Category Archives: 1850s

Elisée Reclus in the Era of Anarchy

ishillpicture260-261I’ve been splitting the formative period of the anarchist tradition into two eras: an Era of Anarchy, running roughly from 1840 to 1880, and then an Era of Anarchism, running on to around 1920, with the emergence of anarchism as a common keyword marking the division between them. The scheme is not without its weaknesses, but one of the striking facts in support of it is the very limited number of figures who identified as anarchists in both periods. There is almost no one who called for anarchy before Proudhon’s death in 1865 who was both alive and still in the anarchist camp by the time Bakunin died in 1876.

The obvious exception to the rule is Elisée Reclus. I have been aware for some time that Reclus was supposed to have written in favor of anarchy as early as 1850 and my work on the beginnings of the Era of Anarchism have led me to think of him as one of the chief organizers of anarchism in those years. But I had never tracked down the early statement, so I’ve never really had a chance to judge just how significant Reclus’ place in the larger story really is.

As it happened, I stumbled on some scans of the article in the Max Nettlau papers online, just as I was heading off to the Seattle Anarchist Book Fair a couple of weeks ago. I was looking for references to Joseph Déjacque’s  newspaper, Le Libertaire, and came up with the 1925 publication of Reclus’ manuscript in the later paper of the same name. I started a translation while I was on the trip and have been puttering away at it since. Today I’m able to present a complete, if unpolished draft in English.

There’s more that should be said about the work, as various related projects move forward, but, for the moment, just enjoy with me this very interesting bit of very early anarchist history.

The Development of Liberty in the World

An Unpublished Study

Elisée Reclus


In past centuries, peoples only fought for their passions or their immediate interests; it was without remorse, it was even with gladness that, in order to satisfy their ambition or greed, they exterminated entire nations and dragged behind them multitudes of slaves. Without any link of solidarity between them, men stole their selfish well-being from the well-being of their neighbors, and the world, given over to chance, was sometimes the prey of the stronger, sometimes that of the most skillful.

However, from the beginnings of humanity, some noble spirits rose up, discontented with reality and dreaming of a better future; some, like the old patriarch Abraham, left their country and their kin to live in isolation far from the selfishness of everyone; others, coming later, badly published the idea that truth had still not descended to the earth, and that it was necessary to follow more just and humane laws: but those aroused all manner of bad passions against themselves, they encountered only indifference or anger, and they died, not in isolation, but they died on a gibbet, tortured by the joyous cries of the populace. Sometimes, one among them succeeded in leading some millions of wills along behind them, enlivening them with their will, but it was necessary for them to fight hard to overturn the heavy mass of humanity with the powerful lever of their genius.

Now, men desirous of the future can count on some support from the past: from day to day their mass grows, their speed accelerates like that of a rock that is dashed into the ground more and more violently. The struggle has taken colossal proportions, classes after classes, nations after nations, have stepped into its gigantic gears; slaves and barbarians, previously hardly men, have been caught up in its immense arms and fought for what they were previously unaware of, for an idea. In the past, the conquerors raised nations in the name of their might, in the name of individual glory and interests; now, the peoples rise up, not for a man, for men deceive, not for glory, for it is false without liberty, nor for their interest alone, but for the interest of all.

In the past, the idea drove the barbarians before it, without them knowing it. The Goths who destroyed the Roman Empire had only wanted to trade their foggy North for the golden countries of the South. To pillage the temples full of gold and precious stones, replace their coarse food with the delicate dishes assembled from all the countries of the world, enjoy some Roman pleasures, to satisfy their desire for blood and massacres, that was the whole of their ambition. They marched blindly toward the future, and it is hardly as if one among them felt the fatal hand of God push them towards the South and an internal voice cry to them: Go, go!

But when our brothers descended triumphant from their barricades and marched on the Tullieries, already empty of their King, crying: Long live the Republic! they knew their aim, their thoughts were as clear as their shouts and in their hearts, as well as on their flags, were proudly written the words liberty and fraternity.

So today it is necessary that the Master deal with those who yesterday were only a herd of slaves, for the crowd, once the lever for a few isolated thinkers, made itself a thinker in its turn, and the chorus that was swept from the scene has become the great actor in the theater of the world. Against it, all the men of the past stiffen their resistance; they withdraw into a repulsive selfishness, they make their Tower of Babel bristle with cannons, awakening in their tombs all the creaking specters that the dawn had evaporated; in vain, their cannons cannot pierce the idea that lives in us, their nocturnal specters cannot withstand the radiance of our sun, their past cannot defeat our future.

They will be vanquished, I swear it. Already, the defections are numerous among them, for it is difficult to fight when you have the sun and dust in your face. We already count among our ranks many men of heart, who use their time and their wealth to prove that they were wrong to be rich as a result of the misery of the poor, well fed as a result of their hunger, happy as a result of their misfortune.

For a long time already the war cry has soared above the battlefield, for a long time the weapons have been prepared, and already the first victims have fallen. Today the combat, and tomorrow the victory!


So what is this idea that has so often raised up men against men and that, now, separates the world into two great factions? It is the idea of liberty, of complete and absolute liberty. It is for this idea that 70,000 Huguenots are dead in a single night; it is for it that, for ten long years, our fathers have reddened with their blood all the scaffolds and all the fields of battle. It is for it that all the precursors have been hated, from Socrates, who would liberate philosophy, to Louis Blanc, who could not liberate the people.

Let us not believe, nonetheless, that liberty should be the only aim of mean here below: all its hopes would then lead only to a gigantic egoism. But there is another idea, that of love, an idea that develops in parallel to the first. For each man in particular, liberty is an aim, but it is only a means for love, for universal brotherhood, efficacious and all-powerful means, for the free man alone can, without ulterior motive, clasp his free brother to his breast and say to him: “I love you.”

The Declaration of the Rights of Men misleads then, when it accords to the citizen the right to liberty, insofar as that liberty is not limited by love, by duties. Instead of struggling against one another, the right and the duty agree in their highest sense; instead of limiting one another, they multiply one another and continue one another, from man up to God, where right and duty, love and liberty are one single thing.

This progress of which we speak does not develop uniformly, either in hearts or especially in facts. In the history of the world we can apply to it the philosophical formula of action and reaction, but in so far as the reaction is always less than the action. It is in this way that in its olden days, Rome, defeated by the apostles of Jesus, declined towards fetishism; triumphant Catholicism is a pagan reaction mixed with Christian elements, Protestantism is a disguised Catholicism, and the political reaction boasts of the barricades that it has conquered in its turn, forgetting that all the reactions are condemned to death, that all are swallowed in the void, forgetting that the future marches on the remains of its adversaries. Humanity is the wave dashing deliriously on the rocks, thrown back into the ocean, which roars in a deep voice, returns with fury to the determined rock, digs more before its savage bites and subsides only on the ruins of its enemy.

The world of facts may still be in its period of reaction, but already progress installs itself in minds with new promises and hopes unknown to the previous centuries; but it is not without combat that this progress is carried into institutions, for it must overturn all the force of inertia opposed to it by habit, selfishness and the past. Also, every progress is a sorrow and is inevitably accompanied by a Revolution; each truth that is affirmed has its cost in blood and tears. Christianity, the bourgeoisie, religious reform set their feet in the blood and we see that it is the same for the Republic. Humanity, like a young man, has its critical years and its maladies, but it comes out of them stronger, hardier and finer.

Apart from some pessimists and some refined orthodox types who believe the world has arrived at its decrepitude, the majority of men acknowledge, in fact, that humanity advances; but some want this progress to be solely inevitable and the will of man not to enter into it at all; others think, on the contrary, that all the steps of humanity are completely independent of the will of God. These two opinions are false; all the movements of the human race are produced by a double influence, which necessarily contributes to their aim; the will of man and the will of God, otherwise known as fatality, for the will of God is immutable and nothing could change it. Liberty and fatality, instead of mutually destroying one another, march harmoniously toward a single end, it is duality tending towards unity.

So it is ridiculous to concede, as so many weak minds do, that the hand of God directs the universe, so that there is in men themselves no cause of the acts they accomplish. All events flow from the free development of man, all from irrevocable destiny. I firmly believe in the restoration of the human race, in the final rehabilitation, but I would find it impious and contrary to the sanctity of God if man counted for nothing in the perfection that he will attain. Man and God each have a real existence, so let us be neither fatalists nor atheists.

Whatever the case, it is incontestable that humanity advances on a path of progress, and that is so true that our more declared enemies draw from it one of their old arguments, saying that we compromise the future by wishing to hurry it too much. For themselves, they willingly follow the opposite march and would bring us back to that false unity that consists of dissolving all men into one, whose omnipotence nothing could justify. Our aim is indeed to come to unity, but to true unity, that in which all become free, united with all and with God, whose infinity alone can contain them. Starting from the single principle of authority, we tend to a single principle as well, but one opposed; each point that separates the two extreme limits is a struggle between authority, powerful at first, but always diminishing, and the liberty destined to one day cover the whole earth.

It is to that great idea of liberty that all the human ideas that the different civilizations have produced lead, and this is why all the countries should share the portion of truth that they have won. It has been necessary that, across oceans and mountains, Bénarés spoke to Memphis, Babylon to Alexandria; now it is necessary that all peoples unite in one vast concert and sing, one after another, the note that they have discovered in the harmony of the heavens. When all the ways will be united in one single symphony, when the civilizing wave come from the East will be impregnated with all the sap of the countries that it covers, then it will flow back towards its native soil and reinvigorate the countries that are now desolate. It is in this way that all human things will end in the flood that glides over the sand and returns to the heart of the sea; the peoples rotting in neglect, the bloody hordes of the barbarians, the anger of the powerless slave, all that is equal to God.

That is a great and sublime equation for which, if it was necessary, we would spill our blood; for, tomorrow is the great day of the battle, it is the great day of victory, the day when Jesus will return to reign over his enemies and impose on them brotherhood and the worship of his God.


If we seek in the past for the development of the idea of which we speak, it is necessary to recall that the various periods of the life of humanity are far from being as neatly defined as they appear to us, far off spectators. All these eras overlap, have a basis in one another, and the causes of the events that unfold today are to be found in the origins of the world. Nonetheless, in order not to lose ourselves in the labyrinth of history, the mind fixes willingly on the times when the idea was violently transported by the facts: it is with the aid of the pools of blood spread here and there that we recognize the route of humanity.

Everyone knows that liberty lived in a chrysalid state in the oriental world, that it shook in a lively manner in the greco-roman and sought to break from its envelope; all know as well that it manifests itself now and leaves behind it its dried out skin. The peoples of India and Egypt, fatalists in their philosophy, let themselves be quietly cooped up like herds of sheep; divided into castes, that is into categories of more or less stupefied slaves, they adopt all the tyrannies as an irrevocable order of destiny, their religion. The caste of masters and savants itself, not being able to recruit in the move lively mass of the people, debased itself in its turn and deprived of its primitive energy, it became immobilized, proud to resemble the immovable pyramids that it had had built.

The Greeks, on the contrary, agitated a great deal to arrive at a perfect form of government they tried the despotism of a sort of tempered monarchy, oligarchy, republic, but this was always only in view of their own city; instead of spreading outside to propagate their spirit, they locked themselves away within the shelter of their walls and sullied with the name of barbarians all those who lived outside their mountains or shores. Plato himself, the great Plato, made his ideal republic, a Greek city, a city of free men and men enslaved. So it is not necessary to compare the Greek Republics based on inequality to our republics, which are based on the opposite idea, our republics where every voice is equal to an another voice, where each life, in principle at least, has the same rights as another. The communism of the Spartans was based on the hatred of the foreigner and the socialism of our days has universal brotherhood as its point of departure.

Rome also was divided into patricians and plebeians, into free men and slaves, citizens and foreigners. From the times of Augustus, when twenty men passed, nineteen were only things for the twentieth; however, they vaguely recognized the equality of all, and during the feast of the Saturnalia, a feast that should recall the golden age, all were equal and the slave had the right to strike his master.

