What is Property?
Part 3 out of 9
admitted against individuals, but only against society."
In such a way do legislators always reason in regard to property.
The law is intended to protect men's mutual rights,--that is, the
rights of each against each, and each against all; and, as if a
proportion could exist with less than four terms, the law-makers
always disregard the latter. As long as man is opposed to man,
property offsets property, and the two forces balance each other;
as soon as man is isolated, that is, opposed to the society which
he himself represents, jurisprudence is at fault: Themis has lost
one scale of her balance.
Listen to the professor of Rennes, the learned Toullier:--
"How could this claim, made valid by occupation, become stable
and permanent property, which might continue to stand, and which
might be reclaimed after the first occupant had relinquished
"Agriculture was a natural consequence of the multiplication of
the human race, and agriculture, in its turn, favors population,
and necessitates the establishment of permanent property; for who
would take the trouble to plough and sow, if he were not certain
that he would reap?"
To satisfy the husbandman, it was sufficient to guarantee him
possession of his crop; admit even that he should have been
protected in his right of occupation of land, as long as he
remained its cultivator. That was all that he had a right to
expect; that was all that the advance of civilization
demanded. But property, property! the right of escheat over
lands which one neither occupies nor cultivates,--who had
authority to grant it? who pretended to have it?
"Agriculture alone was not sufficient to establish permanent
property; positive laws were needed, and magistrates to execute
them; in a word, the civil State was needed.
"The multiplication of the human race had rendered agriculture
necessary; the need of securing to the cultivator the fruit of
his labor made permanent property necessary, and also laws for
its protection. So we are indebted to property for the creation
of the civil State."
Yes, of our civil State, as you have made it; a State which, at
first, was despotism, then monarchy, then aristocracy, today
democracy, and always tyranny.
"Without the ties of property it never would have been possible
to subordinate men to the wholesome yoke of the law; and without
permanent property the earth would have remained a vast forest.
Let us admit, then, with the most careful writers, that if
transient property, or the right of preference resulting from
occupation, existed prior to the establishment of civil society,
permanent property, as we know it to-day, is the work of civil
law. It is the civil law which holds that, when once acquired,
property can be lost only by the action of the proprietor, and
that it exists even after the proprietor has relinquished
possession of the thing, and it has fallen into the hands of a
"Thus property and possession, which originally were confounded,
became through the civil law two distinct and independent things;
two things which, in the language of the law, have nothing
whatever in common. In this we see what a wonderful change has
been effected in property, and to what an extent Nature has been
altered by the civil laws."
Thus the law, in establishing property, has not been the
expression of a psychological fact, the development of a natural
law, the application of a moral principle. It has literally
CREATED a right outside of its own province. It has realized
an abstraction, a metaphor, a fiction; and that without deigning
to look at the consequences, without considering the
disadvantages, without inquiring whether it was right or wrong.
It has sanctioned selfishness; it has indorsed monstrous
pretensions; it has received with favor impious vows, as if it
were able to fill up a bottomless pit, and to satiate hell!
Blind law; the law of the ignorant man; a law which is not a law;
the voice of discord, deceit, and blood! This it is which,
continually revived, reinstated, rejuvenated, restored, re-
enforced--as the palladium of society--has troubled the
consciences of the people, has obscured the minds of the masters,
and has induced all the catastrophes which have befallen nations.
This it is which Christianity has condemned, but which its
ignorant ministers deify; who have as little desire to study
Nature and man, as ability to read their Scriptures.
But, indeed, what guide did the law follow in creating the domain
of property? What principle directed it? What was its standard?
Would you believe it? It was equality.
Agriculture was the foundation of territorial possession, and the
original cause of property. It was of no use to secure to the
farmer the fruit of his labor, unless the means of production
were at the same time secured to him. To fortify the weak
against the invasion of the strong, to suppress spoliation and
fraud, the necessity was felt of establishing between possessors
permanent lines of division, insuperable obstacles. Every year
saw the people multiply, and the cupidity of the husbandman
increase: it was thought best to put a bridle on ambition by
setting boundaries which ambition would in vain attempt to
overstep. Thus the soil came to be appropriated through need of
the equality which is essential to public security and peaceable
possession. Undoubtedly the division was never geographically
equal; a multitude of rights, some founded in Nature, but wrongly
interpreted and still more wrongly applied, inheritance, gift,
and exchange; others, like the privileges of birth and
position, the illegitimate creations of ignorance and brute
force,--all operated to prevent absolute equality. But,
nevertheless, the principle remained the same: equality had
sanctioned possession; equality sanctioned property.
The husbandman needed each year a field to sow; what more
convenient and simple arrangement for the barbarians,--instead of
indulging in annual quarrels and fights, instead of continually
moving their houses, furniture, and families from spot to spot,--
than to assign to each individual a fixed and inalienable estate?
It was not right that the soldier, on returning from an
expedition, should find himself dispossessed on account of the
services which he had just rendered to his country; his estate
ought to be restored to him. It became, therefore, customary to
retain property by intent alone--_nudo animo;_ it could be
sacrificed only with the consent and by the action of the
It was necessary that the equality in the division should be kept
up from one generation to another, without a new distribution of
the land upon the death of each family; it appeared therefore
natural and just that children and parents, according to the
degree of relationship which they bore to the deceased, should be
the heirs of their ancestors. Thence came, in the first place,
the feudal and patriarchal custom of recognizing only one heir;
then, by a quite contrary application of the principle of
equality, the admission of all the children to a share in their
father's estate, and, very recently also among us, the definitive
abolition of the right of primogeniture.
But what is there in common between these rude outlines of
instinctive organization and the true social science? How could
these men, who never had the faintest idea of statistics,
valuation, or political economy, furnish us with principles
"The law," says a modern writer on jurisprudence, "is the
expression of a social want, the declaration of a fact: the
legislator does not make it, he declares it. `This definition is
not exact. The law is a method by which social wants must be
satisfied; the people do not vote it, the legislator does not
express it: the savant discovers and formulates it. But in
fact, the law, according to M. Ch. Comte, who has devoted half a
volume to its definition, was in the beginning only the
EXPRESSION OF A WANT, and the indication of the means of
supplying it; and up to this time it has been nothing else. The
legists--with mechanical fidelity, full of obstinacy, enemies of
philosophy, buried in literalities--have always mistaken for the
last word of science that which was only the inconsiderate
aspiration of men who, to be sure, were well-meaning, but wanting
They did not foresee, these old founders of the domain of
property, that the perpetual and absolute right to retain one's
estate,--a right which seemed to them equitable, because it was
common,--involves the right to transfer, sell, give, gain, and
lose it; that it tends, consequently, to nothing less than the
destruction of that equality which they established it to
maintain. And though they should have foreseen it, they
disregarded it; the present want occupied their whole attention,
and, as ordinarily happens in such cases, the disadvantages were
at first scarcely perceptible, and they passed unnoticed.
They did not foresee, these ingenuous legislators, that if
property is retainable by intent alone--_nudo animo_--it carries
with it the right to let, to lease, to loan at interest, to
profit by exchange, to settle annuities, and to levy a tax on a
field which intent reserves, while the body is busy elsewhere.
They did not foresee, these fathers of our jurisprudence, that,
if the right of inheritance is any thing other than Nature's
method of preserving equality of wealth, families will soon
become victims of the most disastrous exclusions; and society,
pierced to the heart by one of its most sacred principles, will
come to its death through opulence and misery.
 Here, especially, the simplicity of our ancestors appears in
all its rudeness. After having made first cousins heirs, where
there were no legitimate children, they could not so divide the
property between two different branches as to prevent the
simultaneous existence of extreme wealth and extreme poverty in
the same family. For example:--
James, dying, leaves two sons, Peter and John, heirs of his
fortune: James's property is divided equally between them. But
Peter has only one daughter, while John, his brother, leaves six
sons. It is clear that, to be true to the principle of equality,
and at the same time to that of heredity, the two estates must be
divided in seven equal portions among the children of Peter and
John; for otherwise a stranger might marry Peter's daughter, and
by this alliance half of the property of James, the grandfather,
would be transferred to another family, which is contrary to the
principle of heredity. Furthermore, John's children would be
poor on account of their number, while their cousin, being an
only child, would be rich, which is contrary to the principle of
equality. If we extend this combined application of two
principles apparently opposed to each other, we shall become
convinced that the right of succession, which is assailed with so
little wisdom in our day, is no obstacle to the maintenance of
Under whatever form of government we live, it can always be said
that _le mort saisit le vif;_ that is, that inheritance and
succession will last for ever, whoever may be the recognized
heir. But the St. Simonians wish the heir to be designated by
the magistrate; others wish him to be chosen by the deceased, or
assumed by the law to be so chosen: the essential point is that
Nature's wish be satisfied, so far as the law of equality allows.
To-day the real controller of inheritance is chance or caprice;
now, in matters of legislation, chance and caprice cannot be
accepted as guides. It is for the purpose of avoiding the
manifold disturbances which follow in the wake of chance that
Nature, after having created us equal, suggests to us the
principle of heredity; which serves as a voice by which society
asks us to choose, from among all our brothers, him whom we judge
best fitted to complete our unfinished work.
They did not foresee. . . . But why need I go farther?
The consequences are plain enough, and this is not the time
to criticise the whole Code.
The history of property among the ancient nations is, then,
simply a matter of research and curiosity. It is a rule of
jurisprudence that the fact does not substantiate the right.
