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The Ancient Regime The Origins of Contemporary France, Volume 1 by Hippolyte A. Taine

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the second open atheists and materialists like d'Holbach, Lamettrie
and Helvétius, and later Condorcet, Lalande and Volney, all different
and independent of each other, but unanimous in regarding tradition as
the common enemy. As a result of prolonged hostilities the parties
become increasingly exasperated and feel a desire to be master of
everything, to push the adversary to the wall, to drive him out of all
his positions. They refuse to admit that Reason and tradition can
occupy and defend the same citadel together; as soon as one enters the
other must depart; henceforth one prejudice is established against
another prejudice. -- In fact, Voltaire, "the patriarch, does not
desire to abandon his redeeming and avenging God;"[13] let us tolerate
in him this remnant of superstition on account of his great services;
let us nevertheless examine this phantom in man which he regards with
infantile vision. We admit it into our minds through faith, and faith
is always suspicious. It is forged by ignorance, fear, and
imagination, which are all deceptive powers. At first it was simply
the fetish of savages; in vain have we striven to purify and
aggrandize it; its origin is always apparent; its history is that of a
hereditary dream which, arising in a rude and doting brain, prolongs
itself from generation to generation, and still lasts in the healthy
and cultivated brain. Voltaire wanted that this dream should be true
because, otherwise, he could not explain the admirable order of the
world. Since a watch suggests a watchmaker he had firstly to prove
that the world is a watch and, then see if the half-finished
arrangement, such as it is and which we have observed, could not
better be explained by a simpler theory, more in conformity with
experience, that of eternal matter in which motion is eternal. Mobile
and active particles, of which the different kinds are in different
states of equilibrium, these are minerals, inorganic substances,
marble, lime, air, water and coal.[14] I form humus out of this, "I
sow peas, beans and cabbages;" plants find their nourishment in the
humus, and "I find my nourishment in the plants." At every meal,
within me, and through me, inanimate matter becomes animate; "I
convert it into flesh. I animalize it. I render it sensitive." It
harbors latent, imperfect sensibility rendered perfect and made
manifest. Organization is the cause, and life and sensation are the
effects; I need no spiritual monad to account for effects since I am
in possession of the cause. "Look at this egg, with which all schools
of theology and all the temples of the earth can be overthrown. What
is this egg? An inanimate mass previous to the introduction of the
germ. And what is it after the introduction of the germ? An insensible
mass, an inert fluid." Add heat to it, keep it in an oven, and let the
operation continue of itself, and we have a chicken, that is to say,
"sensibility, life, memory, conscience, passions and thought." That
which you call soul is the nervous center in which all sensitive
chords concentrate. Their vibrations produce sensations; a quickened
or reviving sensation is memory; our ideas are the result of
sensations, memory and signs. Matter, accordingly, is not the work of
an intelligence, but matter, through its own arrangement, produces
intelligence. Let us fix intelligence where it is, in the organized
body; we must not detach it from its support to perch it in the sky on
an imaginary throne. This disproportionate conception, once introduced
into our minds, ends in perverting the natural play of our sentiments,
and, like a monstrous parasite, abstracts for itself all our
substance.[15] The first interest of a sane person is to get rid of
it, to discard every superstition, every "fear of invisible
powers."[16] -- Then only can he establish a moral order of things
and distinguish "the natural law." The sky consisting of empty space,
we have no need to seek commands from on high. Let us look down to the
ground; let us consider man in himself, as he appears in the eyes of
the naturalist, namely, an organized body, a sensitive animal
possessing wants, appetites and instincts. Not only are these
indestructible but they are legitimate. Let us throw open the prison
in which prejudice confines them; let us give them free air and space;
let them be displayed in all their strength and all will go well.
According to Diderot,[17] a lasting marriage is an abuse, being "the
tyranny of a man who has converted the possession of a woman into
property." Purity is an invention and conventional, like a dress;[18]
happiness and morals go together only in countries where instinct is
sanctioned; as in Tahiti, for instance, where marriage lasts but a
month, often only a day, and sometimes a quarter of an hour, where, in
the evening and with hospitable intent, a host offers his daughters
and wife to his guests, where the son espouses his mother out of
politeness, where the union of the sexes is a religious festivity
celebrated in public. -- And, pushing things to extremes, the
logician ends with five or six pages calculated "to make one's hair
stand on end,"[19] himself avowing that his doctrine is "neither
suited for children nor for adults." --With Diderot, to say the least,
these paradoxes have their correctives. In his pictures of modern ways
and habits, he is the moralist. He not only is familiar with all the
chords of the human keyboard, but he classifies each according to its
rank. He loves fine and pure tones, and is full of enthusiasm for
noble harmonies; his heart is equal to his genius.[20] And better
still, on the question of primitive impulses arising, he assigns, side
by side with vanity, an independent and superior position to pity,
friendship, kindness and charity; to every generous affection of the
heart displaying sacrifice and devotion without calculation or
personal benefit. -- But associated with him are others, cold and
narrow, who form moral systems according to the mathematical methods
of the ideologists, [21] after the style of Hobbes. One motive alone
satisfies these, the simplest and most palpable, utterly gross, almost
mechanical, completely physiological, the natural animal tendency of
avoiding pain and seeking pleasure:

