The Philosophy of Misery
Joseph-Pierre Proudhon

Part 8 out of 9

those orators of mysticism who tell you to pray and to wait,
preaching salvation now through religion, now through power, and
whose vehement and sonorous words captivate you? Your destiny is
an enigma which neither physical force, nor courage of soul, nor
the illuminations of enthusiasm, nor the exaltation of any
sentiment, can solve. Those who tell you to the contrary deceive
you, and all their discourses serve only to postpone the hour of
your deliverance, now ready to strike. What are enthusiasm and
sentiment, what is vain poesy, when confronted with necessity?
To overcome necessity there is nothing but necessity itself, the
last reason of nature, the pure essence of matter and spirit.

Thus the contradiction of value, born of the necessity of free
will, must be overcome by the proportionality of value, another
necessity produced by the union of liberty and intelligence.
But, in order that this victory of intelligent and free labor
might produce all its consequences, it was necessary that society
should pass through a long succession of torments.

It was a necessity that labor, in order to increase its power,
should be divided; and a necessity, in consequence of this
division, that the laborer should be degraded and impoverished.

It was a necessity that this original division should be
reconstructed by scientific instruments and combinations; and a
necessity, in consequence of this reconstruction, that the
subordinated laborer should lose, together with his legitimate
wages, even the exercise of the industry which supported him.

It was a necessity that competition then should step in to
emancipate liberty on the point of perishing; and a necessity
that this deliverance should end in a vast elimination of

It was a necessity that the producer, ennobled by his art, as
formerly the warrior was by arms, should bear aloft his banner,
in order that the valor of man might be honored in labor as in
war; and a necessity that of privilege should straightway be born
the proletariat.

It was a necessity that society should then take under its
protection the conquered plebeian, a beggar without a roof; and a
necessity that this protection should be converted into a new
series of tortures.

We shall meet on our way still other necessities, all of which
will disappear, like the others, before greater necessities,
until shall come at last the general equation, the supreme
necessity, the triumphant fact, which must establish the kingdom
of labor forever.

But this solution cannot result either from surprise or from a
vain compromise. It is as impossible to associate labor and
capital as to produce without labor and without capital; as
impossible to establish equality by power as to suppress power
and equality and make a society without people and without

There is a necessity, I repeat, of a MAJOR FORCE to invert the
actual formulas of society; a necessity that the LABOR of the
people, not their valor nor their votes, should, by a scientific,
legitimate, immortal, insurmountable combination, subject capital
to the people and deliver to them power.



The ancients blamed human nature for the presence of evil in the

Christian theology has only embroidered this theme in its own
fashion; and, as that theology sums up the whole religious period
extending from the origin of society to our own time, it may be
said that the dogma of original sin, having in its favor the
assent of the human race, acquires by that very fact the highest
degree of probability.

So, according to all the testimony of ancient wisdom, each people
defending its own institutions as excellent and glorifying them,
it is not to religions, or to governments, or to traditional
customs accredited by the respect of generations, that the cause
of evil must be traced, but rather to a primitive perversion, to
a sort of congenital malice in the will of man. As to the
question how a being could have perverted and corrupted itself
ORIGINALLY, the ancients avoided that difficulty by fables:
Eve's apple and Pandora's box have remained celebrated among
their symbolic solutions.

Not only, then, had antiquity posited in its myths the question
of the origin of evil; it had solved it by another myth, in
unhesitatingly affirming the criminality ab ovo of our race.

Modern philosophers have erected against the Christian dogma a
dogma no less obscure,--that of the depravity of society. MAN IS
BORN GOOD, cries Rousseau, in his peremptory style; BUT
SOCIETY--that is, the forms and institutions of society--DEPRAVES
HIM. In such terms was formulated the paradox, or, better, the
protest, of the philosopher of Geneva.

Now, it is evident that this idea is only the ancient hypothesis
turned about. The ancients accused the individual man; Rousseau
accuses the collective man: at bottom, it is always the same
proposition, an absurd proposition.

Nevertheless, in spite of the fundamental identity of the
principle, Rousseau's formula, precisely because it was an
opposition, was a step forward; consequently it was welcomed with
enthusiasm, and it became the signal of a reaction full of
contradictions and absurdities. Singular thing! it is to the
anathema launched by the author of "Emile" against society that
modern socialism is to be traced.

For the last seventy or eighty years the principle of social
perversion has been exploited and popularized by various
sectarians, who, while copying Rousseau, reject with all their
might the anti-social philosophy of that writer, without
perceiving that, by the very fact that they aspire to reform
society, they are as unsocial or unsociable as he. It is a
curious spectacle to see these pseudo-innovators, condemning
after Jean Jacques monarchy, democracy, property, communism,
thine and mine, monopoly, wages, police, taxation, luxury,
commerce, money, in a word, all that constitutes society and
without which society is inconceivable, and then accusing this
same Jean Jacques of misanthropy and paralogism, because, after
having seen the emptiness of all utopias, at the same time that
he pointed out the antagonism of civilization, he sternly
concluded against society, though recognizing that without
society there is no humanity.

I advise those who, on the strength of what slanderers and
plagiarists say, imagine that Rousseau embraced his theory only
from a vain love of eccentricity, to read "Emile" and the "Social
Contract" once more. That admirable dialectician was led to deny
society from the standpoint of justice, although he was forced to
admit it as necessary; just as we, who believe in an indefinite
progress, do not cease to deny, as normal and definitive, the
existing state of society. Only, whereas Rousseau, by a
political combination and an educational system of his own, tried
to bring man nearer to what he called NATURE, and what seemed to
him the ideal society, we, instructed in a profounder school, say
that the task of society is to continually solve its
antinomies,--a matter of which Rousseau could have had no idea.
Thus, apart from the now abandoned system of the "Social
Contract," and so far as criticism alone is concerned, socialism,
whatever it may say, is still in the same position as Rousseau,
forced to reform society incessantly,--that is, to perpetually
deny it.

Rousseau, in short, simply declared in a summary and definitive
manner what the socialists repeat in detail and at every moment
of progress,-- namely, that social order is imperfect, always
lacking something. Rousseau's error does not, can not lie in
this negation of society: it consists, as we shall show, in his
failure to follow his argument to the end and deny at once
society, man, and God.

However that may be, the theory of man's innocence, corresponding
to that of the depravity of society, has at last got the upper
hand. The immense majority of socialists--Saint-Simon, Owen,
Fourier, and their disciples; communists, democrats, progressives
of all sorts--have solemnly repudiated the Christian myth of the
fall to substitute there for the system of an aberration on
the part of society. And, as most of these sectarians, in spite
of their flagrant impiety, were still too religious, too pious,
to finish the work of Jean Jacques and trace back to God the
responsibility for evil, they have found a way of deducing from
the hypothesis of God the dogma of the native goodness of man,
and have begun to fulminate against society in the finest

The theoretical and practical consequences of this reaction were
that, evil--that is, the effect of internal and external
struggle--being abnormal and transitory, penal and repressive
institutions are likewise transitory; that in man there is no
native vice, but that his environment has depraved his
inclinations; that civilization has been mistaken as to its own
tendencies; that constraint is immoral, that our passions are
holy; that enjoyment is holy and should be sought after like
virtue itself, because God, who caused us to desire it, is holy.
And, the women coming to the aid of the eloquence of the
philosophers, a deluge of anti-restrictive protests has fallen,
quasi de vulva erumpens, to make use of a comparison from the
Holy Scriptures, upon the wonder-stricken public.

The writings of this school are recognizable by their evangelical
style, their melancholy theism, and, above all, their enigmatical

"They blame human nature," says M. Louis Blanc, "for almost all
our evils; the blame should be laid upon the vicious character of
social institutions. Look around you: how many talents
misplaced, and CONSEQUENTLY depraved! How many activities have
become turbulent for want of having found their legitimate and
natural object! They force our passions to traverse an impure
medium; is it at all surprising that they become altered? Place
a healthy man in a pestilent atmosphere, and he will inhale
death. . . . Civilization has taken a wrong road, . . . and to
say that it could not have been otherwise is to lose the right to
talk of equity, of morality, of progress; it is to lose the right
to talk of God. Providence disappears to give place to the
grossest fatalism."

The name of God recurs forty times, and always to no purpose, in
M. Blanc's "Organization of Labor," which I quote from
preference, because in my view it represents advanced democratic
opinion better than any other work, and because I like to do it
honor by refuting it.

Thus, while socialism, aided by extreme democracy, deifies man by
denying the dogma of the fall, and consequently dethrones God,
henceforth useless to the perfection of his creature, this same
socialism, through mental cowardice, falls back upon the
affirmation of Providence, and that at the very moment when it
denies the providential authority of history.

And as nothing stands such chance of success among men as
contradiction, the idea of a religion of pleasure, renewed from
Epicurus during an eclipse of public reason, has been taken as an
inspiration of the national genius; it is this that distinguishes
the new theists from the Catholics, against whom the former have
inveighed so loudly during the last two years only out of rivalry
in fanaticism. It is the fashion today to speak of God on all
occasions and to declaim against the pope; to invoke Providence
and to scoff at the Church. THANK GOD! WE ARE NOT ATHEISTS, said
"La Reforme" one day; all the more, it might have added by way of
increasing its absurdity, we are not Christians. The word has
gone forth to every one who holds a pen to bamboozle the people,
and the first article of the new faith is that an infinitely good
God has created man as good as himself; which does not prevent
man, under the eye of God, from becoming wicked in a detestable

Nevertheless it is plain, in spite of these semblances of
religion, we might even say these desires for it, that the
quarrel between socialism and Christian tradition, between man
and society, must end by a denial of Divinity. Social reason is
not distinguishable by us from absolute Reason, which is no other
than God himself, and to deny society in its past phases is to
deny Providence, is to deny God.

Thus, then, we are placed between two negations, two
contradictory affirmations: one which, by the voice of entire
antiquity, setting aside as out of the question society and God
which it represents, finds in man alone the principle of evil;
another which, protesting in the name of free, intelligent, and
progressive man, throws back upon social infirmity and, by a
necessary consequence, upon the creative and inspiring genius of
society all the disturbances of the universe.

Now, as the anomalies of social order and the oppression of
individual liberties arise principally from the play of economic
contradictions, we have to inquire, in view of the data which we
have brought to light:

1. Whether fate, whose circle surrounds us, exercises a control
over our liberty so imperious and compulsory that infractions of
the law, committed under the dominion of antinomies, cease to be
imputable to us? And, if not, whence arises this culpability
peculiar to man?

2. Whether the hypothetical being, utterly good, omnipotent,
omniscient, to whom faith attributes the supreme direction of
human agitations, has not himself failed society at the moment of
danger? And, if so, to explain this insufficiency of Divinity.

