General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century (1851)


Since the law of the 31st of May, the Revolution has seemed to keep silence. Not a newspaper has officially espoused its cause: not a voice has boldly and intelligently asserted it. It has moved along only by its own impetus. The Democratic factions which at first rallied to its banner have profited by the forced abstention from revolutionary talk to make a retreat unnoticeably, and to return to their political affiliations. One would say that Socialism, expressed in vaguer and vaguer terms, or represented by vain Utopias, was on the eve of expiring. 1852 was the date set down for its obsequies. The republicans of yesterday undertook to bury it, some in the Constitution of 1848, some in direct government: the Presidency of the Republic was the prize!

But, as the proverb says, the statesman proposes, the Revolution disposes. After universal suffrage had disowned it, as it had already been thrice disowned, it would not still take its departure. It cares as little for the decision of universal suffrage as for the anathemas of Jean Mastaï. Henri V himself, if it were possible that Henri V could reascend the throne, could only assert the Revolution, as did his great-uncle in 1814. It is Necessity in person, while your constitutions, your politics, and your universal suffrage itself are but the tinsel of the circus. 1852 matters no more to it than 1851, 1849, or 1848: it bursts like a torrent, it rises like the tide, without caring whether you have had time to close your sluice gates.

Of what use is it to trifle with the force of circumstances? Will facts be changed or modified because we have not forseen them? Will our security be greater because we choose to shut our eyes? It is a policy of the brainless, which the people will judge severely, and of which the upper class will pay the cost!

As for myself, free from all struggles of ambition, devoid of self-seeking, but only too clear as to the future, I propose, as in 1848 I proposed, in the interest of all parties, the course which seems best to me, and I ask you to bear witness of my words. In 1789 everybody was revolutionary and proud of it; it is necessary that in 1852 everybody should again become revolutionary, and be glad of it. Shall I then still be so sorry that the Revolution should seem as much more terrible, as the picture of it from my pen is more true?

Humanity, in the theologico-political sphere, wherein it has been tossed these six thousand years, is like a society which, instead of being placed on the outside of a solid planet, is shut up inside a hollow one, lighted and warmed by a stationary sun in the centre, and apparently in the zenith for the countries curving around it, like the subterranean world of Virgil. Who knows whether there is not such an arrangement in the infinite variety of worlds? The rings of Saturn are not less extraordinary.

Imagine such a world, wherein all positions are the inverse of our own. Distance would prevent the inhabitants from seeing the boundaries of their situation, while barbarism, war, and lack of means of communication would keep them within their respective limits. For a long time they would imagine that the space above, beyond the sun, was the abode of gods, and that the ground under their feet covered the home of the damned far away. What tales the imagination of their poets would hang upon this! What cosmogonies, what revelations their mystagogues would bring forth, founding upon them religion, morality, and laws.

Nevertheless the progress of civilization, even of conquest, would bring great disturbances to these infernal regions, voyages of circumnavigation would be made: the earth would be traversed in every direction, and mathematical and experimental certainty would be reached that this splendid universe, to which the imagination could assign no limits, was only a hollow globe, several thousand miles in diameter inside; wherein the inhabitants, regarding themselves as perpendiculars at every point of the surface toward the centre, must really stand head to head. These strange news must have created a terrible scandal among the doctors of the ancient religions. Doubtless some Galileo paid with his blood for the glory of having discovered that the world was round, and that there were anticephales.

But what occurred to redouble the anxiety was that, at the same time the ancient beliefs were falling away, it was noticed that the habitable space was not proportionate to the activity and fecundity of the race which was therein imprisoned; the world is too small for the humanity which works it; air is lacking, and after some generations, we shall die of hunger!

Then these men who at first had regarded their orb as infinite, and had sung its praises, now found themselves imprisoned like a nest of beetles in a clod of earth; and began to blaspheme God and Nature. They accused the Sovereign Creator of having deceived them; the despair and confusion were frightful. The bolder swore, with terrible imprecations, that they would not stay there. Threatening heaven with eye and fist, they began audaciously to bore into the ground, so well that one day the drill encountering only emptiness they concluded that the concave surface of their sphere corresponded to an external convex surface of an outer world, which they set about visiting.