"Pain and pleasure," says Helvétius, "form the only springs of the
moral universe, while the sentiment of vanity is the only basis on
which we can lay the foundations of moral usefulness. What motive but
that of self-interest could lead a man to perform a generous action?
He can as little love good for the sake of good as evil for the sake
of evil."[22] "The principles of natural law, say the disciples, are
reduced to one unique and fundamental principle, self-
preservation."[23] "To preserve oneself, to be happy," is instinct,
right and duty. "Oh, yea,"[24] says nature, "who, through the
impulsion I bestow on you, tending towards happiness at every moment
of your being, resist not my sovereign law, strive for your own
felicity, enjoy fearlessly and be happy!" But to be happy, contribute
to the happiness of others; if you wish them to be useful to you, be
useful to them. "every man, from birth to death, has need of mankind."
"Live then for them, that they may live for you." "Be good, because
goodness links hearts together; be gentle, because gentleness wins
affection; be modest, because pride repels beings full of their self-
importance. . . . Be citizens, because your country is necessary to
ensure your safety and well-being. Defend your country, because it
renders you happy and contains your possessions."

Virtue thus is simply egotism furnished with a telescope; man has
no other reason for doing good but the fear of doing himself harm,
while self-devotion consists of self-interest.

One goes fast and far on this road. When the sole law for each
person is to be happy, each wishes to be so immediately and in his own
way; the herd of appetites is let loose, rushing ahead and breaking
down all barriers. And the more readily because it has been
demonstrated to them that every barrier is an evil, invented by
cunning and malicious shepherds, the better to milk and shear them:

"The state of society is a state of warfare of the sovereign
against all, and of each member against the rest.[25] . . We see on
the face of the globe only incapable, unjust sovereigns, enervated by
luxury, corrupted by flattery, depraved through unpunished license,
and without talent, morals, or good qualities. . . . Man is wicked not
because he is wicked, but because he has been made so."-"Would you
know the story, in brief, of almost all our wretchedness? Here it is.
There existed the natural man, and into this man was introduced an
artificial man, whereupon a civil war arose within him, lasting
through life. [26] . . If you propose to become a tyrant over him, . .
. do your best to poison him with a theory of morals against nature;
impose every kind of fetter on him; embarrass his movements with a
thousand obstacles; place phantoms around him to frighten him. . . .
Would you see him happy and free? Do not meddle with his affairs . . .
Remain convinced of this, (wrote Diderot) that these wise legislators
have formed and shaped you as they have done, not for your benefit,
but for their own. I appeal to every civil, religious, and political
institution; examine these closely, and, if I am not mistaken, you
will find the human species, century after century, subject to a yoke
which a mere handful of knaves chose to impose on it.... Be wary of
him who seeks to establish order; to order is to obtain the mastery of
others by giving them trouble."