Now, property is no exception to this rule: then the universal
recognition of the right of property does not legitimate the
right of property. Man is mistaken as to the constitution of
society, the nature of right, and the application of justice;
just as he was mistaken regarding the cause of meteors and the
movement of the heavenly bodies. His old opinions cannot be
taken for articles of faith. Of what consequence is it to us
that the Indian race was divided into four classes; that, on the
banks of the Nile and the Ganges, blood and position formerly
determined the distribution of the land; that the Greeks and
Romans placed property under the protection of the gods; that
they accompanied with religious ceremonies the work of
partitioning the land and appraising their goods? The variety of
the forms of privilege does not sanction injustice. The faith of
Jupiter, the proprietor, proves no more against the equality
of citizens, than do the mysteries of Venus, the wanton, against
 _Zeus klesios_.
The authority of the human race is of no effect as evidence in
favor of the right of property, because this right, resting of
necessity upon equality, contradicts its principle; the decision
of the religions which have sanctioned it is of no effect,
because in all ages the priest has submitted to the prince, and
the gods have always spoken as the politicians desired; the
social advantages, attributed to property, cannot
be cited in its behalf, because they all spring from the
principle of equality of possession.
What means, then, this dithyramb upon property?
"The right of property is the most important of human
institutions." . . .
Yes; as monarchy is the most glorious.
"The original cause of man's prosperity upon earth."
Because justice was supposed to be its principle.
"Property became the legitimate end of his ambition, the hope of
his existence, the shelter of his family; in a word, the corner-
stone of the domestic dwelling, of communities, and of the
Possession alone produced all that.
Property is eternal, like every negation,--
"Of all social and civil institutions."
For that reason, every institution and every law based on
property will perish.
"It is a boon as precious as liberty."
For the rich proprietor.
"In fact, the cause of the cultivation of the habitable earth."
If the cultivator ceased to be a tenant, would the land be worse
"The guarantee and the morality of labor."
Under the regime of property, labor is not a condition, but a
"The application of justice."
What is justice without equality of fortunes? A balance with
A famished stomach knows no morality,--
"All public order,--"
Certainly, the preservation of property,--
"Rest on the right of property."
[1 Giraud, "Investigations into the Right of Property among the
Corner-stone of all which is, stumbling-block of all which ought
to be,--such is property.
To sum up and conclude:--
Not only does occupation lead to equality, it PREVENTS
property. For, since every man, from the fact of his existence,
has the right of occupation, and, in order to live, must have
material for cultivation on which he may labor; and since, on the
other hand, the number of occupants varies continually with the
births and deaths,--it follows that the quantity of material
which each laborer may claim varies with the number of occupants;
consequently, that occupation is always subordinate to
population. Finally, that, inasmuch as possession, in right, can
never remain fixed, it is impossible, in fact, that it can ever
Every occupant is, then, necessarily a possessor or
usufructuary,--a function which excludes proprietorship. Now,
this is the right of the usufructuary: he is responsible for the
thing entrusted to him; he must use it in conformity with general
utility, with a view to its preservation and development; he has
no power to transform it, to diminish it, or to change its
nature; he cannot so divide the usufruct that another shall
perform the labor while he receives the product. In a word, the
usufructuary is under the supervision of society, submitted to
the condition of labor and the law of equality.
Thus is annihilated the Roman definition of property--THE RIGHT
OF USE AND ABUSE--an immorality born of violence, the
most monstrous pretension that the civil laws ever
sanctioned. Man receives his usufruct from the hands of society,
which alone is the permanent possessor. The individual passes
away, society is deathless.
What a profound disgust fills my soul while discussing such
simple truths ! Do we doubt these things to-day? Will it be
necessary to again take arms for their triumph? And can force,
in default of reason, alone introduce them into our laws?
ALL HAVE AN EQUAL RIGHT OF OCCUPANCY.
THE AMOUNT OCCUPIED BEING MEASURED, NOT BY THE WILL, BUT BY THE
VARIABLE CONDITIONS OF SPACE AND NUMBER, PROPERTY CANNOT EXIST.
This no code has ever expressed; this no constitution can admit!
These are axioms which the civil law and the law of nations
deny! . . . . .
But I hear the exclamations of the partisans of another system:
"Labor, labor! that is the basis of property!"
Reader, do not be deceived. This new basis of property is worse
than the first, and I shall soon have to ask your pardon for
having demonstrated things clearer, and refuted pretensions more
unjust, than any which we have yet considered.
LABOR AS THE EFFICIENT CAUSE OF THE DOMAIN OF PROPERTY.
Nearly all the modern writers on jurisprudence, taking their cue
from the economists, have abandoned the theory of first occupancy
as a too dangerous one, and have adopted that which regards
property as born of labor. In this they are deluded; they reason
in a circle. To labor it is necessary to occupy, says M. Cousin.
Consequently, I have added in my turn, all having an equal right
of occupancy, to labor it is necessary to submit to equality.
"The rich," exclaims Jean Jacques, "have the arrogance to say, `I
built this wall; I earned this land by my labor.' Who set you
the tasks? we may reply, and by what right do you demand payment
from us for labor which we did not impose upon you?" All
sophistry falls to the ground in the presence of this argument.
But the partisans of labor do not see that their system is an
absolute contradiction of the Code, all the articles and
provisions of which suppose property to be based upon the fact of
first occupancy. If labor, through the appropriation which
results from it, alone gives birth to property, the Civil Code
lies, the charter is a falsehood, our whole social system is a
violation of right. To this conclusion shall we come, at the
end of the discussion which is to occupy our attention in this
chapter and the following one, both as to the right of labor and
the fact of property. We shall see, on the one hand, our
legislation in opposition to itself; and, on the other hand, our
new jurisprudence in opposition both to its own principle and to
I have asserted that the system which bases property upon labor
implies, no less than that which bases it upon occupation, the
equality of fortunes; and the reader must be impatient to learn
how I propose to deduce this law of equality from the inequality
of skill and faculties: directly his curiosity shall be
satisfied. But it is proper that I should call his attention for
a moment to this remarkable feature of the process; to wit, the
substitution of labor for occupation as the principle of
property; and that I should pass rapidly in review some of the
prejudices to which proprietors are accustomed to appeal, which
legislation has sanctioned, and which the system of labor
Reader, were you ever present at the examination of a criminal?
Have you watched his tricks, his turns, his evasions, his
distinctions, his equivocations? Beaten, all his assertions
overthrown, pursued like a fallow deer by the in exorable judge,
tracked from hypothesis to hypothesis,--he makes a statement, he
corrects it, retracts it, contradicts it, he exhausts all the
tricks of dialectics, more subtle, more ingenious a thousand
times than he who invented the seventy-two forms of the
syllogism. So acts the proprietor when called upon to defend his
right. At first he refuses to reply, he exclaims, he threatens,
he defies; then, forced to accept the discussion, he arms himself
with chicanery, he surrounds himself with formidable artillery,--
crossing his fire, opposing one by one and all together
occupation, possession, limitation, covenants, immemorial
custom, and universal consent. Conquered on this ground, the
proprietor, like a wounded boar, turns on his pursuers. "I have
done more than occupy," he cries with terrible emotion; "I have
labored, produced, improved, transformed, CREATED. This house,
these fields, these trees are the work of my hands; I changed
these brambles into a vineyard, and this bush into a fig-tree;
and to-day I reap the harvest of my labors. I have enriched the
soil with my sweat; I have paid those men who, had they not had
the work which I gave them, would have died of hunger. No one
shared with me the trouble and expense; no one shall share with
me the benefits."
You have labored, proprietor! why then do you speak of original
occupancy? What, were you not sure of your right, or did you
hope to deceive men, and make justice an illusion? Make haste,
then, to acquaint us with your mode of defence, for the judgment
will be final; and you know it to be a question of restitution.
You have labored! but what is there in common between the labor
which duty compels you to perform, and the appropriation of
things in which there is a common interest? Do you not know that
domain over the soil, like that over air and light, cannot be
lost by prescription?
You have labored! have you never made others labor? Why, then,
have they lost in laboring for you what you have gained in not
laboring for them?
You have labored! very well; but let us see the results of your
labor. We will count, weigh, and measure them. It will be the
judgment of Balthasar; for I swear by balance, level, and square,
that if you have appropriated another's labor in any way
whatsoever, you shall restore it every stroke.
Thus, the principle of occupation is abandoned; no longer is it
said, "The land belongs to him who first gets possession of it.
Property, forced into its first intrenchment, repudiates its old
adage; justice, ashamed, retracts her maxims, and sorrow lowers
her bandage over her blushing cheeks. And it was but yesterday
that this progress in social philosophy began: fifty centuries
required for the extirpation of a lie! During this lamentable
period, how many usurpations have been sanctioned, how many
invasions glorified, how many conquests celebrated! The absent
dispossessed, the poor banished, the hungry excluded by wealth,
which is so ready and bold in action! Jealousies and wars,
incendiarism and bloodshed, among the nations! But henceforth,
thanks to the age and its spirit, it is to be admitted that the
earth is not a prize to be won in a race; in the absence of any
other obstacle, there is a place for everybody under the sun.
Each one may harness his goat to the bearn, drive his cattle to
pasture, sow a corner of a field, and bake his bread by his own
But, no; each one cannot do these things. I hear it proclaimed
on all sides, "Glory to labor and industry! to each according to
his capacity; to each capacity according to its results!" And I
see three-fourths of the human race again despoiled, the labor of
a few being a scourge to the labor of the rest.
"The problem is solved," exclaims M. Hennequin. "Property, the
daughter of labor, can be enjoyed at present and in the future
only under the protection of the laws. It has its origin in
natural law; it derives its power from civil law; and from the
union of these two ideas, LABOR and PROTECTION, positive
legislation results." . . .
Ah! THE PROBLEM IS SOLVED! PROPERTY IS THE DAUGHTER OF LABOR!
What, then, is the right of accession, and the right of
succession, and the right of donation, &c., if not the right to
become a proprietor by simple occupancy? What are your laws
concerning the age of majority, emancipation, guardianship, and
interdiction, if not the various conditions by which he who is
already a laborer gains or loses the right of occupancy; that is,
Being unable, at this time, to enter upon a detailed discussion
of the Code, I shall content myself with examining the three
arguments oftenest resorted to in support of property. 1.