From the point of view of our political and religious ideas, with which intelligence is hemmed in as by an impenetrable sphere, we are in exactly the same position as these men, and we have reached the same result.

From the origin of societies, the spirit of man, confined and enveloped by the theologico-political system, shut up in a hermetically closed box, of which Government is the bottom and Religion the top, has taken the limits of this narrow horizon for the limits of a rational society. God and King, Church and State, twisted in every way, worked over to infinity, have been his Universe. For a long time he has known nothing, imagined nothing beyond. At last, the circle has been traversed; the excitement of the systems suggested by this has exhausted him; philosophy, history, political economy, have completed the triangulation of this inner world; the map of it has been drawn; and it is known that the supernatural scheme which humanity contemplates as its horizon, and its limit, is but itself; that, far as humanity may look into the depths of its consciousness, it sees but itself; that this God, source of all power, origin of all causality, of which humanity makes its sun, is a lamp in a cavern, and all these governments made in his image are but grains of sand that reflect the faint light.

These religions, these legislations, these empires, these Governments, this wisdom of State, this virtue of Pontiffs, all are but a dream and a lie, which all hang upon one another and converge toward a central point, which itself has no reality. If we want to get a more correct idea of things, we must burst this crust and get out of this inferno, in which man's reason will be lost, and he will become an idiot.

Today we have become aware of this. This old world of thought, which for so many centuries has absorbed human speculation, is but one side of that given us to traverse. The drill of philosophy has pierced it here and there; soon we shall be free and clear of our embryonic shell. We are about to gaze on new skies, to see face to face and in its essence, the infinite, Sicuti est facie ad faciem.*

When society has turned from within to without, all relations are overturned. Yesterday we were walking with our heads downwards; today we hold them erect, without any interruption to our life. Without losing our personality, we change our existence. Such is the nineteenth century Revolution.

The fundamental, decisive idea of this Revolution is it not this: no more Authority, neither in the Church, nor in the State, nor in land, nor in money?

No more Authority! That means something we have never seen, something we have never understood; the harmony of the interest of one with the interest of all; the identity of collective sovereignty and individual sovereignty.

No more Authority! That means debts paid, servitude abolished, mortgages lifted, rents reimbursed, the expense of worship, justice, and the State suppressed; free credit, equal exchange, free association, regulated value, education, work, property, domicile, low price, guaranteed: no more antagonism, no more war, no more centralization, no more governments, no more priests. Is not that Society emerged from its shell and walking upright?

No more Authority! That is to say further: free contract in place of arbitrary law; voluntary transactions in place of the control of the State; equitable and reciprocal justice in place of sovereign and distributive justice; rational instead of revealed morals; equilibrium of forces instead of equilibrium of powers; economic unity in place of political centralization. Once more, I ask, is not this what I may venture to call a complete reversal, a turn-over, a Revolution?

The distance by which the two systems are separated may be judged by the difference in their modes of expression.

One of the most solemn moments in the evolution of the principle of authority was at the promulgation of the Decalogue. The voice of the angel commands the people, prostrate at the foot of Sinai:

Thou shalt adore the Eternal, it said, and nothing but the Eternal;

Thou shalt swear by him only;

Thou shalt observe his feasts, and thou shalt pay his tithes;

Thou shalt honor thy father and mother;

Thou shalt not kill;

Thou shalt not steal;

Thou shalt not commit fornication;

Thou shalt not commit forgery;

Thou shalt not covet nor calumniate;

For the Eternal commands thus, and it is the Eternal who has made thee what thou art. Only the Eternal is sovereign, wise and worthy. The Eternal punishes and rewards: the Eternal can make thee happy or unhappy.

All legislators have adopted this style: all, in speaking to man, use the words of a sovereign. Hebrew commands in the future tense, Latin in the imperative, Greek in the infinitive. The moderns do the same thing. The tribunal of M. Dupin is as infallible and terrible as that of Moses. Whatever may be the law, from whatever lips it may be proclaimed, it is sacred; even when pronounced by that fateful trumpet, which with us is the voice of the majority.