There nothing any more to be ashamed of; the passions are good, and
if the herd would eat freely, its first care must be to trample under
its wooden shoes the mitered and crowned animals who keep it in the
fold for their own advantage.[27]


Rousseau and the spiritualists. - The original goodness of man. -
The mistake committed by civilization. - The injustice of property
and of society.

A return to nature, meaning by this the abolition of society, is
the war-cry of the whole encyclopedic battalion. The same shout is
heard in another quarter, coming the battalion of Rousseau and the
socialists who, in their turn, march up to the assault of the
established régime. The mining and the sapping of the walls practiced
by the latter seems less extensive, but are nevertheless more
effective, and the destructive machinery it employs consists of a new
conception of human nature. This Rousseau has drawn exclusively from
the spectacle in his own heart: [28] Rousseau, a strange, original and
superior man, who, from his infancy, harbored within him a germ of
insanity, and who finally became wholly insane; a wonderful, ill-
balanced mind in which sensations, emotions and images are too
powerful: at once blind and perspicacious, a veritable poet and a
morbid poet, who, instead of things and events beheld reveries, living
in a romance and dying in a nightmare of his own creation; incapable
of controlling and of behaving himself, confounding resolution with
action, vague desire with resolution, and the role he assumed with the
character he thought he possessed ; wholly disproportionate to the
ordinary ways of society, hitting, wounding and soiling himself
against every hindrance on his way; at times extravagant, mean and
criminal, yet preserving up to the end a delicate and profound
sensibility, a humanity, pity, the gift of tears, the faculty of
living, the passion for justice, the sentiment of religion and of
enthusiasm, like so many vigorous roots in which generous sap is
always fermenting, whilst the stem and the branches prove abortive and
become deformed or wither under the inclemency of the atmosphere. How
explain such a contrast? How did Rousseau himself account for it? A
critic, a psychologist would merely regard him as a singular case, the
effect of an extraordinarily discordant mental formation, analogous to
that of Hamlet, Chatterton, René or Werther, adopted to poetic
spheres, but unsuitable for real life. Rousseau generalizes; occupied
with himself, even to infatuation, and, seeing only himself, he
imagines mankind to be like himself, and "describes it as the feels it
inside himself". His pride, moreover, finds this profitable; he is
gratified at considering himself the prototype of humanity ; the
statue he erects of himself becomes more important; he rises in his
own estimation when, in confessing to himself, he thinks he is
confessing the human species. Rousseau convokes the assembly of
generations with the trumpet of the day of judgment, and boldly stands
up in the eyes of all men and of the Supreme Judge, exclaiming, "Let
anyone say, if he dares: 'I was a better man than Thou!' "[29] All his
blemishes must be the fault of society; his vices and his baseness
must be attributed to circumstances:

"If I had fallen into the hands of a better master....I should have
been a good Christian, a good father, a good friend, a good workman, a
good man in all things."

The wrong is thus all on the side of society. -- In the same way,
with Man in general, his nature is good.

"His first impulses are always right..... The fundamental
principle of all moral questions which I have argued in all my
writings, is that Man is naturally good, and loving justice and
order..... 'Emile,' especially, is a treatise on the natural goodness
of Man, intended to show how vice and error, foreign to his
constitution, gradually find their way into it from without and
insensibly change him.....Nature created Man happy and good, while
society has depraved him and made him miserable."[30]

Imagine him divested of his factitious habits, of his superadded
necessities, of his false prejudices; put aside systems, study your
own heart, listen to the inward dictates of feeling, let yourself be
guided by the light of instinct and of conscience, and you will again
find the first Adam, like an incorruptible marble statue that has
fallen into a marsh, a long time lost under a crust of slime and mud,
but which, released from its foul covering, may be replaced on its
pedestal in the completeness of its form and in the perfect purity of
its whiteness.

Around this central idea a reform occurs in the spiritualistic
doctrine. -- A being so noble cannot possibly consist of a simple
collection of organs; he is something more than mere matter; the
impression he derives from his senses do not constitute his full

"I am not merely a sensitive and passive being, but an active and
intelligent being, and, whatever philosophy may say, I dare claim the
honor of thinking."

And better still, this thinking principle, in Man, at least, is of
a superior kind.