In short, we are to find out whether man is God, whether God
himself is God, or whether, to attain the fullness of
intelligence and liberty, we must search for a superior cause.

% 1.--The culpability of man.--Exposition of the myth of
the fall.

As long as man lives under the law of egoism, he accuses himself;
as soon as he rises to the conception of a social law, he accuses
society. In both cases humanity accuses humanity; and so far the
clearest result of this double accusation is the strange faculty,
which we have not yet pointed out, and which religion attributes
to God as well as to man, of REPENTANCE.

Of what, then, does humanity repent? For what does God, who
repents as well as ourselves, desire to punish us? Poenituit
Deum quod hominem fecisset in terra, et tactus dolore cordis
intrinsecus, delebo, inquit, hominem. . . . If I demonstrate
that the offences charged upon humanity are not the consequence
of its economic embarrassments, although the latter result from
the constitution of its ideas; that man does evil gratuitously
and when not under compulsion, just as he honors himself by acts
of heroism which justice does not exact,--it will follow that
man, at the tribunal of his conscience, may be allowed to plead
certain extenuating circumstances, but can never be entirely
discharged of his guilt; that the struggle is in his heart as
well as in his mind; that he deserves now praise, now blame,
which is a confession, in either case, of his inharmonious state;
finally, that the essence of his soul is a perpetual compromise
between opposing attractions, his morality a system of seesaw, in
a word,--and this word tells the whole story,-- eclecticism.

My proof shall be soon made.

There exists a law, older than our liberty, promulgated from the
beginning of the world, completed by Jesus Christ, preached
and certified by apostles, martyrs, confessors, and virgins,
graven on the heart of man, and superior to all metaphysics: it
is LOVE. LOVE THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF, Jesus Christ tells us,
after Moses. That is the whole of it. Love thy neighbor as
thyself, and society will be perfect; love thy neighbor as
thyself, and all distinctions of prince and shepherd, of rich and
poor, of learned and ignorant, disappear, all clashing of human
interests ceases. Love thy neighbor as thyself, and happiness
with industry, without care for the future, shall fill thy days.
To fulfil this law and make himself happy man needs only to
follow the inclination of his heart and listen to the voice of
his sympathies. He resists; he does more: not content with
preferring himself to his neighbor, he labors constantly to
destroy his neighbor; after having betrayed love through egoism,
he overturns it by injustice.

Man, I say, faithless to the law of charity, has, of himself and
without any necessity, made the contradictions of society so many
instruments of harm; through his egoism civilization has become a
war of surprises and ambushes; he lies, he steals, he murders,
when not compelled to do so, without provocation, without excuse.
In short, he does evil with all the characteristics of a nature
deliberately maleficent, and all the more wicked because, when it
so wishes, it knows how to do good gratuitously also and is
capable of self-sacrifice; wherefore it has been said of it, with
as much reason as depth: Homo homini lupus, vel deus. Not to
unduly extend the subject, and especially in order to avoid
prejudging the questions that I shall have to consider, I limit
myself to the economic facts already analyzed.

With the fact that the division of labor is by nature, pending
the attainment of a synthetic organization, an irresistible
cause of physical, moral, and mental inequality among men neither
society nor conscience have anything to do. That is a fact of
necessity, of which the rich man is as innocent as the
parcellaire workman, consigned by his position to all sorts of

But how happens it that this inevitable inequality is converted
into a title of nobility for some, of abjection for others? How
happens it, if man is good, that he has not succeeded in
levelling by his goodness this wholly metaphysical obstacle, and
that, instead of strengthening the fraternal tie that binds men,
pitiless necessity breaks it? Here man cannot be excused on the
ground of his economic inexperience or legislative
shortsightedness; it was enough that he had a heart. Since the
martyrs of the division of labor should have been helped and
honored by the rich, why have they been rejected as impure? Why
is it an unheard-of thing for masters to occasionally relieve
their slaves, for princes, magistrates, and priests to change
places with mechanics, and for nobles to assume the task of the
peasants on the land? What is the reason of this brutal pride of
the powerful?

And note that such conduct on their part would have been not only
charitable and fraternal, but in accord with the sternest
justice. By virtue of the principle of collective force,
laborers are the equals and associates of their leaders; so that
in the system of monopoly itself, community of action restoring
the equilibrium which parcellaire individualism has disturbed,
justice and charity blend. On the hypothesis of the essential
goodness of man, how then is to be explained the monstrous
attempt to change the authority of some into nobility and the
obedience of others into plebeianism? Labor, between the serf
and the free man, like color between the black and the white, has
always drawn an impassable line; and we ourselves, who glory so
in our philanthropy, at the bottom of our hearts are of the same
opinion as our predecessors. The sympathy which we feel for the
proletaire is like that with which animals inspire us; delicacy
of organs, dread of misery, pride in separating ourselves from
all suffering,--it is these shifts of egoism that prompt our

For in fact--and I desire only this fact to confound us--is it
not true that spontaneous benevolence, so pure in its primitive
conception (eleemosyna, sympathy, tenderness), alms, in fine, has
become for the unfortunate a sign of degradation, a public
stigma? And socialists, rebuking Christianity, dare to talk to
us of love! The Christian thought, the conscience of humanity,
hit the mark precisely, when it founded so many institutions for
the relief of misfortune. To grasp the evangelical precept in
its depth and render legal charity as honorable to those who had
been its objects as to those who had exercised it, there was
needed--what? Less pride, less greed, less egoism. If man is
good, will any one tell me how the right to alms has become the
first link in the long chain of infractions, misdemeanors, and
crimes? Will any one still dare to blame the misdeeds of man
upon the antagonisms of social economy, when these antagonisms
offered him so beautiful an opportunity of manifesting the
charity of his heart, I do not say by self-sacrifice, but by the
simple doing of justice?

I know--and this objection is the only one that can be offered
against my position--that charity is covered with shame and
dishonor because the individual who asks it is too often, alas!
suspected of misconduct and rarely to be recommended on the score
of dignity of morals and of labor. And statistics prove that
those who are poor through cowardice and negligence outnumber ten
times those who are poor through accident or mischance.

Far be it from me to challenge this observation, the truth of
which is demonstrated by too many facts, and which, moreover, has
received the sanction of the people. The people are the first to
accuse the poor of laziness; and there is nothing more common
than to meet in the lower classes men who boast, as if it were a
title of nobility, that they have never been in the hospital and
in their greatest distress have never been recipients of public
charity. Thus, just as opulence avows its robberies, misery
confesses its shame. Man is a tyrant or a slave by will before
becoming so by fortune; the heart of the proletaire is like that
of the rich man,--a sewer of boiling sensuality, the home of
crapulence and imposture.

Upon this unexpected revelation I ask how it happens, if man is
good and charitable, that the rich calumniate charity while the
poor defile it? It is perversion of judgment on the part of the
rich, say some; it is degradation of faculties on the part of the
poor, say others. But how is it that judgment is perverted on
the one hand, and on the other that faculties are degraded? How
comes it that a true and cordial fraternity has not arrested on
the one side and on the other the effects of pride and labor?
Let my questions be answered by reasons, not by phrases.

Labor, in inventing processes and machines which infinitely
multiply its power, and then in stimulating industrial genius by
rivalry and assuring its conquests by means of the profits of
capital and privileges of exploitation, has rendered the
hierarchical constitution of society more profound and more
inevitable; I repeat that no blame attaches to any one for this.
But I call the holy law of the Gospel to witness that it was
within our power to draw wholly different consequences from this
subordination of man to man, or, better, of laborer to laborer.

The traditions of feudal life and of that of the patriarchs set
the example for the manufacturers. The division of labor and the
other accidents of production were only calls to the great family
life, indications of the preparatory system in accordance with
which fraternity was to appear and be developed. Masterships,
corporations, and rights of primogeniture were conceived under
the influence of this idea; many communists even are not hostile
to this form of association; is it surprising that the ideal is
so tenacious among those who, conquered but not converted, still
appear as its representatives? What, then, prevented charity,
union, sacrifice from maintaining themselves in the hierarchy,
when the hierarchy might have been only a condition of labor? To
this end it would have sufficed if men having machines, valiant
knights fighting with equal weapons, had not made a mystery of
their secrets or withheld them from others; if barons had set to
work, not to monopolize their products, but to cheapen them; and
if vassals, assured that war would result only in increasing
their wealth, had always shown themselves enterprising,
industrious, and faithful. The chief of the workshop would then
have been simply a captain putting his men through manoeuvres in
their interest as well as in his own, and maintaining them, not
with his perquisites, but with their own services.

Instead of these fraternal relations, we have had pride,
jealousy, and perjury; the employer, like the vampire of the
fable, exploiting the degraded wage-worker, and the wage-worker
conspiring against the employer; the idler devouring the
substance of the laborer, and the serf, squatting in filth,
having no strength left but for hatred.

Called on to furnish for the work of production, these tools,
those labor, capitalists and laborers are today in a struggle:
why? Because absolutism presides over all their relations;
because the capitalist speculates on the need which the laborer
feels of procuring tools, while the laborer, in turn, seeks to
derive advantage from the need which the capitalist feels of
fertilizing his capital.--L. Blanc: Organization of Labor.

And why this ABSOLUTISM in the relations of capitalist and
laborer? Why this hostility of interests? Why this reciprocal
enmity? Instead of eternally explaining the fact by the fact
itself, go to the bottom, and you will find everywhere, as
original motive, a passion for enjoyment which neither law nor
justice nor charity restrain; you will see egoism continually
discounting the future, and sacrificing to its monstrous caprices
labor, capital, life, and the security of all.

The theologians have given the name CONCUPISCENCE or
CONCUPISCIBLE APPETITE to the passionate greed for sensual
things, the effect, according to them, of original sin. I
trouble myself little, for the present, as to the nature of the
original sin; I simply observe that the concupiscible appetite of
the theologians is no other than that NEED OF LUXURY pointed out
by the Academy of Moral Sciences as the ruling motive of our
epoch. Now, the theory of proportionality of values demonstrates
that luxury is naturally measured by production; that every
consumption in advance is recovered by an equivalent later
privation; and that the exaggeration of luxury in a society
necessarily has an increase of misery as its correlative. Now,
were man to sacrifice his personal welfare for luxurious and
advance enjoyments, perhaps I should accuse him only of
imprudence; but, when he injures the welfare of his
neighbor,--a welfare which he should regard as inviolable, both
from charity and on the ground of justice,--I say then that man
is wicked, inexcusably wicked.