Alone in antiquity the Jews recognized that there should be no slaves and if they had faithfully executed the precepts of Moses, never would any among them have needed to sell themselves to feed their family. Through their institutions, but especially through their religion, descended from the Sinai, the Jews were the precursors of Christianity, of that Christianity that their prophets had announced to them and that they had long awaited. But this Christianity that preached the renunciation of impious pleasures, which told the rich to live with the poor and like the poor, the Christianity of the communists St. Basil and St. Chrysostome was very strong food for the old Greek and Roman materialism, the empire of the world would have disappeared in the hands of its weak masters and would have been dead of starvation a century later, if the barbarian hordes had not come to ravage it.

It required a long period of time for the sweet spirit of the gospels to make the savage victors bend, these men of iron who died laughing. In the end, however, the lords would become accustomed to regard the serf as a man, for they encountered one another in the same church, and the priest, most often the son of a serf himself, spoke to them as equals before God. Our historians have recounted to us how the bourgeois of the cities, jealous of their wealth, revolted against the Lords; how the kings allied themselves with the villeins against the high and mighty barons; how the French aristocracy was brought down three times, so that it could never rise again. Then, the French royalty weighed with all the weight of the vanquished aristocracy on the bourgeoisie that had become powerful in its turn; revolt glided into hearts, then into minds. It broke out in a bloody manner. It is France that liberty had chosen for its cradle.

Why is Italy, why is England not more advanced in this new era of universal brotherhood? We will try to explain.

Italy was less profoundly devastated than the other parts of the Roman Empire; the fertilizing remains of the barbarians were deposited less there then among the Gauls and if civilization could flower again more rapidly there, it nevertheless lacked the vigor and energy that flowed in the blood of the men of the North. Two centuries had still not passed since the German race had already melted into the ancient Italic race; also, as soon as civilization could again begin its upward march in the shadow of the popes and exarchs, it was exclusively Italian; the old Roman distinctions of citizens and barbarians reappeared, and the country was divided into an infinite number of little trading republics, all enemies of one another, all as aristocratic as Sparta and Athens. Neither Venice the beautiful, nor Genoa the rich, nor Florence the famous would understand the idea of freedom for all and the noble Rienzi himself, in his vast plans of regeneration, only wanted restore the ancient glory of Rome and establish the unity of Italy. Also, when all these little isolated states has spent their first vigor in intestine struggles, foreign tyrants would lay their hands of lead over the eyes of trembling Italy. It is then that the scepter passed from their hands into ours, for the royalty of civilization never dies in the world, and when a people is extinguished it called to its deathbed another people and and tells it in a broken voice the secrets of life.

For its part, England, defeated by the Romans and converted to Christianity, developed rapidly, but in an exclusively English manner. Surrounded on all sides by the boundless sea, the English thought to make of themselves something like a new human species; for them, the homeland cannot exist if it is not covered with the fogs of the Thames or the Humber, if the sun is not hidden by a veil of dirty, black haze. In their hearts, the love of the homeland is at the same time hatred of the foreigner. It is by this fact especially that their Revolution distinguishes itself from our own, although both began with the death of a king and finally led to a tyrant, protector among them, emperor among us. Moreover, their revolution was in large part a vain quarrel of dogmas between some fanatical Presbyterians and stiff Anglicans, a quarrel that would have been much better worked out on the benches of a chapter [a religious meeting] than translated into bloody murders on the field of battle or the scaffold. How different was our beautiful French Revolution, which based itself on the rights, not of the French, but of man, and wished neither truce not rest until it had made the tour of the world. The English Revolution was in full contradiction with itself, since its idea of liberty was exclusive.

What’s more, the English pushed respect for the law to the highest point, extolling it among themselves as a rare quality. It would be necessary, on the contrary, to blame them for it. Like all human creations, the laws should appear before the tribunal of our conscience and we should only submit to them when they are in perfect harmony with the moral law that lives within us. If they are in disagreement with eternal justice, we must disobey them. So it is sad to see a proud and noble people, like the English, lean, when it is a question of their liberty, not on immutable right, but on an old Charter from times gone by; it is sad to see them still bow before all the old customs of the past, monstrous and barbaric customs perpetuated despite the passage of the centuries. Respect for the law is moral cowardice. The English cannot deny it: they develop, but it is from consequence to consequence, rather than from negation to negation. England, said M. Guizot in his youth, is the eagle with bent wings, which build, repairs and embellishes its nest, and neglects to take up again its flight toward the regions of the sun. However, the great day will also come for it, for the vengeances have been long accumulating.

We French, we perhaps owe the privilege of initiative to the fortunate mixture of races that came to melt together in our natal land. In France there collided and united the battling Gauls, the Francs with their intrepid souls, the intelligent Goths, the iron Huns, the bronze Romans, the fiery Arabs. All of these peoples, after clashing in our countrysides, were united, and from all of them that we descend, we the standard-bearers of the future!

Because we are the sons of all these nations, we have inherited that instinct of hospitality that we carry to shine around us. Before our 19th century, it was necessary for a renowned foreigner, become European, that they pass through France, and now it is from France that all speak all these new ideas, even the intuition of which splits open the old world.

As for the Germans, they advance slowly, but they arrive; they do not have the lively, joyous form of the men of the south; they do not return, like us, from facts to their causes, but in descending from their philosophical theories to see their application in the facts, they perceive that the facts and justice are in permanent contradiction. Now we see them descend into the arena of Revolution to attempt at once our Revolution of 1792 and our Social Revolution, a Revolution that we still await. If we have hastened to accomplish our work, the will outdistance us on the road of the future.

Everyone knows the history of the French Revolution, which began in 1789 and has continued until our times through many incidents and bloody dramas. The old order was violently abolished; the will of one alone gave place to the will of all, the links of official religion were broken, the jurandes and masters were replaced by free competition, which were after all only the freedom of monopoly, but which substituted despotism with chance and luck. This was the coming of the bourgeoisie.

We know how that bourgeoisie contributed to the fall of Napoleon, who did not leave it any moment of repose. Despotic reaction against the liberty and personification of the people at once, the Emperor fell under the blows of the bourgeoisie and some Cossacks leagued together for the good of commerce and of the Holy Alliance. Jealous of its acquired privileges, the aristocracy of finance was then for fifteen years a livid opposition to the nobles and to the priests who tried to regain their ancient rights; finally succeeded in bringing the people to its side, and the revolution of July struck one fine day, not for the profit of the poor who had made it, but for that of the rich who had hidden. This Revolution, we know, has preserved the word liberty on its flags, the word equality in its lying charter, but it has found no badge, no altar on which to engrave the word fraternity. Without concern for duties, this era of selfishness appeals only to rights, knowing well that without duty, right cannot even survive.

It is then that was manifested in all its splendor the constitutional monarchy, a sort of political pendulum on which three acrobats make at once some tightrope-walkers’ turns. It is a sort of political eclecticism as absurd as philosophical eclecticism, as transitory, as impossible, for there the elective principle and Royalty find themselves in open war. It is because of the elective principle that the Royalties of 1815 and 1830 have capsized; it is because of that principle that they will all be overturned, even when, as in England, the three powers will be at the same time the representatives of the aristocracy. There is no middle ground possible between the people and Caesar; let the State be gobbled up in the person of a single man, or let all take part in the government of all. If one does not want the sovereignty of the people, let them open wide the doors of the Republic to Nicholas!

Besides, the question has been judged: the constitutional monarchy is dead; might it have pleased God if our shame and our sorrows were dead with it! Might it have pleased God that the bourgeoisie that reigned under the name of Louis-Philippe had ended its reign! For eighteen years we have seen it in the work of the royal cabinets and under the pillars of the Bourse: we have seen for eighteen years how its Coryphaeuses invite the foreign kings to spit on our flag, provided that they are given a moment of rest and they merchandise is allowed to sail freely across the oceans. When our soldiers forget the route to the border, we have seen them, with sadness, learn that of our roads; we have often heard the noise of the fusillade and the dying gasp of those guilty of having been hungry. We have seen, and still see, the rich crush the poor for their wealth; we have seen them, and still see them, nourish themselves each day with the bread of the unfortunate, a bread soaked with tears, a bread soaked with blood.

For eighteen years a hideous breath of interest and selfishness has crept over France: finally has come the Revolution of scorn, the throne has disappeared and the bourgeois had begun once again to celebrate the magnanimous people, the magnanimous people whom they would have mowed down if they had been defeated.


But they were the victors. The bronze cannons and soldiers with long bayonets retreated before a flood of people grown pale with hunger and tattered with poverty. It is in vain that the royal rifles sought chests, behind each attacked pressed a wave of attackers and from each window tumbles a paving stone. Oh! It was a fine day indeed when thousands of combatants, proud of having paid for the victory with their wounds, unfurled to the wind a torn scrap, symbol of the Republic, or piously escorted the corpse of a brother, crying at once tears of sadness and enthusiasm. It was a fine day when we saw a king, who flattered himself with imprisoning the rioters once more, pale at the approach of the people and seek a dank cellar in his splendid castle. It was a fine day for us, men of the provinces who learned at the same time of the struggle and the victory, for the old men of 89 who would hardly find a tear of pleasure in their weary eyes; for the martyrs of the Republic, who we congratulated because they were free, but who se feliciterent de ce que France was. On that day many hopes were born in hearts, vain hopes that would change into dread for those who have les fait mentir. Whatever the case, all the reforms would take place, political, social and religious.

For all the reforms simultaneously correspond with and continue one another in the course of the centuries. In a historical work it would be easy to prove that the paganism of a thousand gods all foreign to one another is necessarily united with the exclusive citizenship of the ancient republics, with the slavery of the vanquished nations; just so, catholicism responds in the political order to feudalism, in the social order to servitude. Moreover, there is no need for recourse to proofs to know that when a principle governs it is manifested everywhere and that one liberty calls out to all the other liberties. We are also firmly assured that the true sovereignty of all, the true socialism, the true Christianity will only reach their ideal together, for all the slaveries se tiennent and man is really free from man only when he is free from error. It is the truth that makes us free.

We will not discuss all the events that have followed one another in France and abroad since the Revolution of 48; it is the work of a historian, that of the critic is to deduce the consequences of the principles laid down. And we will only note the political, social and religious aims of the great reversal that has been accomplished.

Our political goal is not secret to anyone; it is, after the religious ideal, the first one we have fought for. We will only end our incessant struggles when we have attained the complete liberation of all people. So it is not enough to emancipate each nation individually from the tutelage of its kings; it is still necessary to liberate it from the supremacy of other nations, and it is necessary to abolish these limits, these frontiers that make enemies of sympathetic men. It is to us that is reserved the splendid glory of removing all these impious limits and of baptizing the rivers and mountains that separate two homelands with the name of the universal homeland.

Our rallying cry is no longer: Long live the Republic! The Republic is already almost an accomplished fact, since it is already sixty years ago that we proclaimed it; our cry is Long live the Universal Republic, that future Republic where the Greeks will have the same rights as the French, where the Samoyed will speak in the same assembly as the Parisian. Do you not already see that the national hatreds are being erased and that we designate men by their opinions rather than their homelands? There are now in the world only men of the future and men of the past, and each of these two immense parties forms a gigantic confederation that continues in all countries without distinction of race or language. We democrats are united at heart, not you French egoists who sell the flesh of the people and who selfishly clip the coins with which you pay for the widow’s blood; not with you blazoned French, who would like so much to bring back the century when we, villeins, were only game for the nobles; but with you we are united at heart, proud Hungarians who have sowed the corpses of four enemy armies in your mountain passes; with you, fine Italians who strip the robe from the priest for whom they had twisted your body, lacerated by bayonets; with you, exiles of all peoples, oppressed of all nations, wretches of all climates, with you against your German oppressors, against your French oppressors. We will defeat all these tyrants ranged in close lines and when we have struck them dead we will grasp your fraternal hands and we will establish the Republic of men.

So the provisional government had an intuition of the truth when it declared the treaties of 1815 and launched its manifesto to Europe. Since Richelieu, the pen of the Minister bled the nationalities as in the past the sword of the conqueror had done and what we call European equilibrium was simply a system of colossal jealousy, which gathered all the powers against the strongest among them and sought as much as possible to weaken each nation individually. For the first time morality has been regarded as the finest of politics and relations between peoples have been assimilated to relations between men. It is true that we have fallen back into the diplomatic past, but it is only for a time; when we exit from it anew, it will be for always.