Thou shalt not assemble,

Thou shalt not print,

Thou shalt not read,

Thou shalt respect thy representatives and functionaries whom the fortune of the ballot or the good pleasure of the State has given thee,

Thou shalt obey the laws which their wisdom has given thee,

Thou shalt pay thy taxes faithfully,

And thou shalt love the Government, thy lord and thy god, with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, because the Government knows better than thou what thou art, what thou art worth, and what is good for thee; and it has the power to chastise those who disobey its commandments, as well as to recompense to the fourth generation those who are agreeable to it.

O, personality of man! Can it be that for sixty centuries you have grovelled in this abjection? You call yourself holy and sacred, but you are only the prostitute, the unwearied and unpaid prostitute, of your servants, of your monks, and of your soldiers. You know it, and you permit it. To be governed is to be kept in sight, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right, nor the wisdom, nor the virtue to do so.... To be governed is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under the pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolized, extorted, squeezed, mystified, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and, to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality. And to think that there are democrats among us who pretend that there is any good in government; Socialists who support this ignominy, in the name of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity; proletarians who proclaim their candidacy for the Presidency of the Republic! Hypocrisy! ...

With the Revolution it is another matter.

The search for first causes and for final causes is eliminated from the economic as from the natural sciences.

The idea of Progress replaces that of the Absolute in philosophy.

Revolution takes the place of Revelation.

Reason, aided by Experience, shows man the laws of nature and of society, and says to him:

These are the laws of necessity itself. No man has made them: nobody forces them upon you. They have little by little been discovered, and I exist only to bear witness of them.

If you observe them, you will be just and righteous;

If you violate them, you will be unjust and wicked.

I propose no other sanction for them.

Already, among your fellows, many have perceived that justice was better for one and all than injustice, and they have agreed among themselves to keep faith and do right; that is to say, to respect the rules for transactions which are pointed out by the nature of things as alone capable of assuring them of comfort, security and peace in the highest degree.

Will you join the compact, and form a part of their society?

Do you promise to respect the honor, the liberty and the property of your brothers?

Do you promise never to appropriate for yourself by violence, nor by fraud, nor by usury, nor by interest, the products or possessions of another?

Do you promise never to lie nor deceive in commerce, or in any part of your transactions?

You are free to accept or refuse.

If you refuse, you become a part of a society of savages. Excluded from communion with the human race, you become an object of suspicion. Nothing protects you. At the slightest insult, the first comer may strike you, without incurring any other blame than that of cruelty to animals.

If you agree to the compact, on the contrary, you become a part of the society of free men. All your brothers are bound to you, and promise you fidelity, friendship, aid, service, exchange. In case of infraction, on their part or on yours, through negligence, anger or malice, you are responsible to one another for the damage, as well as for the scandal and insecurity of which you have been the cause. This responsibility may go as far as excommunication or death, according to the gravity and the repetition of the offense.

This law is clear, the sanction still more so. Three articles, which are but one, compose the whole social compact. Instead of swearing fidelity to God and your king, the citizen makes oath upon his conscience, before his brothers and before Humanity. Between these two oaths there is the same difference as between servitude and liberty, faith and science, courts and justice, usury and labor, government and economics, non-existence and existence, God and man.

Shall I remind you now that all the elements of the old society, religion, politics, business, end in this?

In my verses, Reason leads man to Faith, says Racine the younger. Just the contrary is true. Theology leads man, step by step, to reason: it has never done anything else. All its investigations are but experiments in philosophy. There is a Sacred Physics, a Politics from the Holy Scriptures, a Canon Law, a Scholastics. What are all these? Rationalism in revelation. Theology, from its earliest day, has sought truth outside of itself: theology itself began those researches which were sure to lead us outside the circle with which it had surrounded us. As fast as it set up its dogmas, it undid them itself by its interpretations and glosses: to-day it has reached the point of denying its mysteries, and of talking, as the Apocalypse says, the language of the Beast. Everybody felt this upon reading the last charge of Monseigneur Sibour. Well, the die is cast. It is too late to go back: it would be absurd not to go to the bottom. The stone which covered the sepulchre of Golgotha is removed: Christ came out at dawn: Peter, John, Thomas himself and the women have seen him: nothing remains but the empty spot, with the door open upon the world. Do not try to shut it, citizen Caiaphas, you could more easily stop the crater of Etna.