WHEN GOD, according to Bossuet, FORMED THE BOWELS OF MAN, HE
ORIGINALLY PLACED GOODNESS THERE. Thus love is our first law;
the prescriptions of pure reason, as well as the promptings of
the senses, take second and third rank only. Such is the
hierarchy of our faculties,--a principle of love forming the
foundation of our conscience and served by an intelligence and
organs. Hence of two things one: either the man who violates
charity to obey his cupidity is guilty; or else, if this
psychology is false, and the need of luxury in man must hold a
place beside charity and reason, man is a disorderly animal,
utterly wicked, and the most execrable of beings.

Thus the organic contradictions of society cannot cover the
responsibility of man; viewed in themselves, moreover, these
contradictions are only the theory of the hierarchical regime,
the first form and consequently an irreproachable form of
society. By the antinomy of their development labor and capital
have been continually led back to equality at the same time as to
subordination, to solidarity as well as to dependence; one was
the agent, the other the stimulator and guardian of the common
wealth. This indication has been indistinctly seen by the
theorists of the feudal system; Christianity came in time to
cement the compact; and it is still the sentiment of this
misunderstood and broken, but in itself innocent and legitimate,
organization which causes regrets among us and sustains the hope
of a party. As this system was written in the book of destiny,
it cannot be said to be bad in itself, just as the embryonic
state cannot be called bad because it precedes adult age in
physiological development.

I insist, therefore, on my accusation:

Under the regime abolished by Luther and the French Revolution
man could be happy in proportion to the progress of his industry;
he did not choose to be; on the contrary, he forbade himself to

Labor has been regarded as dishonorable; the clergy and the
nobility have made themselves the devourers of the poor; to
satisfy their animal passions, they have extinguished charity in
their hearts; they have ruined, oppressed, assassinated the
laborer. And thus it is that we see capital still hunting the
proletariat. Instead of tempering the subversive tendency of
economic principles by association and mutuality, the capitalist
exaggerates it unnecessarily and with evil design; he abuses the
senses and the conscience of the workman; he makes him a valet in
his intrigues, a purveyor of his debaucheries, an accomplice in
his robberies; he makes him in all respects like himself, and
then it is that he can defy the justice of revolutions to touch
him. Monstrous thing! the man who lives in misery, and whose
soul therefore seems a nearer neighbor of charity and honor,
shares his master's corruption; like him, he gives everything to
pride and luxury, and if he sometimes cries out against the
inequality from which he suffers, it is still less from zeal for
justice than from rivalry in desire. The greatest obstacle which
equality has to overcome is not the aristocratic pride of the
rich man, but the ungovernable egoism of the poor man. And you
rely on his native goodness to reform at once both the
spontaneity and the premeditation of his malice!

"As the false and anti-social education given to the present
generation," says Louis Blanc, "permits no search for any other
motive for emulation and encouragement than an increase of
reward, the difference of wages should be graduated according to
the hierarchy of functions, an entirely new education having
to change ideas and morals in this matter."

Dismissing the hierarchy of functions and the inequality of wages
for what they are worth, let us consider here only the motive
assigned by the author. Is it not strange to see M. Blanc affirm
the goodness of our nature, and at the same time address himself
to the most ignoble of our propensities,--avarice? Truly, evil
must seem to you very deeply rooted, if you deem it necessary to
begin the restoration of charity by a violation of charity.
Jesus Christ broke openly with pride and greed; apparently the
libertines whom he catechised were holy personages compared with
the herd infected with socialism. But tell us then, in short,
how our ideas have been warped, why our education is anti-social,
since it is now demonstrated that society has followed the route
traced by destiny and can no longer be charged with the crimes of

Really, the logic of socialism is marvellous.

Man is good, they say; but it is necessary to DETACH HIS
INTERESTS from evil to secure his abstinence from it. Man is
good; but he must be INTERESTED in the good, else he will not do
it. For, if the interest of his passions leads him to evil, he
will do evil; and, if this same interest leaves him indifferent
to good, he will not do good. And society will have no right to
reproach him for having listened to his passions, because it was
for society to conduct him by his passions. What a rich and
precious nature was that of Nero, who killed his mother because
she wearied him, and who caused Rome to be burned in order to
have a representation of the pillage of Troy! What an artist's
soul was that of Heliogabalus, who organized prostitution! What
a potent character was Tiberius! But what an abominable society
was that which perverted those divine souls, and produced,
moreover, Tacitus and Marcus Aurelius!

This, then, is what is called the harmlessness of man,--the
holiness of his passions! An aged Sappho, abandoned by her
lovers, goes back under the conjugal law; her interest detached
from love, she returns to marriage, and is holy. What a pity
that this word HOLY (saint) has not in French the double meaning
which it possesses in the Hebrew language! All would be in
accord regarding the holiness of Sappho.

I read in a report upon the railways of Belgium that, the Belgian
administration having allowed its engineers a premium of two and
one- half cents for every bushel of coke saved out of an average
consumption of two hundred and ten pounds for a given distance
traversed, this premium bore such fruits that the consumption
fell from two hundred and ten pounds to one hundred and six.
This fact sums up the whole socialistic philosophy: to gradually
train the workingman to justice, encourage him to labor, lift him
to the sublimity of devotion, by increase of wages,
profit-sharing, distinctions, and rewards. Certainly I do not
mean to blame this method, which is as old as the world: whatever
way you take to tame serpents and tigers and render them useful,
I applaud it. But do not say that your beasts are doves; for
then, as sole reply, I shall point you to their claws and teeth.
Before the Belgian engineers became interested in the economy of
fuel, they burned double the quantity. Therefore on their part
there was carelessness, negligence, prodigality, waste, perhaps
theft, although they were bound to the administration by a
contract which obliged them to practise all the contrasted
virtues. IT IS GOOD, you say, TO INTEREST THE LABORER. I say
further that it is just. But I maintain that this INTEREST,
more powerful over man than voluntarily accepted obligation, more
powerful, in a word, than DUTY, accuses man. Socialism goes
backward in morality, and it turns up its nose at Christianity.
It does not understand charity, and yet, to hear it, one would
suppose that it invented charity.

See, moreover, observe the socialists, what fortunate fruits the
perfecting of our social order has already borne! The present
generation is undeniably better than its predecessors: are we
wrong in concluding that a perfect society will produce perfect
citizens? Say rather, reply the conservative believers in the
dogma of the fall, that, religion having purified hearts, it is
not astonishing that institutions have felt the effects. Now let
religion finish its work, and have no fears about society.

So speak and retort in an endless wandering from the question the
theorists of the two schools. Neither understand that humanity,
to use a Biblical expression, is one and constant in its
generations,--that is, that everything in it, at every period of
its development, in the individual as in the mass, proceeds from
the same principle, which is, not BEING, but BECOMING. They do
not see, on the one hand, that progress in morality is a
continual conquest of mind over animality, just as progress in
wealth is the fruit of the war waged by labor upon the parsimony
of nature; consequently that the idea of native goodness lost
through society is as absurd as the idea of native wealth lost
through labor, and that a compromise with the passions should be
viewed in the same light as a compromise with rest. On the other
hand, they refuse to understand that, if there is progress in
humanity, whether through religion or from some other cause, the
hypothesis of constitutional corruption is nonsense, a

But I anticipate the conclusions at which I must arrive: let us,
for the present, establish simply that the moral perfection of
humanity, like material welfare, is realized by a series of
oscillations between vice and virtue, MERIT and DEMERIT.

Yes, humanity grows in justice, but this growth of our liberty,
due entirely to the growth of our intelligence, surely gives no
proof of the goodness of our nature; and, far from authorizing us
to glorify our passions, it really destroys their sway. The
fashion and style of our malice change with time: the barons of
the middle ages plundered the traveller on the highway, and then
offered him hospitality in their castles; mercantile feudality,
less brutal, exploits the proletaire and builds hospitals for
him: who would dare to say which of the two has deserved the palm
of virtue?

Of all the economic contradictions value is that which,
dominating the others and summing them up, holds in a sense the
sceptre of society, I had almost said of the moral world. Until
value, oscillating between its two poles,--useful value and value
in exchange,--arrives at its constitution, thine and mine remain
fixed arbitrarily; the conditions of fortune are the effect of
chance; property rests on a precarious title; everything in
social economy is provisional. What should social, intelligent,
and free beings have learned from this uncertainty of value? To
make amicable regulations that should protect labor and guarantee
exchange and cheapness. What a happy opportunity for all to make
up, by honesty, disinterestedness, and tenderness of heart, for
the ignorance of the objective laws of the just and the unjust!
Instead of that, commerce has everywhere become, by spontaneous
effort and unanimous consent, an uncertain operation, a
venturesome enterprise, a lottery, and often a deceitful and
fraudulent speculation.

What obliges the holder of provisions, the storekeeper of
society, to pretend that there is a scarcity, sound the
alarm, and provoke a rise of prices? Public short-sightedness
places the consumer at his mercy; some change of temperature
furnishes him a pretext; the assured prospect of gain finally
corrupts him, and fear, skilfully spread abroad, throws the
population into his toils. Certainly the motive which actuates
the swindler, the thief, the assassin, those natures warped, it
is said, by the social order, is the same which animates the
monopolist who is not in need. How, then, does this passion for
gain, abandoned to itself, turn to the prejudice of society? Why
has preventive, repressive, and coercive legislation always been
necessary to set a limit to liberty? For that is the accusing
fact, which it is impossible to deny: everywhere the law has
grown out of abuse; everywhere the legislator has found himself
forced to make man powerless to harm, which is synonymous with
muzzling a lion or infibulating a boar. And socialism itself,
ever imitating the past, makes no other pretence: what is,
indeed, the organization which it claims, if not a stronger
guarantee of justice, a more complete limitation of liberty?

The characteristic trait of the merchant is to make everything
either an object or an instrument of traffic. Disassociated from
his fellows, his interests separated from those of others, he is
for and against all deeds, all opinions, all parties. A
discovery, a science, is in his eyes an instrument of war, out of
the way of which he tries to keep, and which he would like to
annihilate, unless he can make use of it himself to kill his
competitors. An artist, an educated person, is an artilleryman
who knows how to handle the weapon, and whom he tries to corrupt,
if he cannot win him. The merchant is convinced that logic is
the art of proving at will the true and the false; he was the
inventor of political venality, traffic in consciences,
prostitution of talents, corruption of the press. He knows how
to find arguments and advocates for all lies, all iniquities. He
alone has never deceived himself as to the value of political
parties: he deems them all equally exploitable,--that is, equally

Without respect for his avowed opinions, which he abandons and
resumes by turns; sharply pursuing in others those violations of
faith of which he is himself guilty,--he lies in his claims, he
lies in his representations, he lies in his inventories; he
exaggerates, he extenuates, he over-rates; he regards himself as
the centre of the world, and everything outside of him has only a
relative existence, value, and truth. Subtle and shrewd in his
transactions, he stipulates, he reserves, trembling always lest
he may say too much or not enough; abusing words with the simple,
generalizing in order not to compromise himself, specifying in
order to allow nothing, he turns three times upon himself and
thinks seven times under his chin before saying his last word.
Has he at last concluded? He rereads himself, he interprets
himself, he comments on himself; he tortures himself to find a
deep meaning in every part of his contract, and in the clearest
phrases the opposite of what they say.

