The Philosophy of Misery
Joseph-Pierre Proudhon

Part 7 out of 9

three thousand francs, thirty per cent., etc. We will set aside
the thousand difficulties and annoyances that must be met in
ascertaining these incomes, and suppose the operation as
easy as you like. Well! that is exactly the system which I
charge with hypocrisy, contradiction, and injustice.

I say in the first place that this system is hypocritical,
because, instead of taking from the rich that entire portion of
their income in excess of the average national product per
family, which is inadmissible, it does not, as is imagined,
reverse the order of progression in the direction of wealth; at
most it changes the rate of progression. Thus the present
progression of the tax, for fortunes yielding incomes of a
thousand francs and UNDER, being as that of the numbers 10, 11,
12, 13, etc., and, for fortunes yielding incomes of a thousand
francs and OVER, as that of the numbers 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, etc.,--
the tax always increasing with poverty and decreasing with
wealth,--if we should confine ourselves to lifting the indirect
tax which falls especially on the poorer class and imposing a
corresponding tax upon the incomes of the richer class, the
progression thereafter, it is true, would be, for the first, only
as that of the numbers 10, 10.25, 10.50, 10.75, 11, 11.25, etc.,
and, for the second, as 10, 9.75, 9.50, 9.25, 9, 8.75, etc. But
this progression, although less rapid on both sides, would still
take the same direction nevertheless, would still be a reversal
of justice; and it is for this reason that the so-called
progressive tax, capable at most of giving the philanthropist
something to babble about, is of no scientific value. It changes
nothing in fiscal jurisprudence; as the proverb says, it is
always the poor man who carries the pouch, always the rich man
who is the object of the solicitude of power.

I add that this system is contradictory.

In fact, ONE CANNOT BOTH GIVE AND KEEP, say the jurisconsults.
Instead, then, of consecrating monopolies from which the holders
are to derive no privilege save that of straightway losing, with
the income, all the enjoyment thereof, why not decree the
agrarian law at once? Why provide in the constitution that each
shall freely enjoy the fruit of his labor and industry, when, by
the fact or the tendency of the tax, this permission is granted
only to the extent of a dividend of fifty-six and a half centimes
a day,--a thing, it is true, which the law could not have
foreseen, but which would necessarily result from progression?
The legislator, in confirming us in our monopolies, intended to
favor production, to feed the sacred fire of industry: now, what
interest shall we have to produce, if, though not yet associated,
we are not to produce for ourselves alone? After we have been
declared free, how can we be made subject to conditions of sale,
hire, and exchange which annul our liberty?

A man possesses government securities which bring him an income
of twenty thousand francs. The tax, under the new system of
progression, will take fifty per cent. of this from him. At this
rate it is more advantageous to him to withdraw his capital and
consume the principal instead of the income. Then let him be
repaid. What! repaid! The State cannot be obliged to repay;
and, if it consents to redeem, it will do so in proportion to the
net income. Therefore a bond for twenty thousand francs will be
worth not more than ten thousand to the bondholder, because of
the tax, if he wishes to get it redeemed by the State: unless he
divides it into twenty lots, in which case it will return him
double the amount. Likewise an estate which rents for fifty
thousand francs, the tax taking two-thirds of the income, will
lose two- thirds of its value. But let the proprietor divide
this estate into a hundred lots and sell it at auction, and then,
the terror of the treasury no longer deterring purchasers, he can
get back his entire capital. So that, with the progressive
tax, real estate no longer follows the law of supply and demand
and is not valued according to the real income which it yields,
but according to the condition of the owner. The consequence
will be that large capitals will depreciate in value, and
mediocrity be brought to the front; land-owners will hasten to
sell, because it will be better for them to consume their
property than to get an insufficient rent from it; capitalists
will recall their investments, or will invest only at usurious
rates; all exploitation on a large scale will be prohibited,
every visible fortune proceeded against, and all accumulation of
capital in excess of the figure of the necessary proscribed.
Wealth, driven back, will retire within itself and never emerge
except by stealth; and labor, like a man attached to a corpse,
will embrace misery in an endless union. Does it not well become
the economists who devise such reforms to laugh at the reformers?

After having demonstrated the contradiction and delusion of the
progressive tax, must I prove its injustice also? The
progressive tax, as understood by the economists and, in their
wake, by certain radicals, is impracticable, I said just now, if
it falls on capital and product: consequently I have supposed it
to fall on incomes. But who does not see that this purely
theoretical distinction between capital, product, and income
falls so far as the treasury is concerned, and that the same
impossibilities which we have pointed out reappear here with all
their fatal character?

A manufacturer discovers a process by means of which, saving
twenty per cent. of his cost of production, he secures an income
of twenty-five thousand francs. The treasury calls on him for
fifteen thousand. He is obliged, therefore, to raise his prices,
since, by the fact of the tax, his process, instead of saving
twenty per cent., saves only eight per cent. Is not this as
if the treasury prevented cheapness? Thus, in trying to reach
the rich, the progressive tax always reaches the consumer; and it
is impossible for it not to reach him without suppressing
production altogether: what a mistake!

It is a law of social economy that all invested capital must
return continually to the capitalist in the form of interest.
With the progressive tax this law is radically violated, since,
by the effect of progression, interest on capital is so reduced
that industries are established only at a loss of a part or the
whole of the capital. To make it otherwise, interest on capital
would have to increase progressively in the same ratio as the tax
itself, which is absurd. Therefore the progressive tax stops the
creation of capital; furthermore it hinders its circulation.
Whoever, in fact, should want to buy a plant for any enterprise
or a piece of land for cultivation would have to consider, under
the system of progressive taxation, not the real value of such
plant or land, but rather the tax which it would bring upon him;
so that, if the real income were four per cent., and, by the
effect of the tax or the condition of the buyer, must go down to
three, the purchase could not be effected. After having run
counter to all interests and thrown the market into confusion by
its categories, the progressive tax arrests the development of
wealth and reduces venal value below real value; it contracts, it
petrifies society. What tyranny! What derision!

The progressive tax resolves itself, then, whatever may be done,
into a denial of justice, prohibition of production,
confiscation. It is unlimited and unbridled absolutism, given to
power over everything which, by labor, by economy, by
improvements, contributes to public wealth.

But what is the use of wandering about in chimerical hypotheses
when the truth is at hand. It is not the fault of the
proportional principle if the tax falls with such shocking
inequality upon the various classes of society; the fault is in
our prejudices and our morals. The tax, as far as is possible in
human operations, proceeds with equity, precision. Social
economy commands it to apply to product; it applies to product.
If product escapes it, it strikes capital: what more natural!
The tax, in advance of civilization, supposes the equality of
laborers and capitalists: the inflexible expression of necessity,
it seems to invite us to make ourselves equals by education and
labor, and, by balancing our functions and associating our
interests, to put ourselves in accord with it. The tax refuses
to distinguish between one man and another: and we blame its
mathematical severity for the differences in our fortunes! We
ask equality itself to comply with our injustice! Was I not
right in saying at the outset that, relatively to the tax, we are
behind our institutions?

Accordingly we always see the legislator stopping, in his fiscal
laws, before the subversive consequences of the progressive tax,
and consecrating the necessity, the immutability of the
proportional tax. For equality in well-being cannot result from
the violation of capital: the antinomy must be methodically
solved, under penalty, for society, of falling back into chaos.
Eternal justice does not accommodate itself to all the whims of
men: like a woman, whom one may outrage, but whom one does not
marry without a solemn alienation of one's self, it demands on
our part, with the abandonment of our egoism, the recognition of
all its rights, which are those of science.

The tax, whose final purpose, as we have shown, is the reward of
the non-producers, but whose original idea was a restoration of
the laborer,--the tax, under the system of monopoly, reduces
itself therefore to a pure and simple protest, a sort of
extra-judicial act, the whole effect of which is to aggravate the
situation of the wage-worker by disturbing the monopolist in his
possession. As for the idea of changing the proportional tax
into a progressive tax, or, to speak more accurately, of
reversing the order in which the tax progresses, that is a
blunder the entire responsibility for which belongs to the

But henceforth menace hovers over privilege. With the power of
modifying the proportionality of the tax, government has under
its hand an expeditious and sure means of dispossessing the
holders of capital when it will; and it is a frightful thing to
see everywhere that great institution, the basis of society, the
object of so many controversies, of so many laws, of so many
cajoleries, and of so many crimes, PROPERTY, suspended at the end
of a thread over the yawning mouth of the proletariat.

% 3.--Disastrous and inevitable consequences of the tax.
(Provisions, sumptuary laws, rural and industrial police,
patents, trade-marks, etc.)

M. Chevalier addressed to himself, in July, 1843, on the subject
of the tax, the following questions:

(1) Is it asked of all or by preference of a part of the nation?
(2) Does the tax resemble a levy on polls, or is it exactly
proportioned to the fortunes of the tax-payers? (3) Is
agriculture more or less burdened than manufactures or commerce?
(4) Is real estate more or less spared than personal property?
(5) Is he who produces more favored than he who consumes? (6)
Have our taxation laws the character of sumptuary laws?

To these various questions M. Chevalier makes the reply which I
am about to quote, and which sums up all of the most
philosophical considerations upon the subject which I have met:

(a) The tax affects the universality, applies to the mass, takes
the nation as a whole; nevertheless, as the poor are the most
numerous, it taxes them willingly, certain of collecting more.
(b) By the nature of things the tax sometimes takes the form of a
levy on polls, as in the case of the salt tax. (c, d, e) The
treasury addresses itself to labor as well as to consumption,
because in France everybody labors, to real more than to personal
property, and to agriculture more than to manufactures. (f) By
the same reasoning, our laws partake little of the character of
sumptuary laws.

What, professor! is that all that science has taught you? THE
Alas! we know it only too well; but it is this which is
iniquitous, and which we ask you to explain. The government,
when engaged in the assessment and distribution of the tax, could
not have believed, did not believe, that all fortunes were equal;
consequently it could not have wished, did not wish, the sums
paid to be equal. Why, then, is the practice of the government
always the opposite of its theory? Your opinion, if you please,
on this difficult matter? Explain; justify or condemn the
exchequer; take whatever course you will, provided you take some
course and say something. Remember that your readers are men,
and that they cannot excuse in a doctor, speaking ex cathedra,
such propositions as this: AS THE POOR ARE THE MOST NUMEROUS, IT
NUMBERS do not regulate the tax; the tax knows perfectly well
that millions of poor added to millions of poor do not make one
voter. You render the treasury odious by making it absurd, and I
maintain that it is neither the one nor the other. The poor man
pays more than the rich because Providence, to whom misery is
odious like vice, has so ordered things that the miserable
must always be the most ground down. The iniquity of the tax is
the celestial scourge which drives us towards equality. God! if
a professor of political economy, who was formerly an apostle,
could but understand this revelation!