APPROPRIATION, or the formation of property by possession; 2.
THE CONSENT OF MANKIND; 3. PRESCRIPTION. I shall then
inquire into the effects of labor upon the relative condition of
the laborers and upon property.
% 1.--The Land cannot be Appropriated.
"It would seem that lands capable of cultivation ought to be
regarded as natural wealth, since they are not of human creation,
but Nature's gratuitous gift to man; but inasmuch as this wealth
is not fugitive, like the air and water,--inasmuch as a field is
a fixed and limited space which certain men have been able to
appropriate, to the exclusion of all others who in their turn
have consented to this appropriation,--the land, which was a
natural and gratuitous gift, has become social wealth, for the
use of which we ought to pay."--SAY: POLITICAL ECONOMY.
Was I wrong in saying, at the beginning of this chapter, that the
economists are the very worst authorities in matters of
legislation and philosophy? It is the FATHER of this class of
men who clearly states the question, How can the supplies of
Nature, the wealth created by Providence, become private
property? and who replies by so gross an equivocation that we
scarcely know which the author lacks, sense or honesty. What, I
ask, has the fixed and solid nature of the earth to do with the
right of appropriation? I can understand that a thing LIMITED
and STATIONARY, like the land, offers greater chances for
appropriation than the water or the sunshine; that it is easier
to exercise the right of domain over the soil than over the
atmosphere: but we are not dealing with the difficulty of the
thing, and Say confounds the right with the possibility. We do
not ask why the earth has been appropriated to a greater extent
than the sea and the air; we want to know by what right man has
appropriated wealth WHICH HE DID NOT CREATE, AND WHICH NATURE
GAVE TO HIM GRATUITOUSLY.
Say, then, did not solve the question which he asked. But if he
had solved it, if the explanation which he has given us were as
satisfactory as it is illogical, we should know no better than
before who has a right to exact payment for the use of the soil,
of this wealth which is not man's handiwork. Who is entitled to
the rent of the land? The producer of the land, without doubt.
Who made the land? God. Then, proprietor, retire!
But the creator of the land does not sell it: he gives it; and,
in giving it, he is no respecter of persons. Why, then, are some
of his children regarded as legitimate, while others are treated
as bastards? If the equality of shares was an original right,
why is the inequality of conditions a posthumous right?
Say gives us to understand that if the air and the water were not
of a FUGITIVE nature, they would have been appropriated. Let
me observe in passing that this is more than an hypothesis; it is
a reality. Men have appropriated the air and the water, I will
not say as often as they could, but as often as they have been
The Portuguese, having discovered the route to India by the Cape
of Good Hope, pretended to have the sole right to that route; and
Grotius, consulted in regard to this matter by the Dutch who
refused to recognize this right, wrote expressly for this
occasion his treatise on the "Freedom of the Seas," to prove that
the sea is not liable to appropriation.
The right to hunt and fish used always to be confined to lords
and proprietors; to-day it is leased by the government and
communes to whoever can pay the license-fee and the rent. To
regulate hunting and fishing is an excellent idea, but to make it
a subject of sale is to create a monopoly of air and water.
What is a passport? A universal recommendation of the
traveller's person; a certificate of security for himself and his
property. The treasury, whose nature it is to spoil the best
things, has made the passport a means of espionage and a tax. Is
not this a sale of the right to travel?
Finally, it is permissible neither to draw water from a spring
situated in another's grounds without the permission of the
proprietor, because by the right of accession the spring belongs
to the possessor of the soil, if there is no other claim; nor to
pass a day on his premises without paying a tax; nor to look at a
court, a garden, or an orchard, without the consent of the
proprietor; nor to stroll in a park or an enclosure against the
owner's will: every one is allowed to shut himself up and to
fence himself in. All these prohibitions are so many positive
interdictions, not only of the land, but of the air and water.
We who belong to the proletaire class: property excommunicates
us! _Terra, et aqua, et aere, et igne interdicti sumus_.
Men could not appropriate the most fixed of all the elements
without appropriating the three others; since, by French and
Roman law, property in the surface carries with it property from
zenith to nadir--_Cujus est solum, ejus est usque ad caelum_.
Now, if the use of water, air, and fire excludes property, so
does the use of the soil. This chain of reasoning seems to
have been presented by M. Ch. Comte, in his "Treatise on
Property," chap. 5.
"If a man should be deprived of air for a few moments only, he
would cease to exist, and a partial deprivation would cause him
severe suffering; a partial or complete deprivation of food would
produce like effects upon him though less suddenly; it would be
the same, at least in certain climates! were he deprived of all
clothing and shelter. . . . To sustain life, then, man needs
continually to appropriate many different things. But these
things do not exist in like proportions. Some, such as the light
of the stars, the atmosphere of the earth, the water composing
the seas and oceans, exist in such large quantities that men
cannot perceive any sensible increase or diminution; each one can
appropriate as much as his needs require without detracting from
the enjoyment of others, without causing them the least harm.
Things of this sort are, so to speak, the common property of the
human race; the only duty imposed upon each individual in this
regard is that of infringing not at all upon the rights of
Let us complete the argument of M. Ch. Comte. A man who should
be prohibited from walking in the highways, from resting in the
fields, from taking shelter in caves, from lighting fires, from
picking berries, from gathering herbs and boiling them in a bit
of baked clay,--such a man could not live. Consequently the
earth--like water, air, and light--is a primary object of
necessity which each has a right to use freely, without
infringing another's right. Why, then, is the earth
appropriated? M. Ch. Comte's reply is a curious one. Say
pretends that it is because it is not FUGITIVE; M. Ch. Comte
assures us that it is because it is not INFINITE. The land is
limited in amount. Then, according to M. Ch. Comte, it ought to
be appropriated. It would seem, on the contrary, that he ought
to say, Then it ought not to be appropriated. Because, no matter
how large a quantity of air or light any one appropriates, no one
is damaged thereby; there always remains enough for all. With
the soil, it is very different. Lay hold who will, or who
can, of the sun's rays, the passing breeze, or the sea's billows;
he has my consent, and my pardon for his bad intentions. But let
any living man dare to change his right of territorial possession
into the right of property, and I will declare war upon him, and
wage it to the death!
M. Ch. Comte's argument disproves his position. "Among the
things necessary to the preservation of life," he says, "there
are some which exist in such large quantities that they are
inexhaustible; others which exist in lesser quantities, and can
satisfy the wants of only a certain number of persons. The
former are called COMMON, the latter PRIVATE."
This reasoning is not strictly logical. Water, air, and light
are COMMON things, not because they are INEXHAUSTIBLE, but
because they are INDISPENSABLE; and so indispensable that for
that very reason Nature has created them in quantities almost
infinite, in order that their plentifulness might prevent their
appropriation. Likewise the land is indispensable to our
existence,--consequently a common thing, consequently
insusceptible of appropriation; but land is much scarcer than the
other elements, therefore its use must be regulated, not for the
profit of a few, but in the interest and for the security of all.
In a word, equality of rights is proved by equality of needs.
Now, equality of rights, in the case of a commodity which is
limited in amount, can be realized only by equality of
possession. An agrarian law underlies M. Ch. Comte's arguments.
From whatever point we view this question of property--provided
we go to the bottom of it--we reach equality. I will not insist
farther on the distinction between things which can, and things
which cannot, be appropriated. On this point, economists and
legists talk worse than nonsense. The Civil Code, after having
defined property, says nothing about susceptibility of
appropriation; and if it speaks of things which are in THE
MARKET, it always does so without enumerating or describing
them. However, light is not wanting. There are some few maxims
such as these: _Ad reges potestas omnium pertinet, ad singulos
proprietas; Omnia rex imperio possidet, singula dominio_. Social
sovereignty opposed to private property!--might not that be
called a prophecy of equality, a republican oracle? Examples
crowd upon us: once the possessions of the church, the estates of
the crown, the fiefs of the nobility were inalienable and
imprescriptible. If, instead of abolishing this privilege, the
Constituent had extended it to every individual; if it had
declared that the right of labor, like liberty, can never be
forfeited,--at that moment the revolution would have been
consummated, and we could now devote ourselves to improvement in
% 2.--Universal Consent no Justification of Property.
In the extract from Say, quoted above, it is not clear whether
the author means to base the right of property on the stationary
character of the soil, or on the consent which he thinks all men
have granted to this appropriation. His language is such that it
may mean either of these things, or both at once; which entitles
us to assume that the author intended to say, "The right of
property resulting originally from the exercise of the will, the
stability of the soil permitted it to be applied to the land, and
universal consent has since sanctioned this application."
However that may be, can men legitimate property by mutual
consent? I say, no. Such a contract, though drafted by Grotius,
Montesquieu, and J. J. Rousseau, though signed by the whole human
race, would be null in the eyes of justice, and an act to
enforce it would be illegal. Man can no more give up labor than
liberty. Now, to recognize the right of territorial property is
to give up labor, since it is to relinquish the means of labor;
it is to traffic in a natural right, and divest ourselves of
But I wish that this consent, of which so much is made, had been
given, either tacitly or formally. What would have been the
result? Evidently, the surrenders would have been reciprocal; no
right would have been abandoned without the receipt of an
equivalent in exchange. We thus come back to equality again,--
the sine qua non of appropriation; so that, after having
justified property by universal consent, that is, by equality, we
are obliged to justify the inequality of conditions by property.
Never shall we extricate ourselves from this dilemma. Indeed,
if, in the terms of the social compact, property has equality for
its condition, at the moment when equality ceases to exist, the
compact is broken and all property becomes usurpation. We gain
nothing, then, by this pretended consent of mankind.