Thus, to summarize, our political aim in each individual nation is to abolish the aristocratic privileges and in the entire earth it is the fusion of all the peoples. Our destiny is to arrive at that state of ideal perfection where the nations will no longer need to be under the tutelage of a government or of another nation; it is the absence of government, it is anarchy, the highest expression of order. Those who do not think that the earth can ever pass from tutelage, those who do not believe in progress, are reactionaries.

But political liberty is nothing without the other liberties; it is nothing without the social liberties. Can this word liberty have meaning for those whose sweat is not enough to buy bread for the family, for those workers who obtain new woes in the revolutions they make themselves? Isn’t the sovereignty of the people a subject for laughter when it is exercised by men covered in tatters and dying of hunger? Can the right to go once a year to carry a bit of paper to the city hall of his canton compensate them for the right to live? We will not repeat everything that has already been said about competition, which transforms the world into one vast arena, an arena where the gladiators fight to the death, where the avid spectators descend from their bleachers to also plunge their furious arms into a palpitating chest, to press under their triumphant knee a life that slips away. This world, whose ideal would be the perfect love of all for all, is transformed into a bloody drama where the happiness of one alone is composed of the tears of several, where the food of the rich man is torn from the tears of the widow.

Defenders of competition, do not respond when you are attacked, for your defenses themselves must lead to socialism. You make liberty the support of competition, but all men have an equal right to liberty: that is socialism. Despite yourselves, the conclusions of all your harangues are themselves their own refutation and the inevitable refrain of all your pamphlets is: Associate yourselves! Associate! For, in invoking liberty, you work toward the slavery of the worker. Would the aim of liberty then be servitude? Associate yourselves! Associate!

For a long time already, a mass of socialist systems have come to light in the world of ideas, all based on the theoretical equality of men, all leading more or less to practical equality. All these systems are true, to the extent that they rest on that true principle, but false as soon as they distance themselves from it in their consequences. They will all be false to the extent that they have not been modified by practice; that is inevitable in human affairs.

In order for socialism to arrive at its perfect expression, in order for it to really be the human ideal of society, it must safeguard at once the rights of the individual and the rights of all; each individual in the human association must develop freely according to their means and faculties, without being hindered in it in any way by their brothers; it is necessary, at the same time, that the well-being of all profits from the labor of each. Some communist varieties, in reaction against the present society, have the air of believing that men must be absorbed into the mass and no longer be anything but something like one of the innumerable arms of a polyp that moves on its reef or like the drops of water lost in the sea and raise by the hurricane in a single wave. They are greatly mistaken: man is not an accident, but a free, necessary and active being, who unites, it is true, with his fellows, but is not mixed up with them.

It is against socialism especially that the furors of reaction are directed, but their cannonades are as senseless as if they launched them against the passing air, against the wind that blows, for socialism, before being a system, is above all a tendency; it does not live in the books of Proudhon or L. Blanc, but in the heart of the people; this vibrant heart that beats for the moment of its deliverance, it lives in the hearts of these poor peasants, naive and artless, whom we deceive with treacherous lies and who make a weapon of universal suffrage to postpone their own happiness; socialism floats in the atmosphere, it enters into the house of the resentful bourgeois and sits down at his table. It is in vain that the immobilists conjure away an invisible, untouchable enemy that glides from mind to mind. Even when they will burn the world in order to burn at the same time the new idea that shakes it, the sons of their own wombs will rise and curse them in the name of the idea that they have hated.

We have seen a vague semblance of a league form against socialism, a vain semblance since everyone laughed at it, even the promoters. How is the old system not dead, since even its defenders no longer believe in it, since they no longer have the vivifying faith that passes over all obstacles? How is the old system not dead, since its defenders only know how to launch powerless accusations, in order to obscure the difficulties of the defense? They deny the truth of socialism, but they do not know how to affirm the perfection of their own society, since it is only a heap of ruins and lies. The new idea, on the contrary, denies the old idea and affirms itself; these two things are the conditions of its existence. As for the old idea, it has no positive side: so it does not exist, and it is a vain appearance.

But it is not in the material satisfaction of the needs of man that our ideal lies. We have a very otherwise elevated aim, and this aim, it is God, the highest liberty. Each must march towards it, free and independent of the will of others, for love goes from each man to God and does not need to be offered by another than him, or to be enclosed in a narrow barrier raised by the hand of man and guarded by human anathemas. Isn’t it shameful, when it is a question of the powerful God, of the God who fills everything, to see religious nationalities enemies of one another, to see in these nationalities different castes of masters or oppressed? Isn’t it shameful to see these things in the domain of the Eternal, as if he were a common king? So when will come the day of the Christian Republic, the day when all the brothers of Jesus Christ will be equal and free, when the conscience of each will be the rule of religion, when there will no longer be priests, nor fetters, nor limits, but only and always love? It is then that man could again warm his heart in the rays of the eternal sun, and water it with the celestial harmonies; for the soul of man is a harp more sonorous than all the harps of Aeolus, beautiful now that death walks its fingers across it, splendid with harmonies when life itself will make it resound! For the supreme aim of man is a hymn of love in honor of the all-loving God!


So is it necessary to fear these Revolutions that raise up peoples against peoples and often sweep men away one day as if by a hurricane? No, if the salvation of humanity comes at this price, I invoke them, I demand them with loud cries: choose your victims, reap to right and left some harvests of corpses, provided that our descendants are happy! If the boat where we are can only reach land lightened of some sailors, well! let us be thrown into the sea and later, in a joyous song, let them speak of the men of heart who perished in the waves.

What do your clamors matter to us, little men whom the sun blinds and who insult it in order to be avenged? A day will come when we will say to you: Return to the dust, and you will return to the dust and we will ask ourselves if you have only been a dream.

Yes, you have only been a dream. What use are your convulsive shudders, your dreads, your prayers, your threats? Master of cannons, you shiver at the sound of a mocking laugh; a book, a little book makes your citadels tremble. You no longer have but a few days to live, days full of sadness and anguish.

Men of the past, submerged people, I invite you to the great day that you foresee and that you sing in your naive epics. Lined up with the clouds of the horizon, you could see on the plain the dragon of the past, with its rusty scales, and the angel of the future piercing it with its lance of gold.


The note “1851 Montauban” was written after the fact by Elisée Reclus at the head of the manuscript. But in 1851 Elisée Reclus was no longer in Montauban: he had stayed there in 1849, when he took his studies with his brother Elie at the college of theology, from which they had later both been expelled because of the too obvious liberty of thought they demonstrated. (See Volume I of the Correspondence of Elisée Reclus.) In 1851, Elisée Reclus was already at the university of Berlin: a letter from the month of April of that year, published at the beginning of the third volume of the Correspondence shows the point to which he had arrived in the era or evolution of his religious ideas: that letter is not without analogies with the manuscript. In any case, that latter was conceived shortly after the revolutionary period of 1848 and reflects the ideas of Reclus around the age of twenty.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

Comments Off on Elisée Reclus in the Era of Anarchy

Filed under 1850s, anarchist history, Elisée Reclus

Proudhon, “Ideas,” Chapter I (from “Justice”)