TAKES THE FORM OF A LEVY ON POLLS. Well, in what case is it just
that the tax should take the form of a levy on polls? Is it
always, or never? What is the principle of the tax? What is its
object? Speak, answer.

And what instruction, pray, can we derive from the remark,
scarcely worthy of quotation, that THE TREASURY ADDRESSES ITSELF
consequence to science is this interminable recital of crude
facts, if your analysis never extracts a single idea from them?

All the deductions made from consumption by taxation, rent,
interest on capital, etc., enter into the general expense account
and figure in the selling price, so that nearly always the
consumer pays the tax: that we know. And as the goods most
consumed are also those which yield the most revenue, it
necessarily follows that the poorest people are the most heavily
burdened: this consequence, like the first, is inevitable. Once
more, then, of what importance to us are your fiscal
distinctions? Whatever the classification of taxable material,
as it is impossible to tax capital beyond its income, the
capitalist will be always favored, while the proletaire will
suffer iniquity, oppression. The trouble is not in the
distribution of taxes; it is in the distribution of goods. M.
Chevalier cannot be ignorant of this: why, then, does not M.
Chevalier, whose word would carry more weight than that of a
writer suspected of not loving the existing order, say as much?

From 1806 to 1811 (this observation, as well as the following, is
M. Chevalier's) the annual consumption of wine in Paris was one
hundred and forty quarts for each individual; now it is not more
than eighty-three. Abolish the tax of seven or eight cents a
quart collected from the retailer, and the consumption of wine
will soon rise from eighty-three quarts to one hundred and
seventy-five; and the wine industry, which does not know what to
do with its products, will have a market. Thanks to the duties
laid upon the importation of cattle, the consumption of meat by
the people has diminished in a ratio similar to that of the
falling-off in the consumption of wine; and the economists have
recognized with fright that the French workman does less work
than the English workman, because he is not as well fed.

Out of sympathy for the laboring classes M. Chevalier would like
our manufacturers to feel the goad of foreign competition a
little. A reduction of the tax on woollens to the extent of
twenty cents on each pair of pantaloons would leave six million
dollars in the pockets of the consumers,--half enough to pay the
salt tax. Four cents less in the price of a shirt would effect a
saving probably sufficient to keep a force of twenty thousand men
under arms.

In the last fifteen years the consumption of sugar has risen from
one hundred and sixteen million pounds to two hundred and sixty
million, which gives at present an average of seven pounds and
three-quarters for each individual. This progress demonstrates
that sugar must be classed henceforth with bread, wine, meat,
wool, cotton, wood, and coal, among the articles of prime
necessity. To the poor man sugar is a whole medicine-chest:
would it be too much to raise the average individual consumption
of this article from seven pounds and three-quarters to fifteen
pounds? Abolish the tax, which is about four dollars and a
half on a hundred pounds, and your consumption will double.

Thus the tax on provisions agitates and tortures the poor
proletaire in a thousand ways: the high price of salt hinders the
production of cattle; the duties on meat diminish also the
rations of the laborer. To satisfy at once the tax and the need
of fermented beverages which the laboring class feels, they serve
him with mixtures unknown to the chemist as well as to the brewer
and the wine-grower. What further need have we of the dietary
prescriptions of the Church? Thanks to the tax, the whole year
is Lent to the laborer, and his Easter dinner is not as good as
Monseigneur's Good Friday lunch. It is high time to abolish
everywhere the tax on consumption, which weakens and starves the
people: this is the conclusion of the economists as well as of
the radicals.

But if the proletaire does not fast to feed Caesar, what will
Caesar eat? And if the poor man does not cut his cloak to cover
Caesar's nudity, what will Caesar wear?

That is the question, the inevitable question, the question to be

M. Chevalier, then, having asked himself as his sixth question
whether our taxation laws have the character of sumptuary laws,
has answered: No, our taxation laws have not the character of
sumptuary laws. M. Chevalier might have added--and it would have
been both new and true-- that that is the best thing about our
taxation laws. But M. Chevalier, who, whatever he may do, always
retains some of the old leaven of radicalism, has preferred to
declaim against luxury, whereby he could not compromise himself
with any party. "If in Paris," he cries, "the tax collected from
meat should be laid upon private carriages, saddle- horses and
carriage-horses, servants, and dogs, it would be a perfectly
equitable operation."

Does M. Chevalier, then, sit in the College of France to expound
the politics of Masaniello? I have seen the dogs at Basle
wearing the treasury badge upon their necks as a sign that they
had been taxed, and I looked upon the tax on dogs, in a country
where taxation is almost nothing, as rather a moral lesson and a
hygienic precaution than a source of revenue. In 1844 the dog
tax of forty-two cents a head gave a revenue of $12,600 in the
entire province of Brabant, containing 667,000 inhabitants. From
this it may be estimated that the same tax, producing in all
France $600,000, would lighten the taxes of QUOTITE LESS THAN TWO
CENTS a year for each individual. Certainly I am far from
pretending that $600,000 is a sum to be disdained, especially
with a prodigal ministry; and I regret that the Chamber should
have rejected the dog tax, which would always have served to
endow half a dozen highnesses. But I remember that a tax of this
nature is levied much less in the interest of the treasury than
as a promoter of order; that consequently it is proper to look
upon it, from the fiscal point of view, as of no importance; and
that it will even have to be abolished as an annoyance when the
mass of the people, having become a little more humanized, shall
feel a disgust for the companionship of beasts. TWO CENTS A
YEAR, what a relief for poverty!

But M. Chevalier has other resources in reserve,--horses,
carriages, servants, articles of luxury, luxury at last! How
much is contained in that one word, LUXURY!

Let us cut short this phantasmagoria by a simple calculation;
reflections will be in order later. In 1842 the duties collected
on imports amounted to $25,800,000. In this sum of $25,800,000,
sixty-one articles in common use figure for $24,800,000, and one
hundred and seventy-seven, used only by those who enjoy a high
degree of luxury, for TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS. In the first
class sugar yielded a revenue of $8,600,000, coffee $2,400,000,
cotton $2,200,000, woollens $2,000,000, oils $1,600,000, coal
$800,000, linens and hemp $600,000,-- making a total of
$18,200,000 on seven articles. The amount of revenue, then, is
lower in proportion as the article of merchandise from which it
is derived is less generally used, more rarely consumed, and
found accompanying a more refined degree of luxury. And yet
articles of luxury are subject to much the highest taxes.
Therefore, even though, to obtain an appreciable reduction upon
articles of primary necessity, the duties upon articles of luxury
should be made a hundred times higher, the only result would be
the suppression of a branch of commerce by a prohibitory tax.
Now, the economists all favor the abolition of custom-houses;
doubtless they do not wish them replaced by city toll- gates?
Let us generalize this example: salt brings the treasury
$11,400,000, tobacco $16,800,000. Let them show me, figures in
hand, by what taxes upon articles of luxury, after having
abolished the taxes on salt and tobacco, this deficit will be
made up.

You wish to strike articles of luxury; you take civilization at
the wrong end. I maintain, for my part, that articles of luxury
should be free. In economic language what are luxuries? Those
products which bear the smallest ratio to the total wealth, those
which come last in the industrial series and whose creation
supposes the preexistence of all the others. From this point of
view all the products of human labor have been, and in turn have
ceased to be, articles of luxury, since we mean by luxury nothing
but a relation of succession, whether chronological or
commercial, in the elements of wealth. Luxury, in a word, is
synonymous with progress; it is, at each instant of social life,
the expression of the maximum of comfort realized by labor
and at which it is the right and destiny of all to arrive. Now,
just as the tax respects for a time the newly-built house and the
newly-cleared field, so it should freely welcome new products and
precious articles, the latter because their scarcity should be
continually combatted, the former because every invention
deserves encouragement. What! under a pretext of luxury would
you like to establish new classes of citizens? And do you take
seriously the city of Salente and the prosopopoeia of Fabricius?
Since the subject leads us to it, let us talk of morality.
Doubtless you will not deny the truth so often dwelt upon by the
Senecas of all ages,--that luxury CORRUPTS and WEAKENS morals:
which means that it humanizes, elevates, and ennobles habits, and
that the first and most effective education for the people, the
stimulant of the ideal in most men, is luxury. The Graces were
naked, according to the ancients; where has it ever been said
that they were needy? It is the taste for luxury which in our
day, in the absence of religious principles, sustains the social
movement and reveals to the lower classes their dignity. The
Academy of Moral and Political Sciences clearly understood this
when it chose luxury as the subject of one of its essays, and I
applaud its wisdom from the bottom of my heart. Luxury, in fact,
is already more than a right in our society, it is a necessity;
and he is truly to be pitied who never allows himself a little
luxury. And it is when universal effort tends to popularize
articles of luxury more and more that you would confine the
enjoyment of the people to articles which you are pleased to
describe as articles of necessity! It is when ranks approach and
blend into each other through the generalization of luxury that
you would dig the line of demarcation deeper and increase the
height of your steps! The workman sweats and sacrifices and
grinds in order to buy a set of jewelry for his sweetheart, a
necklace for his granddaughter, or a watch for his son; and you
would deprive him of this happiness, unless he pays your
tax,--that is, your fine.

But have you reflected that to tax articles of luxury is to
prohibit the luxurious arts? Do you think that the silk-workers,
whose average wages does not reach forty cents; the milliners at
ten cents; the jewellers, goldsmiths, and clockmakers, with their
interminable periods of idleness; servants at forty dollars,--do
you think that they earn too much?