% 3.--Prescription Gives No Title to Property.
The right of property was the origin of evil on the earth, the
first link in the long chain of crimes and misfortunes which the
human race has endured since its birth. The delusion of
prescription is the fatal charm thrown over the intellect, the
death sentence breathed into the conscience, to arrest man's
progress towards truth, and bolster up the worship of error.
The Code defines prescription thus: "The process of gaining and
losing through the lapse of time." In applying this definition
to ideas and beliefs, we may use the word PRESCRIPTION to
denote the everlasting prejudice in favor of old
superstitions, whatever be their object; the opposition,
often furious and bloody, with which new light has always been
received, and which makes the sage a martyr. Not a principle,
not a discovery, not a generous thought but has met, at its
entrance into the world, with a formidable barrier of
preconceived opinions, seeming like a conspiracy of all old
prejudices. Prescriptions against reason, prescriptions against
facts, prescriptions against every truth hitherto unknown,--that
is the sum and substance of the _statu quo_ philosophy, the
watchword of conservatives throughout the centuries.
When the evangelical reform was broached to the world, there was
prescription in favor of violence, debauchery, and selfishness;
when Galileo, Descartes, Pascal, and their disciples
reconstructed philosophy and the sciences, there was prescription
in favor of the Aristotelian philosophy; when our fathers of '89
demanded liberty and equality, there was prescription in favor of
tyranny and privilege. "There always have been proprietors and
there always will be:" it is with this profound utterance, the
final effort of selfishness dying in its last ditch, that the
friends of social inequality hope to repel the attacks of their
adversaries; thinking undoubtedly that ideas, like property, can
be lost by prescription.
Enlightened to-day by the triumphal march of science, taught by
the most glorious successes to question our own opinions, we
receive with favor and applause the observer of Nature, who, by a
thousand experiments based upon the most profound analysis,
pursues a new principle, a law hitherto undiscovered. We take
care to repel no idea, no fact, under the pretext that abler men
than ourselves lived in former days, who did not notice the same
phenomena, nor grasp the same analogies. Why do we not preserve
a like attitude towards political and philosophical questions?
Why this ridiculous mania for affirming that every thing has
been said, which means that we know all about mental and moral
science? Why is the proverb, THERE IS NOTHING NEW UNDER THE
SUN, applied exclusively to metaphysical investigations?
Because we still study philosophy with the imagination, instead
of by observation and method; because fancy and will are
universally regarded as judges, in the place of arguments and
facts,--it has been impossible to this day to distinguish the
charlatan from the philosopher, the savant from the impostor.
Since the days of Solomon and Pythagoras, imagination has been
exhausted in guessing out social and psychological laws; all
systems have been proposed. Looked at in this light, it is
probably true that EVERY THING HAS BEEN SAID; but it is no less
true that EVERY THING REMAINS TO BE PROVED. In politics (to
take only this branch of philosophy), in politics every one is
governed in his choice of party by his passion and his interests;
the mind is submitted to the impositions of the will,--there is
no knowledge, there is not even a shadow of certainty. In this
way, general ignorance produces general tyranny; and while
liberty of thought is written in the charter, slavery of thought,
under the name of MAJORITY RULE, is decreed by the charter.
In order to confine myself to the civil prescription of which the
Code speaks, I shall refrain from beginning a discussion upon
this worn-out objection brought forward by proprietors; it would
be too tiresome and declamatory. Everybody knows that there are
rights which cannot be prescribed; and, as for those things which
can be gained through the lapse of time, no one is ignorant of
the fact that prescription requires certain conditions, the
omission of one of which renders it null. If it is true, for
example, that the proprietor's possession has been CIVIL,
PUBLIC, PEACEABLE, and UNINTERRUPTED, it is none the less
true that it is not based on a just title; since the only titles
which it can show--occupation and labor--prove as much for the
proletaire who demands, as for the proprietor who defends.
Further, this possession is DISHONEST, since it is founded on a
violation of right, which prevents prescription, according to the
saying of St. Paul--_Nunquam in usucapionibus juris error
possessori prodest_. The violation of right lies either in the
fact that the holder possesses as proprietor, while he should
possess only as usufructuary; or in the fact that he has
purchased a thing which no one had a right to transfer or sell.
Another reason why prescription cannot be adduced in favor of
property (a reason borrowed from jurisprudence) is that the right
to possess real estate is a part of a universal right which has
never been totally destroyed even at the most critical periods;
and the proletaire, in order to regain the power to exercise it
fully, has only to prove that he has always exercised it in part.
He, for example, who has the universal right to possess, give,
exchange, loan, let, sell, transform, or destroy a thing,
preserves the integrity of this right by the sole act of loaning,
though he has never shown his authority in any other manner.
Likewise we shall see that EQUALITY OF POSSESSIONS, EQUALITY OF
RIGHTS, LIBERTY, WILL, PERSONALITY, are so many identical
expressions of one and the same idea,--the RIGHT OF
PRESERVATION and DEVELOPMENT; in a word, the right of life,
against which there can be no prescription until the human race
has vanished from the face of the earth.
Finally, as to the time required for prescription, it would be
superfluous to show that the right of property in general cannot
be acquired by simple possession for ten, twenty, a hundred, a
thousand, or one hundred thousand years; and that, so long as
there exists a human head capable of understanding and
combating the right of property, this right will never be
prescribed. For principles of jurisprudence and axioms of reason
are different from accidental and contingent facts. One man's
possession can prescribe against another man's possession; but
just as the possessor cannot prescribe against himself, so reason
has always the faculty of change and reformation. Past error is
not binding on the future. Reason is always the same eternal
force. The institution of property, the work of ignorant reason,
may be abrogated by a more enlightened reason. Consequently,
property cannot be established by prescription. This is so
certain and so true, that on it rests the maxim that in the
matter of prescription a violation of right goes for nothing.
But I should be recreant to my method, and the reader would have
the right to accuse me of charlatanism and bad faith, if I had
nothing further to advance concerning prescription. I showed, in
the first place, that appropriation of land is illegal; and that,
supposing it to be legal, it must be accompanied by equality of
property. I have shown, in the second place, that universal
consent proves nothing in favor of property; and that, if it
proves any thing, it proves equality of property. I have yet to
show that prescription, if admissible at all, presupposes
equality of property.
This demonstration will be neither long nor difficult. I need
only to call attention to the reasons why prescription was
"Prescription," says Dunod, "seems repugnant to natural equity,
which permits no one either to deprive another of his possessions
without his knowledge and consent, or to enrich himself at
another's expense. But as it might often happen, in the absence
of prescription, that one who had honestly earned would be ousted
after long possession; and even that he who had received a thing
from its rightful owner, or who had been legitimately relieved
from all obligations, would, on losing his title, be liable
to be dispossessed or subjected again,--the public welfare
demanded that a term should be fixed, after the expiration of
which no one should be allowed to disturb actual possessors, or
reassert rights too long neglected. . . . The civil law, in
regulating prescription, has aimed, then, only to perfect natural
law, and to supplement the law of nations; and as it is founded
on the public good, which should always be considered before
individual welfare,--_bono publico usucapio introducta est_,--it
should be regarded with favor, provided the conditions required
by the law are fulfilled."
Toullier, in his "Civil Law," says: "In order that the question
of proprietorship may not remain too long unsettled, and thereby
injure the public welfare, disturbing the peace of families and
the stability of social transactions, the law has fixed a time
when all claims shall be cancelled, and possession shall regain
its ancient prerogative through its transformation into
Cassiodorus said of property, that it was the only safe harbor in
which to seek shelter from the tempests of chicanery and the
gales of avarice--_Hic unus inter humanas pro cellas portus, quem
si homines fervida voluntate praeterierint; in undosis semper
Thus, in the opinion of the authors, prescription is a means of
preserving public order; a restoration in certain cases of the
original mode of acquiring property; a fiction of the civil law
which derives all its force from the necessity of settling
differences which otherwise would never end. For, as Grotius
says, time has no power to produce effects; all things happen in
time, but nothing is done by time. Prescription, or the right of
acquisition through the lapse of time, is, therefore, a fiction
of the law, conventionally adopted.
But all property necessarily originated in prescription, or, as
the Latins say, in _usucapion;_ that is, in continued possession.
I ask, then, in the first place, how possession can become
property by the lapse of time? Continue possession as long as
you wish, continue it for years and for centuries, you never
can give duration--which of itself creates nothing, changes
nothing, modifies nothing--the power to change the usufructuary
into a proprietor. Let the civil law secure against chance-
comers the honest possessor who has held his position for many
years,--that only confirms a right already respected; and
prescription, applied in this way, simply means that possession
which has continued for twenty, thirty, or a hundred years shall
be retained by the occupant. But when the law declares that the
lapse of time changes possessor into proprietor, it supposes that
a right can be created without a producing cause; it
unwarrantably alters the character of the subject; it legislates
on a matter not open to legislation; it exceeds its own powers.
Public order and private security ask only that possession shall
be protected. Why has the law created property? Prescription
was simply security for the future; why has the law made it a
matter of privilege?
Thus the origin of prescription is identical with that of
property itself; and since the latter can legitimate itself only
when accompanied by equality, prescription is but another of the
thousand forms which the necessity of maintaining this precious
equality has taken. And this is no vain induction, no far-
fetched inference. The proof is written in all the codes.