What infinite art, what hypocrisy, in his relations with the
manual laborer! From the simple shopkeeper to the big
contractor, how skilful they are in exploiting his arms! How
well they know how to contend with labor, in order to obtain it
at a low price! In the first place, it is a hope for which the
master receives a slight service; then it is a promise which he
discounts by requiring some duty; then a trial, a sacrifice,--for
he needs nobody,--which the unfortunate man must recognize by
contenting himself with the lowest wages; there are endless
exactions and overcharges, compensated by settlements on
pay-days effected in the most rapacious and deceitful spirit.
And the workman must keep silent and bend the knee, and clench
his fist under his frock: for the employer has the work, and only
too happy is he who can obtain the favor of his swindles. And
because society has not yet found a way to prevent, repress, and
punish this odious grinding process, so spontaneous, so
ingenuous, so disengaged from all superior impulse, it is
attributed to social constraint. What folly!

The commission-merchant is the type, the highest expression, of
monopoly, the embodiment of commerce, that is, of civilization.
Every function depends upon his, participates in it, or is
assimilated to it: for, as from the standpoint of the
distribution of wealth the relations of men with each other are
all reducible to exchanges,--that is, to transfers of values,--it
may be said that civilization is personified in the

Now, question the commission-merchants as to the morality of
their trade; they will be frank with you; all will tell you that
the commission business is extortion. Complaints are made of the
frauds and adulterations which disgrace manufactures: commerce--I
refer especially to the commission business--is only a gigantic
and permanent conspiracy of monopolists, by turns competing or
joined in pools; it is not a function performed with a view to a
legitimate profit, but a vast organization of speculation in all
articles of consumption, as well as on the circulation of persons
and products. Already swindling is tolerated in this profession:
how many way-bills overcharged, erased, altered! how many stamps
counterfeited! how much damage concealed or fraudulently
compounded! how many lies as to quality! how many promises given
and retracted! how many documents suppressed! what intrigues
and combinations! and then what treasons!

The commission-merchant--that is, the merchant--that is, the
man--is a gambler, a slanderer, a charlatan, a mercenary, a
thief, a forger. . . .

This is the effect of our antagonistic society, observe the
neo-mystics. So say the commercial people, the first under all
circumstances to accuse the corruption of the century. They act
as they do, if we may believe them, simply to indemnify
themselves and wholly against their inclination: they follow
necessity; theirs is a case of legitimate defence.

Does it require an effort of genius to see that these mutual
recriminations strike at the very nature of man, that the
pretended perversion of society is nothing but the perversion of
man, and that the opposition of principles and interests is only
an external accident, so to speak, which brings into relief, but
without exerting a necessitating influence, both the blackness of
our egoism and the rare virtues with which our race is honored?

I understand inharmonious competition and its irresistible
eliminating effects: this is inevitable. Competition, in its
higher expression, is the gearing by means of which laborers
reciprocally stimulate and sustain each other. But, pending the
realization of that organization which must elevate competition
to its veritable nature, it remains a civil war in which
producers, instead of aiding each other in labor, grind and crush
each other by labor. The danger here was imminent; man, to avert
it, had this supreme law of love; and nothing was easier, while
pushing competition to its extreme limits in the interest of
production, than to then repair its murderous effects by an
equitable distribution. Far from that, this anarchical
competition has become, as it were, the soul and spirit of
the laborer. Political economy placed in the hands of man this
weapon of death, and he has struck; he has used competition, as
the lion uses his paws and jaws, to kill and devour. How is it,
then, I repeat, that a wholly external accident has changed the
nature of man, which is supposed to be good and gentle and

The wine merchant calls to his aid jelly, magnin, insects, water,
and poisons; by combinations of his own he adds to the
destructive effects of competition. Whence comes this mania?
From the fact, you say, that his competitor sets him the example!
And this competitor, who incites him? Some other competitor. So
that, if we make the tour of society, we shall find that it is
the mass, and in the mass each particular individual, who, by a
tacit agreement of their passions,--pride, indolence, greed,
distrust, jealousy,--have organized this detestable war.

After having gathered about him tools, material, and workmen, the
contractor must recover in the product, besides the amount of his
outlay, first the interest of his capital, and then a profit. It
is in consequence of this principle that lending at interest has
finally become established, and that gain, considered in itself,
has always passed for legitimate. Under this system, the police
of nations not having seen at first the essential contradiction
of loans at interest, the wage-worker, instead of depending
directly upon himself, had to depend upon an employer, as the
soldier belonged to the count, or the tribe to the patriarch.
This order of things was necessary, and, pending the
establishment of complete equality, it was not impossible that
the welfare of all should be secured by it. But when the master,
in his disorderly egoism, has said to the servant: "You shall
not share with me," and robbed him at one stroke of labor and
wages, where is the necessity, where the excuse? Will it be
necessary further, in order to justify the CONCUPISCIBLE
APPETITE, to fall back on the IRASCIBLE APPETITE? Take care: in
drawing back in order to justify the human being in the series of
his lusts, instead of saving his morality, you abandon it. For
my part, I prefer the guilty man to the wild-beast man.

Nature has made man sociable: the spontaneous development of his
instincts now makes him an angel of charity, now robs him even of
the sentiment of fraternity and the idea of devotion. Did any
one ever see a capitalist, weary of gain, conspiring for the
general good and making the emancipation of the proletariat his
last speculation? There are many people, favorites of fortune,
to whom nothing is lacking but the crown of beneficence: now,
where is the grocer who, having grown rich, begins to sell at
cost? Where the baker who, retiring from business, leaves his
customers and his establishment to his assistants? Where the
apothecary who, under the pretence of winding up his affairs,
surrenders his drugs at their true value? When charity has its
martyrs, why has it not its amateurs? If there should suddenly
be formed a congress of bondholders, capitalists, and men of
business, retired but still fit for service, with a view to
carrying on a certain number of industries gratuitously, in a
short time society would be reformed from top to bottom. But
work for nothing! That is for the Vincent de Pauls, the
Fenelons, all those whose souls have always been weaned and whose
hearts have been pure. The man enriched by gain will be a
municipal councillor, a member of the committee on charities, an
officer of the infant schools: he will perform all the honorary
functions, barring exactly that which would be efficacious, but
which is repugnant to his habits. Work without hope of profits!
That cannot be, for it would be self-destruction. He would
like to, perhaps; he has not the courage. Video meliora
proboque, deteriora sequor. The retired proprietor is really the
owl of the fable gathering beech-nuts for its mutilated mice
until it is ready to devour them. Is society also to be blamed
for these effects of a passion so long, so freely, so fully

Who, then, will explain this mystery of a manifold and discordant
being, capable at once of the highest virtues and the most
frightful crimes? The dog licks his master who strikes him,
because the dog's nature is fidelity and this nature never leaves
him. The lamb takes refuge in the arms of the shepherd who
fleeces and eats him, because the sheep's inseparable
characteristics are gentleness and peace. The horse dashes
through flame and grape-shot without touching with his
swiftly-moving feet the wounded and dead lying in his path,
because the horse's soul is unalterable in its generosity. These
animals are martyrs for our sakes through the constancy and
devotion of their natures. The servant who defends his master at
the peril of his life, for a little gold betrays and murders him;
the chaste wife pollutes her bed because of some disgust or
absence, and in Lucrece we find Messalina; the proprietor, by
turns father and tyrant, refits and restores his ruined farmer
and drives from his lands the farmer's too numerous family, which
has increased on the strength of the feudal contract; the
warrior, mirror and paragon of chivalry, makes the corpses of his
companions a stepping- stone to advancement. Epaminondas and
Regulus traffic in the blood of their soldiers,--how many
instances have my own eyes witnessed!--and by a horrible contrast
the profession of sacrifice is the most fruitful in cowardice.
Humanity has its martyrs and its apostates: to what, I ask again,
must this division be attributed?

To the antagonism of society, you always say; to the state of
separation, isolation, hostility to his fellows, in which man has
hitherto lived; in a word, to that alienation of his heart which
has led him to mistake enjoyment for love, property for
possession, pain for labor, intoxication for joy; to that warped
conscience, in short, which remorse has not ceased to pursue
under the name of ORIGINAL SIN. When man, reconciled with
himself, shall cease to look upon his neighbor and nature as
hostile powers, then will he love and produce simply by the
spontaneity of his energy; then it will be his passion to give,
as it is today to acquire; and then will he seek in labor and
devotion his only happiness, his supreme delight. Then, love
becoming really and indivisibly the law of man, justice will
thereafter be but an empty name, painful souvenir of a period of
violence and tears.

Certainly I do not overlook the fact of antagonism, or, as it
will please you to call it, of religious alienation, any more
than the necessity of reconciling man with himself; my whole
philosophy is but a perpetuity of reconciliations. You admit
that the divergence of our nature is the preliminary of society,
or, let us rather say, the material of civilization. This is
precisely the fact, but, remember well, the indestructible fact
of which I seek the meaning. Certainly we should be very near an
understanding, if, instead of considering the dissidence and
harmony of the human faculties as two distinct periods, clean-cut
and consecutive in history, you would consent to view them with
me simply as the two faces of our nature, ever adverse, ever in
course of reconciliation, but never entirely reconciled. In a
word, as individualism is the primordial fact of humanity, so
association is its complementary term; but both are in incessant
manifestation, and on earth justice is eternally the condition of

Thus the dogma of the fall is not simply the expression of a
special and transitory state of human reason and morality: it is
the spontaneous confession, in symbolic phrase, of this fact as
astonishing as it is indestructible, the culpability, the
inclination to evil, of our race. Curse upon me a sinner! cries
on every hand and in every tongue the conscience of the human
race. V{ae} nobis quia peccavimus! Religion, in giving this
idea concrete and dramatic form, has indeed gone back of history
and beyond the limits of the world for that which is essential
and immanent in our soul; this, on its part, was but an
intellectual mirage; it was not mistaken as to the essentiality
and permanence of the fact. Now, it is this fact for which we
have to account, and it is also from this point of view that we
are to interpret the dogma of original sin.