Are you sure that the tax on luxuries would not be paid by the
worker in the luxurious arts, as the tax on beverages is paid by
the consumer of beverages? Do you even know whether higher
prices for articles of luxury would not be an obstacle to the
cheapness of necessary objects, and whether, in trying to favor
the most numerous class, you would not render the general
condition worse? A fine speculation, in truth! Four dollars to
be returned to the laborer on his wine and sugar, and eight to be
taken from him in the cost of his pleasures! He shall gain
fifteen cents on the leather in his boots, and, to take his
family into the country four times a year, he shall pay one
dollar and twenty cents more for carriage-hire! A small
bourgeois spends one hundred and twenty dollars for a
housekeeper, laundress, linen-tender, and errand-boys; but if,
by a wiser economy which works for the interest of all, he takes
a domestic, the exchequer, in the interest of articles of
subsistence, will punish this plan of economy! What an absurd
thing is the philanthropy of the economists, when closely

Nevertheless I wish to satisfy your whim; and, since you
absolutely must have sumptuary laws, I undertake to give you
the receipt. And I guarantee that in my system collection shall
be easy: no comptrollers, assessors, tasters, assayers,
inspectors, receivers; no watching, no office expenses; not the
smallest annoyance or the slightest indiscretion; no constraint
whatever. Let it be decreed by a law that no one in future shall
receive two salaries at the same time, and that the highest fees,
in any situation, shall not exceed twelve hundred dollars in
Paris and eight hundred in the departments. What! you lower your
eyes! Confess, then, that your sumptuary laws are but hypocrisy.

To relieve the people some would apply commercial practices to
taxation. If, for instance, they say, the price of salt were
reduced one-half, if letter-postage were lightened in the same
proportion, consumption would not fail to increase, the revenue
would be more than doubled, the treasury would gain, and so would
the consumer.

Let us suppose the event to confirm this anticipation. Then I
say: If letter-postage should be reduced three-fourths, and if
salt should be given away, would the treasury still gain?
Certainly not. What, then, is the significance of what is called
the postal reform? That for every kind of product there is a
natural rate, ABOVE which profit becomes usurious and tends to
decrease consumption, but BELOW which the producer suffers loss.
This singularly resembles the determination of value which the
economists reject, and in relation to which we said: There is a
secret force that fixes the extreme limits between which value
oscillates, of which there is a mean term that expresses true

Surely no one wishes the postal service to be carried on at a
loss; the opinion, therefore, is that this service should be
performed AT COST. This is so rudimentary in its simplicity
that one is astonished that it should have been necessary to
resort to a laborious investigation of the results of reducing
letter-postage in England; to pile up frightful figures and
probabilities beyond the limit of vision, to put the mind to
torture, all to find out whether a reduction in France would lead
to a surplus or a deficit, and finally to be unable to agree upon
anything! What! there was not a man to be found in the Chamber
with sense enough to say: There is no need of an ambassador's
report or examples from England; letter-postage should be
gradually reduced until receipts reach the level of
expenditures.[25] What, then, has become of our old Gallic wit?

[25] Thank heaven! the minister has settled the question, and I
tender him my very sincere compliments. By the proposed tariff
letter-postage will be reduced to 2 cents for distances under 12
1/2 miles; 4 cents, for distances between 12 1/2 and 25 miles; 6
cents, between 25 and 75 miles; 8 cents, between 75 and 225
miles; 10 cents, for longer distances.

But, it will be said, if the tax should furnish salt, tobacco,
letter-carriage, sugar, wines, meat, etc., at cost, consumption
would undoubtedly increase, and the improvement would be
enormous; but then how would the State meet its expenses? The
amount of indirect taxes is nearly one hundred and twenty million
dollars; upon what would you have the State levy this sum? If
the treasury makes nothing out of the postal service, it will
have to increase the tax on salt; if the tax on salt be lifted
also, it will have to throw the burden back upon drinks; there
would be no end to this litany. Therefore the supply of products
at cost, whether by the State or by private industry, is

Therefore, I will reply in turn, relief of the unfortunate
classes by the State is impossible, as sumptuary laws are
impossible, as the progressive tax is impossible; and all your
irrelevancies regarding the tax are lawyer's quibbles. You
have not even the hope that the increase of population, by
dividing the assessments, may lighten the burden of each; because
with population misery increases, and with misery the work and
the personnel of the State are augmented.

The various fiscal laws voted by the Chamber of Deputies during
the session of 1845-46 are so many examples of the absolute
incapacity of power, whatever it may be and however it may go to
work, to procure the comfort of the people. From the very fact
that it is power,--that is, the representative of divine right
and of property, the organ of force,--it is necessarily sterile,
and all its acts are stamped in the corner with a fatal

I referred just now to the reform in the postage rates, which
reduces the price of letter-carriage about one-third. Surely, if
motives only are in question, I have no reason to reproach the
government which has effected this useful reduction; much less
still will I seek to diminish its merit by miserable criticisms
upon matters of detail, the vile pasturage of the daily press. A
tax, considerably burdensome, is reduced thirty per cent.; its
distribution is made more equitable and more regular; I see only
the fact, and I applaud the minister who has accomplished it.
But that is not the question.

In the first place, the advantage which the government gives us
by changing the tax on letters leaves the proportional--that is,
the unjust--character of this tax intact: that scarcely requires
demonstration. The inequality of burdens, so far as the postal
tax is concerned, stands as before, the advantage of the
reduction going principally, not to the poorest, but to the
richest. A certain business house which paid six hundred dollars
for letter-postage will pay hereafter only four hundred; it will
add, then, a net profit of two hundred dollars to the ten
thousand which its business brings it, and it will owe this to
the munificence of the treasury. On the other hand, the peasant,
the laborer, who shall write twice a year to his son in the army,
and shall receive a like number of replies, will have saved ten
cents. Is it not true that the postal reform acts in direct
opposition to the equitable distribution of the tax? that if,
according to M. Chevalier's wish, the government had desired to
strike the rich and spare the poor, the tax on letters was the
last that it would have needed to reduce? Does it not seem that
the treasury, false to the spirit of its institution, has only
been awaiting the pretext of a reduction inappreciable by poverty
in order to seize the opportunity to make a present to wealth?

That is what the critics of the bill should have said, and that
is what none of them saw. It is true that then the criticism,
instead of applying to the minister, struck power in its essence,
and with power property, which was not the design of the
opponents. Truth today has all opinions against it.

And now could it have been otherwise? No, since, if they kept
the old tax, they injured all without relieving any; and, if they
reduced it, they could not make different rates for classes of
citizens without violating the first article of the Charter,
which says: "All Frenchmen are equal before the law,"--that is,
before the tax. Now, the tax on letters is necessarily personal;
therefore it is a capitation-tax; therefore, that which is equity
in this respect being iniquity from another standpoint, an
equilibrium of burdens is impossible.

At the same time another reform was effected by the care of the
government,--that of the tax on cattle. Formerly the duties on
cattle, whether on importation from foreign countries, or from
the country into the cities, were collected at so much a
head; henceforth they will be collected according to weight.
This useful reform, which has been clamored for so long, is due
in part to the influence of the economists, who, on this occasion
as on many others which I cannot recall, have shown the most
honorable zeal, and have left the idle declamations of socialism
very far in the rear. But here again the good resulting from the
law for the amelioration of the condition of the poor is wholly
illusory. They have equalized, regulated, the collection from
beasts; they have not distributed it equitably among men. The
rich man, who consumes twelve hundred pounds of meat a year, will
feel the effects of the new condition laid upon the butchers; the
immense majority of the people, who never eat meat, will not
notice it. And I renew my question of a moment ago: Could the
government, the Chamber, do otherwise than as it has done? No,
once more; for you cannot say to the butcher: You shall sell
your meat to the rich man for twenty cents a pound and to the
poor man for five cents. It would be rather the contrary that
you would obtain from the butcher.

So with salt. The government has reduced four-fifths the tax on
salt used in agriculture, on condition of its undergoing a
transformation. A certain journalist, having no better objection
to raise, has made thereupon a complaint in which he grieves over
the lot of those poor peasants who are more maltreated by the law
than their cattle. For the third time I ask: Could it be
otherwise? Of two things one: either the reduction will be
absolute, and then the tax on salt must be replaced by a tax on
something else; now I defy entire French journalism to invent a
tax which will bear two minutes' examination; or else the
reduction will be partial, whether by maintaining a portion of
the duties on salt in all its uses, or by abolishing
entirely the duties on salt used in certain ways. In the first
case, the reduction is insufficient for agriculture and the poor;
in the second, the capitation-tax still exists, in its enormous
disproportion. Whatever may be done, it is the poor man, always
the poor man, who is struck, since, in spite of all theories, the
tax can never be laid except in the ratio of the capital
possessed or consumed, and since, if the treasury should try to
proceed otherwise, it would arrest progress, prohibit wealth, and
kill capital.

The democrats, who reproach us with sacrificing the revolutionary
interest (what is the revolutionary interest?) to the socialistic
interest, ought really to tell us how, without making the State
the sole proprietor and without decreeing the community of goods
and gains, they mean, by any system of taxation whatever, to
relieve the people and restore to labor what capital takes from
it. In vain do I rack my brains; on all questions I see power
placed in the falsest situation, and the opinion of journals
straying into limitless absurdity.

In 1842 M. Arago was in favor of the administration of railways
by corporations, and the majority in France thought with him. In
1846 he has announced a change in his opinion; and, apart from
the speculators in railways, it may be said again that the
majority of citizens have changed as M. Arago has. What is to be
believed and what is to be done amid this see-sawing of the
savants and of France?

State administration, it would seem, ought to better assure the
interests of the country; but it is slow, expensive, and
unintelligent. Twenty-five years of mistakes, miscalculations,
improvidence, hundreds of millions thrown away, in the great work
of canalizing the country, have proved it to the most
incredulous. We have even seen engineers, members of the
administration, loudly proclaiming the incapacity of the
State in the matter of public works as well as of industry.

Administration by corporations is irreproachable, it is true,
from the standpoint of the interest of the stockholders; but with
these the general interest is sacrificed, the door opened to
speculation, and the exploitation of the public by monopoly

The ideal system would be one uniting the advantages of both
methods without presenting any of their shortcomings. Now, the
means of realizing these contradictory characteristics? the means
of breathing zeal, economy, penetration into these irremovable
officers who have nothing to gain or to lose? the means of
rendering the interests of the public as dear to a corporation as
its own, of making these interests veritably its own, and still
keeping it distinct from the State and having consequently its
private interests? Who is there, in the official world, that
conceives the necessity and therefore the possibility of such a
reconciliation? much more, then, who possesses its secret?

In such an emergency the government, as usual, has chosen the
course of eclecticism; it has taken a part of the administration
for itself and left the rest to the corporations; that is,
instead of reconciling the contraries, it has placed them exactly
in conflict. And the press, which in all things is precisely on
a par with power in the matter of wit,--the press, dividing
itself into three fractions, has decided, one for the ministerial
compromise, another for the exclusion of the State, and the third
for the exclusion of the corporations. So that today no more
than before do the public or M. Arago, in spite of their
somersault, know what they want.