"Show me another animal on the globe capable of producing fire and
of admiring the sun. What? I who am able to observe, to comprehend
beings and their associations; who can appreciate order, beauty and
virtue; who can contemplate the universe and exalt myself to the hand
which controls it; who can love the good and do good, should I compare
myself to brutes!" Man is free, capable of deciding between two
actions, and therefore the creator of his actions ; he is accordingly
a first and original cause, "an immaterial substance," distinct from
the body, a soul hampered by the body and which may survive the body.
-- This immortal soul imprisoned within the flesh has conscience for
its organ. "O Conscience, divine instinct, immortal and celestial
voice, unfailing guide of an ignorant and finite but free and
intelligent being, infallible judge between good and evil, and
rendering Man similar to God, Thou foremost the superiority of his

Alongside of vanity, by which we subordinate everything to
ourselves, there is a love of order by which we subordinate ourselves
to the whole. Alongside of egoism, by which Man seeks happiness even
at the expense of others, is sympathy, by which he seeks the happiness
of others even at the expense of his own. Personal enjoyment does not
suffice him; he still needs tranquillity of conscience and the
effusions of the heart. -- Such is Man as God designed and created
him; in his organization there is no defect. Inferior elements are as
serviceable as the superior elements; all are essential,
proportionate, in proper place, not only the heart, the conscience,
the intellect, and the faculties by which we surpass brutes, but again
the inclinations in common with animals, the instinct of self-
preservation and of self-defense, the need of physical activity,
sexual appetite, and other primitive impulses as we observe them in
the child, the savage and the uncultivated Man.[31] None of these in
themselves are either vicious or injurious. None are too strong, even
the love of self. None come into play out of season. If we would not
interfere with them, if we would impose no constraint on them, if we
would permit these sparkling fountains to flow according to their
bent, if we would not confine them to our artificial and foul
channels, we should never see them boiling over and becoming turbid.
We look with wonder on their ravages and on their stains; we forget
that, in the beginning, they were pure and undefiled. The fault is
with us, in our social arrangements, in our encrusted and formal
channels whereby we cause deviations and windings, and make them heave
and bound. "Your very governments are the cause of the evils which
they pretend to remedy. Ye scepters of iron! ye absurd laws, ye we
reproach for our inability to fulfill our duties on earth!" Away with
these dikes, the work of tyranny and routine! An emancipated nature
will at once resume a direct and healthy course and man, without
effort, will find himself not only happy but virtuous as well.[32] On
this principle the attack begins: there is none that is pushed
further, nor conducted with more bitter hostility. Thus far existing
institutions are described simply as oppressive and unreasonable; but
now they are now they are accused of being unjust and corrupting as
well. Reason and the natural desires were the only insurgents;
conscience and pride are now in rebellion. With Voltaire and
Montesquieu all I might hope for is that fewer evils might be
anticipated. With Diderot and d'Holbach the horizon discloses only a
glowing El Dorado or a comfortable Cythera. With Rousseau I behold
within reach an Eden where I shall immediately recover a nobility
inseparable from my happiness. It is my right; nature and Providence
summon me to it; it is my heritage. One arbitrary institution alone
keeps me away from it, the creator of my vices as of my misery. With
what rage and fury I will overthrow this ancient barrier! -- We
detect this in the vehement tone, in the embittered style, and in the
sombre eloquence of the new doctrine. Fun and games are no longer in
vogue, a serious tone is maintained; people become exasperated, while
the powerful voice now heard penetrates beyond the drawing-room, to
the rude and suffering crowd to which no word had yet been spoken,
whose mute resentment for the first time finds an interpreter, and
whose destructive instincts are soon to be set in motion at the
summons of its herald. -- Rousseau is a man of the people, and not a
man of high society. He feels awkward in a drawing-room.[33] He is not
capable of conversing and of appearing amiable; the nice expressions
only come into his head too late, on the staircase as he leaves the
house; he keeps silent with a sulky air or utters stupidities,
redeeming his awkwardness with the sallies of a clown or with the
phrases of a vulgar pedant. Elegance annoys him, luxury makes him
uncomfortable, politeness is a lie, conversation mere prattle, ease of
manner a grimace, gaiety a convention, wit a parade, science so much
charlatanry, philosophy an affection and morals utter corruption. All
is factitious, false and unwholesome,[34] from the make-up, toilet and
beauty of women to the atmosphere of the apartments and the ragouts on
the dinner-table, in sentiment as in amusement, in literature as in
music, in government as in religion. This civilization, which boasts
of its splendor, is simply the restlessness of over-excited, servile
monkeys each imitating the other, and each corrupting the other to,
through sophistication, end up in worry and boredom. Human culture,
accordingly, is in itself bad, while the fruit it produces is merely
excrescence or poison. -- Of what use are the sciences? Uncertain
and useless, they afford merely a pasture-ground for idlers and