And, indeed, if all nations, through their instinct of justice
and their conservative nature, have recognized the utility and
the necessity of prescription; and if their design has been to
guard thereby the interests of the possessor,--could they not do
something for the absent citizen, separated from his family and
his country by commerce, war, or captivity, and in no position to
exercise his right of possession? No. Also, at the same time
that prescription was introduced into the laws, it was
admitted that property is preserved by intent alone,--_nudo
animo_. Now, if property is preserved by intent alone, if it can
be lost only by the action of the proprietor, what can be the use
of prescription? How does the law dare to presume that the
proprietor, who preserves by intent alone, intended to abandon
that which he has allowed to be prescribed? What lapse of time
can warrant such a conjecture; and by what right does the law
punish the absence of the proprietor by depriving him of his
goods? What then! we found but a moment since that prescription
and property were identical; and now we find that they are
Grotius, who perceived this difficulty, replied so singularly
that his words deserve to be quoted: _ Bene sperandum de
hominibus, ac propterea non putandum eos hoc esse animo ut, rei
caducae causa, hominem alterum velint in perpetuo peccato
versari, quo d evitari saepe non poterit sine tali derelictione_.
"Where is the man," he says, "with so unchristian a soul that,
for a trifle, he would perpetuate the trespass of a possessor,
which would inevitably be the result if he did not consent to
abandon his right?" By the Eternal! I am that man. Though a
million proprietors should burn for it in hell, I lay the blame
on them for depriving me of my portion of this world's goods. To
this powerful consideration Grotius rejoins, that it is better to
abandon a disputed right than to go to law, disturb the peace of
nations, and stir up the flames of civil war. I accept, if you
wish it, this argument, provided you indemnify me. But if this
indemnity is refused me, what do I, a proletaire, care for the
tranquillity and security of the rich? I care as little for
PUBLIC ORDER as for the proprietor's safety. I ask to live a
laborer; otherwise I will die a warrior.
Whichever way we turn, we shall come to the conclusion that
prescription is a contradiction of property; or rather that
prescription and property are two forms of the same principle,
but two forms which serve to correct each other; and ancient and
modern jurisprudence did not make the least of its blunders in
pretending to reconcile them. Indeed, if we see in the
institution of property only a desire to secure to each
individual his share of the soil and his right to labor; in the
distinction between naked property and possession only an asylum
for absentees, orphans, and all who do not know, or cannot
maintain, their rights; in prescription only a means, either of
defence against unjust pretensions and encroachments, or of
settlement of the differences caused by the removal of
possessors,--we shall recognize in these various forms of human
justice the spontaneous efforts of the mind to come to the aid of
the social instinct; we shall see in this protection of all
rights the sentiment of equality, a constant levelling tendency.
And, looking deeper, we shall find in the very exaggeration of
these principles the confirmation of our doctrine; because, if
equality of conditions and universal association are not soon
realized, it will be owing to the obstacle thrown for the time in
the way of the common sense of the people by the stupidity of
legislators and judges; and also to the fact that, while society
in its original state was illuminated with a flash of truth, the
early speculations of its leaders could bring forth nothing but
After the first covenants, after the first draughts of laws and
constitutions, which were the expression of man's primary needs,
the legislator's duty was to reform the errors of legislation; to
complete that which was defective; to harmonize, by superior
definitions, those things which seemed to conflict. Instead of
that, they halted at the literal meaning of the laws, content to
play the subordinate part of commentators and scholiasts.
Taking the inspirations of the human mind, at that time
necessarily weak and faulty, for axioms of eternal and
unquestionable truth,--influenced by public opinion, enslaved by
the popular religion,--they have invariably started with the
principle (following in this respect the example of the
theologians) that that is infallibly true which has been admitted
by all persons, in all places, and at all times--_quod ab
omnibus, quod ubique, quod semper;_ as if a general but
spontaneous opinion was any thing more than an indication of the
truth. Let us not be deceived: the opinion of all nations may
serve to authenticate the perception of a fact, the vague
sentiment of a law; it can teach us nothing about either fact or
law. The consent of mankind is an indication of Nature; not, as
Cicero says, a law of Nature. Under the indication is hidden the
truth, which faith can believe, but only thought can know. Such
has been the constant progress of the human mind in regard to
physical phenomena and the creations of genius: how can it be
otherwise with the facts of conscience and the rules of human
% 4.--Labor--That Labor Has No Inherent Power to Appropriate
We shall show by the maxims of political economy and law, that
is, by the authorities recognized by property,--
1. That labor has no inherent power to appropriate natural
2. That, if we admit that labor has this power, we are led
directly to equality of property,--whatever the kind of labor,
however scarce the product, or unequal the ability of the
3. That, in the order of justice, labor DESTROYS property.
Following the example of our opponents, and that we may
leave no obstacles in the path, let us examine the question
in the strongest possible light.
M. Ch. Comte says, in his "Treatise on Property:"--
"France, considered as a nation, has a territory which is her
France, as an individuality, possesses a territory which she
cultivates; it is not her property. Nations are related to each
other as individuals are: they are commoners and workers; it is
an abuse of language to call them proprietors. The right of use
and abuse belongs no more to nations than to men; and the time
will come when a war waged for the purpose of checking a nation
in its abuse of the soil will be regarded as a holy war.
Thus, M. Ch. Comte--who undertakes to explain how property comes
into existence, and who starts with the supposition that a nation
is a proprietor--falls into that error known as BEGGING THE
QUESTION; a mistake which vitiates his whole argument.
If the reader thinks it is pushing logic too far to question a
nation's right of property in the territory which it possesses, I
will simply remind him of the fact that at all ages the results
of the fictitious right of national property have been
pretensions to suzerainty, tributes, monarchical privileges,
statute-labor, quotas of men and money, supplies of merchandise,
&c.; ending finally in refusals to pay taxes, insurrections,
wars, and depopulations.
"Scattered through this territory are extended tracts of land,
which have not been converted into individual property. These
lands, which consist mainly of forests, belong to the whole
population, and the government, which receives the revenues, uses
or ought to use them in the interest of all."
OUGHT TO USE is well said: a lie is avoided thereby.
"Let them be offered for sale. . . ."
Why offered for sale? Who has a right to sell them? Even were
the nation proprietor, can the generation of to-day dispossess
the generation of to-morrow? The nation, in its function of
usufructuary, possesses them; the government rules, superintends,
and protects them. If it also granted lands, it could grant only
their use; it has no right to sell them or transfer them in any
way whatever. Not being a proprietor, how can it transmit
"Suppose some industrious man buys a portion, a large swamp for
example. This would be no usurpation, since the public would
receive the exact value through the hands of the government, and
would be as rich after the sale as before."
How ridiculous! What! because a prodigal, imprudent, incompetent
official sells the State's possessions, while I, a ward of the
State,--I who have neither an advisory nor a deliberative voice
in the State councils,--while I am allowed to make no opposition
to the sale, this sale is right and legal! The guardians of the
nation waste its substance, and it has no redress! I have
received, you tell me, through the hands of the government my
share of the proceeds of the sale: but, in the first place, I did
not wish to sell; and, had I wished to, I could not have sold. I
had not the right. And then I do not see that I am benefited by
the sale. My guardians have dressed up some soldiers, repaired
an old fortress, erected in their pride some costly but worthless
monument,--then they have exploded some fireworks and set up a
greased pole! What does all that amount to in comparison with my
The purchaser draws boundaries, fences himself in, and says,
"This is mine; each one by himself, each one for himself." Here,
then, is a piece of land upon which, henceforth, no one has
a right to step, save the proprietor and his friends; which can
benefit nobody, save the proprietor and his servants. Let these
sales multiply, and soon the people--who have been neither able
nor willing to sell, and who have received none of the proceeds
of the sale--will have nowhere to rest, no place of shelter, no
ground to till. They will die of hunger at the proprietor's
door, on the edge of that property which was their birthright;
and the proprietor, watching them die, will exclaim, " So perish
idlers and vagrants!"
To reconcile us to the proprietor's usurpation, M. Ch. Comte
assumes the lands to be of little value at the time of sale.
"The importance of these usurpations should not be exaggerated:
they should be measured by the number of men which the occupied
land would support, and by the means which it would furnish them.
It is evident, for instance, that if a piece of land which is
worth to-day one thousand francs was worth only five centimes
when it was usurped, we really lose only the value of five
centimes. A square league of earth would be hardly sufficient to
support a savage in distress; to-day it supplies one thousand
persons with the means of existence. Nine hundred and ninety-
nine parts of this land is the legitimate property of the
possessors; only one-thousandth of the value has been usurped."
A peasant admitted one day, at confession, that he had destroyed
a document which declared him a debtor to the amount of three
hundred francs. Said the father confessor, "You must return
these three hundred francs." "No," replied the peasant, "I will
return a penny to pay for the paper."
M. Ch. Comte's logic resembles this peasant's honesty. The soil
has not only an integrant and actual value, it has also a
potential value,--a value of the future,--which depends on our
ability to make it valuable, and to employ it in our work.
Destroy a bill of exchange, a promissory note, an annuity
deed,--as a paper you destroy almost no value at all; but with
this paper you destroy your title, and, in losing your title, you
deprive yourself of your goods. Destroy the land, or, what is
the same thing, sell it,--you not only transfer one, two, or
several crops, but you annihilate all the products that you could
derive from it; you and your children and your children's
When M. Ch. Comte, the apostle of property and the eulogist of
labor, supposes an alienation of the soil on the part of the
government, we must not think that he does so without reason and
for no purpose; it is a necessary part of his position. As he
rejected the theory of occupancy, and as he knew, moreover, that
labor could not constitute the right in the absence of a previous
permission to occupy, he was obliged to connect this permission
with the authority of the government, which means that property
is based upon the sovereignty of the people; in other words, upon
universal consent. This theory we have already considered.
To say that property is the daughter of labor, and then to give
labor material on which to exercise itself, is, if I am not
mistaken, to reason in a circle. Contradictions will result from
"A piece of land of a certain size produces food enough to supply
a man for one day. If the possessor, through his labor,
discovers some method of making it produce enough for two days,
he doubles its value. This new value is his work, his creation:
it is taken from nobody; it is his property."