What a herd is the French nation in this nineteenth century, with
its three powers, its press, its scientific bodies, its
literature, its instruction! A hundred thousand men, in our
country, have their eyes constantly open upon everything that
interests national progress and the country's honor. Now,
propound to these hundred thousand men the simplest question of
public order, and you may be assured that all will rush pell-mell
into the same absurdity.

Is it better that the promotion of officials should be governed
by merit or by length of service?

Certainly there is no one who would not like to see this double
method of estimating capacities blended into one. What a society
it would be in which the rights of talent would be always in
harmony with those of age! But, they say, such perfection is
utopian, for it is contradictory in its statement. And instead
of seeing that it is precisely the contradiction which makes the
thing possible, they begin to dispute over the respective value
of the two opposed systems, which, each leading to the absurd,
equally give rise to intolerable abuses.

Who shall be the judge of merit? asks one: the government. Now,
the government recognizes merit only in its creatures. Therefore
no promotion by choice, none of that immoral system which
destroys the independence and the dignity of the office-holder.

But, says another, length of service is undoubtedly very
respectable. It is a pity that it has the disadvantage of
rendering stagnant things which are essentially voluntary and
free,--labor and thought; of creating obstacles to power even
among its agents, and of bestowing upon chance, often upon
incapacity, the reward of genius and audacity.

Finally they compromise: to the government is accorded the power
of appointing arbitrarily to a certain number of offices
pretended men of merit, who are supposed to have no need of
experience, while the rest, apparently deemed incapable, are
promoted in turn. And the press, that ambling old nag of all
presumptuous mediocrities, which generally lives only by the
gratuitous compositions of young people as destitute of talent as
of acquired knowledge, hastens to begin again its attacks upon
power, accusing it,--not without reason too,--here of favoritism,
there of routine.

Who could hope ever to do anything to the satisfaction of the
press? After having declaimed and gesticulated against the
enormous size of the budget, here it is clamoring for increased
salaries for an army of officials, who, to tell the truth, really
have not the wherewithal to live. Now it is the teachers, of
high and low grade, who make their complaints heard through its
columns; now it is the country clergy, so insufficiently paid
that they have been forced to maintain their fees, a fertile
source of scandal and abuse. Then it is the whole administrative
nation, which is neither lodged, nor clothed, nor warmed, nor
fed: it is a million men with their families, nearly an eighth of
the population, whose poverty brings shame upon France and for
whom one hundred million dollars should at once be added to the
budget. Note that in this immense personnel there is not one man
too many; on the contrary, if the population grows, it will
increase proportionally. Are you in a position to tax the nation
to the extent of four hundred million dollars? Can you take, out
of an average income of $184 for four persons, $47.25--more than
one-fourth--to pay, together with the other expenses of the
State, the salaries of the non-productive laborers? And if you
cannot, if you can neither pay your expenses nor reduce them,
what do you want? of what do you complain?

Let the people know it, then, once for all: all the hopes of
reduction and equity in taxation, with which they are lulled by
turns by the harangues of power and the diatribes of party
leaders, are so many mystifications; the tax cannot be reduced,
nor can its assessment be more equitable, under the monopoly
system. On the contrary, the lower the condition of the
citizen becomes, the heavier becomes his tax; that is inevitable,
irresistible, in spite of the avowed design of the legislator and
the repeated efforts of the treasury. Whoever cannot become or
remain rich, whoever has entered the cavern of misfortune, must
make up his mind to pay in proportion to his poverty: Lasciate
ogni speranza, voi ch' entrate.

Taxation, then, police,--henceforth we shall not separate these
two ideas,--is a new source of pauperism; taxation aggravates the
subversive effects of the preceding antinomies,--division of
labor, machinery, competition, monopoly. It attacks the laborer
in his liberty and in his conscience, in his body and in his
soul, by parasitism, vexations, the frauds which it prompts, and
the punishments which follow them.

Under Louis XIV. the smuggling of salt alone caused annually
thirty- seven hundred domiciliary seizures, two thousand arrests
of men, eighteen hundred of women, sixty-six hundred of children,
eleven hundred seizures of horses, fifty confiscations of
carriages, and three hundred condemnations to the galleys. And
this, observes the historian, was the result of one tax
alone,--the salt-tax. What, then, was the total number of
unfortunates imprisoned, tortured, expropriated, on account of
the tax?

In England, out of every four families, one is unproductive, and
that is the family which enjoys an abundance. What an advantage
it would be for the working-class, you think, if this leprosy of
parasitism should be removed! Undoubtedly, in theory, you are
right; in practice, the suppression of parasitism would be a
calamity. Though one-fourth of the population of England is
unproductive, another fourth of the same population is at work
for it: now, what would these laborers do, if they should
suddenly lose the market for their products? An absurd
supposition, you say. Yes, an absurd supposition, but a very
real supposition, and one which you must admit precisely because
it is absurd. In France a standing army of five hundred thousand
men, forty thousand priests, twenty thousand doctors, eighty
thousand lawyers, and I know not how many hundred thousand other
nonproducers of every sort, constitute an immense market for our
agriculture and our manufactures. Let this market suddenly
close, and manufactures will stop, commerce will go into
bankruptcy, and agriculture will be smothered beneath its

But how is it conceivable that a nation should find its market
clogged because of having got rid of its useless mouths? Ask
rather why an engine, whose consumption has been figured at six
hundred pounds of coal an hour, loses its power if it is given
only three hundred. But again, might not these non-producers be
made producers, since we cannot get rid of them? Eh! child: tell
me, then, how you will do without police, and monopoly, and
competition, and all the contradictions, in short, of which your
order of things is made up. Listen.

In 1844, at the time of the troubles in Rive-de-Gier, M. Anselme
Petetin published in the "Revue Independante" two articles, full
of reason and sincerity, concerning the anarchy prevailing in the
conduct of the coal mines in the basin of the Loire. M. Petetin
pointed out the necessity of uniting the mines and centralizing
their administration. The facts which he laid before the public
were not unknown to power; has power troubled itself about
the union of the mines and the organization of that industry?
Not at all. Power has followed the principle of free
competition; it has let alone and looked on.

Since that time the mining companies have combined, not without
causing some anxiety to consumers, who have seen in this
combination a plot to raise the price of fuel. Will power, which
has received numerous complaints upon this subject, intervene to
restore competition and prevent monopoly? It cannot do it; the
right of combination is identical in law with the right of
association; monopoly is the basis of our society, as competition
is its conquest; and, provided there is no riot, power will let
alone and look on. What other course could it pursue? Can it
prohibit a legally established commercial association? Can it
oblige neighbors to destroy each other? Can it forbid them to
reduce their expenses? Can it establish a maximum? If power
should do any one of these things, it would overturn the
established order. Power, therefore, can take no initiative: it
is instituted to defend and protect monopoly and competition at
once, within the limitations of patents, licenses, land taxes,
and other bonds which it has placed upon property. Apart from
these limitations power has no sort of right to act in the name
of society. The social right is not defined; moreover, it would
be a denial of monopoly and competition. How, then, could power
take up the defence of that which the law did not foresee or
define, of that which is the opposite of the rights recognized by
the legislator?

Consequently, when the miner, whom we must consider in the events
of Rive-de-Gier as the real representative of society against the
mine- owners, saw fit to resist the scheme of the monopolists by
defending his wages and opposing combination to combination,
power shot the miner down. And the political brawlers accused
authority, saying it was partial, ferocious, sold to monopoly,
etc. For my part, I declare that this way of viewing the acts of
authority seems to me scarcely philosophical, and I reject it
with all my energies. It is possible that they might have killed
fewer people, possible also that they might have killed more: the
fact to be noticed here is not the number of dead and wounded,
but the repression of the workers. Those who have criticised
authority would have done as it did, barring perhaps the
impatience of its bayonets and the accuracy of its aim: they
would have repressed, I say; they would not have been able to do
anything else. And the reason, which it would be vain to try to
brush aside, is that competition is legal, joint-stock
association is legal, supply and demand are legal, and all the
consequences which flow directly from competition, joint-stock
association, and free commerce are legal, whereas workingmen's
strikes are ILLEGAL. And it is not only the penal code which
says this, but the economic system, the necessity of the
established order. As long as labor is not sovereign, it must be
a slave; society is possible only on this condition. That each
worker individually should have the free disposition of his
person and his arms may be tolerated;[26] but that the workers
should undertake, by combinations, to do violence to monopoly
society cannot permit. Crush monopoly, and you abolish
competition, and you disorganize the workshop, and you sow
dissolution everywhere. Authority, in shooting down the miners,
found itself in the position of Brutus placed between his
paternal love and his consular duties: he had to sacrifice either
his children or the republic. The alternative was horrible, I
admit; but such is the spirit and letter of the social compact,
such is the tenor of the charter, such is the order of

[26] The new law regarding service-books has confined the
independence of workers within narrower limits. The democratic
press has again thundered its indignation this subject against
those in power, as if they had been guilty of anything more than
the application of the principles of authority and property,
which are those of democracy. What the Chambers have done in
regard to service-books was inevitable, and should have been
expected. It is as impossible for a society founded on the
proprietary principle not to end in class distinctions as for a
democracy to avoid despotism, for a religion to be reasonable,
for fanaticism to show tolerance. This is the law of
contradiction: how long will it take us to understand it?

Thus the police function, instituted for the defence of the
proletariat, is directed entirely against the proletariat. The
proletaire is driven from the forests, from the rivers, from the
mountains; even the cross- roads are forbidden him; soon he will
know no road save that which leads to prison.

The advance in agriculture has made the advantage of artificial
meadows and the necessity of abolishing common land generally
felt. Everywhere communal lands are being cleared, let,
enclosed; new advances, new wealth. But the poor day-laborer,
whose only patrimony is the communal land and who supports a cow
and several sheep in summer by letting them feed along the roads,
through the underbrush, and over the stripped fields, will lose
his sole and last resource. The landed proprietor, the purchaser
or farmer of the communal lands, will alone thereafter sell, with
his wheat and vegetables, milk and cheese. Instead of weakening
an old monopoly, they create a new one. Even the road- laborers
reserve for themselves the edges of the roads as a meadow
belonging to them, and drive off all non-administrative cattle.
What follows? That the day-laborer, before abandoning his cow,
lets it feed in contravention of the law, becomes a marauder,
commits a thousand depredations, and is punished by fine and
imprisonment: of what use to him are police and agricultural
progress? Last year the mayor of Mulhouse, to prevent
grape-stealing, forbade every individual not an owner of vines to
travel by day or night over roads running by or through
vineyards,--a charitable precaution, since it prevented even
desires and regrets. But if the public highway is nothing but an
accessory of private property; if the communal lands are
converted into private property; if the public domain, in short,
assimilated to private property, is guarded, exploited, leased,
and sold like private property,--what remains for the proletaire?
Of what advantage is it to him that society has left the state of
war to enter the regime of police?