[This translation is based on a working text, compiled from bit and pieces by me, Jesse Cohn and at least one translation engine. I have gone back to the original text to double-check everything, and all the final choices are my responsibility. Some of the pretty parts are definitely all Jesse.]
– – –
Jesus replied to the Pharisees who questioned him about the adulteress: “He who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”
Speaking for myself, as a sinner, I cannot use the language that the holiest of the holy, defending a sinner, allowed himself to use towards the hypocritical and fornicating Pharisees, with regard to you, an archbishop who, not content to indict my ideas, throws suspicion on my morals. I do not therefore accuse you or any of your colleagues in the priesthood of sin; I believe your life to be as pure as your faith, and abstain from any recrimination. Odiosa restringenda.You strike me in my person: I shall make no reprisal in kind.
But here is what I shall say to you all, pontiffs of the Most High: Those of you who know the law have cast stones at me.
Yes, I would consent to any shame if you could prove to me that the Church knows Justice, and having been raised in her bosom, I would say that it is my fault, my fault alone, and my very great fault, to have been guilty; I should wish, I say, to be humiliated, punished, chastised, as if I were the first and only prevaricator.
But you know nothing of law or right. With regard to all aspects of life, you lack principles and rules. I have already proven this five times over; allow me, at the beginning of this study, to remind you of this.
With respect to Persons, you have no morals. Your Decalogue is a catalogue of categories, your Gospel a collection of parables, your charity merely the first stammering of Justice. Far from having a theory of individual right, your dogma recoils from it, and the Church having founded its hierarchy and its discipline on this dogma, your priestly interests oppose any theory that would contradict it.
Regarding Goods, you have no morals: your dogma recoils from it, and your interests are opposed to it.
In matters of Government, you have no morals: your dogma recoils from it, and your interests are opposed to it.
In matters of Education, you have no morals: your dogma recoils from it, and your interests are opposed to it.
In matters of Labor, you have no morals: your dogma recoils from it, and your interests are opposed to it.
And I will show you that with regard to Ideas, you have no more morals; that in this, as in everything else, your maxims reduce to pure arbitrariness; that the application of Justice to the intellect is incompatible with your dogma, and that your most valued interests opposed it.
“What!” you cry, “a morality of ideas! What is this? We have never heard morality spoken of in such a connection. What could the precepts of the conscience and the conceptions of intellect have in common? That which enters the brain is not what pollutes man, only that which comes from the heart. Will you argue that logic, metaphysics, dialectic, are all branches of morality?”
Patience, monsignor, and you shall see what this is all about. It is a discovery of the Revolution. It cannot be taught in the seminary, and the archbishop would turn up his nose at it.
Idea of a method for directing the mind in search of truth, in accordance with modern science. — Elimination of the absolute.
I. — Man is subject to error: this is an imperfection of his nature which cannot be attributed to crime.
But strangely, and only for our species, from this infirmity of judgment man has made crime into a specialty. The more he knows himself to be subject to error, the more likely he is to lie, so much so that, in general, there are no greater hoaxers than the people who know best how man errs. Rather than extend a hand to their brother, they knock him down: Omnis homo mendax.
It is therefore of great interest, not only for the health of our minds, but for the integrity of our conscience, that we learn, from the outset, to direct ourselves without the help of anyone in the search for truth, then to check each other in our judgments and safeguard each other against all kinds of lies: our honor and our freedom depend on it.
Where can I find this guidance?
As I wish, even when dealing with ideas, to stay faithful to my system of experimentalism, I will give the floor to one of our most positive scientists, one who is least suspected of any metaphysical and revolutionary tendency, M. Babinet, of the Institute.
Question. — Why, wonders M. Babinet, have the end of the last century and the first half of this one seen so many physical inventions, so new, so beautiful, so useful, and so wonderful, while the progress of the imaginative arts, or even of the metaphysical and philosophical sciences, has utterly lacked such brilliance?
You see, my lord, the witness whom I call should not frighten you at all. M. Babinet, a popularizing mind who does not engage in empty talk, excludes from the progress made over the past century the metaphysicaland philosophical sciences; in which regard I have no doubt that he is in agreement with you. Of course, if he dared say what he thought, he would add to the metaphysical and philosophical sciences the moral and political, in which, my lord, your religion greatly rejoices. But read between the lines. M. Babinet, by listing the modern discoveries of railways, the electric telegraph, the daguerreotype, the stereoscope, the bioscope, the electrotype, electrical gold- and silver-plating, all relating to physics, allows us to clearly understand what he includes in the category of the philosophical. He will not count as part of our progress English political economy, free trade, moral restraint, centralization, popular suffrage, the principle of nationalities and natural boundaries.
Answer. – When schools and books have concerned themselves with knowing whether matter could be conceived without the concept of space and time, if the essential qualities of existence depended on such and such necessary quality, if matter, space and time, these three major foundations of the universe in which we live, or rather in which we think, if, as I say, these three major events are indispensible to the existence of beings, so that, for example, we might create a world with no physical substance, without space or time: what intelligence could manage to solve such questions?
But modern science is more modest. It does not seek the absolute, which is so difficult to discover; it contents itself with relations, which are not easily accessible to our intelligence. So I do not know the essence of the material substance, but I can compare a given weight, the gram, and state what some body weighs in grams and milligrams. The essence of the space is unknown to me, but I can measure a given space, the whole earth, France, or Paris, in kilometers and meters. I do not know what time is in itself, but I can say that this duration is so many seconds, the second being the 86400th part of the day, with invariable periods. I do not know what mechanical force and movement is in itself, but I imprison steam, and I measure its elasticity in order to use it later on to move huge masses … Man no more knows the inmost nature of the power of the steam locomotive he has created than he has known, for some thousands of years, the nature of the force in the horse, camel, or elephant that served his locomotion … (Revue des Deux-Mondes, July 1853.)
II. — Manibus et pedibus descendu in tuam sententiam, M. Babinet. All this is supreme good sense, I would even dare say great philosophy. After all, it should not be the word that frightens us, or that the learned M. Babinet should forget it: this beautiful method, which does honor to the physicists of the past hundred years, is a discovery of the philosophers, who have borrowed it from those engaged in labor and industry; I would venture to say that it is the first article of any real philosophy. But, without going back to the ancients, who first groped with experimentation, without even speaking of the people of the Middle Ages, who also made some progress in the art of experimenting with things before venturing to speak of them aloud, was it not Bacon who, in the seventeenth century, signaled this decisive renovation, marked in advance in the fifteenth century by the Renaissance and by the Reformation in the sixteenth.
And notice how, when ideas are ripe, everything contributes to their spread.
The world, for the past few thousand years, disdaining the crude empiricism of its artisans, has lost itself in abstractions, universals, and categories. Because the understanding, analyzing acts of spontaneity, as we said in the previous study, had attained its own ideas, its own instrument of thought, its own tools of knowledge, it had imagined it possessed the truth of nature in its notions, and that it no longer needed, in order to grasp this truth, any data of experience. God knows how much time humanity lost in chasing after chimeras! The reaction of observational and operational common sense had yet to arrive: now it has arrived.
It is Bacon first of all who, under the name of induction, invites science to seek the truth, not in the unobservable substance, but in the relations of the phenomena observed; it is Descartes who recommends the creation of precise classifications, according to these same relations; it is Montesquieu who defines law as the relationof things; it is freemasonry that symbolizes relations by the compass, the level, and the square, and personified them in its great architect; it is Aug. Comte who makes relations the basis of his positivism, and thereby excludes metaphysics and theology; it is M. Cournot who gives as the sole purpose of philosophy the search for the reason of things; finally, it is M. Babinet, a good witness, who attributes all the discoveries, all the advances of modern science exclusively to the discovery of relations. Is it not true that the reign of the relation has begun for civilization, which from now on swears only by this idea?
What distinguishes the philosophical movement after Bacon, it is not, as has been said, and as M. Frédéric Morin took quite useless pains to it, having invented the experiment, but having reduced the pure idea to the technical operation technique that gave rise to it, it is having learned, by putting philosophical reason at the service of experience, to formulate conclusions methodically, always relative to reason, to the relations of things, whereas previously the experiment, being subject to philosophical reason, seeking with it the in itself of things, the absolute, concluded nothing at all. This was the tendency of Descartes, who, completing the work of Bacon, tried to transport into the study of the human mind the method of which he had so well proven the power in the physical sciences and mathematics, and by that supreme attempt achieved the renewal of philosophy and made the Revolution possible. Because, you see, most of those who, in our modern age, were reputed as philosophers—Bacon, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibnitz, Newton, Pascal, Galileo, Rousseau, Kant, etc.—had started by doing experiments of physics, practicing a profession, inventing machines, calculating, measuring, etc. They were, to be honest, industrious men of the first rank, men who remade philosophy all by themselves, with hand and brain.
Descartes was mistaken in his metaphysics, as he was mistaken in his vortex, and this can prove just one thing: how much experience, what a difficult are experiment and observation is, and what traps the imagination lays for the philosopher. But the sort of spiritualist reaction brought about by Descartes, which we can look regard as completed, has itself served progress, since it confirmed, by a final and memorable example, the principle of Bacon, namely that pure ideas, concepts, categories and universals, removed from the fertilization of manual work and experience, are only proper to maintain in the mind a sterile daydream, which depletes and kills it.
The principle of M. Babinet is thus impeccable, and for my part I do not hesitate to make it mine. There are in things only relations that are accessible to our intelligence: as for nature in itself, it escapes us. To concern ourselves with it, is to demonstrate an anti-scientific spirit. Neglecting the absolute, as Babinet says, to deal only with relations: this is the summary of the method that industry pursues in knowledge, that philosophy has spent two thousand years formulating, to which we owe all the knowledge that we possess of physics, which has earned us already, in the sciences of the mind, the valuable researches of Montesquieu, Vico, Herder, Lessing, Condorcet, and the raw materials of social economy.
Thus, here is what is understood. What Mr. Babinet calls the things in themselves, as when he speaks of matter in itself, time in itself, space in itself, force in itself, or the Absolute, is just that which philosophy calls the metaphysical, ontological, or transcendental aspect of things, in opposition to the observable, measurable, comparable part, which constitutes the phenomenal aspect. To the examples cited by Mr. Babinet, we can add cause, substance, life, soul, mind, matter, and all the pure concepts or ideas, up to and including that of God.
And the scientific method, that which has produced all modern discoveries, consists, as it have just been said with incomparable lucidity by Mr. Babinet, not of negating the in itself of things, that which the mind conceives as their subject, substratum, or support, without which it is able to penetrate it and understand nothing, but in leaving behind this in itself, this transcendental aspect, caput mortuum of the intellectual alembic, in order to attach itself exclusively to phenomenality, to relations.
III. — Here monsignor, I imagine that you are ready to reply, with an ironic smile:
“We know the high pretensions of modern philosophy. We know that it aims at nothing less than to submit all ideas, all beliefs, to the test of its empiricism, to render perceptible to the crudest intelligences what can only be achieved by a deep meditation, further aided by a long preparation of the heart. The grace of Jesus Christ, in our view, does not only justify, it illuminates. Philosophy flatters itself that it may speak cogently of Justice and morality without the help of grace; that it may penetrate the secrets of the Divine without the aid of revelation; that it may govern society without religion. In short, since Bacon, philosophy has aspired to do without God. Diderot, Buffon, La Place and so many others, did not hide their intentions in this regard. Rather than admit his intervention anywhere, they set limits to his power, they attributed it to the universe. What the eye cannot see, the ears cannot hear, induction or generalization cannot explain, in their view, does not exist. These are their maxims, and we understand them fully.
“Unfortunately, we see that this philosophical pride cannot be sustained. Hardly was its career begun, its method given, its goal indicated, before philosophers began to theologize more than the Scholastics ever had. Certainly they made some fine discoveries in the physical sciences: but it was only ever to return with even greater force to metaphysical things, those things that, according to their own definitions, they should not be concerned with at all, since according to them, they do not exist. Galileo comments on the Bible, Descartes demonstrates the existence of God and the immortality of the soul, Pascal writes on grace and refutes the Jesuits, Newton explains the Apocalypse; Spinoza—like Malebranche, who sees everything in God—reconstructed religion after his own fashion; Kant declares the impotence of Pure Reason to reach God, from whence he returns to practical reason; Rousseau and Voltaire are deists, in other words, libertine and inconsistent Christians; Leibniz invented his pre-established harmony, his monads, his best of all possible worlds, all in order to reconcile God’s prescience with the philosopher’s freedom. What particularly torments them is to know, in the absence of God and his religion, upon what moral law and political order may be established: it is then that we must see them theologize and metaphysicize with a vengeance. And to achieve this, oh, my God! One of them, the skeptic Bayle, had vainly maintain—and he certainly was, in this respect, perfectly in agreement with the method—that an atheist society was possible: the proposition was regarded as a philosophical eccentricity. Nobody followed him. The only one who wanted to follow him, Hobbes, took the side of denying Justice; he replaced it with power and despotism. This was the signal for a retreat. Spinoza, that Hercules of the Absolute, entitles his book the Theologico-Political Treatise, and the first book of his Ethicsis a proof of God’s existence. Voltaire took for his motto: god and freedom. Rousseau declared that he does not believe that an atheist can be an honest man. Robespierre decreed the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. Napoleon makes the Concordat. Let us not speak of others, who have neither the merit of audacity, nor the good faith to repent: they are Tartuffes.
“How then, if philosophy is so sure of its method — if, since Bacon, it has really renounced any research on the in-itself of things — why is it that, since Bacon, philosophy has continually returned to this? Why has it not yet been able to apply itself to moral and political affairs, where it would be so useful, where it would be so interesting to see it prove itself? What prevents it from advancing? Why is it that, particularly over the past century, while the physical sciences have given us in rapid succession the steam engine, railroads, the electric telegraph, etc., the progress of the moral and political sciences, represented by one of the five classes of the Institute, in which there is always one or more scientists, has been so mediocre, if not absolutely zero? What do I say? Why is our whole moral philosophy reduced to a perpetual tribute to the Absolute, to religion? Would that not be proof that matters of morality and politics are not within the competence of human knowledge, that revelation is necessary here, etc., etc.?”
IV. — Whence comes all this, monsignor? Is it for you, minister of the Church, in possession for over eighteen hundred years of a monopoly on education and morality, charged by divine authority to agitate the conscience and intimidate the mind, to whom the secular arm has never denied its office for the suppression of free thinkers, is it your place to pose such a question? Eh! Otherwise, there is barely two centuries ago that the world began to philosophize with a little result and method, to observe before concluding. It is not a hundred years since the Revolution has freed philosophers and their books from the pyre, and you are surprised that we have not made more progress! You do not know, or you feign not to know, that the first in philosophy were almost always the first in faith, and that it is for the religious and reasoning soul at the same time a terrible crisis that the moment where we are must cross, never to return, the chasm separating philosophy and religion from one another! You do not understand that prejudice, when it is so deep, so universal, so perfectly organized, and so well defended, takes a long time to destroy; that truth is acquired only at the cost of enormous effort, that if the intuition is quick, generalization is slow and difficult, and that in every revolution there are retreats and relapses? Yes, certainly, what stops, since Descartes, the materialistic, pantheistic and idealistic philosophers, makes them all grapple, and fosters contradiction and doubt among them, what has put the philosophy at your feet and is always consideration of this in itself, sometimes mind, sometimes matter, sometimes universe or soul of the world, sometimes pure idea, which sensualism and spiritualism accustom us from infancy to seek in all things, by which we return ceaselessly like the pagan to his idol, and for whom we are fighting in our books, until we meet on the public square. But do not lose patience: the spectacle you are witnessing is the last battle given by positive philosophy to the Absolute. The lost time will soon be regained. Already we are beginning to recognize ourselves. Do you not sense the ironic intent of this scientist who, in speaking of metaphysics, embraces all your theology?
See how far M. Babinet would have led you with his argument, if academic caution had not closed his mouth!
V. — We have spoken of the physical sciences, you say. Let us speak of the sciences of life and society.
If we consider the vital phenomena in the animal kingdom, I can classify the animals by genera and species, according to the laws of their organizations. I can compare the events of life in all conditions of structure and environment. This study will provide me with zoology, or the science of living beings, but as for life itself, I know nothing about it. Truly, I see Zoological phenomena as relating to some je ne sais quoi, some fluid or anything you like, which I call life or the for principle of, which chooses its materials and organizes them, protects them against chemical attraction and dissolution, distributes them throughout the organized bodies, particularizes them, animates and sustains them all, as the waterspout supports sustains the bodies that it carries off in its vortex. For all these reasons, I can conceive of life as an essence, a particular in-itself, an absolute, to which I relate vital phenomena; it is even necessary for me to conceive of it as such, in order to distinguish the facts of organic nature from those of inorganic nature. The confusion of physiology and physics, based on the hypothesis, impossible to prove, of the identity of the vital principle and the chemical principle, becomes for me the cause of a disorganization of science itself. But science, which goes just as far as the concept and posits it, can no longer tell whether the object conceived is matter or something other than matter, if it is a substratum different from matter or a particular state of matter; it does not penetrate so far, and so stops short. Not to deny the in-itself of life, but to suppose it, to distinguish it, is all that I can do. Before science, this life becomes an intelligible reality only within phenomena; beyond that, it is no longer anything but a hypothesis—a necessary one, it is true, but a hypothesis.
Any speculation on the vital principle considered in itself, and apart from the organisms in which it appears and is determined, therefore, is prohibited to me: it could only lead to confusion in science. Is life a principle apart, or the same thing as attraction, heat, and electricity? Do crystals form like plants, and plants like quadrupeds? What is the universal life that some religionists propose to put in place of the crucifix? Does the ensemble of all organized beings form an organism, and does that organism form another along with inorganic bodies? Are the earth and sun living or dead? Is the universe a great animal? What makes life enter a body, or, more accurately, what makes up a body, and then abandons it?… Such questions are of the ultra-experimental order; they exceed science, and pursued to the end, can lead to superstition and madness.
VI. — Considering, then, the manifestations of life in a given animal—the human animal, for example—I can, by distinguishing among these manifestation those that that have as an object the life of relationship, sensation and intelligence, conceiving them as a distinct system design separate, whose substratum will always be borrowed from life, widespread in the universe, but which, because of the form it has received, will no longer be the same as that which I place in the lion or horse. To this animic totality, within which I discern some organs which are supposed to contain and serve it, I give the name of soul, anima, ψυχή; then, confining myself to the observation of its abilities, its attributes, its modes, as they are manifested in the relationship of man with his fellow man and with the universe, I can make these new researches into a separate science, what I might call psychology. And as I have spoken of the soul of man, the psychology of humanity, I could also speak of the soul and psychology of animals. Up to this point, the science is of good quality; it is not based on abstractions, but on phenomena.
But what is the soul itself? Is it simple or compound? Material or immaterial? Is it subject to death? Does it have a gender? What is a soul separated from its body, and what was meant by the departure of heroes, as Rabelais put it? Where do souls go after death? What is their occupation? Do they return to inhabit other bodies? Can a man’s soul become the soul of a horse, and vice versa? Can we further distinguish, in the soul, the spiritual principle from the physical principle, in the same way that we distinguished the physical principle from the vital principle? Are there angels, and what is the nature and function of these pure spirits? Are they above or below humanity? Must we believe in apparitions? What are we to make of the rapping spirits that, at this time, disturb the Americans’ reason?
Ultra-scientific questions, says Mr. Babinet, which reason can not help giving a few hours, if only to consider them, but the pursuit of which could only lead to charlatanism, hypocrisy, the degradation of truth, the corruption of the mind and the stultification of the people. In order for us to be entitled to assert the existence of separate souls, it would have to be because that existence was revealed to us by specific phenomena, other than those that have gave risen to the conception of these transcendental natures. But we only know the human soul through manifestations of which the body is the essential vehicle, so that, since physical phenomenality has physiological phenomenality for its condition, and vice versa, we find ourselves, having distinguished the soul from the body for the necessities of scientific observation, we are equally powerless to conclude that the soul apart from the body, or the body apart from the soul, is anything. The most learned philosophy, that of Spinoza, identifies the soul and the body, spirit and matter, as two modes of being of the cosmic substance, the quid of which is increasingly mysterious. It is the concept of the fusion of two concepts: what a beautiful science!
VII. — Considering, finally, each soul, each self, as a focal site in which are reflected and combined all the relations of things and society, I give to this soul, in so far as it receives the representations or ideas of things and their relations, comparing, combining, and evaluating them, giving or withholding its support to them, the name of intelligence; in so far as it observes, compares, and combines the relations of the society of which it forms a part, drawing general formulas from them, from which it then constructs mandatory rules, I give it the name of conscience.
But while distinguishing in the soul the conscience and intelligence, with their respective manifestations, I am not going to take these two faculties, in themselves, as the object of my study, as if I wished to make myself acquainted with these new characters directly. I remember that life, as well as matter, is only one way to conceive of the in-itself of unobservable things, the soul, another in-itself, the intelligence, another in-itself, a concept grafted onto another concept, something that is not nothing, as it is a function of the soul, which is, like life, gravity and light, a function of life, but which, apart from the use that philosophy makes of them, in order to tie up the thread of its observations, becomes as nothing for us.
It is on this condition that there exists, for the intelligence and for the conscience, as for the soul and life, a whole order of phenomena, events and relations to study, and consequently a whole science of phenomenal realities to be constructed. This is what the Academy of Philosophical and Moral Sciences was established for. Mr. Babinet must know this better than anyone.
The science of the laws of the intelligence, will be called, if you like, logic. The science of the laws, or the rights and duties of conscience, shall be Justice, or, more generally, moral science. For both, as for all the sciences without exception, the first condition of knowledge will be to guard very carefully against any intermixture of the absolute. For it is obvious that if, for the mathematical and physical sciences, research on matter in itself, force in itself, or space in itself, now offer little danger, if, for anthropology, zoology and history, the belief in spirits [manes] is still basically harmless, it is no longer such when it comes to the direction of the understanding and the conscience. Here the slightest eccentricity gives rise to charlatans and rogues.
VIII. — Let us conclude this review of things-in-themselves.
What if now, having distinguished, with each successively emerging science that arises, a series of the in-itself, absolute, distinct from one another, first an in-itself of matter, then an in-itself of movement or force, then the in-itself of life, and so on, we conceive through thought all of these in-themselvesof which science has no right to speak, even though it presupposes them, but that it has no right to deny, although observation teaches nothing of them; if, I say, we conceive of all these various in-themselvesas the parts or facets of a single and universal in-itself that contains them all, then we will have an idea of a first and final subject, the father and substratumof all things.
We can say, therefore, that the in-itself of the universe, resulting from all part that of which it is made up, which we instinctively posit when we think about the universe, is substance, life, mind, intellect, will, Justice, and so on; that it necessarily exists, that it is eternal, etc. But as, according to all our analogies, an in-itselfwithout manifestations, without phenomenalities, without perceptible relations, is the same thing, for knowledge, as pure nothingness, it follows from this deduction, which summarizes all of metaphysics, that the in-itself of the universe, the absolute of absolutes, is nothing for us, and that only creation is something; that our science begins with visible things; and that the invisible, these in-themselves, of which the Nicene Creed speaks, of which we could well, through the progress of our science, see the number increase, are a plague on reason and the conscience, considered in themselves.
IX. – Here is what science would say, if it had the courage of its own discoveries, but what the prudence of scholars conceals, what the hypocrisy of philosophers will never avow, providing, as needed, some sophistries to the theory of the absolute and again, as in the past, putting reason in the service of theology.
Who could deny the defection of the princes of science? The reign of the absolute draws to a close: for sixty years, the systems it has produced have barely lasted an hour, as the progress of observation impoverishes, disrupts, and kills transcendentalism. And here, suddenly, with the connivance of those learned in us, es and xs, we are carried away by all the fantasies of the most hyperbolic gnosis!
The gnostic, whom the Orthodox Church declared anathema after having looted him, was not content to seek what matter and life are in themselves, to speculate on the soul of the world and eternal Being; he wondered about reason in itself, Justice in itself, ideas in themselves; about where these last were before entering into the human understanding; if they resided in God or on the surface of things; how they flew into the soul and crashed into the intelligence, etc. From this came about a genesis of metaphysical entities divided into groups and families, of which the most notable, the only one retained by Christianity, is the famous Trinity.
There exists, said the gnostic, in the womb of the divine soul, a reason that is coeternal with it and that emanates from it, the principle and type of all of our own reasons, we poor mortals: this is the word, the logos, the sophia, which enlightens every soul being born into life, uniting itself with it by a mysterious infusion. Then there is a conscience, a love, equally eternal, arising out of the supreme soul and the protogenic reason that inspires all conscience on earth, illuminates all charity, as the word illuminates all intelligence. This is the spirit, source of grace, consoler, sanctifier, life-giver.
The Father, the Son, the Spirit; Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis: we have seen great philosophers, men endowed with all the gifts of intelligence, eclectics, pantheists, mathematicians, chemists, dedicate themselves to this formula as if to the last word of science, and attach their ship to it like the anchor of safety for liberty.
The human conscience, following these respectable visionaries, thus constituting itself as transcendental, and Humanity arriving at the knowledge of its duty only through a divine revelation, whether internal or external, mediate or immediate, asks itself when and how this revelation is accomplished, by what sign it may be recognized, who may testify to it, and who is the custodian of its authority. According to some, this authority is the Church, instituted by the personified logos;according to others, it resides in the masses, in which inspiration is unwavering. Once there, there is no more difficulty: the Church crowns kings, the multitude delegates its powers or bleats its will; and the world goes on by itself, pulled by an invisible string.
The conclusion is known. More than two centuries after Bacon, when the physical sciences give us steam, the railways, the electric telegraph, and so many inventions—so new, so beautiful, so useful, so magnificent—European society feels its conscience fail, France loses its freedom with its manner, and e wonder with Mr. Babinet: How did this philosophy that animated the eighteenth century and produced the Revolution die? Quomodo cecidit potens qui sahum faciebat populum Israël?
Who will deliver us from metaphysical entities, innate ideas, and the logos, from the immortality of the soul and the Supreme Being? Who shall rid us of adoration and authority? For the fact is visible in all regards, this is the source of our sorrow, and our decadence has no other cause. The method, the morality of ideas, if I may put it that way, exists; physics, all the natural and positive sciences, show us its fruits. But now that it is a question of ourselves, we no longer know how to philosophize, and return to our vomit. When we consider what is above us, the in-itself of our soul, of our reason, of our consciousness, we no longer perceive what is in us—I mean the phenomenality of our selves, the only aspect of this self that we are permitted to know. Instead of gradually elevating ourselves to Justice by observation, we plunge more and more, headlong, into the absolute. The confusion of ideas leading in turn to the subversion of morals, we are punished for the hallucinations of our brains by the degradation of our hearts. Can we not finally eject from moral philosophy all these hypotheses on the afterlife, celestial essences, and the grand master of destinies, and then, having made this elimination, occupy ourselves with what we see?