When religion is convicted of revolutionary ideas, shall politics dare to be more conservative? Is it not politics which, by concession after concession, by system after system, has made us end in the absolute, definite denial of its own principle, government? Was it not from political discussions that once upon a time sprang this illuminating formula:

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity!

Theology, encroaching every day upon the domain of philosophy, has taken the direction of the primitive world; politics has traversed it and drawn the map of it. After having explored everything, described everything, it has planted its Columns of Hercules: universal suffrage is its ne plus ultra. I have nothing more to give you, it says; nothing more to teach you. If you want anything more, you need not look on the surface; you must look underneath. Talk to my friends, the economists. They are miners by trade; perhaps they will give you satisfaction.

Political economy is in fact the queen and ruler of this age, although its mercenaries are unwilling to admit it. It is political economy which directs everything, without appearing to do so. If Louis Bonaparte fails in his demand for prorogation, business is the cause. If the Constitution is not revised, it is the Stock Exchange which forbids. If the law of the 31st of May is revoked, or at least profoundly modified, it is commerce that has demanded it. If the Republic is invincible, it is because the interests protect it. If the peasant, of the earth from of old, embraces the Revolution, it is because the earth, his adored mistress, summons him. If we do not rest on Sunday, it is because industrial and mercantile influences are opposed to it ....

Evidently, social economy, little known divinity, leads the world. Let it show itself boldly, tell its secrets, give its orders, and all nations, all classes, will be at its feet.

The peasant waits for but one sign: he wants the soil, he watches it anxiously: it will not escape his covetousness. To acquire this land, he has gone into debt, loaded himself with mortgages: he pays to Capital and to the State, I know not how many hundred millions; and up to know, he has gained nothing. All the governments have promised him low prices, credit and riches: all have passed away without keeping their word. The Republic came and completed his ruin. Thus the peasant is profoundly sceptical about government: in politics, he has not the slightest principle, not the shadow of a conscience, not the most superficial opinion. In 1848 he would have made Louis Bonaparte emperor; in 1852 he will perhaps make Ledru-Rollin king. Do you know why? It is because the peasant is before all things revolutionary: his ideas and his interests require him to be so.

The mechanic is like the peasant. He wants work, instruction, participation, a low price for rent and food. Do not take his pro-constitutional manifestations too seriously. He depises political theories as much as the peasant does. He is thoroughly revolutionary; ready to go from Louis XVI. to Mirabeau, from the Gironde to Marat, from Robespierre to Napoleon, from Cabet to Lamartine. His well-known history matches his sentiments.

The merchant, the manufacturer, the small proprietor, although more circumspect in their language, hold like views. What they want is business, transactions, orders, easy money, capital for long terms, ample outlets and no fetters, no duties. In their simplicity they call that being conservative, not revolutionary. It was in this frame of mind that they voted in December, 1848, for General Cavaignac; that they are now supporting the Constitution from attacks, and repudiating the Socialists with their systems. They entirely misunderstand. The merchant, the manufacturer, the agricultural proprietor, all those among the richer and middle classes who are holders of securities and mortgages, or who have an independent business, care little, at bottom, for politics and the form of government. Such people want a living, and a good living: they are revolutionaries in their hearts; only they go to the wrong shop for the Revolution.

Up to now they have been made to believe that political order, order in the street, such as the Government secures, was enough to give them what they asked: they have regarded the supporters of Power as the supporters of their own interests; and they have held aloof from the Revolution, noisy at first, bigoted, exclusive, and, most of all, out at elbows. When will the newspapers beloved by the upper classes make up their minds to undeceive their readers, the Siecle, which has languished since the death of Louis Perree, the Presse, too often mistaken, the National, always hoping. No doubt the necessity of pretending to be revolutionary, from the point of view of the lower class, has kept up a sense of distrust among the upper class: it thought that the question was only one of making the lower class upper, and the upper, lower. To-day, the question has been so much cleared up that separation on such grounds need not be continued.