Industry, as well as land, has its privileges,--privileges
consecrated by the law, as always, under conditions and
reservations, but, as always also, to the great disadvantage of
the consumer. The question is interesting; we will say a few
words upon it.

I quote M. Renouard.

"Privileges," says M. Renouard, "were a corrective of

I ask M. Renouard's permission to translate his thought by
reversing his phrase: Regulation was a corrective of privilege.
For whoever says regulation says limitation: now, how conceive of
limiting privilege before it existed? I can conceive a sovereign
submitting privileges to regulations; but I cannot at all
understand why he should create privileges expressly to weaken
the effect of regulations. There is nothing to prompt such a
concession; it would be an effect without a cause. In logic as
well as in history, everything is appropriated and monopolized
when laws and regulations arrive: in this respect civil
legislation is like penal legislation. The first results
from possession and appropriation, the second from the appearance
of crimes and offences. M. Renouard, preoccupied with the idea
of servitude inherent in all regulation, has considered privilege
as a compensation for this servitude; and it was this which led
what M. Renouard adds proves that he meant the opposite:

The fundamental principle of our legislation, that of granting
temporary monopoly as a condition of a contract between society
and the laborer, has always prevailed, etc.

What is, in reality, this grant of a monopoly? A simple
acknowledgment, a declaration. Society, wishing to favor a new
industry and enjoy the advantages which it promises, BARGAINS
with the inventor, as it has bargained with the farmer; it
guarantees him the monopoly of his industry for a time; but it
does not create the monopoly. The monopoly exists by the very
fact of the invention; and the acknowledgment of the monopoly is
what constitutes society.

This ambiguity cleared up, I pass to the contradictions of the

All industrial nations have adopted the establishment of a
temporary monopoly as a condition of a contract between society
and the inventor. . . . . I do not take readily to the belief
that all legislators of all countries have committed robbery.

M. Renouard, if ever he reads this work, will do me the justice
to admit that, in quoting him, I do not criticise his thought; he
himself has perceived the contradictions of the patent law. All
that I pretend is to connect this contradiction with the general

Why, in the first place, a TEMPORARY monopoly in manufacture,
while land monopoly is PERPETUAL? The Egyptians were more
logical; with them these two monopolies were alike hereditary,
perpetual, inviolable. I know the considerations which have
prevailed against the perpetuity of literary property, and I
admit them all; but these considerations apply equally well to
property in land; moreover, they leave intact all the arguments
brought forward against them. What, then, is the secret of all
these variations of the legislator? For the rest, I do not need
to say that, in pointing out this inconsistency, it is not my
purpose either to slander or to satirize; I admit that the course
of the legislator is determined, not by his will, but by

But the most flagrant contradiction is that which results from
the enacting section of the law. Title IV, article 30, % 3,
reads: "If the patent relates to principles, methods, systems,
discoveries, theoretical or purely scientific conceptions,
without indicating their industrial applications, the patent is

a SYSTEM? It is the especial fruit of genius, it is invention
in its purity, it is the idea, it is everything. The application
is the gross fact, nothing. Thus the law excludes from the
benefit of the patent the very thing which deserves it,--namely,
the idea; on the contrary, it grants a patent to the
application,--that is, to the material fact, to a pattern of the
idea, as Plato would have said. Therefore it is wrongly called a

In our day, if a man had invented arithmetic, algebra, or the
decimal system, he would have obtained no patent; but Bareme
would have had a right of property in his Computations. Pascal,
for his theory of the weight of the atmosphere, would not have
been patented; instead of him, a glazier would have obtained the
privilege of the barometer. I quote M. Arago:

After two thousand years it occurred to one of our
fellow-countrymen that the screw of Archimedes, which is used to
raise water, might be employed in forcing down gases; it
suffices, without making any change, to turn it from right to
left, instead of turning it, as when raising water, from left to
right. Large volumes of gas, charged with foreign substances,
are thus forced into water to a great depth; the gas is purified
in rising again. I maintain that there was an invention; that
the person who saw a way to make the screw of Archimedes a
blowing machine was entitled to a patent.

What is more extraordinary is that Archimedes himself would thus
be obliged to buy the right to use his screw; and M. Arago
considers that just.

It is useless to multiply these examples: what the law meant to
monopolize is, as I said just now, not the idea, but the fact;
not the invention, but the occupancy. As if the idea were not
the category which includes all the facts that express it; as if
a method, a system, were not a generalization of experiences, and
consequently that which properly constitutes the fruit of
genius,--invention! Here legislation is more than anti-economic,
it borders on the silly. Therefore I am entitled to ask the
legislator why, in spite of free competition, which is nothing
but the right to apply a theory, a principle, a method, a
non-appropriable system, he forbids in certain cases this same
competition, this right to apply a principle?" It is no longer
possible," says M. Renouard, with strong reason, "to stifle
competitors by combining in corporations and guilds; the loss is
supplied by patents." Why has the legislator given hands to this
conspiracy of monopolies, to this interdict upon theories
belonging to all?

But what is the use of continually questioning one who can say
nothing? The legislator did not know in what spirit he was
acting when he made this strange application of the right of
property, which, to be exact, we ought to call the right of
priority. Let him explain himself, then, at least, regarding the
clauses of the contract made by him, in our name, with the

I pass in silence the part relating to dates and other
administrative and fiscal formalities, and come to this article:

The patent does not guarantee the invention.

Doubtless society, or the prince who represents it, cannot and
should not guarantee the invention, since, in granting a monopoly
for fourteen years, society becomes the purchaser of the
privilege, and consequently it is for the patentee to furnish the
guarantee. How, then, can legislators proudly say to their
constituents: "We have negotiated in your name with an inventor;
he pledges himself to give you the enjoyment of his discovery on
condition of having the exclusive exploitation for fourteen
years. But we do not guarantee the invention"? On what, then,
have you relied, legislators? How did you fail to see that,
without a guarantee of the invention, you conceded a privilege,
not for a real discovery, but for a possible discovery, and that
thus the field of industry was given up by you before the plough
was found? Certainly, your duty bade you to be prudent; but who
gave you a commission to be dupes?

Thus the patent for invention is not even the fixing of a date;
it is an abandonment in anticipation. It is as if the law should
say: "I assure the land to the first occupant, but without
guaranteeing its quality, its location, or even its existence;
not even knowing whether I ought to give it up or that it falls
within the domain of appropriation!" A pretty use of the
legislative power!

I know that the law had excellent reasons for abstaining; but I
maintain that it also had good reasons for intervening. Proof:

"It cannot be concealed," says M. Renouard, "it cannot be
prevented; patents are and will be instruments of quackery as
well as a legitimate reward of labor and genius. . . . It is for
the good sense of the public to do justice to juggleries."

As well say it is for the good sense of the public to distinguish
true remedies from false, pure wine from adulterated; or, it is
for the good sense of the public to distinguish in a buttonhole
the decoration awarded to merit from that prostituted to
mediocrity and intrigue. Why, then, do you call yourselves the
State, Power, Authority, Police, if the work of Police must be
performed by the good sense of the public?

As the proverb says, he who owns land must defend it; likewise,
he who holds a privilege is liable to attack.

Well! how will you judge the counterfeit, if you have no
guarantee? In vain will they offer you the plea: in right first
occupancy, in fact similarity. Where reality depends upon
quality, not to demand a guarantee is to grant no right over
anything, is to take away the means of comparing processes and
identifying the counterfeit. In the matter of industrial
processes success depends upon such trifles! Now, these trifles
are the whole.

I infer from all this that the law regarding patents for
inventions, indispensable so far as its motives are concerned, is
impossible--that is, illogical, arbitrary, disastrous--in its
economy. Under the control of certain necessities the legislator
has thought best, in the general interest, to grant a privilege
for a definite thing; and he finds that he has given a
signature-in-blank to monopoly, that he has abandoned the chances
which the public had of making the discovery or some other
similar to it, that he has sacrificed the rights of competitors
without compensation, and abandoned the good faith of defenceless
consumers to the greed of quacks. Then, in order that nothing
might be lacking to the absurdity of the contract, he has said to
those whom he ought to guarantee: "Guarantee yourselves!"

I do not believe, any more than M. Renouard, that the legislators
of all ages and all countries have wilfully committed robbery in
sanctioning the various monopolies which are pivotal in public
economy. But M. Renouard might well also agree with me that the
legislators of all ages and all countries have never understood
at all their own decrees. A deaf and blind man once learned to
ring the village bells and wind the village clock. It was
fortunate for him, in performing his bell- ringer's functions,
that neither the noise of the bells nor the height of the
bell-tower made him dizzy. The legislators of all ages and all
countries, for whom I profess, with M. Renouard, the profoundest
respect, resemble that blind and deaf man; they are the
Jacks-in-the- clock-house of all human follies.

What a feather it would be in my cap if I should succeed in
making these automata reflect! if I could make them understand
that their work is a Penelope's web, which they are condemned to
unravel at one end as fast as they weave at the other!

Thus, while applauding the creation of patents, on other points
they demand the abolition of privileges, and always with the same
pride, the same satisfaction. M. Horace Say wishes trade in meat
to be free. Among other reasons he puts forward this strictly
mathematical argument:

The butcher who wants to retire from business seeks a purchaser
for his investment; he figures in the account his tools, his
merchandise, his reputation, and his custom; but under the
present system, he adds to these the value of the bare
title,--that is, the right to share in a monopoly. Now, this
supplementary capital which the purchasing butcher gives for the
title bears interest; it is not a new creation; this interest
must enter into the price of his meat. Hence the limitation of
the number of butchers' stalls has a tendency to raise the price
of meat rather than lower it.

I do not fear to affirm incidentally that what I have just said
about the sale of a butcher's stall applies to every charge
whatever having a salable title.

M. Horace Say's reasons for the abolition of the butcher's
privilege are unanswerable; moreover, they apply to printers,
notaries, attorneys, process-servers, clerks of courts,
auctioneers, brokers, dealers in stocks, druggists, and others,
as well as to butchers. But they do not destroy the reasons
which have led to the adoption of these monopolies, and which are
generally deduced from the need of security, authenticity, and
regularity in business, as well as from the interests of commerce
and the public health. The object, you say, is not attained. My
God! I know it: leave the butcher's trade to competition, and you
will eat carrion; establish a monopoly in the butcher's trade,
and you will eat carrion. That is the only fruit you can hope
for from your monopoly and patent legislation.