[ to be continued in Chapter II]

Comments Off on Proudhon, “Ideas,” Chapter I (from “Justice”)

Filed under 1850s, Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Proudhon on “libertarians” in 1858

I’ve been working my way through those sections of Proudhon’s Justice in the Revolution and in the Church which I didn’t have to consult carefully while writing the chapter on the State, as the next step towards organizing the Proudhon book. There have been a few moments when I’ve kicked myself for not going back and looking at sections, and more than a few where passages I read through in 2008-9 look very different to me now. There are two studies which I’ve never even begun to really do justice, but, so far, the most interesting surprise has come from a rereading of the First Study, on “The Position of the Problem of Justice,” which I’ve felt pretty comfortable with.

In that study, Proudhon attempted to show that two prominent tendencies, which he frequently identified as “communism” and “individualism,” cannot lead to an adequate theory of justice. In the argument he was covering some of the same ground that Pierre Leroux had covered in his essay on “Individualism and Socialism.” He was also returning to a version of his own opposition of “community and property,” from What is Property? and moving beyond the “synthesis” proposed in that work to a theory of liberty and immanent justice that would incorporate the notion of the antinomies.

It’s a key moment in the development of his thought, but what struck me this time through was a shift in his vocabulary that I had not previously noticed. For what appears to be the first and last time in the writings I have been able to search, Proudhon spoke of les libertaires—the libertarians. This was in 1858, the same year that Joseph Déjacque launched his newspaper, Le Libertaire, in New York. But while Déjacque was using the term in what would become its standard form for many years, to designate anarchists, Proudhon seems to have anticipated the libertarians of the 20th century, using the term to designate the proponents of laissez faire, and free markets in which all interests would be harmonized to the extent that they were truly understood, provided the “interference of authority” was prevented.

It’s a peculiar, and rather prescient, moment. It should not, of course, surprise, given Proudhon’s back-handed acknowledgment of some kind of “market anarchy,” but the term libertaire is not one that we associate with Proudhon. I had, in fact, pretty well convinced myself that he had not used the term. (I notice that a friend and colleague, whose working translation of the study I had access to, had highlighted the term where it first appeared.) But to find that he had indeed, however briefly, used the term, and in very much the sense used by the modern proponents of laissez faire, while, of course, consigning those he designated by the term among those who cannot construct an adequate theory of justice, adds another interesting wrinkle to the intellectual history, as well as to the present-day wrangling over labels.