All peoples have had their expiatory customs, their penitential
sacrifices, their repressive and penal institutions, born of the
horror and regret of sin. Catholicism, which built a theory
wherever social spontaneity had expressed an idea or deposited a
hope, converted into a sacrament the at once symbolic and
effective ceremony by which the sinner expressed his repentance,
asked pardon of God and men for his fault, and prepared himself
for a better life. Consequently I do not hesitate to say that
the Reformation, in rejecting contrition, cavilling over the word
metanoia, attributing to faith alone the virtue of justification,
deconsecrating repentance in short, took a step backward and
utterly failed to recognize the law of progress. To deny was not
to reply. On this point as on so many others the abuses of the
Church called for reform; the theories of repentance, of
damnation, of the remission of sin, and of grace contained, if I
may venture to say so, in a latent state, the entire system of
humanity's education; these theories needed to be developed
and grown into rationalism; Luther knew nothing but their
destruction. Auricular confession was a degradation of
repentance, an equivocal demonstration substituted for a great
act of humility; Luther surpassed papist hypocrisy by reducing
the primitive confession before God and men (exomologoumai to
theo. . . . kai humin, adelphoi) to a soliloquy. The Christian
meaning then was lost, and not until three centuries later was it
restored by philosophy.

Since, then, Christianity--that is, religious humanity--has not
been in error as to the REALITY of a fact essential in human
nature,--a fact which it has designated by the words ORIGINAL
PREVARICATION, let us further interrogate Christianity, humanity,
as to the MEANING of this fact. Let us not be astonished either
by metaphor or by allegory: truth is independent of figures. And
besides, what is truth to us but the continuous progress of our
mind from poetry to prose?

And first let us inquire whether this at least singular idea of
original prevarication had not, somewhere in the Christian
theology, its correlative. For the true idea, the generic idea,
cannot result from an isolated conception; there must be a

Christianity, after having posited the dogma of the fall as the
first term, followed up its thought by affirming, for all who
should die in this state of pollution, an irrevocable separation
from God, an eternity of punishment. Then it completed its
theory by reconciling these two opposites by the dogma of
rehabilitation or of grace, according to which every creature
born in the hatred of God is reconciled by the merits of Jesus
Christ, which faith and repentance render efficacious. Thus,
essential corruption of our nature and perpetuity of punishment,
except in the case of redemption through voluntary participation
in Christ's sacrifice,--such is, in brief, the evolution of the
theological idea. The second affirmation is a consequence of the
first; the third is a negation and transformation of the two
others: in fact, a constitutional vice being necessarily
indestructible, the expiation which it involves is as eternal as
itself, unless a superior power comes to break destiny and lift
the anathema by an integral renovation.

The human mind, in its religious caprices as well as in its most
positive theories, has always but one method; the same
metaphysics produced the Christian mysteries and the
contradictions of political economy; faith, without knowing it,
hangs upon reason; and we, explorers of divine and human
manifestations, are entitled to verify, in the name of reason,
the hypotheses of theology.

What was it, then, that the universal reason, formulated in
religious dogmas, saw in human nature, when, by so regular a
metaphysical construction, it declared successively the
INGENUOUSNESS of the offence, the eternity of the penalty, the
necessity of grace? The veils of theology are becoming so
transparent that it quite resembles natural history.

If we conceive the operation by which the supreme being is
supposed to have produced all beings, no longer as an emanation,
an exertion of the creative force and infinite substance, but as
a division or differentiation of this substantial force, each
being, organized or unorganized, will appear to us the special
representative of one of the innumerable potentialities of the
infinite being, as a section of the absolute; and the collection
of all these individualities (fluids, minerals, plants, insects,
fish, birds, and quadrupeds) will be the creation, the universe.

Man, an abridgment of the universe, sums up and syncretizes
in his person all the potentialities of being, all the sections
of the absolute; he is the summit at which these potentialities,
which exist only by their divergence, meet in a group, but
without penetrating or becoming confounded with each other. Man,
therefore, by this aggregation, is at once spirit and matter,
spontaneity and reflection, mechanism and life, angel and brute.
He is venomous like the viper, sanguinary like the tiger,
gluttonous like the hog, obscene like the ape; and devoted like
the dog, generous like the horse, industrious like the bee,
monogamic like the dove, sociable like the beaver and sheep. And
in addition he is man,--that is, reasonable and free, susceptible
of education and improvement. Man enjoys as many names as
Jupiter; all these names he carries written on his face; and, in
the varied mirror of nature, his infallible instinct is able to
recognize them. A serpent is beautiful to the reason; it is the
conscience that finds it odious and ugly. The ancients as well
as the moderns grasped this idea of the constitution of man by
agglomeration of all terrestrial potentialities: the labors of
Gall and Lavater were, if I may say so, only attempts at
disintegration of the human syncretism, and their classification
of our faculties a miniature picture of nature. Man, in short,
like the prophet in the lions' den, is veritably given over to
the beasts; and if anything is destined to exhibit to posterity
the infamous hypocrisy of our epoch, it is the fact that educated
persons, spiritualistic bigots, have thought to serve religion
and morality by altering the nature of our race and giving the
lie to anatomy.

Therefore the only question left to decide is whether it depends
upon man, notwithstanding the contradictions which the
progressive emission of his ideas multiplies around him, to give
more or less scope to the potentialities placed under his
control, or, as the moralists say, to his passions; in other
words, whether, like Hercules of old, he can conquer the
animality which besets him, the infernal legion which seems ever
ready to devour him.

Now, the universal consent of peoples bears witness--and we have
shown it in the third and fourth chapters--that man, all his
animal impulses set aside, is summed up in intelligence and
liberty,--that is, first, a faculty of appreciation and choice,
and, second, a power of action indifferently applicable to good
and evil. We have shown further that these two faculties, which
exercise a necessary influence over each other, are susceptible
of indefinite development and improvement.

Social destiny, the solution of the human enigma, is found, then,
in these words: EDUCATION, PROGRESS.

The education of liberty, the taming of our instincts, the
enfranchisement or REDEMPTION of our soul,--this, then, as
Lessing has proved, is the meaning of the Christian mystery.
This education will last throughout our life and that of
humanity: the contradictions of political economy may be solved;
the essential contradiction of our being never will be. That is
why the great teachers of humanity, Moses, Buddha, Jesus Christ,
Zoroaster, were all apostles of expiation, living symbols of
repentance. Man is by nature a sinner,--that is, not essentially
ILL-DOING, but rather ILL-DONE,-- and it is his destiny to
perpetually re-create his ideal in himself. That is what the
greatest of painters, Raphael, felt profoundly, when he said that
art consists in rendering things, not as nature made them, but as
it should have made them.

Henceforth, then, it is ours to teach the theologians, for we
alone continue the tradition of the Church, we alone possess the
meaning of the Scriptures, of the Councils, and of the Fathers.
Our interpretation rests on the most certain and most authentic
grounds, on the greatest authority to which men can appeal, the
metaphysical construction of ideas and facts. Yes, the human
being is vicious because he is illogical, because his
constitution is but an eclecticism which holds in perpetual
struggle the potentialities of his being, independently of the
contradictions of society. The life of man is only a continual
compromise between labor and pain, love and enjoyment, justice
and egoism; and the voluntary sacrifice which man makes in
obedience to his inferior attractions is the baptism which
prepares the way for his reconciliation with God and renders him
worthy of that beatific union and eternal happiness.

The object of social economy, in incessantly securing order in
labor and favoring the education of the race, is then to render
charity--that charity which knows not how to rule its
slaves--superfluous as far as possible by equality, or better, to
make charity develop from justice, as a flower from its stem.
Ah! if charity had had the power to create happiness among men,
it would have proved it long ago; and socialism, instead of
seeking the organization of labor, would have had but to say:
"Take care, you are lacking in charity."

But, alas! charity in man is stunted, sly, sluggish, and
lukewarm; in order to act, it needs elixirs and aromas. That is
why I have clung to the triple dogma of prevarication, damnation,
and redemption,--that is, perfectibility through justice.
Liberty here below is always in need of assistance, and the
Catholic theory of celestial favors comes to complete this too
real demonstration of the miseries of our nature.

Grace, say the theologians, is, in the order of salvation, every
help or means which can conduct us to eternal life. That is to
say, man perfects himself, civilizes himself, humanizes himself
only by the incessant aid of experience, by industry, science,
and art, by pleasure and pain, in a word, by all bodily and
mental exercises.

There is an HABITUAL grace, called also JUSTIFYING and
SANCTIFYING, which is conceived as a quality residing in the
soul, containing the innate virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit,
and inseparable from charity. In other words, habitual grace is
the symbol of the predominance of good impulses, which lead man
to order and love, and by means of which he succeeds in subduing
his evil tendencies and remaining master in his own domain. As
for ACTUAL grace, that indicates the external means which give
scope to the orderly passions and serve to combat the subversive

Grace, according to Saint Augustine, is essentially gratuitous,
and precedes sin in man. Bossuet expressed the same thought in
his style so full of poesy and tenderness: When God formed the
bowels of man, he originally placed goodness there. In fact, the
first determination of free will is in this natural GOODNESS, by
which man is continually incited to order, to labor, to study, to
modesty, to charity, and to sacrifice. Therefore Saint Paul
could say, without attacking free will, that, in everything
concerning the accomplishment of good, God worketh in us both to
will and to do. For all the holy aspirations of man are in him
before he begins to think and feel; and the pangs of heart which
he experiences when he violates them, the delight with which he
is filled when he obeys them, all the invitations, in short,
which come to him from society and his education, do not belong
to him.

When grace is such that the will chooses the good with joy and
love, without hesitation and without recall, it is styled
EFFICACIOUS. Every one has witnessed those transports of soul
which suddenly decide a vocation, an act of heroism. Liberty
does not perish therein; but from its predeterminations it may be
said that it was inevitable that it should so decide. And the
Pelagians, Lutherans, and others have been mistaken in saying
that grace compromised free choice and killed the creative force
of the will; since all determinations of the will come
necessarily either from society which sustains it, or from nature
which opens its career and points out its destiny.

But, on the other hand, the Augustinians, the Thomists, the
congruists, Jansen, Thomassin, Molina, etc., were strangely
mistaken when, sustaining at once free will and grace, they
failed to see that between these two terms the same relation
exists as between substance and form, and that they have
confessed an opposition which does not exist. Liberty, like
intelligence, like all substance and all force, is necessarily
determined,--that is, it has its forms and its attributes. Now,
while in matter the form and the attribute are inherent in and
contemporary with substance, in liberty the form is given by
three external agents, as it were,--the human essence, the laws
of thought, exercise or education. GRACE, in fine, like its
opposite, TEMPTATION, indicates precisely the fact of the
determination of liberty.