Abuses! cry the protective economists. Establish over commerce a
supervisory police, make trade-marks obligatory, punish the
adulteration of products, etc.

In the path upon which civilization has entered, whichever way we
turn, we always end, then, either in the despotism of monopoly,
and consequently the oppression of consumers, or else in the
annihilation of privilege by the action of the police, which is
to go backwards in economy and dissolve society by destroying
liberty. Marvellous thing! in this system of free industry,
abuses, like lice, being generated by their own remedies, if the
legislator should try to suppress all offences, be on the watch
against all frauds, and secure persons, property, and the public
welfare against any attack, going from reform to reform, he would
finally so multiply the non-productive functions that the entire
nation would be engaged in them, and that at last there would be
nobody left to produce. Everybody would be a policeman; the
industrial class would become a myth. Then, perhaps, order would
reign in monopoly.

"The principle of the law yet to be made concerning trade-marks,"
says M. Renouard, "is that these marks cannot and should not be
transformed into guarantees of quality."

This is a consequence of the patent law, which, as we have seen,
does not guarantee the invention. Adopt M. Renouard's principle;
after that of what use will marks be? Of what importance is it
to me to read on the cork of a bottle, instead of TWELVE-CENT
any other concern you will? What I care for is not the name of
the merchant, but the quality and fair price of the merchandise.

The name of the manufacturer is supposed, it is true, to serve as
a concise sign of good or bad manufacture, of superior or
inferior quality. Then why not frankly take part with those who
ask, besides the mark of ORIGIN, a mark significant of
something? Such a reservation is incomprehensible. The two
sorts of marks have the same purpose; the second is only a
statement or paraphrase of the first, a condensation of the
merchant's prospectus; why, once more, if the origin signifies
something, should not the mark define this significance?

M. Wolowski has very clearly developed this argument in his
opening lecture of 1843-44, the substance of which lies entirely
in the following analogy:

Just as the government has succeeded in determining a standard of
QUANTITY, it may, it should also fix a standard of QUALITY; one
of these standards is the necessary complement of the other. The
monetary unit, the system of weights and measures, have not
infringed upon industrial liberty; no more would it be damaged by
a system of trade-marks.

M. Wolowski then supports himself on the authority of the princes
of the science, A. Smith and J. B. Say,--a precaution always
useful with hearers who bow to authority much more than to

I declare, for my part, that I thoroughly share M. Wolowski's
idea, and for the reason that I find it profoundly revolutionary.
The trade-mark, being, according to M. Wolowski's expression,
nothing but a standard of qualities, is equivalent in my eyes to
a general scheduling of prices. For, whether a particular
administration marks in the name of the State and guarantees the
quality of the merchandise, as is the case with gold and silver,
or whether the matter of marking is left to the manufacturer,
from the moment that the mark must give THE INTRINSIC COMPOSITION
OF THE MERCHANDISE (these are M. Wolowski's own words) AND
resolves itself into a fixed price. It is not the same thing as
price; two similar products, but differing in origin and quality,
may be of equal value, as a bottle of Burgundy may be worth a
bottle of Bordeaux; but the mark, being significant, leads to an
exact knowledge of the price, since it gives the analysis. To
calculate the price of an article of merchandise is to decompose
it into its constituent parts; now, that is exactly what the
trade-mark must do, if designed to signify anything. Therefore
we are on the road, as I have said, to a general scheduling of

But a general scheduling of prices is nothing but a determination
of all values, and here again political economy comes into
conflict with its own principles and tendencies. Unfortunately,
to realize M. Wolowski's reform, it is necessary to begin by
solving all the previous contradictions and enter a higher sphere
of association; and it is this absence of solution which has
brought down upon M. Wolowski's system the condemnation of most
of his fellow-economists.

In fact, the system of trade-marks is inapplicable in the
existing order, because this system, contrary to the interests of
the manufacturers and repugnant to their habits, could be
sustained only by the energetic will of power. Suppose for a
moment that the administration be charged with affixing the
marks; its agents will have to interpose continually in the work
of manufacture, as it interposes in the liquor business and the
manufacture of beer; further, these agents, whose functions seem
already so intrusive and annoying, deal only with taxable
quantities, not with exchangeable qualities. These fiscal
supervisors and inspectors will have to carry their investigation
into all details in order to repress and prevent fraud; and what
fraud? The legislator will have defined it either incorrectly or
not at all; it is at this point that the task becomes appalling.

There is no fraud in selling wine of the poorest quality, but
there is fraud in passing off one quality for another; then you
are obliged to differentiate the qualities of wines, and
consequently to guarantee them. Is it fraudulent to mix wines?
Chaptal, in his treatise on the art of making wine, advises this
as eminently useful; on the other hand, experience proves that
certain wines, in some way antagonistic to each other or
incompatible, produce by their mixture a disagreeable and
unhealthy drink. Then you are obliged to say what wines can be
usefully mixed, and what cannot. Is it fraudulent to aromatize,
alcoholize, and water wines? Chaptal recommends this also;
and everybody knows that this drugging produces sometimes
advantageous results, sometimes pernicious and detestable
effects. What substances will you proscribe? In what cases? In
what proportion? Will you prohibit chicory in coffee, glucose in
beer, water, cider, and three-six alcohol in wine?

The Chamber of Deputies, in the rude attempt at a law which it
was pleased to make this year regarding the adulteration of
wines, stopped in the very middle of its work, overcome by the
inextricable difficulties of the question. It succeeded in
declaring that the introduction of water into wine, and of
alcohol above the proportion of eighteen per cent., was
fraudulent, and in putting this fraud into the category of
offences. It was on the ground of ideology; there one never
meets an obstacle. But everybody has seen in this redoubling of
severity the interest of the treasury much more than that of the
consumer; the Chamber did not dare to create a whole army of
wine-tasters, inspectors, etc., to watch for fraud and identify
it, and thus load the budget with a few extra millions; in
prohibiting watering and alcoholization, the only means left to
the merchant-manufacturers of putting wine within the reach of
all and realizing profits, it did not succeed in increasing the
market by a decrease in production. The chamber, in a word, in
prosecuting the adulteration of wines, has simply set back the
limits of fraud. To make its work accomplish its purpose it
would first have to show how the liquor trade is possible without
adulteration, and how the people can buy unadulterated
wine,--which is beyond the competency and escapes the capacity of
the Chamber.

If you wish the consumer to be guaranteed, both as to value and
as to healthfulness, you are forced to know and to determine all
that constitutes good and honest production, to be continually at
the heels of the manufacturer, and to guide him at every step.
He no longer manufactures; you, the State, are the real

Thus you find yourself in a trap. Either you hamper the liberty
of commerce by interfering in production in a thousand ways, or
you declare yourself sole producer and sole merchant.

In the first case, through annoying everybody, you will finally
cause everybody to rebel; and sooner or later, the State getting
itself expelled, trade-marks will be abolished. In the second
you substitute everywhere the action of power for individual
initiative, which is contrary to the principles of political
economy and the constitution of society. Do you take a middle
course? It is favor, nepotism, hypocrisy, the worst of systems.

Suppose, now, that the marking be left to the manufacturer. I
say that then the marks, even if made obligatory, will gradually
lose their SIGNIFICANCE, and at last become only proofs of
ORIGIN. He knows but little of commerce who imagines that a
merchant, a head of a manufacturing enterprise, making use of
processes that are not patentable, will betray the secret of his
industry, of his profits, of his existence. The significance
will then be a delusion; it is not in the power of the police to
make it otherwise. The Roman emperors, to discover the
Christians who dissembled their religion, obliged everybody to
sacrifice to the idols. They made apostates and martyrs; and the
number of Christians only increased. Likewise significant marks,
useful to some houses, will engender innumerable frauds and
repressions; that is all that can be expected of them. To induce
the manufacturer to frankly indicate the intrinsic
composition--that is, the industrial and commercial
value--of his merchandise, it is necessary to free him from the
perils of competition and satisfy his monopolistic instincts: can
you do it? It is necessary, further, to interest the consumer in
the repression of fraud, which, so long as the producer is not
utterly disinterested, is at once impossible and contradictory.
Impossible: place on the one hand a depraved consumer, China; on
the other a desperate merchant, England; between them a venomous
drug causing excitement and intoxication; and, in spite of all
the police in the world, you will have trade in opium.
Contradictory: in society the consumer and the producer are but
one,--that is, both are interested in the production of that
which it is injurious to them to consume; and as, in the case of
each, consumption follows production and sale, all will combine
to guard the first interest, leaving it to each to guard himself
against the second.

The thought which prompted trade-marks is of the same character
as that which formerly inspired the maximum laws. Here again is
one of the innumerable cross-roads of political economy.

It is indisputable that maximum laws, though made and supported
by their authors entirely as a relief from famine, have
invariably resulted in an aggravation of famine. Accordingly it
is not injustice or malice with which the economists charge these
abhorred laws, but stupidity, inexpediency. But what a
contradiction in the theory with which they oppose them!

To relieve famine it is necessary to call up provisions, or, to
put it better, to bring them to light; so far there is nothing to
reproach. To secure a supply of provisions it is necessary to
attract the holders by profits, excite their competition,
and assure them complete liberty in the market: does not this
process strike you as the absurdest homoeopathy? How is it that
the more easily I can be taxed the sooner I shall be provided?
Let alone, they say, let pass; let competition and monopoly act,
especially in times of famine, and even though famine is the
effect of competition and monopoly. What logic! but, above all,
what morality!

But why, then, should there not be a tariff for farmers as well
as for bakers? Why not a registration of the sowing, of the
harvest, of the vintage, of the pasturage, and of the cattle, as
well as a stamp for newspapers, circulars, and orders, or an
administration for brewers and wine-merchants? Under the
monopoly system this would be, I admit, an increase of torments;
but with our tendencies to unfairness in trade and the
disposition of power to continually increase its personnel and
its budget, a law of inquisition regarding crops is becoming
daily more indispensable.

Besides, it would be difficult to say which, free trade or the
maximum, causes the more evil in times of famine.