I maintain that the possessor is paid for his trouble and
industry in his doubled crop, but that he acquires no right to
the land. "Let the laborer have the fruits of his labor." Very
good; but I do not understand that property in products carries
with it property in raw material. Does the skill of the
fisherman, who on the same coast can catch more fish than
his fellows, make him proprietor of the fishing-grounds? Can the
expertness of a hunter ever be regarded as a property-title to a
game-forest? The analogy is perfect,--the industrious cultivator
finds the reward of his industry in the abundancy and superiority
of his crop. If he has made improvements in the soil, he has the
possessor's right of preference. Never, under any circumstances,
can he be allowed to claim a property-title to the soil which he
cultivates, on the ground of his skill as a cultivator.
To change possession into property, something is needed besides
labor, without which a man would cease to be proprietor as soon
as he ceased to be a laborer. Now, the law bases property upon
immemorial, unquestionable possession; that is, prescription.
Labor is only the sensible sign, the physical act, by which
occupation is manifested. If, then, the cultivator remains
proprietor after he has ceased to labor and produce; if his
possession, first conceded, then tolerated, finally becomes
inalienable,--it happens by permission of the civil law, and by
virtue of the principle of occupancy. So true is this, that
there is not a bill of sale, not a farm lease, not an annuity,
but implies it. I will quote only one example.
How do we measure the value of land? By its product. If a piece
of land yields one thousand francs, we say that at five per cent.
it is worth twenty thousand francs; at four per cent. twenty-five
thousand francs, &c.; which means, in other words, that in twenty
or twenty-five years' time the purchaser would recover in full
the amount originally paid for the land. If, then, after a
certain length of time, the price of a piece of land has been
wholly recovered, why does the purchaser continue to be
proprietor? Because of the right of occupancy, in the
absence of which every sale would be a redemption.
The theory of appropriation by labor is, then, a contradiction of
the Code; and when the partisans of this theory pretend to
explain the laws thereby, they contradict themselves.
"If men succeed in fertilizing land hitherto unproductive, or
even death-producing, like certain swamps, they create thereby
property in all its completeness."
What good does it do to magnify an expression, and play with
equivocations, as if we expected to change the reality thereby?
THEY CREATE PROPERTY IN ALL ITS COMPLETENESS. You mean that
they create a productive capacity which formerly did not exist;
but this capacity cannot be created without material to support
it. The substance of the soil remains the same; only its
qualities and modifications are changed. Man has created every
thing--every thing save the material itself. Now, I maintain
that this material he can only possess and use, on condition of
permanent labor,--granting, for the time being, his right of
property in things which he has produced.
This, then, is the first point settled: property in product, if
we grant so much, does not carry with it property in the means of
production; that seems to me to need no further demonstration.
There is no difference between the soldier who possesses his
arms, the mason who possesses the materials committed to his
care, the fisherman who possesses the water, the hunter who
possesses the fields and forests, and the cultivator who
possesses the lands: all, if you say so, are proprietors of their
products--not one is proprietor of the means of production. The
right to product is exclusive--jus in re; the right to means is
common--jus ad rem.
% 5.--That Labor leads to Equality of Property.
Admit, however, that labor gives a right of property in material.
Why is not this principle universal? Why is the benefit of this
pretended law confined to a few and denied to the mass of
laborers? A philosopher, arguing that all animals sprang up
formerly out of the earth warmed by the rays of the sun, almost
like mushrooms, on being asked why the earth no longer yielded
crops of that nature, replied: "Because it is old, and has lost
its fertility." Has labor, once so fecund, likewise become
sterile? Why does the tenant no longer acquire through his labor
the land which was formerly acquired by the labor of the
"Because," they say, "it is already appropriated." That is no
answer. A farm yields fifty bushels per hectare; the skill and
labor of the tenant double this product: the increase is created
by the tenant. Suppose the owner, in a spirit of moderation
rarely met with, does not go to the extent of absorbing this
product by raising the rent, but allows the cultivator to enjoy
the results of his labor; even then justice is not satisfied.
The tenant, by improving the land, has imparted a new value to
the property; he, therefore, has a right to a part of the
property. If the farm was originally worth one hundred thousand
francs, and if by the labor of the tenant its value has risen to
one hundred and fifty thousand francs, the tenant, who produced
this extra value, is the legitimate proprietor of one-third of
the farm. M. Ch. Comte could not have pronounced this doctrine
false, for it was he who said:--
"Men who increase the fertility of the earth are no less useful
to their fellow-men, than if they should create new land."
Why, then, is not this rule applicable to the man who
improves the land, as well as to him who clears it? The
labor of the former makes the land worth one; that of the latter
makes it worth two: both create equal values. Why not accord to
both equal property? I defy any one to refute this argument,
without again falling back on the right of first occupancy.
"But," it will be said, "even if your wish should be granted,
property would not be distributed much more evenly than now.
Land does not go on increasing in value for ever; after two or
three seasons it attains its maximum fertility. That which is
added by the agricultural art results rather from the progress of
science and the diffusion of knowledge, than from the skill of
the cultivator. Consequently, the addition of a few laborers to
the mass of proprietors would be no argument against property."
This discussion would, indeed, prove a well-nigh useless one, if
our labors culminated in simply extending land-privilege and
industrial monopoly; in emancipating only a few hundred laborers
out of the millions of proletaires. But this also is a
misconception of our real thought, and does but prove the general
lack of intelligence and logic.
If the laborer, who adds to the value of a thing, has a right of
property in it, he who maintains this value acquires the same
right. For what is maintenance? It is incessant addition,--
continuous creation. What is it to cultivate? It is to give the
soil its value every year; it is, by annually renewed creation,
to prevent the diminution or destruction of the value of a piece
of land. Admitting, then, that property is rational and
legitimate,--admitting that rent is equitable and just,--I say
that he who cultivates acquires property by as good a title as he
who clears, or he who improves; and that every time a tenant pays
his rent, he obtains a fraction of property in the land
entrusted to his care, the denominator of which is equal to the
proportion of rent paid. Unless you admit this, you fall into
absolutism and tyranny; you recognize class privileges; you
Whoever labors becomes a proprietor--this is an inevitable
deduction from the acknowledged principles of political economy
and jurisprudence. And when I say proprietor, I do not mean
simply (as do our hypocritical economists) proprietor of his
allowance, his salary, his wages,--I mean proprietor of the value
which he creates, and by which the master alone profits.
As all this relates to the theory of wages and of the
distribution of products,--and as this matter never has been even
partially cleared up,--I ask permission to insist on it: this
discussion will not be useless to the work in hand. Many persons
talk of admitting working-people to a share in the products and
profits; but in their minds this participation is pure
benevolence: they have never shown--perhaps never suspected--that
it was a natural, necessary right, inherent in labor, and
inseparable from the function of producer, even in the lowest
forms of his work.
This is my proposition: THE LABORER RETAINS, EVEN AFTER HE HAS
RECEIVED HIS WAGES, A NATURAL RIGHT OF PROPERTY IN THE THING
WHICH HE HAS PRODUCED.
I again quote M. Ch. Comte:--
"Some laborers are employed in draining marshes, in cutting down
trees and brushwood,--in a word, in cleaning up the soil. They
increase the value, they make the amount of property larger; they
are paid for the value which they add in the form of food and
daily wages: it then becomes the property of the capitalist."
The price is not sufficient: the labor of the workers has created
a value; now this value is their property. But they have
neither sold nor exchanged it; and you, capitalist, you have not
earned it. That you should have a partial right to the whole, in
return for the materials that you have furnished and the
provisions that you have supplied, is perfectly just. You
contributed to the production, you ought to share in the
enjoyment. But your right does not annihilate that of the
laborers, who, in spite of you, have been your colleagues in the
work of production. Why do you talk of wages? The money with
which you pay the wages of the laborers remunerates them for only
a few years of the perpetual possession which they have abandoned
to you. Wages is the cost of the daily maintenance and
refreshment of the laborer. You are wrong in calling it the
price of a sale. The workingman has sold nothing; he knows
neither his right, nor the extent of the concession which he has
made to you, nor the meaning of the contract which you pretend to
have made with him. On his side, utter ignorance; on yours,
error and surprise, not to say deceit and fraud.
Let us make this clearer by another and more striking example.
No one is ignorant of the difficulties that are met with in the
conversion of untilled land into arable and productive land.
These difficulties are so great, that usually an isolated man
would perish before he could put the soil in a condition to yield
him even the most meagre living. To that end are needed the
united and combined efforts of society, and all the resources of
industry. M. Ch. Comte quotes on this subject numerous and well-
authenticated facts, little thinking that he is amassing
testimony against his own system.
Let us suppose that a colony of twenty or thirty families
establishes itself in a wild district, covered with underbrush
and forests; and from which, by agreement, the natives
consent to withdraw. Each one of these families possesses a
moderate but sufficient amount of capital, of such a nature as a
colonist would be apt to choose,--animals, seeds, tools, and a
little money and food. The land having been divided, each one
settles himself as comfortably as possible, and begins to clear
away the portion allotted to him. But after a few weeks of
fatigue, such as they never before have known, of inconceivable
suffering, of ruinous and almost useless labor, our colonists
begin to complain of their trade; their condition seems hard to
them; they curse their sad existence.