To sum up, all modern ideas regarding the education of humanity
are only an interpretation, a philosophy of the Catholic doctrine
of grace, a doctrine which seemed obscure to its authors only
because of their ideas upon free will, which they supposed to be
threatened as soon as grace or the source of its determinations
was spoken of. We affirm, on the contrary, that liberty,
indifferent in itself to all modality, but destined to act and to
take shape according to a preestablished order, receives its
first impulse from the Creator who inspires it with love,
intelligence, courage, resolution, and all the gifts of the Holy
Spirit, and then delivers it to the labor of experience. It
follows from this that grace is necessarily PRE-MOVING, that
without it man is capable of no sort of good, and that
nevertheless free will accomplishes its own destiny
spontaneously, with reflection and choice. In all this there is
neither contradiction nor mystery. Man, in so far as he is man,
is good; but, like the tyrant described by Plato, who was, he
too, a teacher of grace, man carries in his bosom a thousand
monsters, which the worship of justice and science, music and
gymnastics, all the graces of opportunity and condition, must
cause him to overcome. Correct one definition in Saint
Augustine, and all that doctrine of grace, famous because of the
disputes which it excited and which disconcerted the Reformation,
will seem to you brilliant with clearness and harmony.

And now is man God?

God, according to the theological hypothesis, being the
sovereign, absolute, highly synthetic being, the infinitely wise
and free, and therefore indefectible and holy, Me, it is plain
that man, the syncretism of the creation, the point of union of
all the potentialities manifested by the creation, physical,
organic, mental, and moral; man, perfectible and fallible, does
not satisfy the conditions of Divinity as he, from the nature of
his mind, must conceive them. Neither is he God, nor can he,
living, become God.

All the more, then, the oak, the lion, the sun, the universe
itself, sections of the absolute, are not God. At the same
stroke the worship of man and the worship of nature are

Now we have to present the counter-proof of this theory.

From the standpoint of social contradictions we have judged of
the morality of man. We are to judge, in its turn and from the
same standpoint, the morality of Providence. In other words, is
God possible, as speculation and faith offer him for the
adoration of mortals?

% 2.--Exposition of the myth of Providence.--Retrogression of

Among the proofs, to the number of three, which theologians and
philosophers are accustomed to bring forward to show the
existence of a God, they give the foremost position to universal

This argument I considered when, without rejecting or admitting
it, I promptly asked myself: What does universal consent affirm
in affirming a God? And in this connection I should recall the
fact that the difference of religions is not a proof that the
human race has fallen into error in affirming a supreme Me
outside of itself, any more than the diversity of languages is a
proof of the non-reality of reason. The hypothesis of God, far
from being weakened, is strengthened and established by the very
divergence and opposition of faiths.

An argument of another sort is that which is drawn from the order
of the world. In regard to this I have observed that, nature
affirming spontaneously, by the voice of man, its own distinction
into mind and matter, it remained to find out whether an infinite
mind, a soul of the world, governs and moves the universe, as
conscience, in its obscure intuition, tells us that a mind
animates man. If, then, I added, order were an infallible sign
of the presence of mind, the presence of a God in the universe
could not be overlooked.

Unfortunately this IF is not demonstrated and cannot be. For, on
the one hand, pure mind, conceived as the opposite of matter, is
a contradictory entity, the reality of which, consequently,
nothing can attest. On the other hand, certain beings ordered in
themselves--such as crystals, plants, and the planetary system,
which, in the sensations that they make us feel, do not return us
sentiment for sentiment, as the animals do--seeming to us utterly
destitute of conscience, there is no more reason for supposing a
mind in the centre of the world than for placing one in a stick
of sulphur; and it may be that, if mind, conscience, exists
anywhere, it is only in man.

Nevertheless, if the order of the world can tell us nothing as to
the existence of God, it reveals a thing no less precious
perhaps, and which will serve us as a landmark in our
inquiries,--namely, that all beings, all essences, all phenomena
are bound together by a totality of laws resulting from their
properties, a totality which in the third chapter I have named
FATALITY or NECESSITY. Whether or not there exists then an
infinite intelligence, embracing the whole system of these laws,
the whole field of fatalism; whether or not to this infinite
intelligence is united in profound penetration a superior will,
eternally determined by the totality of the cosmic laws and
consequently infinitely powerful and free; whether or not,
finally, these three things, fatality, intelligence, will, are
contemporary in the universe, adequate to each other and
identical,--it is clear that so far we find nothing repugnant to
these positions; but it is precisely this hypothesis, this
anthropomorphism, which is yet to be demonstrated.

Thus, while the testimony of the human race reveals to us a God,
without saying what this God may be, the order of the world
reveals to us a fatality,--that is, an absolute and peremptory
totality of causes and effects,--in short, a system of
laws,--which would be, if God exists, like the sight and
knowledge of this God.

The third and last proof of the existence of God proposed by the
theists and called by them the metaphysical proof is nothing but
a tautological construction of categories, which proves
absolutely nothing.

Something exists; therefore there is something in existence.

Something is multiple; therefore something is one.

Something comes after something; therefore something is prior to

Something is smaller of greater than something; therefore
something is greater than all things.

Something is moved; therefore something is mover, etc., ad

That is what is called even today, in the faculties and the
seminaries, by the minister of public education and by
Messeigneurs the bishops, proving the existence of God by
metaphysics. That is what the elite of the French youth are
condemned to bleat after their professors, for a year, or else
forfeit their diplomas and the privilege of studying law,
medicine, polytechnics, and the sciences. Certainly, if anything
is calculated to surprise, it is that with such philosophy Europe
is not yet atheistic. The persistence of the theistic idea by
the side of the jargon of the schools is the greatest of
miracles; it constitutes the strongest prejudice that can be
cited in favor of Divinity.

I do not know what humanity calls God.

I cannot say whether it is man, the universe, or some invisible
reality that we are to understand by that name; or indeed whether
the word stands for anything more than an ideal, a creature of
the mind. Nevertheless, to give body to my hypothesis and
influence to my inquiries, I shall consider God in accordance
with the common opinion, as a being apart, omnipresent, distinct
from creation, endowed with imperishable life as well as infinite
knowledge and activity, but above all foreseeing and just,
punishing vice and rewarding virtue. I shall put aside the
pantheistic hypothesis as hypocritical and lacking courage. God
is personal, or he does not exist: this alternative is the axiom
from which I shall deduce my entire theodicy.

Not concerning myself therefore for the present with questions
which the idea of God may raise later, the problem before me now
is to decide, in view of the facts the evolution of which in
society I have established, what I should think of the conduct of
God, as it is held up for my faith and relatively to humanity.
In short, it is from the standpoint of the demonstrated existence
of evil that I, with the aid of a new dialectical process, mean
to fathom the Supreme Being. Evil exists: upon this point
everybody seems to agree.

Now, have asked the stoics, the Epicureans, the manicheans, and
the atheists, how harmonize the presence of evil with the idea of
a sovereignly good, wise, and powerful God? How can God, after
allowing the introduction of evil into the world, whether through
weakness or negligence or malice, render responsible for their
acts creatures which he himself has created imperfect, and which
he thus delivers to all the dangers of their attractions? Why,
finally, since he promises the just a never-ending bliss after
death, or, in other words, gives us the idea and desire of
happiness, does he not cause us to enjoy this life by stripping
us of the temptation of evil, instead of exposing us to an
eternity of torture?

Such used to be the purport of the protest of the atheists.

Today this is scarcely discussed: the theists are no longer
troubled by the logical impossibilities of their system. They
want a God, especially a Providence: there is competition for
this article between the radicals and the Jesuits. The
socialists preach happiness and virtue in the name of God; in the
schools those who talk the loudest against the Church are the
first of mystics.

The old theists were more anxious about their faith. They tried,
if not to demonstrate it, at least to render it reasonable,
feeling sure, unlike their successors, that there is neither
dignity nor rest for the believer except in certainty.

The Fathers of the Church then answered the incredulous that evil
is only DEPRIVATION OF A GREATER GOOD, and that those who always
reason about the BETTER lack a point of support upon which to
establish themselves, which leads straight to absurdity. In
fact, every creature being necessarily confined and imperfect,
God, by his infinite power, can continually add to his
perfections: in this respect there is always, in some degree, a
deprivation of good in the creature. Reciprocally, however
imperfect and confined the creature is supposed to be, from the
moment that it exists it enjoys a certain degree of good, better
for it than annihilation. Therefore, though it is a rule that
man is considered good only so far as he accomplishes all the
good that he can, it is not the same with God, since the
obligation to do good infinitely is contradictory to the very
faculty of creation, perfection and creature being two terms that
necessarily exclude each other. God, then, was sole judge of the
degree of perfection which it was proper to give to each
creature: to prefer a charge against him under this head is to
slander his justice.

As for sin,--that is, moral evil,--the Fathers, to reply to the
objections of the atheists, had the theories of free will,
redemption, justification, and grace, to the discussion of which
we need not return.

I have no knowledge that the atheists have replied categorically
to this theory of the essential imperfection of the creature, a
theory reproduced with brilliancy by M. de Lamennais in his
"Esquisse." It was impossible, indeed, for them to reply to it;
for, reasoning from a false conception of evil and of free will,
and in profound ignorance of the laws of humanity, they were
equally without reasons by which either to triumph over their own
doubts or to refute the believers.

Let us leave the sphere of the finite and infinite, and place
ourselves in the conception of order. Can God make a round
circle, a right-angled square? Certainly.

Would God be guilty if, after having created the world according
to the laws of geometry, he had put it into our minds, or even
allowed us to believe without fault of our own, that a circle may
be square or a square circular, though, in consequence of this
false opinion, we should have to suffer an incalculable series of
evils? Again, undoubtedly.

Well! that is exactly what God, the God of Providence, has done
in the government of humanity; it is of that that I accuse him.
He knew from all eternity--inasmuch as we mortals have discovered
it after six thousand years of painful experience--that order in
society--that is, liberty, wealth, science--is realized by the
reconciliation of opposite ideas which, were each to be taken as
absolute in itself, would precipitate us into an abyss of misery:
why did he not warn us? Why did he not correct our judgment at
the start? Why did he abandon us to our imperfect logic,
especially when our egoism must find a pretext in his acts of
injustice and perfidy? He knew, this jealous God, that, if he
exposed us to the hazards of experience, we should not find until
very late that security of life which constitutes our entire
happiness: why did he not abridge this long apprenticeship
by a revelation of our own laws? Why, instead of fascinating us
with contradictory opinions, did he not reverse experience by
causing us to reach the antinomies by the path of analysis of
synthetic ideas, instead of leaving us to painfully clamber up
the steeps of antinomy to synthesis?

If, as was formerly thought, the evil from which humanity suffers
arose solely from the imperfection inevitable in every creature,
or better, if this evil were caused only by the antagonism of the
potentialities and inclinations which constitute our being, and
which reason should teach us to master and guide, we should have
no right to complain. Our condition being all that it could be,
God would be justified.