" Who would want to pass a lifetime in sterile observation, if
they, apart from their duties and nature's demands, had had to bestow
their time on their country, on the unfortunate and on their friends!"
-- Of what use are the fine arts? They serve only as public flattery
of dominant passions. "The more pleasing and the more perfect the
drama, the more baneful its influence;" the theater, even with
Molière, is a school of bad morals, "inasmuch as it excites deceitful
souls to ridicule, in the name of comedy, the candor of artless
people." Tragedy, said to be moralizing, wastes in counterfeit
effusions the little virtue that still remains. " When a man has been
admiring the noble feats in the fables what more is expected of him?
After paying homage to virtue is he not discharged from all that he
owes to it? What more would they have him do? Must he practice it
himself? He has no part to play, he is not a comedian." -- The
sciences, the fine arts, the arts of luxury, philosophy, literature,
all this serve only to effeminate and distract the mind; all that is
only made for the small crowd of brilliant and noisy insects buzzing
around the summits of society and sucking away all public substance.
-- As regards the sciences, but one is important, that of our duties,
and, without so many subtleties and so much study, our innermost
conscience suffice to show us the way. -- As regards the arts and
the skills, only those should be tolerated which, ministering to our
prime necessities, provide us with bread to feed us, with a roof to
shelter us, clothing to cover us, and arms with which to defend
ourselves. -- In the way of existence that only is healthy which
enables us to live in the country, artlessly, without display, in
family union, devoted to cultivation, living on the products of the
soil and among neighbors that are equals and with servants that one
trusts as friends.[36] -- As for the classes, but one is
respectable, that of laboring men, especially that of men working with
their own hands, artisans and mechanics, only these being really of
service, the only ones who, through their situation, are in close
proximity to the natural state, and who preserve, under a rough
exterior, the warmth, the goodness and the integrity of primitive
instincts. -- Accordingly, let us call by its true name this
elegance, this luxury, this urbanity, this literary delicacy, this
philosophical eccentricity, admired by the prejudiced as the flower of
the life of humanity; it is only mold and mildew. In like manner
esteem at its just value the swarm that live upon it, namely, the
indolent aristocracy, the fashionable world, the privileged who direct
and make a display, the idlers of the drawing room who talk, divert
themselves and regard themselves as the elect of humanity, but who are
simply so many parasites. Whether parasitic or excretory, one attracts
the other, and the tree can only be well if we get rid of both.

If civilization is bad, society is worse. [37] For this could not
have been established except by destroying primitive equality, while
its two principal institutions, property and government, are

"He who first enclosed a plot of ground, and who took it into his
to say this belongs to me, and who found people simple enough to
believe him,[38] was the true founder of civil society. What crimes,
what wars, what murders, what misery and what horrors would have been
spared the human race if he who, pulling up the landmark and filling
up the ditch, had cried out to his fellows: Be wary of that impostor;
you are lost if you forget that no one has a right to the land and
that its fruits are the property of all !" -- The first ownership
was a robbery by which an individual abstracted from the community a
portion of the public domain. Nothing could justify the outrage,
nothing added by him to the soil, neither his industry, nor his
trouble, nor his valor. "In vain may he assert that he built this
wall, and acquired this land by his labor. Who marked it out for him,
one might ask, and how do you come to be paid for labor which was
never imposed on you? Are you not aware that a multitude of your
brethren are suffering and perishing with want because you have too
much, and that the express and unanimous consent of the whole human
species is requisite before appropriating to yourself more than your
share of the common subsistence?" --