Here’s the section:

VI. — The mind goes from one extreme to the other. Advised by the failure of Communism, we are driven to the hypothesis of an unlimited freedom. The partisans of that opinion maintain that there, at base, no fundamental opposition between interests; that men all being of the same nature, all having need of one another, their interests are identical, and therefore easy to grant; that only ignorance of economic laws has caused this antagonism, which will disappear the day when, more enlightened with regard to our relations, we will return to liberty and nature. In short, we conclude that if there is disharmony between men, it comes above all from the interference of authority in things which are not within its competence, from the mania to regulate and legislate; that there is nothing to do but let liberty do its work, enlightened by science, and that all will infallibly return to order. Such is the theory of the modern economists, partisans of free trade, of laissez faire, laissez passer, of every man for himself, etc.

As we see, this is not yet to resolve the difficulty; it is to deny that it exists. – We have only to make your Justice, say the libertarians, since we do not admit the reality of the antagonism. Justice and utility are synonymous for us. It is enough that the so-called opposing interests are understood for them to be respected: virtue, in the social man, just as in the recluse, being only selfishness properly understood.

This theory, which makes social organization consist solely of the development of individual liberty, would perhaps be true, and we could say that the science of rights and the science of interests are merely one and the same science, if, the science of interests, or economic science, having been created, the application did not encounter any difficulty. This theory would be true, I say, if the interests could be fixed and rigorously defined once and for all; if, having been equal from the beginning, and later, in their development, having advanced at an equal pace, they had obeyed a constant law; if, in their increasing inequality, we did not encounter so much chance and the arbitrariness; if, despite so many shocking anomalies, the slightest project of regularization did not raise sharp protests on behalf of affluent individuals; if we could already foresee the end of the inequality, and consequently of the antagonism; if, by their essentially mobile and evolving nature, the interests did not continuously create obstacles, creating new and worsening inequalities between them; if they did not tend, despite everything, to invade, to supplant one another; if the mission of the legislator were not precisely, in the end, to consecrate by his laws, as it emerges, this science of the interests, of their relations, of their balance, and of their solidarity: a science which would be the highest expression of right if we could ever believe it to be complete, but a science which, coming always after and not before the difficulties, forced to impose its decisions through public authority, can very well serve as an instrument and auxiliary of order, but could not be taken for the very principle of order.

By these considerations, the theory of liberty, or enlightened self-interest, irreproachable on the assumption of an accomplished economic science and a demonstrated identity of interests, is reduced to question-begging. It believes realized things which cannot ever be realized; things whose ceaseless, approximate, partial, variable realization constitutes the interminable work of the human race. So, while the communist utopia still has its practitioners, the utopia of the libertarians could not receive the least beginning of execution.

VII. — The communist hypothesis and the individualist hypothesis being thus both set aside, the first as destructive of individuality, the second as chimerical, there remains one last part to take, on which, in any case, the multitude of the peoples and the majority of legislators agree: It is that of Justice.


Filed under 1850s, Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, libertaire, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

The Feuding Brothers (1850)

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

Democratic and social reckoning for the year 1849.
A Terrible and Jovial Drama in One Act


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

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur; revised March, 2012.]

Comments Off on The Feuding Brothers (1850)

Filed under 1850s, drama

Joseph Déjacque, “The Universal Circulus”

[This remarkable bit of libertarian philosophy by Joseph Déjacque poses all sorts of difficulties for the modern reader, not the least of which is it borrowings from, and reworkings of, the works of Charles Fourier and Pierre Leroux. And there are places where it ha been necessary to translate things rather literally, since terms are used suggestively, according to the established uses of none of the writers or schools that they were drawn from. There are also a couple of times when Déjacque’s enthusiasm clearly ran away with the syntax: where catalogs of conditionals come to abrupt stops, without ever quite managing to form a sentence, I feel fairly confident that I have accurately replicated the structural shortcoming of the original. In any event, the difficulties of this experimental piece are, I think, outweighed by all that is intriguing about it—and for the light that it sheds on notions like Proudhon’s dialectical play with individualities and collectivities.]