But, in view of this wilful delusion of our minds, a delusion
which it was so easy to dissipate and the effects of which must
be so terrible, where is the excuse of Providence? Is it not
true that grace failed man here? God, whom faith represents as a
tender father and a prudent master, abandons us to the fatality
of our incomplete conceptions; he digs the ditch under our feet;
he causes us to move blindly: and then, at every fall, he
punishes us as rascals. What do I say? It seems as if it were
in spite of him that at last, covered with bruises from our
journey, we recognize our road; as if we offended his glory in
becoming more intelligent and free through the trials which he
imposes upon us. What need, then, have we to continually invoke
Divinity, and what have we to do with those satellites of a
Providence which for sixty centuries, by the aid of a thousand
religions, has deceived and misled us?

What! God, through his gospel-bearers and by the law which he
has put in our hearts, commands us to love our neighbor as
ourselves, to do to others as we wish to be done by, to render
each his due, not to keep back anything from the laborer's hire,
and not to lend at usury; he knows, moreover, that in us charity
is lukewarm and conscience vacillating, and that the slightest
pretext always seems to us a sufficient reason for exemption from
the law: and yet he involves us, with such dispositions, in the
contradictions of commerce and property, in which, by the
necessity of the theory, charity and justice are bound to perish!
Instead of enlightening our reason concerning the bearing of
principles which impose themselves upon it with all the power of
necessity, but whose consequences, adopted by egoism, are fatal
to human fraternity, he places this abused reason at the service
of our passion; by seduction of the mind, he destroys our
equilibrium of conscience; he justifies in our own eyes our
usurpations and our avarice; he makes the separation of man from
his fellow inevitable and legitimate; he creates division and
hatred among us in rendering equality by labor and by right
impossible; he makes us believe that this equality, the law of
the world, is unjust among men; and then he proscribes us en
masse for not having known how to practise his incomprehensible
precepts! I believe I have proved, to be sure, that our
abandonment by Providence does not justify us; but, whatever our
crime, toward it we are not guilty; and if there is a being who,
before ourselves and more than ourselves, is deserving of
hell,--I am bound to name him,--it is God.

When the theists, in order to establish their dogma of
Providence, cite the order of nature as a proof, although this
argument is only a begging of the question, at least it cannot be
said that it involves a contradiction, and that the fact cited
bears witness against the hypothesis. In the system of the
world, for instance, nothing betrays the smallest anomaly,
the slightest lack of foresight, from which any prejudice
whatever can be drawn against the idea of a supreme, intelligent,
personal motor. In short, though the order of nature does not
prove the reality of a Providence, it does not contradict it.

It is a very different thing with the government of humanity.
Here order does not appear at the same time as matter; it was not
created, as in the system of the world, once and for eternity.
It is gradually developed according to an inevitable series of
principles and consequences which the human being himself, the
being to be ordered, must disengage spontaneously, by his own
energy and at the solicitation of experience. No revelation
regarding this is given him. Man is submitted at his origin to a
preestablished necessity, to an absolute and irresistible order.
That this order may be realized, man must discover it; that it
may exist, he must have divined it. This labor of invention
might be abridged; no one, either in heaven or on earth, will
come to man's aid; no one will instruct him. Humanity, for
hundreds of centuries, will devour its generations; it will
exhaust itself in blood and mire, without the God whom it
worships coming once to illuminate its reason and abridge its
time of trial. Where is divine action here? Where is

"IF GOD DID NOT EXIST,"--it is Voltaire, the enemy of religions,
"Because," adds the same Voltaire, "if I were dealing with an
atheist prince whose interest it might be to have me pounded in a
mortar, I am very sure that I should be pounded." Strange
aberration of a great mind! And if you were dealing with a pious
prince, whose confessor, speaking in the name of God, should
command that you be burned alive, would you not be very sure of
being burned also? Do you forget, then, anti-Christ, the
Inquisition, and the Saint Bartholomew, and the stakes of Vanini
and Bruno, and the tortures of Galileo, and the martyrdom of so
many free thinkers? Do not try to distinguish here between use
and abuse: for I should reply to you that from a mystical and
supernatural principle, from a principle which embraces
everything, which explains everything, which justifies
everything, such as the idea of God, all consequences are
legitimate, and that the zeal of the believer is the sole judge
of their propriety.

"I once believed," says Rousseau, "that it was possible to be an
honest man and dispense with God; but I have recovered from that
error." Fundamentally the same argument as that of Voltaire, the
same justification of intolerance: Man does good and abstains
from evil only through consideration of a Providence which
watches over him; a curse on those who deny its existence! And,
to cap the climax of absurdity, the man who thus seeks for our
virtue the sanction of a Divinity who rewards and punishes is the
same man who teaches the native goodness of man as a religious

And for my part I say: The first duty of man, on becoming
intelligent and free, is to continually hunt the idea of God out
of his mind and conscience. For God, if he exists, is
essentially hostile to our nature, and we do not depend at all
upon his authority. We arrive at knowledge in spite of him, at
comfort in spite of him, at society in spite of him; every step
we take in advance is a victory in which we crush Divinity.

Let it no longer be said that the ways of God are impenetrable.
We have penetrated these ways, and there we have read in letters
of blood the proofs of God's impotence, if not of his
malevolence. My reason, long humiliated, is gradually rising to
a level with the infinite; with time it will discover all that
its inexperience hides from it; with time I shall be less and
less a worker of misfortune, and by the light that I shall have
acquired, by the perfection of my liberty, I shall purify myself,
idealize my being, and become the chief of creation, the equal of
God. A single moment of disorder which the Omnipotent might have
prevented and did not prevent accuses his Providence and shows
him lacking in wisdom; the slightest progress which man,
ignorant, abandoned, and betrayed, makes towards good honors him
immeasurably. By what right should God still say to me: BE
HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY? Lying spirit, I will answer him, imbecile
God, your reign is over; look to the beasts for other victims. I
know that I am not holy and never can become so; and how could
you be holy, if I resemble you? Eternal father, Jupiter or
Jehovah, we have learned to know you; you are, you were, you ever
will be, the jealous rival of Adam, the tyrant of Prometheus.

So I do not fall into the sophism refuted by St. Paul, when he
forbids the vase to say to the potter: Why hast thou made me
thus? I do not blame the author of things for having made me an
inharmonious creature, an incoherent assemblage; I could exist
only in such a condition. I content myself with crying out to
him: Why do you deceive me? Why, by your silence, have you
unchained egoism within me? Why have you submitted me to the
torture of universal doubt by the bitter illusion of the
antagonistic ideas which you have put in my mind? Doubt of
truth, doubt of justice, doubt of my conscience and my liberty,
doubt of yourself, O God! and, as a result of this doubt,
necessity of war with myself and with my neighbor! That, supreme
Father, is what you have done for our happiness and your glory;
such, from the beginning, have been your will and your
government; such the bread, kneaded in blood and tears, upon
which you have fed us. The sins which we ask you to forgive, you
caused us to commit; the traps from which we implore you to
deliver us, you set for us; and the Satan who besets us is

You triumphed, and no one dared to contradict you, when, after
having tormented in his body and in his soul the righteous Job, a
type of our humanity, you insulted his candid piety, his prudent
and respectful ignorance. We were as naught before your
invisible majesty, to whom we gave the sky for a canopy and the
earth for a footstool. And now here you are dethroned and
broken. Your name, so long the last word of the savant, the
sanction of the judge, the force of the prince, the hope of the
poor, the refuge of the repentant sinner,--this incommunicable
name, I say, henceforth an object of contempt and curses, shall
be a hissing among men. For God is stupidity and cowardice; God
is hypocrisy and falsehood; God is tyranny and misery; God is
evil. As long as humanity shall bend before an altar, humanity,
the slave of kings and priests, will be condemned; as long as one
man, in the name of God, shall receive the oath of another man,
society will be founded on perjury; peace and love will be
banished from among mortals. God, take yourself away! for, from
this day forth, cured of your fear and become wise, I swear, with
hand extended to heaven, that you are only the tormentor of my
reason, the spectre of my conscience.

I deny, therefore, the supremacy of God over humanity; I reject
his providential government, the non-existence of which is
sufficiently established by the metaphysical and economical
hallucinations of humanity,--in a word, by the martyrdom of
our race; I decline the jurisdiction of the Supreme Being over
man; I take away his titles of father, king, judge, good,
merciful, pitiful, helpful, rewarding, and avenging. All these
attributes, of which the idea of Providence is made up, are but a
caricature of humanity, irreconcilable with the autonomy of
civilization, and contradicted, moreover, by the history of its
aberrations and catastrophes. Does it follow, because God can no
longer be conceived as Providence, because we take from him that
attribute so important to man that he has not hesitated to make
it the synonym of God, that God does not exist, and that the
theological dogma from this moment is shown to be false in its

Alas! no. A prejudice relative to the divine essence has been
destroyed; by the same stroke the independence of man is
established: that is all. The reality of the divine Being is
left intact, and our hypothesis still exists. In demonstrating
that it was impossible for God to be Providence, we have taken a
first step in the determination of the idea of God; the question
now is to find out whether this first datum accords with the rest
of the hypothesis, and consequently to determine, from the same
standpoint of intelligence, what God is, if he is.

For just as, after having established the guilt of man under the
influence of the economical contradictions, we have had to
account for this guilt, if we would not leave man wounded after
having made him a contemptible satire, likewise, after having
admitted the chimerical nature of the doctrine of a Providence in
God, we must inquire how this lack of Providence harmonizes with
the idea of sovereign intelligence and liberty, if we would not
sacrifice the proposed hypothesis, which nothing yet shows to be

I affirm, then, that God, if there is a God, does not resemble
the effigies which philosophers and priests have made of him;
that he neither thinks nor acts according to the law of analysis,
foresight, and progress, which is the distinctive characteristic
of man; that, on the contrary, he seems rather to follow an
inverse and retrogressive course; that intelligence, liberty,
personality in God are constituted not as in us; and that this
originality of nature, perfectly accounted for, makes God an
essentially anti-civilizing, anti-liberal, anti-human being.

I prove my proposition by going from the negative to the
positive,--that is, by deducing the truth of my thesis from the
progress of the objections to it.