Suddenly, one of the shrewdest among them kills a pig, cures a
part of the meat; and, resolved to sacrifice the rest of his
provisions, goes to find his companions in misery. "Friends," he
begins in a very benevolent tone, "how much trouble it costs you
to do a little work and live uncomfortably! A fortnight of labor
has reduced you to your last extremity! . . . Let us make an
arrangement by which you shall all profit. I offer you
provisions and wine: you shall get so much every day; we will
work together, and, zounds! my friends, we will be happy and
Would it be possible for empty stomachs to resist such an
invitation? The hungriest of them follow the treacherous
tempter. They go to work; the charm of society, emulation, joy,
and mutual assistance double their strength; the work can be seen
to advance. Singing and laughing, they subdue Nature. In a
short time, the soil is thoroughly changed; the mellowed earth
waits only for the seed. That done, the proprietor pays his
laborers, who, on going away, return him their thanks, and grieve
that the happy days which they have spent with him are over.
Others follow this example, always with the same success.
Then, these installed, the rest disperse,--each one returns
to his grubbing. But, while grubbing, it is necessary to live.
While they have been clearing away for their neighbor, they have
done no clearing for themselves. One year's seed-time and
harvest is already gone. They had calculated that in lending
their labor they could not but gain, since they would save their
own provisions; and, while living better, would get still more
money. False calculation! they have created for another the
means wherewith to produce, and have created nothing for
themselves. The difficulties of clearing remain the same; their
clothing wears out, their provisions give out; soon their purse
becomes empty for the profit of the individual for whom they have
worked, and who alone can furnish the provisions which they need,
since he alone is in a position to produce them. Then, when the
poor grubber has exhausted his resources, the man with the
provisions (like the wolf in the fable, who scents his victim
from afar) again comes forward. One he offers to employ again by
the day; from another he offers to buy at a favorable price a
piece of his bad land, which is not, and never can be, of any use
to him: that is, he uses the labor of one man to cultivate the
field of another for his own benefit. So that at the end of
twenty years, of thirty individuals originally equal in point of
wealth, five or six have become proprietors of the whole
district, while the rest have been philanthropically
In this century of bourgeoisie morality, in which I have had
the honor to be born, the moral sense is so debased that I should
not be at all surprised if I were asked, by many a worthy
proprietor, what I see in this that is unjust and illegitimate?
Debased creature! galvanized corpse! how can I expect to convince
you, if you cannot tell robbery when I show it to you? A
man, by soft and insinuating words, discovers the secret of
taxing others that he may establish himself; then, once enriched
by their united efforts, he refuses, on the very conditions which
he himself dictated, to advance the well-being of those who made
his fortune for him: and you ask how such conduct is fraudulent!
Under the pretext that he has paid his laborers, that he owes
them nothing more, that he has nothing to gain by putting himself
at the service of others, while his own occupations claim his
attention,--he refuses, I say, to aid others in getting a
foothold, as he was aided in getting his own; and when, in the
impotence of their isolation, these poor laborers are compelled
to sell their birthright, he--this ungrateful proprietor, this
knavish upstart--stands ready to put the finishing touch to their
deprivation and their ruin. And you think that just? Take care!
I read in your startled countenance the reproach of a guilty
conscience, much more clearly than the innocent astonishment of
"The capitalist," they say, "has paid the laborers their DAILY
WAGES." To be accurate, it must be said that the capitalist has
paid as many times one day's wage as he has employed laborers
each day,--which is not at all the same thing. For he has paid
nothing for that immense power which results from the union and
harmony of laborers, and the convergence and simultaneousness of
their efforts. Two hundred grenadiers stood the obelisk of Luxor
upon its base in a few hours; do you suppose that one man could
have accomplished the same task in two hundred days?
Nevertheless, on the books of the capitalist, the amount of wages
paid would have been the same. Well, a desert to prepare for
cultivation, a house to build, a factory to run,--all these are
obelisks to erect, mountains to move. The smallest fortune,
the most insignificant establishment, the setting in motion
of the lowest industry, demand the concurrence of so many
different kinds of labor and skill, that one man could not
possibly execute the whole of them. It is astonishing that the
economists never have called attention to this fact. Strike a
balance, then, between the capitalist's receipts and his
The laborer needs a salary which will enable him to live while he
works; for unless he consumes, he cannot produce. Whoever
employs a man owes him maintenance and support, or wages enough
to procure the same. That is the first thing to be done in all
production. I admit, for the moment, that in this respect the
capitalist has discharged his duty.
It is necessary that the laborer should find in his production,
in addition to his present support, a guarantee of his future
support; otherwise the source of production would dry up, and his
productive capacity would become exhausted: in other words, the
labor accomplished must give birth perpetually to new labor--such
is the universal law of reproduction. In this way, the
proprietor of a farm finds: 1. In his crops, means, not only of
supporting himself and his family, but of maintaining and
improving his capital, of feeding his live-stock--in a word,
means of new labor and continual reproduction; 2. In his
ownership of a productive agency, a permanent basis of
cultivation and labor.
But he who lends his services,--what is his basis of cultivation?
The proprietor's presumed need of him, and the unwarranted
supposition that he wishes to employ him. Just as the commoner
once held his land by the munificence and condescension of the
lord, so to-day the working-man holds his labor by the
condescension and necessities of the master and proprietor: that
is what is called possession by a precarious title. But
this precarious condition is an injustice, for it implies an
inequality in the bargain. The laborer's wages exceed but little
his running expenses, and do not assure him wages for to-morrow;
while the capitalist finds in the instrument produced by the
laborer a pledge of independence and security for the future.
 Precarious, from precor, "I pray;" because the act of
concession expressly signified that the lord, in answer to the
prayers of his men or slaves, had granted them permission to
Now, this reproductive leaven--this eternal germ of life, this
preparation of the land and manufacture of implements for
production--constitutes the debt of the capitalist to the
producer, which he never pays; and it is this fraudulent denial
which causes the poverty of the laborer, the luxury of idleness,
and the inequality of conditions. This it is, above all other
things, which has been so fitly named the exploitation of man by
One of three things must be done. Either the laborer must be
given a portion of the product in addition to his wages; or the
employer must render the laborer an equivalent in productive
service; or else he must pledge himself to employ him for ever.
Division of the product, reciprocity of service, or guarantee of
perpetual labor,--from the adoption of one of these courses the
capitalist cannot escape. But it is evident that he cannot
satisfy the second and third of these conditions--he can neither
put himself at the service of the thousands of working-men, who,
directly or indirectly, have aided him in establishing himself,
nor employ them all for ever. He has no other course left him,
then, but a division of the property. But if the property is
divided, all conditions will be equal--there will be no more
large capitalists or large proprietors.
Consequently, when M. Ch. Comte--following out his hypothesis--
shows us his capitalist acquiring one after another the products
of his employees' labor, he sinks deeper and deeper into the
mire; and, as his argument does not change, our reply of course
remains the same.
"Other laborers are employed in building: some quarry the stone,
others transport it, others cut it, and still others put it in
place. Each of them adds a certain value to the material which
passes through his hands; and this value, the product of his
labor, is his property. He sells it, as fast as he creates it,
to the proprietor of the building, who pays him for it in food
_Divide et impera_--divide, and you shall command; divide, and
you shall grow rich; divide, and you shall deceive men, you shall
daze their minds, you shall mock at justice! Separate laborers
from each other, perhaps each one's daily wage exceeds the value
of each individual's product; but that is not the question under
consideration. A force of one thousand men working twenty days
has been paid the same wages that one would be paid for working
fifty-five years; but this force of one thousand has done in
twenty days what a single man could not have accomplished, though
he had labored for a million centuries. Is the exchange an
equitable one? Once more, no; when you have paid all the
individual forces, the collective force still remains to be paid.
Consequently, there remains always a right of collective property
which you have not acquired, and which you enjoy unjustly.
Admit that twenty days' wages suffice to feed, lodge, and clothe
this multitude for twenty days: thrown out of employment at the
end of that time, what will become of them, if, as fast as they
create, they abandon their creations to the proprietors who will
soon discharge them? While the proprietor, firm in his position
(thanks to the aid of all the laborers), dwells in security,
and fears no lack of labor or bread, the laborer's only
dependence is upon the benevolence of this same proprietor, to
whom he has sold and surrendered his liberty. If, then, the
proprietor, shielding himself behind his comfort and his rights,
refuses to employ the laborer, how can the laborer live? He has
ploughed an excellent field, and cannot sow it; he has built an
elegant and commodious house, and cannot live in it; he has
produced all, and can enjoy nothing
Labor leads us to equality. Every step that we take brings us
nearer to it; and if laborers had equal strength, diligence, and
industry, clearly their fortunes would be equal also. Indeed,
if, as is pretended,--and as we have admitted,--the laborer is
proprietor of the value which he creates, it follows:--
1. That the laborer acquires at the expense of the idle
2. That all production being necessarily collective, the laborer
is entitled to a share of the products and profits commensurate
with his labor;
3. That all accumulated capital being social property, no one can
be its exclusive proprietor.
These inferences are unavoidable; these alone would suffice to
revolutionize our whole economical system, and change our
institutions and our laws. Why do the very persons, who laid
down this principle, now refuse to be guided by it? Why do the
Says, the Comtes, the Hennequins, and others--after having said
that property is born of labor--seek to fix it by occupation and
But let us leave these sophists to their contradictions and
blindness. The good sense of the people will do justice to their
equivocations. Let us make haste to enlighten it, and show
it the true path. Equality approaches; already between it and us
but a short distance intervenes: to-morrow even this distance
will have been traversed.
% 6.--That in Society all Wages are Equal.