But, whichever course you choose,--and you cannot avoid the
alternative,--the deception is sure and the disaster immense.
With the maximum goods seek concealment; the terror increasing
from the very effect of the law, the price of provisions rises
and rises; soon circulation stops, and the catastrophe follows,
as prompt and pitiless as a band of plunderers. With competition
the progress of the scourge is slower, but no less fatal: how
many deaths from exhaustion or hunger before the high prices
attract food to the market! how many victims of extortion after
it has arrived! It is the story of the king to whom God, in
punishment for his pride, offered the alternative of three days'
pestilence, three months' famine, or three years' war. David
chose the shortest; the economists prefer the longest. Man
is so miserable that he would rather end by consumption than by
apoplexy; it seems to him that he does not die as much. This is
the reason why the disadvantages of the maximum and the benefits
of free trade have been so much exaggerated.

For the rest, if France during the last twenty-five years has
experienced no general famine, the cause is not in the liberty of
commerce, which knows very well, when it wishes, how to produce
scarcity in the midst of plenty and how to make famine prevail in
the bosom of abundance; it is in the improvement in the methods
of communication, which, shortening distances, soon restore the
equilibrium disturbed for a moment by local penury. A striking
example of that sad truth that in society the general welfare is
never the effect of a conspiracy of individual wills!

The farther we delve into this system of illusory compromises
between monopoly and society,--that is, as we have explained in %
1 of this chapter, between capital and labor, between the
patriciate and the proletariat,--the more we discover that it is
all foreseen, regulated, and executed in accordance with this
infernal maxim, with which Hobbes and Machiavel, those theorists
of despotism, were unacquainted: EVERYTHING BY THE PEOPLE AND
AGAINST THE PEOPLE. While labor produces, capital, under the
mask of a false fecundity, enjoys and abuses; the legislator, in
offering his mediation, thought to recall the privileged class to
fraternal feelings and surround the laborer with guarantees; and
now he finds, by the fatal contradiction of interests, that each
of these guarantees is an instrument of torture. It would
require a hundred volumes, the life of ten men, and a heart of
iron, to relate from this standpoint the crimes of the State
towards the poor and the infinite variety of its tortures. A
summary glance at the principal classes of police will be
enough to enable us to estimate its spirit and economy.

After having sown trouble in all minds by a confusion of civil,
commercial, and administrative laws, made the idea of justice
more obscure by multiplying contradictions, and rendered
necessary a whole class of interpreters for the explanation of
this system, it has been found necessary also to organize the
repression of crimes and provide for their punishment. Criminal
justice, that particularly rich order of the great family of
non-producers, whose maintenance costs France annually more than
six million dollars, has become to society a principle of
existence as necessary as bread is to the life of man; but with
this difference,--that man lives by the product of his hands,
while society devours its members and feeds on its own flesh.

It is calculated by some economists that there is,

In London . . 1 criminal to every 89 inhabitants.
In Liverpool . . 1 " " " 45 "
In Newcastle . . 1 " " " 27 "

But these figures lack accuracy, and, utterly frightful as they
seem, do not express the real degree of social perversion due to
the police. We have to determine here not only the number of
recognized criminals, but the number of offences. The work of
the criminal courts is only a special mechanism which serves to
place in relief the moral destruction of humanity under the
monopoly system; but this official exhibition is far from
including the whole extent of the evil. Here are other figures
which will lead us to a more certain approximation.

The police courts of Paris disposed,

In 1835 . . . . of 106,467 cases.
In 1836 . . . . " 128,489 "
In 1837 . . . . " 140,247 "

Supposing this rate of increase to have continued up to 1846, and
to this total of misdemeanors adding the cases of the criminal
courts, the simple matters that go no further than the police,
and all the offences unknown or left unpunished,--offences far
surpassing in number, so the magistrates say, those which justice
reaches,--we shall arrive at the conclusion that in one year, in
the city of Paris, there are more infractions of the law
committed than there are inhabitants. And as it is necessary to
deduct from the presumable authors of these infractions children
of seven years and under, who are outside the limits of guilt,
the figures will show that every adult citizen is guilty, three
or four times a year, of violating the established order.

Thus the proprietary system is maintained at Paris only by the
annual consummation of one or two millions of offences! Now,
though all these offences should be the work of a single man, the
argument would still hold good: this man would be the scapegoat
loaded with the sins of Israel: of what consequence is the number
of the guilty, provided justice has its contingent?

Violence, perjury, robbery, cheating, contempt of persons and
society, are so much a part of the essence of monopoly; they flow
from it so naturally, with such perfect regularity, and in
accordance with laws so certain,--that it is possible to submit
their perpetration to calculation, and, given the number of a
population, the condition of its industry, and the stage of its
enlightenment, to rigorously deduce therefrom the statistics of
its morality. The economists do not know yet what the principle
of value is; but they know, within a few decimals, the
proportionality of crime. So many thousand souls, so many
malefactors, so many condemnations: about that there can be no
mistake. It is one of the most beautiful applications of the
theory of chances, and the most advanced branch of economic
science. If socialism had invented this accusing theory, the
whole world would have cried calumny.

Yet, after all, what is there in it that should surprise us? As
misery is a necessary result of the contradictions of society, a
result which it is possible to determine mathematically from the
rate of interest, the rate of wages, and the prevailing
market-prices, so crimes and misdemeanors are another effect of
this same antagonism, susceptible, like its cause, of estimation
by figures. The materialists have drawn the silliest inferences
from this subordination of liberty to the laws of numbers: as if
man were not under the influence of all that surrounds him, and
as if, since all that surrounds him is governed by inexorable
laws, he must not experience, in his freest manifestations, the
reaction of those laws!

The same character of necessity which we have just pointed out in
the establishment and sustenance of criminal justice is found,
but under a more metaphysical aspect, in its morality.

In the opinion of all moralists, the penalty should be such as to
secure the reformation of the offender, and consequently free
from everything that might cause his degradation. Far be it from
me to combat this blessed tendency of minds and disparage
attempts which would have been the glory of the greatest men of
antiquity. Philanthropy, in spite of the ridicule which
sometimes attaches to its name, will remain, in the eyes of
posterity, the most honorable characteristic of our time: the
abolition of the death penalty, which is merely postponed; the
abolition of the stigma; the studies regarding the effects of the
cellular system; the establishment of workshops in the prisons;
and a multitude of other reforms which I cannot even
name,--give evidence of real progress in our ideas and in our
morals. What the author of Christianity, in an impulse of
sublime love, related of his mystical kingdom, where the
repentant sinner was to be glorified above the just and the
innocent man,--that utopia of Christian charity has become the
aspiration of our sceptical society; and when one thinks of the
unanimity of feeling which prevails in respect to it, he asks
himself with surprise who then prevents this aspiration from
being realized.

Alas! it is because reason is still stronger than love, and logic
more tenacious than crime; it is because here as everywhere in
our civilization there reigns an insoluble contradiction. Let us
not wander into fantastic worlds; let us embrace, in all its
frightful nudity, the real one.

Le crime fait la honte, et non pas l'echafaud,[27]

says the proverb. By the simple fact that man is punished,
provided he deserved to be, he is degraded: the penalty renders
him infamous, not by virtue of the definition of the code, but by
reason of the fault which caused the punishment. Of what
importance, then, is the materiality of the punishment? of what
importance all your penitentiary systems? What you do is to
satisfy your feelings, but is powerless to rehabilitate the
unfortunate whom your justice strikes. The guilty man, once
branded by chastisement, is incapable of reconciliation; his
stain is indelible, and his damnation eternal. If it were
possible for it to be otherwise, the penalty would cease to be
proportional to the offence; it would be no more than a fiction,
it would be nothing. He whom misery has led to larceny, if he
suffers himself to fall into the hands of justice, remains
forever the enemy of God and men; better for him that he had
never been born; it was Jesus Christ who said it: Bonum erat ei,
si natus non fuisset homo ille. And what Jesus Christ declared,
Christians and infidels do not dispute: the irreparability of
shame is, of all the revelations of the Gospel, the only one
which the proprietary world has understood. Thus, separated from
nature by monopoly, cut off from humanity by poverty, the mother
of crime and its punishment, what refuge remains for the plebeian
whom labor cannot support, and who is not strong enough to take?

[27] The crime makes the shame, and not the scaffold.

To conduct this offensive and defensive war against the
proletariat a public force was indispensable: the executive power
grew out of the necessities of civil legislation, administration,
and justice. And there again the most beautiful hopes have
changed into bitter disappointments.

As legislator, as burgomaster, and as judge, the prince has set
himself up as a representative of divine authority. A defender
of the poor, the widow, and the orphan, he has promised to cause
liberty and equality to prevail around the throne, to come to the
aid of labor, and to listen to the voice of the people. And the
people have thrown themselves lovingly into the arms of power;
and, when experience has made them feel that power was against
them, instead of blaming the institution, they have fallen to
accusing the prince, ever unwilling to understand that, the
prince being by nature and destination the chief of non-producers
and greatest of monopolists, it was impossible for him, in spite
of himself, to take up the cause of the people.

All criticism, whether of the form or the acts of government,
ends in this essential contradiction. And when the self-styled
theorists of the sovereignty of the people pretend that the
remedy for the tyranny of power consists in causing it to emanate
from popular suffrage, they simply turn, like the squirrel, in
their cage. For, from the moment that the essential conditions
of power--that is, authority, property, hierarchy--are preserved,
the suffrage of the people is nothing but the consent of the
people to their oppression,--which is the silliest charlatanism.

In the system of authority, whatever its origin, monarchical or
democratic, power is the noble organ of society; by it society
lives and moves; all initiative emanates from it; order and
perfection are wholly its work. According to the definitions of
economic science, on the contrary,--definitions which harmonize
with the reality of things,-- power is the series of
non-producers which social organization must tend to indefinitely
reduce. How, then, with the principle of authority so dear to
democrats, shall the aspiration of political economy, an
aspiration which is also that of the people, be realized? How
shall the government, which by the hypothesis is everything,
become an obedient servant, a subordinate organ? Why should the
prince have received power simply to weaken it, and why should he
labor, with a view to order, for his own elimination? Why should
he not try rather to fortify himself, to add to his courtiers, to
continually obtain new subsidies, and finally to free himself
from dependence on the people, the inevitable goal of all power
originating in the people?

It is said that the people, naming its legislators and through
them making its will known to power, will always be in a position
to arrest its invasions; that thus the people will fill at once
the role of prince and that of sovereign. Such, in a word, is
the utopia of democrats, the eternal mystification with which
they abuse the proletariat.