1. God, say the believers, can be conceived only as infinitely
good, infinitely wise, infinitely powerful, etc.,--the whole
litany of the infinites. Now, infinite perfection cannot be
reconciled with the datum of a will holding an indifferent or
even reactionary attitude toward progress: therefore, either God
does not exist, or the objection drawn from the development of
the antinomies proves only our ignorance of the mysteries of

I answer these reasoners that, if, to give legitimacy to a wholly
arbitrary opinion, it suffices to fall back on the
unfathomability of mysteries, I am as well satisfied with the
mystery of a God without providence as with that of a Providence
without efficacy. But, in view of the facts, there is no
occasion to invoke such a consideration of probability; we must
confine ourselves to the positive declaration of experience.
Now, experience and facts prove that humanity, in its
development, obeys an inflexible necessity, whose laws are made
clear and whose system is realized as fast as the collective
reason reveals it, without anything in society to give evidence
of an external instigation, either from a providential
command or from any superhuman thought. The basis of the belief
in Providence is this necessity itself, which is, as it were, the
foundation and essence of collective humanity. But this
necessity, thoroughly systematic and progressive as it may
appear, does not on that account constitute providence either in
humanity or in God; to become convinced thereof it is enough to
recall the endless oscillations and painful gropings by which
social order is made manifest.

2. Other arguers come unexpectedly across our path, and cry:
What is the use of these abstruse researches? There is no more
an infinite intelligence than a Providence; there is neither me
nor will in the universe outside of man. All that happens, evil
as well as good, happens necessarily. An irresistible ensemble
of causes and effects embraces man and nature in the same
fatality; and those faculties in ourselves which we call
conscience, will, judgment, etc., are only particular accidents
of the eternal, immutable, and inevitable whole.

This argument is the preceding one inverted. It consists in
substituting for the idea of an omnipotent and omniscient author
that of a necessary and eternal, but unconscious and blind,
coordination. From this opposition we can already form a
presentiment that the reasoning of the materialists is no firmer
than that of the believers.

Whoever says necessity or fatality says absolute and inviolable
order; whoever, on the contrary, says disturbance and disorder
affirms that which is most repugnant to fatality. Now, there is
disorder in the world, disorder produced by the play of
spontaneous forces which no power enchains: how can that be, if
everything is the result of fate?

But who does not see that this old quarrel between theism and
materialism proceeds from a false notion of liberty and fatality,
two terms which have been considered contradictory, though really
they are not. If man is free, says the one party, all the more
surely is God free too, and fatality is but a word; if everything
is enchained in nature, answers the other party, there is neither
liberty nor Providence: and so each party argues in its own
direction till out of sight, never able to understand that this
pretended opposition of liberty and fatality is only the natural,
but not antithetical, distinction between the facts of activity
and those of intelligence.

Fatality is the absolute order, the law, the code, fatum, of the
constitution of the universe. But this code, very far from being
exclusive in itself of the idea of a sovereign legislator,
supposes it so naturally that all antiquity has not hesitated to
admit it; and today the whole question is to find out whether, as
the founders of religions have believed, the legislator preceded
the law in the universe,--that is, whether intelligence is prior
to fatality,--or whether, as the moderns claim, the law preceded
the legislator,--in other words, whether mind is born of nature.
BEFORE or AFTER, this alternative sums up all philosophy. To
dispute over the posteriority or priority of mind is all very
well, but to deny mind in the name of fatality is an exclusion
which nothing justifies. To refute it, it is sufficient to
recall the very fact on which it is based,--the existence of

Given matter and attraction, the system of the world is their
product: that is fatal. Given two correlative and contradictory
ideas, a composition must follow: that also is fatal. Fatality
clashes, not with liberty, whose destiny, on the contrary, is to
secure the accomplishment of fatality within a certain sphere,
but with disorder, with everything that acts as a barrier to the
execution of the law. Is there disorder in the world, yes or no?

The fatalists do not deny it, for, by the strangest blunder, it
is the presence of evil which has made them fatalists. Now, I
say that the presence of evil, far from giving evidence of
fatality, breaks fatality, does violence to destiny, and supposes
a cause whose erroneous but voluntary initiative is in
discordance with the law. This cause I call liberty; and I have
proved, in the fourth chapter, that liberty, like reason which
serves man as a torch, is as much greater and more perfect as it
harmonizes more completely with the order of nature, which is

Therefore to oppose fatality to the testimony of the conscience
which feels itself free, and vice versa, is to prove that one
misconstrues ideas and has not the slightest appreciation of the
question. The progress of humanity may be defined as the
education of reason and human liberty by fatality: it is absurd
to regard these three terms as exclusive of each other and
irreconcilable, when in reality they sustain each other, fatality
serving as the base, reason coming after, and liberty crowning
the edifice. It is to know and penetrate fatality that human
reason tends; it is to conform to it that liberty aspires; and
the criticism in which we are now engaged of the spontaneous
development and instinctive beliefs of the human race is at
bottom only a study of fatality. Let us explain this.

Man, endowed with activity and intelligence, has the power to
disturb the order of the world, of which he forms a part. But
all his digressions have been foreseen, and are effected within
certain limits, which, after a certain number of goings and
comings, lead man back to order. From these oscillations of
liberty may be determined the role of humanity in the world; and,
since the destiny of man is bound up with that of creatures, it
is possible to go back from him to the supreme law of things and
even to the sources of being.

Accordingly I will no longer ask: How is it that man has the
power to violate the providential order, and how is it that
Providence allows him to do so? I state the question in other
terms: How is it that man, an integrant part of the universe, a
product of fatality, is able to break fatality? How is it that a
fatal organization, the organization of humanity, is
adventitious, contradictory, full of tumult and catastrophes?
Fatality is not confined to an hour, to a century, to a thousand
years: if science and liberty must inevitably be ours, why do
they not come sooner? For, the moment we suffer from the delay,
fatality contradicts itself; evil is as exclusive of fatality as
of Providence.

What sort of a fatality, in short, is that which is contradicted
every instant by the facts which take place within its bosom?
This the fatalists are bound to explain, quite as much as the
theists are bound to explain what sort of an infinite
intelligence that can be which is unable either to foresee or
prevent the misery of its creatures.

But that is not all. Liberty, intelligence, fatality, are at
bottom three adequate expressions, serving to designate three
different faces of being. In man reason is only a defined
liberty conscious of its limit. But within the circle of its
limitations this liberty is also fatality, a living and personal
fatality. When, therefore, the conscience of the human race
proclaims that the fatality of the universe--that is, the
highest, the supreme fatality--is adequate to an infinite reason
as well as to an infinite liberty, it simply puts forth an
hypothesis in every way legitimate, the verification of which is
incumbent upon all parties.

3. Now come the HUMANISTS, the new atheists, and say:

Humanity in its ensemble is the reality sought by the social
genius under the mystical name of God. This phenomenon of
the collective reason,--a sort of mirage in which humanity,
contemplating itself, takes itself for an external and
transcendent being who considers its destinies and presides over
them,--this illusion of the conscience, we say, has been analyzed
and explained; and henceforth to reproduce the theological
hypothesis is to take a step backward in science. We must
confine ourselves strictly to society, to man. GOD in religion,
the STATE in politics, PROPERTY in economy, such is the triple
form under which humanity, become foreign to itself, has not
ceased to rend itself with its own hands, and which today it must

I admit that every affirmation or hypothesis of Divinity proceeds
from anthropomorphism, and that God in the first place is only
the ideal, or rather, the spectre of man. I admit further that
the idea of God is the type and foundation of the principle of
authority and absolutism, which it is our task to destroy or at
least to subordinate wherever it manifests itself, in science,
industry, public affairs. Consequently I do not contradict
humanism; I continue it. Taking up its criticism of the divine
being and applying it to man, I observe:

That man, in adoring himself as God, has posited of himself an
ideal contrary to his own essence, and has declared himself an
antagonist of the being supposed to be sovereignly perfect,--in
short, of the infinite;

That man consequently is, in his own judgment, only a false
divinity, since in setting up God he denies himself; and that
humanism is a religion as detestable as any of the theisms of
ancient origin;

That this phenomenon of humanity taking itself for God is not
explainable in the terms of humanism, and requires a further

God, according to the theological conception, is not only
sovereign master of the universe, the infallible and
irresponsible king of creatures, the intelligible type of man; he
is the eternal, immutable, omnipresent, infinitely wise,
infinitely free being. Now, I say that these attributes of God
contain more than an ideal, more than an elevation--to whatever
power you will--of the corresponding attributes of humanity; I
say that they are a contradiction of them. God is contradictory
of man, just as charity is contradictory of justice; as sanctity,
the ideal of perfection, is contradictory of perfectibility; as
royalty, the ideal of legislative power, is contradictory of law,
etc. So that the divine hypothesis is reborn from its resolution
into human reality, and the problem of a complete, harmonious,
and absolute existence, ever put aside, ever comes back.

To demonstrate this radical antinomy it suffices to put facts in
juxtaposition with definitions.

Of all facts the most certain, most constant, most indubitable,
is certainly that in man knowledge is progressive, methodical,
the result of reflection,--in short, experimental; so much so
that every theory not having the sanction of experience--that is,
of constancy and concatenation in its representations--thereby
lacks a scientific character. In regard to this not the
slightest doubt can be raised. Mathematics themselves, though
called pure, are subject to the CONCATENATION of propositions,
and hence depend upon experience and acknowledge its law.

Man's knowledge, starting with acquired observation, then
progresses and advances in an unlimited sphere. The goal which
it has in view, the ideal which it tends to realize without ever
being able to attain it,-- placing it on the contrary farther and
farther ahead of it,--is the infinite, the absolute.

Now, what would be an infinite knowledge, an absolute knowledge,
determining an equally infinite liberty, such as speculation
supposes in God? It would be a knowledge not only universal, but
intuitive, spontaneous, as thoroughly free from hesitation as
from objectivity, although embracing at once the real and the
possible; a knowledge sure, but not demonstrative; complete, not
sequential; a knowledge, in short, which, being eternal in its
formation, would be destitute of any progressive character in the
relation of its parts.

Psychology has collected numerous examples of this mode of
knowing in the instinctive and divinatory faculties of animals;
in the spontaneous talent of certain men born mathematicians and
artists, independent of all education; finally, in most of the
primitive human institutions and monuments, products of
unconscious genius independent of theories. And the regular and
complex movements of the heavenly bodies; the marvellous
combinations of matter,--could it not be said that these too are
the effects of a special instinct, inherent in the elements?

If, then, God exists, something of him appears to us in the
universe and in ourselves: but this something is in flagrant
opposition with our most authentic tendencies, with our most
certain destiny; this something is continually being effaced from
our soul by education, and to make it disappear is the object of
our care. God and man are two natures which shun each other as
soon as they know each other; in the absence of a transformation
of one or the other or both, how could they ever be reconciled?
If the progress of reason tends to separate us from Divinity, how
could God and man be identical in point of reason? How,
consequently, could humanity become God by education?

Let us take another example.

The essential characteristic of religion is feeling. Hence, by
religion, man attributes feeling to God, as he attributes reason
to him; moreover, he affirms, following the ordinary course of
his ideas, that feeling in God, like knowledge, is infinite.

Now, that alone is sufficient to change the quality of feeling in
God, and make it an attribute totally distinct from that of man.


Back to Full Books