The Universal Circulus 
Joseph Déjacque
The universal circulus is the destruction of every religion, of all arbitrariness, be it elysian or tartarean, heavenly or infernal. The movement in the infinite is infinite progress. This being the case, the world can no longer be a duality, mind and matter, body and soul. It cannot be a mutable thing and an immutable one, which involves contradiction—movement excluding immobility and vice versa—but must be, on the contrary, an infinite unity of always-mutable and always-mobile substance, which implies perfectibility. It is through eternal and infinite movement that the infinite and eternal substance is constantly and universally transformed. It is by a fermentation at all instants; it is by passing through the filtering sieve of successive metamorphoses, by the progressive emancipation of species, from mineral to vegetable, from vegetable to animal and from instinct to intelligence; it is by an ascending and continuous circulation that it is raised gradually and constantly from the near inertia of the solid to the subtile agility of the fluid, and that, from vaporization to vaporization, it constantly approaches ever purer affinities, always in the midst of a work of purification, in the great crucible of the universal laboratory of the worlds. Thus, movement is not separate from substance; it is identical to it. There is no substance without movement, as there is no movement without substance. What we call matter is raw mind or spirit; what we call mind or spirit is wrought matter.
As it is with the human being, summary of all the terrestrial beings, essence of all the inferior kingdoms, so it is with the universal being, encyclopedia of all the atomic and sidereal beings, infinite sphere of all the finite spheres—the universal being, like the human being, is perfectible. It has never been, is not, and will never be perfect. Perfectibility is the negation of perfection. To limit the infinite is impossible, as it would no longer be infinite. As far as thought can reach, it cannot discover its own limits. It is a sphere of extension which defies all calculations, where the generations of universes and of sidereal multiverses gravitate from evolution to evolution without ever being able to reach the end of the voyage, the ever more remote frontiers of the unknown. The absolute infinity in time and in space is eternal movement, eternal progress. Put a limit to that infinity without limits—a God, any heaven whatsoever—and immediately you limit movement, limit progress. It is like putting it on a chain like the pendulum of a clock, and to saying to it: “When you’re at the end of your swing, stop! You shall go no further.” It is placing the finite in the place of the infinite. Well! Don’t we realize that perfection is always relative, that absolute perfection is immobility, and that consequently immobilized perfection is something absurd and impossible? Only idiots could dream that up. There is and can be no absolute except perfectibility in the universal infinity. The more a being is perfected, the more it aspires to perfect itself further. Would nature, which has given us infinite aspirations, have lied to us, promising more than it could give? Where has she ever been seen to lie? One must be a Christian and a civilized person, which is to say a cretin and a eunuch, to imagine with delight a paradise in which old Jehovah is enthroned. Could you imagine anything more stupid and boring? Could you imagine these blessed ones, these saints cloistered in the clouds as in a convent, all their pleasure consisting of telling their rosaries and ruminating, like brutes, on praises to the reverend father God, that unchanging superior, that pope of popes, that king of kings, having the mother abbess Virgin Mary to his left, and to his right the child Jesus, the heir apparent, a great oaf who carries, with the air of a seminarian, his crown of thorns, and who,—in the representation of the mystery of the so-sacrosanct Trinity,—fills—with his immaculate mother cradling in her lap the peacock Holy Spirit, which spreads its tail,—the role of two thieves on the cross, nailed on each side of the greatest of criminals, the supreme and divine creator of all the oppressions and all the servitudes, of all the crimes and all the abjections, the Word and the incarnation of evil! In the earthly convents, at least, men and women can still console themselves for their imperfection, for their deadly tortures, by thinking of a future perfection, of another and immortal life, of celestial bliss. But in heaven every aspiration more elevated is forbidden them: are they not at the apogee of their being? The very high and all-powerful magistrate, the one who judges, in last resort and without appeal, the living and the dead, has given them the maximum of beatitude. From now on, they have taken on the cassock of the elect; they drag, in paradise, in forced idleness, the ball and chain of their days; and they are condemned for all time! There is no appeal for mercy possible; no hope of change, no glimmer of future movement can reach down to them. The hatch of progress is forever sealed above their heads; and, like the conscript-for-life in his hulk, immortal galley slaves, they are forever fastened to the chain of the centuries in the eternal heavenly stay!
The only diversions these poor souls enjoy consists of chanting hymns and prostrating themselves before the sovereign master, that cruel old man who, in the times of Moses, wore a blue robe and curly beard, and who according to the current fashion, must wear today a black coat and a stiff collar, mutton-chop sideburns or an imperial goatee, with spittle in place of his heart, and a rainbow of satin around the neck. The Empress Marie and her divine ladies-in-waiting most certainly have crinolines under their petticoats, and most certainly the saints, in the livery of court, are starched, cravated, pomaded and curled neither more nor less than the diplomats. Their blessed grandesses doubtless bang away at the piano for all of the holy eternity, and their blessed excellencies turn the hand of the organ-of-paradise… What fun they must have! That must be amusing! It is true that I am not rich, but I would certainly still give some few pennies to see such a spectacle—to watch for a moment, you understand, not to remain there; and only on the condition of paying on the way out, if I was pleased and satisfied. And yet, on reflection, I find it hard to believe that what goes on inside is worth even a trifling sum at the door. Is it not said: “Happy are the poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven belongsto them”? That property will never delight me. Definitely, at times, the holy Gospels display a naïveté that is… amusing: bestow then some donkey’s ears on all the laureates of the faith! These first fathers of the Church must have been mischievous: might as well confess right off that paradise is not worth the four fetters of a… Christian. And to admit that women have been left to take the promises of these Lovelaces of superstition, that they have smiled at all these cretinous seductions, that they have given their love for this anti- and ultra-human paradise! To admit that the men have been taken in like the women, that they have believed all these ignoble ones—nonsense, that they have worshipped them!—Poor human nature!—However, one will admit that it would be difficult to invent anything more detrimental to the happiness of humans who do not already have the pleasure of being absolutely poor in spirit. In truth, I would reckon myself happier to be a convict in prison than one of the chosen in paradise. In prison, I would still live by my hopes. Every progress would not be completely closed to me, and my thoughts, like my physical strength, could attempt an escape from the galleys. And the eternity of the life of a man is not so long as the perpetuity of the life of a saint. The universal movement, by transforming me from life to death, will finally deliver me from my torture. I will be reborn free. While in the case of the heavenly imprisonment it is immobility without end, knees bent, hands clasped, head bowed, brow void of hope—an unprecedented torture, with body and soul, muscles and fibers put to the question under the inquisitorial eye of God…
When I think that, profiting from the deterioration of my faculties, brought on by age or illness, a priest could come at the hour of my death, and give me, one way or another, the absolution of my sins, of my heresies; that he could deliver to me, a subject suspected or convicted of lèse-divinité, a lettre de cachet for heaven, and send me to rot in that divine Bastille without a ray of hope of ever leaving it, brrrrrrr!… that gives me shivers. Happily, the expected paradises are like castles in Spain: they only exist in imaginations suffering from mental alienation; or, like houses of cards, the least breath of reason is enough to knock them down. However, I declare it here: On the day when death weighs down on me, let those who can surround me then, if they are my friends, if they respect the wishes of my reason, and not allow my agony to be soiled by a priest and my cadaver sullied by the church. A free thinker, I want to die as I have lived, in rebellion. Living and upright, I protest strongly and in advance against every such profanation of my remains. A particle of humanity, I want even after my death to serve the education and life of humanity; that is why I leave my body to the practitioner who wants to make an autopsy of it and study the organs of a man who did all that he could to be worthy of that name; and that I ask him, if it is possible, to inter the remains as fertilizer in a sown field.
But let us return to our subject, the universal circulus. The unlimited sphericity of the infinite and its absolute movement of rotation and gravitation,—its perfectibility, in short, is demonstrated by all that which strikes our view and our understanding. Everything turns, in us and around us, but never precisely in the same circle. Every rotation tends to raise itself, to approach a purer ideal, a remote utopia which will be realized one day in order to make place for another utopia, and thus progressively from ideal to ideal and from realization to realization.
On the earth, all beings, our subalterns, at whatever degree they are placed in the hierarchy of kingdoms or of species, minerals, vegetables or animals, tend towards the human ideal. As with the infinitely small, so with the infinitely large—our globe and the multitude of globes which follow it at a distance in one single whirl, tend equally, whatever their relative superiority or inferiority, towards their luminous ideal, the sun. And all approach it each day, however insensibly: the man, like the sun, tends in his turn towards some more utopian spheres, by an ascending and continuous gradation; and always thus until the end of ends, or rather without end or terminus.—The mineral pivots imperceptibly on itself and draws to itself all that it can appropriate of the lesser orders; it grows and extends itself, and then it entrusts to some conducting agents a few fragments of its exuberance and feeds the plant.—In its turn, the plant grows, rocking in the breeze and blossoming in the light. The insects gather pollen from it; it offers them its honey and its fibers, everything it has stolen from the bowels of the earth and that it has made to rise to the light of day through the filters of its tissues. The insects and worms then become the prey of the birds. The plant itself is feed for the large animals. Already the mineral has been transformed into flesh and bone, and the sap has become blood; instinct is more prompt, and movement more pronounced. The gravitation continues. Man assimilates the vegetable and the animal, the grass and the grain, the honey and the fruit, the flesh and the blood, the gas and the sap, the breezes and rays. Terrestrial star, he pumps through all his pores the emanations of his inferiors. He raises them drop by drop, bit by bit, to his level and returns to them to knead again that which is still too coarse for him to incarnate within himself. In just the same way, he exhales through thought the aromas too pure to be retained in his calyx, and he scatters them on humanity. Humanity, after having incorporated them, integrates everything that can sympathize with its degree of perfection, and returns for kneading to the instinctive species, to the inferior orders, that which is too coarse for it in these fluids, and exhales that which is too subtile towards the higher humanities of the outer spheres.
Thus it is with the planets moving around the sun, and with the sun moving in its turn with all its satellites around another more elevated center, star of that star.
Now, if everything turns first in a spiral, from its need for preservation, and if, turning on itself, everything reaches beneath itself, from its need for alimentation, and raises itself above itself, from its need for expression; if life is a perpetual revolution, a circle always in movement, each movement of which modifies its nature; if all movement is a progress, and if the more rapid the movement of rotation and gravitation is, the more it accelerates progress in us; can men and women, to whom analogy demonstrates all these things, do less than to bow to the evidence? Can we not desire to be revolutionaries, and, being revolutionaries, not desire to be more revolutionary still? For the human being, to live the life of the mineral, vegetable or animal, to live the life of stones or brutes, is not to live; and to live the life of the civilized persons is to live the life of stones and brutes. Humans, let us not stiffen against our destiny, but deliver ourselves with passion to its teachings; let us advance boldly to the discovery of the unknown; reach out to progress in order to accomplish with it humanitary evolution in the great circle of perfectible beings and societies; let us initiate ourselves fearlessly into the mysteries of the eternal and universal revolution in the infinite. The infinite alone is great, and the revolution only has malice for those who would remain outside its circle. Let us live by movement for movement, by progress and for progress, regardless of whether the grave is close and the cradle far. What is death to us, if it is still movement, and if movement is still progress? If that death is only a regeneration, the dissolution of our crumbling unity, an organism incapable for the moment of moving itself, perfectibly in its continuous disaggregation, and, moreover, the re-aggregation of the plurality of our being in younger and more perfectible organisms? If that death, finally, is only the passage from our state of senility to the embryonic state, the mold, the matrix of a more turbulent life, the crucible of a purer existence, a transmutation of our brass into gold and a transfiguration of that gold into a thousand coins, animated and diverse, and all stamped with the effigy of Progress? Death is only frightening for those who bask in their own muck and are transfixed in their porcine husks. For, at the hour of the decomposition of his organs, those will adhere, by their heaviness and vileness, as they adhered during their lives, to all that which is mud and stone, stench and torpor. But those who, instead of growing fat and sinking willingly into their ignominy, burned their fat to produce light; those who acted with their voice and strength, with heart and intelligence which will be invigorated by labor and love, by movement—those, at the hour when the last of their days are used up; when they has no more oil in their lamp nor elasticity in their works; when the largest part of their substance, long since volatilized, journeys already with the fluids; those, I tell you, will be themselves reborn, in conditions made more perfectible to the degree that they had labored at their own perfectibilization. Moreover, does not death have a place in all the instants of the lives of beings? Can the body of a man preserve for a single moment the same molecules? Does not every contact constantly modify it? Can it not breathe, drink, eat, digest, think, feel? Every modification is at once a new death and a new life, more painful and more inferior to the degree that the alimentation and the physical and moral digestion have been idler or more coarse; easier and superior to the degree that they have been more active or refined.
Just as the human digests the vegetable and animal, assimilates their juice or essence and discharges their skin and excremental detritus as the manure that will give birth to lesser beings; just so humans digest the hominal and the generations of hominals, their juice or essence and discharge their skin and excremental detritus as the manure on which will wallow and pasture the bestial and vegetative societies.
Like the works of a mill, the individual organism of the human being and the organism of humanity grind in their gears the fruit of good and evil, and separate the good from the bad, the bran from the flour. The bran is cast in the trough for the livestock, the flour is gathered by the human being and serves its nutrition. The good is destined to the highest classes of beings, the bad to the lowest. The one is transformed into white bread or into cake and is set on the table on trays of porcelain or silver at the feast of the intelligences; the other remains raw or is transformed into slops, and falls in the feed trough for the farm stock or beasts of burden. The good or bad grain, and each grain of that grain, is treated according to its value, punished or rewarded according to its merit. Each carries within itself its chastisement and its recompense, the human being as much as the grain; its purity or impurity makes its paradise or hell in the present, its hell or heaven in the future.
All labor is an instrument of progress, all idleness is a straw bed for decrepitude. Labor is the universal law; it is the organ of purification for all beings. No one can escape it without committing suicide, for we can be born and grow, form and develop only by labor. It is through labor that the grain sprouts in the furrow, put sup its stalk and is crowned with a rich fruit; it is also by labor that the human fetus closes off and encircles itself in the womb of the mother, and, obeying an imperious attraction, appears by escaping from the organ of generation; it is by labor that the child stands on its feet, grows, and that, become an adult, it is crowned with the double fruit of its manual and intellectual faculties; it is also by labor that the individual matures physically and morally before falling under the scythe of Time, that universal and eternal reaper, in order to begin again, in the eternal and universal life, a new work and new destinies.—Being, whatever they may be, are called to labor to the degree that their attractions are lofty; and their sensations are voluptuous to the degree that they are purified by labor.
Happy are those whose productive faculties are overexcited by the love of the good and the beautiful. They will be fruitful in goodness and in beauty, for no labor is fruitless. Unhappy are those whose productive faculties sleep, shrouded in the apathy that the dreadful and evil brings. They will not know the joys that hard-working and generous passions give. All inertia is infertile; all narcissism, every exclusive adoration of itself is doomed to sterility. Happiness is a fruit that can be picked only on the high summits, and it has a delicious flavor only after having been cultivated. For the idle, the inert, as for the merely cunning, it is too green a fruit: it ripens only for the agile, the laborers. It is not by sequestering it in our being, by isolating our hearts from the hearts of our fellows that we can obtain it; it does not belong to the fratricidal but to the fraternal. Those only can harvest it who do not fear to put arms and heart and head into it, and make a communion of individual efforts.
The human and humanity carry within them the seed of individual and social well-being; it is up to individual and social labor to cultivate it, if they want to savor its fruits.
It is for having tasted the fruit of the tree of science that, according to the Jewish and Christian mythologies, we have lost the terrestrial paradise. Ah! If instead of having only a taste, Humanity had tried to eat its fill of it, it would not be difficult to recover that Eden, so narrow and so little regrettable. Then, we could have had it, prodigiously, without limits and replete with felicities of a very different sort than those of the primitive ages. I do not say that with the aid of science we could, like the alleged gods, make something from nothing, but we could regenerate what exists, make the world a better world, transform our societies in the civilized state into a society in the harmonic state, and enter almost without transition from the life of present ages into that of the future.