But will the people make laws against power; against the
principle of authority and hierarchy, which is the principle
upon which society is based; against liberty and property?
According to our hypothesis, this is more than impossible, it is
contradictory. Then property, monopoly, competition, industrial
privileges, the inequality of fortunes, the preponderance of
capital, hierarchical and crushing centralization, administrative
oppression, legal absolutism, will be preserved; and, as it is
impossible for a government not to act in the direction of its
principle, capital will remain as before the god of society, and
the people, still exploited, still degraded, will have gained by
their attempt at sovereignty only a demonstration of their

In vain do the partisans of power, all those dynastico-republican
doctrinaires who are alike in everything but tactics, flatter
themselves that, once in control of affairs, they will inaugurate
reform everywhere. Reform what?

Reform the constitution? It is impossible. Though the entire
nation should enter the constitutional convention, it would not
leave it until it had either voted its servitude under another
form, or decreed its dissolution.

Reconstruct the code, the work of the emperor, the pure substance
of Roman law and custom? It is impossible. What have you to put
in the place of your proprietary routine, outside of which you
see and understand nothing? in the place of your laws of
monopoly, the limits of whose circle your imagination is
powerless to overstep? More than half a century ago royalty and
democracy, those two sibyls which the ancient world has
bequeathed to us, undertook, by a constitutional compromise, to
harmonize their oracles; since the wisdom of the prince has
placed itself in unison with the voice of the people, what
revelation has resulted? what principle of order has been
discovered? what issue from the labyrinth of privilege pointed
out? Before prince and people had signed this strange
compromise, in what were their ideas not similar? and now that
each is trying to break the contract, in what do they differ?

Diminish public burdens, assess taxes on a more equitable basis?
It is impossible: to the treasury as to the army the man of the
people will always furnish more than his contingent.

Regulate monopoly, bridle competition? It is impossible; you
would kill production.

Open new markets? It is impossible.[28]

Organize credit? It is impossible.[29]

Attack heredity? It is impossible.[30]

[28] See volume II., chapter IX.
[29] Ibid., chapter X.
[30] Ibid., chapter XI.

Create national workshops, assure a minimum to unemployed
workmen, and assign to employees a share of the profits? It is
impossible. It is in the nature of government to be able to deal
with labor only to enchain laborers, as it deals with products
only to levy its tithe.

Repair, by a system of indemnities, the disastrous effects of
machinery? It is impossible.

Combat by regulations the degrading influence of parcellaire
division? It is impossible.

Cause the people to enjoy the benefits of education? It is

Establish a tariff of prices and wages, and fix the value of
things by sovereign authority? It is impossible, it is

Of all the reforms which society in its distress solicits not one
is within the competence of power; not one can be realized
by it, because the essence of power is repugnant to them all, and
it is not given to man to unite what God has divided.

At least, the partisans of governmental initiative will say, you
will admit that, in the accomplishment of the revolution promised
by the development of antinomies, power would be a potent
auxiliary. Why, then, do you oppose a reform which, putting
power in the hands of the people, would second your views so
well? Social reform is the object; political reform is the
instrument: why, if you wish the end, do you reject the means?

Such is today the reasoning of the entire democratic press, which
I forgive with all my heart for having at last, by this
quasi-socialistic confession of faith, itself proclaimed the
emptiness of its theories. It is in the name of science, then,
that democracy calls for a political reform as a preliminary to
social reform. But science protests against this subterfuge as
an insult; science repudiates any alliance with politics, and,
very far from expecting from it the slightest aid, must begin
with politics its work of exclusion.

How little affinity there is between the human mind and truth!
When I see the democracy, socialistic but yesterday, continually
asking for capital in order to combat capital's influence; for
wealth, in order to cure poverty; for the abandonment of liberty,
in order to organize liberty; for the reformation of government,
in order to reform society,--when I see it, I say, taking upon
itself the responsibility of society, provided social questions
be set aside or solved, it seems to me as if I were listening to
a fortune-teller who, before answering the questions of those who
consult her, begins by inquiring into their age, their condition,
their family, and all the accidents of their life. Eh! miserable
sorceress, if you know the future, you know who I am and what I
want; why do you ask me to tell you?

Likewise I will answer the democrats: If you know the use that
you should make of power, and if you know how power should be
organized, you possess economic science. Now, if you possess
economic science, if you have the key of its contradictions, if
you are in a position to organize labor, if you have studied the
laws of exchange, you have no need of the capital of the nation
or of public force. From this day forth you are more potent than
money, stronger than power. For, since the laborers are with
you, you are by that fact alone masters of production; you hold
commerce, manufactures, and agriculture enchained; you have the
entire social capital at your disposition; you have full control
of taxation; you block the wheels of power, and you trample
monopoly under foot. What other initiative, what greater
authority, do you ask? What prevents you from applying your

Surely not political economy, although generally followed and
accredited: for, everything in political economy having a true
side and a false side, your only problem is to combine the
economic elements in such a way that their total shall no longer
present a contradiction.

Nor is it the civil law: for that law, sanctioning economic
routine solely because of its advantages and in spite of its
disadvantages, is susceptible, like political economy itself, of
being bent to all the exigencies of an exact synthesis, and
consequently is as favorable to you as possible.

Finally, it is not power, which, the last expression of
antagonism and created only to defend the law, could stand in
your way only by forswearing itself.

Once more, then, what stops you?

If you possess social science, you know that the problem of
association consists in organizing, not only the
NON-PRODUCERS,--in that direction, thank heaven! little remains
to be done,--but also the PRODUCERS, and by this organization
subjecting capital and subordinating power. Such is the war that
you have to sustain: a war of labor against capital; a war of
liberty against authority; a war of the producer against the
non-producer; a war of equality against privilege. What you
ask, to conduct the war to a successful conclusion, is precisely
that which you must combat. Now, to combat and reduce power, to
put it in its proper place in society, it is of no use to change
the holders of power or introduce some variation into its
workings: an agricultural and industrial combination must be
found by means of which power, today the ruler of society, shall
become its slave. Have you the secret of that combination?

But what do I say? That is precisely the thing to which you do
not consent. As you cannot conceive of society without
hierarchy, you have made yourselves the apostles of authority;
worshippers of power, you think only of strengthening it and
muzzling liberty; your favorite maxim is that the welfare of the
people must be achieved in spite of the people; instead of
proceeding to social reform by the extermination of power and
politics, you insist on a reconstruction of power and politics.
Then, by a series of contradictions which prove your sincerity,
but the illusory character of which is well known to the real
friends of power, the aristocrats and monarchists, your
competitors, you promise us, in the name of power, economy in
expenditures, an equitable assessment of taxes, protection to
labor, gratuitous education, universal suffrage, and all the
utopias repugnant to authority and property. Consequently power
in your hands has never been anything but ruinous, and that is
why you have never been able to retain it; that is why, on the
Eighteenth of Brumaire,[31] four men were sufficient to take
it away from you, and why today the bourgeoisie, which is as fond
of power as you are and which wants a strong power, will not
restore it to you.

[31] Date of the Napoleonic coup d'Etat, according to the
revolutionary calendar.

Thus power, the instrument of collective might, created in
society to serve as a mediator between labor and privilege, finds
itself inevitably enchained to capital and directed against the
proletariat. No political reform can solve this contradiction,
since, by the confession of the politicians themselves, such a
reform would end only in increasing the energy and extending the
sphere of power, and since power would know no way of touching
the prerogatives of monopoly without overturning the hierarchy
and dissolving society. The problem before the laboring classes,
then, consists, not in capturing, but in subduing both power and
monopoly,--that is, in generating from the bowels of the people,
from the depths of labor, a greater authority, a more potent
fact, which shall envelop capital and the State and subjugate
them. Every proposition of reform which does not satisfy this
condition is simply one scourge more, a rod doing sentry duty,
virgam vigilantem, as a prophet said, which threatens the

The crown of this system is religion. There is no occasion for
me to deal here with the philosophic value of religious opinions,
relate their history, or seek their interpretation. I confine
myself to a consideration of the economic origin of religion, the
secret bond which connects it with police, the place which it
occupies in the series of social manifestations.

Man, despairing of finding the equilibrium of his powers, leaps,
as it were, outside of himself and seeks in infinity that
sovereign harmony the realization of which is to him the highest
degree of reason, power, and happiness. Unable to harmonize with
himself, he kneels before God and prays. He prays, and his
prayer, a hymn sung to God, is a blasphemy against society.

It is from God, man says to himself, that authority and power
come to me: then, let us obey God and the prince. Obedite Deo et
principibus. It is from God that law and justice come to me.
Per me reges regnant et potentes decernunt justitiam. Let us
respect the commands of the legislator and the magistrate. It is
God who controls the prosperity of labor, who makes and unmakes
fortunes: may his will be done! Dominus dedit, Dominus abstulit,
sit nomen Domini benedictum. It is God who punishes me when
misery devours me, and when I am persecuted for righteousness's
sake: let us receive with respect the scourges which his mercy
employs for our purification. Humiliamini igitur sub potenti
manu Dei. This life, which God has given me, is but an ordeal
which leads me to salvation: let us shun pleasure; let us love
and invite pain; let us find our pleasure in doing penance. The
sadness which comes from injustice is a favor from on high;
blessed are they that mourn! Beati qui lugent! . . . . Haec
est enim gratia, si quis sustinet tristitias, patiens injuste.

A century ago a missionary, preaching before an audience made up
of financiers and grandees, did justice to this odious morality.
"What have I done?" he cried, with tears. "I have saddened the
poor, the best friends of my God! I have preached the rigors of
penance to unfortunates who want for bread! It is here, where my
eyes fall only on the powerful and on the rich, on the oppressors
of suffering humanity, that I must launch the word of God in
all the force of its thunder!"

Let us admit, nevertheless, that the theory of resignation has
served society by preventing revolt. Religion, consecrating by
divine right the inviolability of power and of privilege, has
given humanity the strength to continue its journey and exhaust
its contradictions. Without this bandage thrown over the eyes of
the people society would have been a thousand times dissolved.
Some one had to suffer that it might be cured; and religion, the
comforter of the afflicted, decided that it should be the poor
man. It is this suffering which has led us to our present
position; civilization, which owes all its marvels to the
laborer, owes also to his voluntary sacrifice its future and its
existence. Oblatus est quia ipse voluit, et livore ejus sanati

O people of laborers! disinherited, harassed, proscribed people!
people whom they imprison, judge, and kill! despised people,
branded people! Do you not know that there is an end, even to
patience, even to devotion? Will you not cease to lend an ear to


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