Who then will show the merchants, the manufacturers, the small proprietors, all the classes whose labour produces more than their capital, that they have nothing to fear from a revolution which, by reducing the cost of credit to ¼ per cent., by paying off the public debt and all mortgages, by converting house rent and ground rent into a reimbursement of the owners, by reducing the public expenditure by seven-eighths, relieves production of 45 per cent. of its cost, restores to the worker the whole of his wages, and consequently creates a continually growing market for the manufacturer, in the midst of a home population? It would be like trying to persaude the workman that it would be better for him to continue to lose $40 of his wages, and receive $1.20 interest for the $30 that he deposits in the savings bank. No, no, such blindness cannot last; and the day when it shall be dissipated, perhaps to-morrow, will be the day of the Revolution.

The adversaries of the Revolution, we know them all, are neither the peasants, nor the workmen, nor the merchants, nor the manufacturers, nor the small proprietors. They should not even be the capitalists, if, realizing the impetus to industry which will be given by the reform in credit, they understand that with an immense demand to be satisfied, the stock company can give them, for some years longer, a larger return than bank discounts, mortgages, and national bonds.

The adversaries of the Revolution are they who live on prejudice even more than on parasitism: they are above all they who, more sure that the Revolution must come than are the Revolutionaries themselves, speculate, gamble, and, if I may venture to say so, cultivate resistance to the fall of ancient institutions, in order to make their profit out of it, and at each relaxation of resistance, at each step of progress, reap a new harvest. These men in the front rank of Jesuitism, of monarchy, of the moderate governmentalist Republicans, to whom I must add certain dabblers in social theories, are the real enemies of the Revolution; so much the more guilty in that they are of a less robust faith, and their hostility is only a matter of vanity and self-interest.

But what do I say? Is there to-day a man capable of the crime of counter-revolution? And if by chance such an one should be found, would he not be in great part excusable, on account of the service which his opposition would render to the very cause which he intended to oppose?

Who would have thought of free credit, unless capital had held back? Capital refuses, said M. Thiers in 1848: I fear that it will cost it much some day to have refused.

Who would have brought up again the worn-out topic of the decatholicization of Europe, had it not been for the war on Rome?

Who would have known of the agrarian revolt, without the affair of Poitiers Street?

Who would have thought of abolishing the courts, if the magistrates had not been so severe?

Who would have raised the question of the passive obedience of the soldier, and talked of doing away with a standing army, had it not been for the declaration of a state of siege, and the attacks upon the people by the National Guard?

Who, without the abuses of government, would have formulated economic organization?

Who, without M. Rittinghausen’s Direct Legislation, without M. Considérant’s Direct Government, without the dictatorship of Nauvoo, would have revived the theory of the social contract, and laid down the principle of Anarchism more securely?

Pursue, then, Royalists, Jesuits, Bancocrats, Phalansterians, Icarians, the course of your foolish resistance. Continue to enlighten the people, and to show them the need of a revolution. The farther you go, the more you will serve the people, and I like to think that they will pardon you.

But you, Republicans of the old school, to whom the desire for advance is not lacking, and respect for authority is the only restraint, can you not for once give rein to your instincts? Here are two candidates, M. Cavaignac and M. Ledru-Rollin, whose part it would very soon be, if they were willing, to lead, the one the business class, the other the working class, to the higher world of human rights and economic organization. Already they have taken the motto of the last Democratic-Socialist congress: The Republic is above Universal Suffrage. But M. Cavaignac, defending the Constitution, thought himself more and more to be the friend of order; while M. Ledru-Rollin, in his manifesto countersigned by Mazzini, could not refrain from crossing himself, on his forehead, mouth, and breast, at the mere word, Anarchy. Despising equally their party affiliations, they both fear to fall into the pit of Revolution, which to us is the way to deliverance, as if they expected to find the devil at the bottom. Forward then, cowards! You have half your body on the brink already. You have said: The Republic is above Universal Suffrage. If you understand the formula, you will not avoid the commentary:

The Revolution is above the Republic.

Translator's note 28. As it were face to face.