cette conformité me donne le vif désir d’en voir de votre part la conséquence, j’aime à penser qu’elle vous portera, de votre côté, à considérer, enfin, d’une manière sérieuse les immenses travaux de Fourier. C’est là tout mon but, persuadé que les idées sociétaires gagneraient infiniment à être adoptées et défendues, ou même simplement discutées (mais en connaissance de cause), par vous et tous ceux de conscience et de talent qui sont avec vous. Sur cela, excusez ce fatras, et recevez mes bonnes amitiés. »
Instabilité des opinions humaines, dans le temps de transition où nous vivons, temps d’épreuves, s’il en fut, d’épreuves intellectuelles, morales, et physiques !. Cet esprit si profond, si clair, si lumineux, cet esprit de géomètre, qui, profitant des prémisses que nous avions posées, prétendait nous conduire au Fouriérisme, est aujourd’hui(les disciples de Fourier le savent bien et le regrettent) à une distance infinie de penser comme il pensait alors. Catholique aujourd’hui, de tous les faux et dangereux systèmes le plus faux et le plus dangereux à ses yeux est sans doute celui qu’il défendait de si bonne foi. Combien cet exemple doit nous rendre tolérants les uns pour les autres, quand nos opinions sont consciencieuses et inspirées seulement par le besoin de la vérité !
Douze ans se sont écoulés depuis que cette lettre nous fut écrite. Que s’est-il donc passé durant ces douze ans, soit dans le monde du fait, soit dans le monde de l’idée; et pourquoi exhumons-nous ces pages déjà si anciennes, cette correspondance laissée sans issue ? pourquoi accepter ce cartel d’autrefois, maintenant que celui qui nous l’adressait n’est plus dans l’arène et a changé de camp? Nous allons le dire, mais ce n’est pas en quelques paroles que nous pourrons le dire.
Quelle que soit la réponse que nous ferons, tout esprit nourri des questions qui s’agitent aujourd’hui reconnaîtra que cette lettre pose admirablement le problème social ; elle constate des principes que nous avons adoptés nous-même, et dans lesquels nous persistons. Il s’agit de montrer que ces principes ne mènent pas aux conséquences qu’on en tire; il s’agit de faire la distinction du vrai et du faux; il s’agit de quelque chose de semblable à ce que le Christianisme eut à faire avec les hérésies. Nous prenons l’engagement de nous livrer à ce travail. Certes, ce n’est pas pour troubler, dans ses croyances d’aujourd’hui, une âme élevée, un esprit noble et généreux, que nous reprenons ce dialogue commencé il y a douze ans sur les bases de la science sociale.
(La suite à un prochain numéro.)
Working translations by Shawn P. Wilbur