When the St. Simonians, the Fourierists, and, in general, all who
in our day are connected with social economy and reform, inscribe
upon their banner,--
"TO EACH ACCORDING TO HIS CAPACITY, TO EACH CAPACITY ACCORDING TO
ITS RESULTS" (St. Simon);
"TO EACH ACCORDING TO HIS CAPITAL, HIS LABOR, AND HIS SKILL"
they mean--although they do not say so in so many words--that the
products of Nature procured by labor and industry are a reward, a
palm, a crown offered to all kinds of preeminence and
superiority. They regard the land as an immense arena in which
prizes are contended for,--no longer, it is true, with lances and
swords, by force and by treachery; but by acquired wealth, by
knowledge, talent, and by virtue itself. In a word, they mean--
and everybody agrees with them--that the greatest capacity is
entitled to the greatest reward; and, to use the mercantile
phraseology,--which has, at least, the merit of being
straightforward,--that salaries must be governed by capacity and
The disciples of these two self-styled reformers cannot deny that
such is their thought; for, in doing so, they would contradict
their official interpretations, and would destroy the unity of
their systems. Furthermore, such a denial on their part is not
to be feared. The two sects glory in laying down as a principle
inequality of conditions,--reasoning from Nature, who, they say,
intended the inequality of capacities. They boast only of one
thing; namely, that their political system is so perfect, that
the social inequalities always correspond with the natural
inequalities. They no more trouble themselves to inquire whether
inequality of conditions--I mean of salaries--is possible, than
they do to fix a measure of capacity.
 In St. Simon's system, the St.-Simonian priest determines the
capacity of each by virtue of his pontifical infallibility, in
imitation of the Roman Church: in Fourier's, the ranks and merits
are decided by vote, in imitation of the constitutional regime.
Clearly, the great man is an object of ridicule to the reader; he
did not mean to tell his secret.
"To each according to his capacity, to each capacity according to
"To each according to his capital, his labor, and his skill."
Since the death of St. Simon and Fourier, not one among their
numerous disciples has attempted to give to the public a
scientific demonstration of this grand maxim; and I would wager a
hundred to one that no Fourierist even suspects that this biform
aphorism is susceptible of two interpretations.
"To each according to his capacity, to each capacity according to
"To each according to his capital, his labor, and his skill."
This proposition, taken, as they say, _in sensu obvio_--in the
sense usually attributed to it--is false, absurd, unjust,
contradictory, hostile to liberty, friendly to tyranny, anti-
social, and was unluckily framed under the express influence of
the property idea.
And, first, CAPITAL must be crossed off the list of elements
which are entitled to a reward. The Fourierists--as far as I
have been able to learn from a few of their pamphlets--deny the
right of occupancy, and recognize no basis of property save
labor. Starting with a like premise, they would have seen--had
they reasoned upon the matter--that capital is a
source of production to its proprietor only by virtue of the
right of occupancy, and that this production is therefore
illegitimate. Indeed, if labor is the sole basis of property, I
cease to be proprietor of my field as soon as I receive rent for
it from another. This we have shown beyond all cavil. It is the
same with all capital; so that to put capital in an enterprise,
is, by the law's decision, to exchange it for an equivalent sum
in products. I will not enter again upon this now useless
discussion, since I propose, in the following chapter, to exhaust
the subject of PRODUCTION BY CAPITAL.
Thus, capital can be exchanged, but cannot be a source of income.
LABOR and SKILL remain; or, as St. Simon puts it, RESULTS
and CAPACITIES. I will examine them successively.
Should wages be governed by labor? In other words, is it just
that he who does the most should get the most? I beg the reader
to pay the closest attention to this point.
To solve the problem with one stroke, we have only to ask
ourselves the following question: "Is labor a CONDITION or a
STRUGGLE?" The reply seems plain.
God said to man, "In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat
bread,"--that is, thou shalt produce thy own bread: with more or
less ease, according to thy skill in directing and combining thy
efforts, thou shalt labor. God did not say, "Thou shalt quarrel
with thy neighbor for thy bread;" but, "Thou shalt labor by the
side of thy neighbor, and ye shall dwell together in harmony."
Let us develop the meaning of this law, the extreme simplicity of
which renders it liable to misconstruction.
In labor, two things must be noticed and distinguished:
ASSOCIATION and AVAILABLE MATERIAL.
In so far as laborers are associated, they are equal; and it
involves a contradiction to say that one should be paid more
than another. For, as the product of one laborer can be paid for
only in the product of another laborer, if the two products are
unequal, the remainder--or the difference between the greater and
the smaller--will not be acquired by society; and, therefore, not
being exchanged, will not affect the equality of wages. There
will result, it is true, in favor of the stronger laborer a
natural inequality, but not a social inequality; no one having
suffered by his strength and productive energy. In a word,
society exchanges only equal products--that is, rewards no labor
save that performed for her benefit; consequently, she pays all
laborers equally: with what they produce outside of her sphere
she has no more to do, than with the difference in their voices
and their hair.
I seem to be positing the principle of inequality: the reverse of
this is the truth. The total amount of labor which can be
performed for society (that is, of labor susceptible of
exchange), being, within a given space, as much greater as the
laborers are more numerous, and as the task assigned to each is
less in magnitude,--it follows that natural inequality
neutralizes itself in proportion as association extends, and as
the quantity of consumable values produced thereby increases. So
that in society the only thing which could bring back the
inequality of labor would be the right of occupancy,--the right
Now, suppose that this daily social task consists in the
ploughing, hoeing, or reaping of two square decameters, and that
the average time required to accomplish it is seven hours: one
laborer will finish it in six hours, another will require eight;
the majority, however, will work seven. But provided each one
furnishes the quantity of labor demanded of him, whatever be the
time he employs, they are entitled to equal wages.
Shall the laborer who is capable of finishing his task in six
hours have the right, on the ground of superior strength and
activity, to usurp the task of the less skilful laborer, and thus
rob him of his labor and bread? Who dares maintain such a
proposition? He who finishes before the others may rest, if he
chooses; he may devote himself to useful exercise and labors for
the maintenance of his strength, and the culture of his mind, and
the pleasure of his life. This he can do without injury to any
one: but let him confine himself to services which affect him
solely. Vigor, genius, diligence, and all the personal
advantages which result therefrom, are the work of Nature and, to
a certain extent, of the individual; society awards them the
esteem which they merit: but the wages which it pays them is
measured, not by their power, but by their production. Now, the
product of each is limited by the right of all.
If the soil were infinite in extent, and the amount of available
material were exhaustless, even then we could not accept this
maxim,--TO EACH ACCORDING TO HIS LABOR. And why? Because
society, I repeat, whatever be the number of its subjects, is
forced to pay them all the same wages, since she pays them only
in their own products. Only, on the hypothesis just made,
inasmuch as the strong cannot be prevented from using all their
advantages, the inconveniences of natural inequality would
reappear in the very bosom of social equality. But the land,
considering the productive power of its inhabitants and their
ability to multiply, is very limited; further, by the immense
variety of products and the extreme division of labor, the social
task is made easy of accomplishment. Now, through this
limitation of things producible, and through the ease of
producing them, the law of absolute equality takes effect.
Yes, life is a struggle. But this struggle is not between man
and man--it is between man and Nature; and it is each one's duty
to take his share in it. If, in the struggle, the strong come to
the aid of the weak, their kindness deserves praise and love; but
their aid must be accepted as a free gift,--not imposed by force,
nor offered at a price. All have the same career before them,
neither too long nor too difficult; whoever finishes it finds his
reward at the end: it is not necessary to get there first.
In printing-offices, where the laborers usually work by the job,
the compositor receives so much per thousand letters set; the
pressman so much per thousand sheets printed. There, as
elsewhere, inequalities of talent and skill are to be found.
When there is no prospect of dull times (for printing and
typesetting, like all other trades, sometimes come to a stand-
still), every one is free to work his hardest, and exert his
faculties to the utmost: he who does more gets more; he who does
less gets less. When business slackens, compositors and pressmen
divide up their labor; all monopolists are detested as no better
than robbers or traitors.
There is a philosophy in the action of these printers, to which
neither economists nor legists have ever risen. If our
legislators had introduced into their codes the principle of
distributive justice which governs printing-offices; if they had
observed the popular instincts,--not for the sake of servile
imitation, but in order to reform and generalize them,--long ere
this liberty and equality would have been established on an
immovable basis, and we should not now be disputing about the
right of property and the necessity of social distinctions.
It has been calculated that if labor were equally shared by the
whole number of able-bodied individuals, the average
working-day of each individual, in France, would not exceed
five hours. This being so, how can we presume to talk of the
inequality of laborers? It is the LABOR of Robert Macaire that
The principle, TO EACH ACCORDING TO HIS LABOR, interpreted to
mean, WHO WORKS MOST SHOULD RECEIVE MOST, is based, therefore,
on two palpable errors: one, an error in economy, that in the
labor of society tasks must necessarily be unequal; the other, an
error in physics, that there is no limit to the amount of
"But," it will be said, "suppose there are some people who wish
to perform only half of their task?" . . . Is that very
embarrassing? Probably they are satisfied with half of their
salary. Paid according to the labor that they had performed, of
what could they complain? and what injury would they do to
others? In this sense, it is fair to apply the maxim,--TO EACH
ACCORDING TO HIS RESULTS. It is the law of equality itself.
Further, numerous difficulties, relative to the police system and
the organization of industry, might be raised here. I will reply
to them all with this one sentence,--that they must all be solved
by the principle of equality. Thus, some one might observe,
"Here is a task which cannot be postponed without detriment to
production. Ought society to suffer from the negligence of a
few? and will she not venture--out of respect for the right of
labor--to assure with her own hands the product which they refuse
her? In such a case, to whom will the salary belong?"
To society; who will be allowed to perform the labor, either
herself, or through her representatives, but always in such a way
that the general equality shall never be violated, and that only
the idler shall be punished for his idleness. Further, if
society may not use excessive severity towards her lazy
members, she has a right, in self-defence, to guard against
But every industry needs--they will add--leaders, instructors,
superintendents, &c. Will these be engaged in the general task?
No; since their task is to lead, instruct, and superintend. But
they must be chosen from the laborers by the laborers themselves,
and must fulfil the conditions of eligibility. It is the same
with all public functions, whether of administration or
Back to Full Books