Underneath this theory we recognize the personal attitude, the
grudge of the poor embittered commoner, who, on entering society,
finds the places all taken, and who is incapable of creating one for
himself; who, in his confessions, marks the day when he ceased to feel
hungry; who, for lack of something better, lives in concubinage with a
serving-woman and places his five children in an orphanage; who is in
turn servant, clerk, vagabond, teacher and copyist, always on the
look-out, using his wits to maintain his independence, disgusted with
the contrast between what he is outwardly and what he feels himself
inwardly, avoiding envy only by disparagement, and preserving in the
folds of his heart an old grudge "against the rich and the fortunate
in this world as if they were so at his expense, as if their assumed
happiness had been an infringement on his happiness." [39] -- Not
only is there injustice in the origin of property but again there is
injustice in the power it secures to itself, the wrong increasing like
a canker under the partiality of law.

"Are not all the advantages of society for the rich and for the
powerful?[40] Do they not absorb to themselves all lucrative
positions? Is not the public authority wholly in their interest? If a
man of position robs his creditors or commits other offenses is he not
certain of impunity? Are not the blows he bestows, his violent
assaults, the murders and the assassinations he is guilty of, matters
that are hushed up and forgotten in a few months? -- Let this same
man be robbed and the entire police set to work, and woe to the poor
innocents they suspect! -- Has he to pass a dangerous place, escorts
overrun the country.-If the axle of his coach breaks down everybody
runs to help him. -- Is a noise made at his gate, a word from him
and all is silent. -- Does the crowd annoy him, he makes a sign and
order reigns. -- Does a carter chance to cross his path, his
attendants are ready to knock him down, while fifty honest pedestrians
might be crushed rather than delaying a rascal in his carriage. --
All these considerations do not cost him a penny.; they are a rich
man's entitlements and not the price for being rich. -- What a
different picture of the poor ! The more humanity owes them the more
it refuses them. All doors are closed to them even when they have the
right to have them opened, and if they sometimes obtain justice they
have more trouble than others in obtaining favors. If there is statute
labor to be carried out, a militia to raise, the poor are the most
eligible. It always bears burdens from which its wealthier neighbor
with influence secures exemption. At the least accident to a poor man
everybody abandons him. Let his cart topple over and I regard him as
fortunate if he escapes the insults of the smart companions of a young
duke passing by. In a word all assistance free of charge is withheld
from him in time of need, precisely because he cannot pay for it. I
regard him as a lost man if he is so unfortunate as to be honest and
have a pretty daughter and a powerful neighbor. -- Let us sum up in
a few words the social pact of the two estates:

You need me because I am rich and you are poor: let us then make an
agreement together. I will allow you the honor of serving me on
condition that you give me the little that remains to you for the
trouble I have in governing you."

This shows the spirit, the aim and the effect of political society.
-- At the start, according to Rousseau, it consisted of an unfair
bargain, made by an adroit rich man with a poor dupe, "providing new
fetters for the weak and fresh power for the rich," and, under the
title of legitimate property, consecrating the usurpation of the soil.
-- To day the contract is still more unjust " by means of which a
child may govern an old man, a fool lead the wise, and a handful of
people live in abundance whilst a famished multitude lack the
necessities for life." It is the nature of inequality to grow; hence
the authority of some increases along with the dependence of the rest,
so that the two conditions, having at last reached their extremes, the
hereditary and perpetual objection of the people seems to be a divine
right equally with the hereditary and perpetual despotism of the king.
-- This is the present situation and, any change, will be for the
worse. "For,[41] the occupation of all kings, or of those charged with
their functions, consists wholly of two objects, to extend their sway
abroad and to render it more absolute at home." When they plead some
other cause it is only a pretext. "The terms public good, happiness of
subjects, the glory of the nation, so heavily employed in government
announcements, never denote other than disastrous commands, and the
people shudder beforehand when its masters allude to their paternal
solicitude." -- However, this fatal point once reached, "the
contract with the government is dissolved; the despot is master only
while remaining the most powerful, and, as soon as he can be expelled,
it is useless for him to cry out against violence." Because right can
only exist through consent, and no consent nor right can exist between
master and slave.