The religions, as absurd as they are, nonetheless represent the need for an ideal innate in humanity. All the fables of the past and present represent future hopes, the sense of immortality in mortals. Ignorance and superstition have made shapeless monsters of these aspirations; it is up to science, to reason freed from its swaddling clothes, to give them humanitary forms. The human and humanity, as well-perfected as they will be one day, will nonetheless experience desires which will never find satisfaction in any present time. The future will always be a beacon towards which all their efforts will tend, the object of their constant longings. The call of progress will always resonate in their ears. Perception will always be superior and will always reach further than realization. Human beings sense clearly that all is not closed forever under the lid of the coffin. The idea of progress protests not only against all destruction, but also against all degeneration; and not only against all degeneration, but against all that which is not regeneration and perfectibilization. Ignorance and superstition have imagined the immortality of the soul and the heavenly resurrection. I believe I have demonstrated that there is no soul distinct from the body; and there would be an inadmissible duality unless that soul still obeyed the same laws of decomposition as the body. The absolute soul and absolute paradise would be the negation of progress; and we can no more deny progress than we can movement. God, in the religious as in the philosophical sense, can no longer exist with regard to us, as we ourselves cannot exist as God with regard to the myriads of atoms of which our body is the Great-All. It is not the human body, in its small totality, which creates and directs these myriads of atoms of which it is composed; it is these atoms, instead, that create it and direct it by moving according to their passional attractions. Far from being their God, the human being is hardly anything but their temple: it is the beehive or anthill animated by these innumerable multitudes of the imperceptible. The universal being would not, any more than the human being, be the creator or the director of the colossal multitudes of worlds of which it is made up; it is these worlds, instead, which create and direct it. Far from being their maker, their producer—their God, as the metaphysicians say—the universal being is hardly anything but the workshop or, at most, the product of the infinity of beings. How then would it be the motor of each, if it is only the machine of which each is the motor? God and the absolute is denied by everything in nature that has life. The progress which is movement and the movement which is progress issue them a certificate of non-existence, characterize them as imposters. If the absolute could exist above us, we would be the absolute for that which is below us, and movement and progress would not exist. Life would be nothingness, and nothingness cannot be conceived. All that we know is that life exists: thus movement exists, thus progress exists, and thus the absolute does not exist. All that we can conclude is that the circulus exists in universality as it exists in individuality. Like every individuality, the universality, however infinite it may be, is itself only a rotation and a spherical gravitation which, moving more and more from the darkness and chaos and approaching more and more light and harmony, perfects itself by working itself ceaselessly, by a mechanism or organism that is constantly more rectified… But all of that absolutely contradicts the idea of a God from which everything emanates and towards which everything returns, the idea that everything has been created, by God, from nothingness, in order to be annihilated in the bosom of the same God—which is to say, something starting from nothing in order to lead to nothing, going beyond the absurd in order to fall back into the absurd. God, source of all things, central point from which everything follows and towards which all returns, is one of these contradictory rationales that one can give to the children of men and to the humanities-in-infancy, because their still-sleeping intelligence cannot yet respond. But it is absolutely absurd. A river cannot flow back towards its source. The source is no more eternal than the river. They both exist only on the condition of movement, which is to say of progress, of birth and of death, of generation and regeneration. Like the river, the source has a cause. It is not everything, this small central point from which gushes the living water which produces the stream. The opening is only an effect, it is not a cause; and, by returning from the effect to the cause, we would find that the cause is still only the effect of another cause, and so forth. God explains nothing. It is a word to cross out of the vocabulary of men, since it serves to quibble with the difficulty without resolving it. God is only a mannequin, the breastplate (or shirtfront) of ignorance, a stick in the wheels of progress, a snuffer on the light, a… rag in a lantern! It is time to cleanse the universal language of it. Excrement of human cretinism, from now on it belongs to the Domange Academy and the consorts: let it reign in the pits of the Villette, and let it, reduced to powder and cast to the four winds, serve finally as fertilizer to movement, to the eternal and universal and perfectible creation, to the unlimited development of the infinite.
God!… In truth is it possible that two men agree on the meaning that they give to this word? I do not accept that for the needs of the dialectic it should be necessary to resort to it. Let a philosopher employ it in his writings, and, if it is a Catholic who reads them, he would only want to see,—despite whatever cautions the author has given,—the God of his own religion. If he is a Calvinist, a Lutheran, a Israelite, a Muslim, a Hindu, a believing philosopher or a philosophical believer, each would not want and would not be able to see anything but the God of his own imagination. In the end, these three cabalistic letters will represent as many different Gods as there are readers or listeners. I do not see what need the dialectic could have of the word, and I believe that it would do better and more wisely to do without it. New things require new words. I know that there are many other expressions which we use, myself as much as anyone, and which do not have the same meaning for everyone: it is an evil which it is necessary to try to remedy, otherwise we would discuss a long time without understanding each other. GOD being the first cause of all social falsities, the source of all human errors, the capital lie, GOD can no longer be employed in the discussion except as an abusive term, as a spatter spit from our lips or our pen. It is not enough to be an atheist, it is necessary to be a theocide. It is not enough to deny the Absolute; it is necessary to affirm Progress, and to affirm it in everything and everywhere.
Defects in logic are what mislead the greatest thinkers, what carry perturbation to the mass of intelligences. It is because we is not in agreement with ourselves that often we cannot come to agreement with others. All of us who affirm the movement in the infinite and consequently infinite progress, the single and solidary universality, affirm equally the movement in ourselves and consequently progress, the single and solidary individuality. Let is deny duality in the finite as we deny it in the infinite. Let us reject that absurd hypothesis of the immortality of the soul, of the absolute in the finite, when we have the proof in the body that every finite thing is perishable, divisible and multipliable, which is to say progressively perfectible. Matter is not one thing and spirit another, but one same and single thing which movement constantly diversifies. The spiritual is only the result of the corporeal; this is not a matter of spirituality but of spirituosity. The soul or, to put it better, thought is to the human being what alcohol is to wine. When we speak of the spirit of wine, we speak of an entirely material thing. Why should it be otherwise when it is a question of the spirit of a human being! Do you still believe then that the earth is flat, that the heavens are a cupola to serve it as a dome, and that the sun and stars are candles lit by the creator God in honor of Adam and Eve and their descendants? And if you no longer believe in these supposed revelations, in these charlatanries or in this aberration of the faith, and if you believe in what science and the genius of observation teaches you, in virtue of what reason would you want spirit to be distinct from matter? And, even being distinct, that the one be the movement and the other inertia, and that precisely the one to which you attribute movement was never-changing in its individuality? Inexplicable paradox! Well, observation tells you, through my testimony, that all that which has been vapor or dust and is grouped and has taken finished, definite form, will come away grain by grain, drop by drop, molecule by molecule and will scatter into the undefined, in order to assume, not another form, but a multiplicity of other forms, and will leave these multiple forms anew in order to divide again and multiply and progress eternally in the infinite. In order to be convinced of it, there is no need of having studied Greek or Latin; it is only necessary to examine the analogy, to infer and to deduce.
I have established that all that which is inferior to human beings tends to gravitate towards them. The human being is the summary of terrestrial creation. The Earth is a being, animated like all beings and endowed with various organs proper to life. Humanity is its brain, or rather it is that part of it which, in the human brain, we have called the gray matter, the eminently intelligent part; for the animal and the vegetal, and the mineral even—in a certain proportion—also live under the terrestrial skull and form the ensemble of its brain. Alone,—of all the atoms which live obscurely in the innards of the planetary body or rest, vegetate, crawl, walk or fly by the light between the soil and the atmosphere,—humans are a perfectible species. They possess some faculties which are unknown to other beings or which are hardly sensible among them: that of memory, for example, or calculation; that of the emission and transmission of idea. Unlike the mineral, vegetable and animal, the hominal generations succeed and do not resemble one another; they always progress and do not know the limit of their perfectibility. Eh! well, that which exists for the earth obviously exists for human beings. The human being is another globe, a small world which also has in it its privileged race, its humanity in miniature, the ideal of all the atomic species that people and form its body. That humanity is called the brain. It is towards it that gravitate all the kingdoms or all the molecular species of the human body. These molecules,—the most revolting as well as what we might call the most inert,—all tend to rise from their beds and their lower natures to that type of superiority which lives under the human skull. And, as humanity, the intelligent part of the brain of the terrestrial body, is perfectible, the cervellity, or intelligent part of the brain, which is the humanity of the human body, is also perfectible. While outside of the brain, the lower molecules only act mechanically, so to speak, and with more inertia the lower they are place on the scale of the progression of the kingdoms or species; in the brain, on the contrary, capstone of hominal creation, the movement is rapid and intelligent. The brain of the human being, like the brain of the planet, also has its three, or rather its four gradations which corresponds to the four kingdoms: the mineral, the vegetable, the animal and the hominal. The cretin, for example, who in the human race is the being most dispossessed of intelligence, has, in the brain, in the state of development, only matter recumbent and vegetative, that which corresponds to the mineral and vegetable, but where the mineral prevails in volume over the vegetable. The imbecile is the one in whose brain the vegetable prevails over the mineral, and where there can be found a little of the animal, which is to say of matter of a creeping and somewhat instinctive sort. In the civilized person, all three kingdoms are developed in the brain, but the animal kingdom prevails over the other two. That which corresponds to the hominal, which is to say to intelligent matter, is still in a state of infancy or savagery, and dispersed under the skull, amid the virgin forests of the vegetal system, between the blocks of rock of the mineral system and exposed in its weakness and nudity to the ferocity of the animal system.—It is then the industrial and scientific labors of these generations of perfectible atoms, moving between our two temples as between two poles; it is their joys and their pains, their science or their ignorance, their individual and social struggles which constitute our thought. Depending on whether these infinitesimals are more or less in the harmonic state; whether they obey among themselves the natural law of liberty—to anarchy, to autonomy—or the artificial law of authority—to monarchy, to tyranny; whether they are under the empire of superstition or they are freed from it; whether their populations are more or less given over to pauperism and aristocracy, or rich with equality and fraternity; whether these small diminutives of humans are more or less penned up between national barriers and the fences of private property, or circulate more or less easily from one passional height, home or homeland, to another, and from one craneological continent to another; finally, according to whether they are more or less free or more or less enslaved, and also whether we ourselves are more or less dignified or more or less close to slavery or liberty.—The cervelain being, like the human being, takes in as food everything that is below it, discharges from the lower organs that which is too coarse, assimilates that which is perfectible enough to become incarnate in it, and exhales outside, on the wings of human thought, that which is too subtile to remain captive in it. Thus we incorrectly classify mind and matter as being two distinct things, the one mobile and immutable, the other mutable and immobile, the one invisible and impalpable, the other palpable and visible. Everything that is mobile is mutable, and everything that is mutable is mobile. That which is palpable and visible for the human being, the infinitely large, is invisible and impalpable for the cervelain being, the infinitely small. That which is impalpable and invisible for the human being is visible and palpable for the being placed higher in the hierarchy of beings, the humanitary beings or the terrestrial being. For the beings infinitely more perfected than us,—the humanities of the astral spheres, I suppose,—what we will regard as a fluid, they will consider as solid; and what they will regard as fluid will be regarded as solid by the humanities still more elevated in superiority. The most subtile, here, for the one, is, there, for the other, what becomes the coarsest. Everything depends on the point of view and the condition in which the being is placed. The last word of the cervelain being is certainly not the skull, as the last word of the human being is certainly not the terrestrial skull. The human being is not the absolute of the one, and humanity is not the absolute of the other. Without doubt, the cervellity gives birth to generations which, like the human generations, produce and transmit ideas, and accumulate in the memory of the man of gigantic labors. Without doubt also, humanity piles generations on generations and progress on progress. The better, the good, and the best, all increase as a result of the efforts of each. But the planets, like human beings, are born, grow and die. At the death of humans or globes, the purified humanities or cervellities rise by whatever fluid character they have towards spheres in formation or in expansion and of a more perfectible nature. The progress is eternal and infinite, after one step another step, after one life another life, and still and always.
Any being whatsoever, a human being, or the superior or the inferior that being, is like a sack of grain or of molecules of all the sorts, which movement, that is to say life and death, fills and empties without ceasing. These grains, come from the field of production, returns to the field of production or, according to their degree of perfectibility, they produce rye or wheat. The content of the sack procreates a multitude of stalks, and on each stalk each of grains subdivides and multiplies in the ear. Nothing of that which is can preserve for one minute its full individuality. Life is a perpetual exchange to the profit of each. The richest in perfectibility are the most lavish, the ones who venture the most of their being in circulation: the more the laborer sows and harvests! The poorest are the stingiest, those who have their gaze turned inward, who stack molecule on molecule in the hollows of their being, who seal themselves in their innermost selves, and waste, in a stupid private contemplation, a capital of faculties, troves of sensations that external contact would have made bear fruit.
What I want to make well understood, and what I strive to generalize at the risk of repeating myself, is that the religions, the artificial or deceitful moralities have had their day, and that they are nothing more today than immorality or irreligion; it is that there is a morality, a natural religion to inaugurate on the rubble of the old superstitions, and that that morality or that religion can be found only in the science of man and of humanity, of humanity and of universality; it is that the human like the universe, is one and not double: not matter and spirit, nor body and soul (matter or inert body, spirit or immaterial soul), but animated and passional substance, susceptible of thousands and thousands of metamorphoses and constrained by its animation and its passionality, by its attractions, to a perpetual upward movement.—What it is important to note in order to destroy all of the secular theologies, and with them the authoritarian system which still serves as the basis of the organization of contemporary societies and postpones the fraternal communion of humans, is that with movement the absolute cannot exist; it is that the individuality of the human and of humanity, like the individuality of all the atomic and sidereal beings, cannot preserve for one single instant their absolute personality, it is that the movement revolutionizes them without ceasing and constantly adds something and takes away something from them; it is that we all, minerals, vegetables, animals, humans, and stars, would not know how to live in ourselves and by ourselves; that there is no life without movement, and that movement is an infinite transformation of the finite thing; it is that we live only on the condition of taking part in the lives of others, and that the life in us is more fruitful the more we sow it outside the plots, plots which returns to us in ripe and abundant crops; and more lively as we give it more external elements, as we put passions in combustion on its hearth. Finally, it is that the more we give off light and caloric, the more we expend intelligence and love, the more we raise ourselves with swiftness from apotheosis to apotheosis in regions more and more elevated, more and more ethereal.
Everything is solidary in universality. Everything is composed, decomposed and recomposed according to its reciprocal and progressive attractions, the atom like the human, the human like the stars, and the stars like the universes. The universes are atoms in universality, as the atom is itself a universe in its individuality. The infinite exists at the two antipodes of creation, for divisibility on a small scale as for multiplicity on a grand scale. The short view of the human, its weak understanding cannot sound its incommensurable depths. The finite cannot embrace the infinite, but can only sense it. But what the thinkers, supplied in the powerful instrument that we call analogy, can touch and make thought touch, what they must proclaim by strokes of logic on all the public places and in all the public papers, is that the individual being is not the consequence of the universal being, but that the being universal is the consequence of individual beings; it is the infinitely large group of which the infinitely small are the constitutive members. God, the soul, and the spirit are myths that Humanity, approaching the age of reason, must toss without regret into the rag basket like some dolls from our youth. Science, from now on, and no longer superstition, must occupy our thoughts. Let us not forget that humanity is a daughter and fiancée of progress. The polichinelles, the good gods and the devils, all the Guignols and the puppets armed with sticks, are of childishness unworthy of it, today, as its minority comes to its end. It is time, high time, that it thinks of its emancipation; that it girds its forehead with the intellectual banner; that it finally prepares itself for its social destinies, if it does not want to serve forever as laughingstock for the Humanities of other globes.
To sum up, I say:
Movement, which is to say progress, being proven, the absolute can no more exist in the finite than in the infinite, and thus the absolute does not exist.
As a consequence, God, universal or absolute soul of the infinite, does not exist.
And as a further consequence, the soul, the absolute of the human, individuality one and indivisible, eternally finished form, does not exist.
Matter is all. Movement is the attribute of matter, and progress the attribute of movement.
Like matter and movement, progress is eternal and infinite.
The universal circulus does not lead to absolute perfection. It conducts to infinite perfectibility, to unlimited progress, the consequence of eternal and universal movement.
Thus, absolute perfection does not exist, and cannot exist. If it existed, progress would not exist.
Absolute perfection is against all evidence, and absurd.
Movement is, obviously, truth.
No transaction is possible between these two terms: it is necessary either to believe in God and in his diminutives and deny movement, or to affirm movement and invalidate God.
—God is the negation of Progress.
—Progress is the negation of God.
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur; revised 5/9/2012]

Comments Off on Joseph Déjacque, “The Universal Circulus”

Filed under 1850s, Joseph Dejacque