Whether between one man and another man, or between one man and a
people, the following is an absurd address: ' I make an agreement with
you wholly at your expense and to my advantage which I shall respect
as long as I please and which you shall respect as long as it pleases
me.' " --

Only madmen may sign such a treaty, but, as madmen, they are not in
a condition to negotiate and their signature is not binding. Only the
vanquished on the ground, with swords pointed at their throats, may
accept such conditions but, being under constraint, their promise is
null and void. Madmen and the conquered may for a thousand years have
bound over all subsequent generations, but a contract for a minor is
not a contract for an adult, and on the child arriving at the age of
Reason he belongs to himself. We at last have become adults, and we
have only to make use of our rights to reduce the pretensions of this
self-styled authority to their just value. It has power on its side
and nothing more. But "a pistol in the hand of a brigand is also
power," but do you think that I should be morally obliged to give him
my purse? -- I obey only compelled by force and I will have my purse
back as soon as I can take his pistol away from him.


The lost children of the philosophic party. - Naigeon, Sylvain
Maréchal, Mably, Morelly. - The entire discredit of traditions and
institutions derived from it.

We stop here. It is pointless to follow the lost children of the
party, Naigeon and Sylvain Maréchal, Mably and Morelly, the fanatics
that set atheism up as an obligatory dogma and a superior duty; the
socialists who, to suppress egoism, propose a community of property,
and who found a republic in which any man that proposes to re-
establish "detestable ownership" shall be declared an enemy of
humanity, treated as a "raging maniac" and shut up in a dungeon for
life. It is sufficient to have studied the operations of large armies
and of great campaigns. -- With different gadgets and opposite
tactics, the various attacks have all had the same results, all the
institutions have been undermined from below. The governing ideology
has withdrawn all authority from custom, from religion, from the
State. Not only is it assumed that tradition in itself is false, but
again that it is harmful through its works, that it builds up
injustice on error, and that by rendering man blind it leads him to
oppress. Henceforth it is outlawed. Let this "loathsome thing" with
its supporters be crushed out. It is the great evil of the human
species, and, when suppressed, only goodness will remain.

"The time will then come[42] when the sun will shine only on free
men recognizing no other master than Reason; when tyrants and slaves,
and priests with their senseless or hypocritical instruments will
exist only in history and on the stage; when attention will no longer
be bestowed on them except to pity their victims and their dupes,
keeping oneself vigilant and useful through horror of their excesses,
and able to recognize and extinguish by the force of Reason the first
germs of superstition and of tyranny, should they ever venture to

The millennium is dawning and it is once more Reason, which should
set it up. In this way we shall owe everything to its salutary
authority, the foundation of the new order of things as well as the
destruction of the old one.



[1] "Discours de la Methode."

[2]This is evident with Descartes in the second step he takes. (The
theory of pure spirit, the idea of God, the proof of his existence,
the veracity of our intelligence demonstrated the veracity of God,

[3] See Pascal, "Pensées" (on the origin of property and rank). The
"Provinciales" (on homicide and the right to kill). -- Nicole,
"Deuxième traité de la charité, et de l'amour-propre" (on the natural
man and the object of society). Bossuet, "Politique tirée de
l'Ecriture sainte." La Bruyère, "Des Esprits forts."

[4] Cf. Sir. John Lubbock, "Origine de la Civilisation." --
Gerand-Teulon, "Les Origines de la famille."

[5] The principle of caste in India; we see this in the contrast
between the Aryans and the aborigines, the Soudras and the Pariahs.

[6] In accordance with this principle the inhabitants of the
Sandwich Islands passed a law forbidding the sale of liquor to the
natives and allowing it to Europeans. (De Varigny, "Quatorze ans aux
iles Sandwich.")

[7] Cf. Le Play, "De l'Organization de la famille," (the history of
a domain in the Pyrenees.)

[8] See, especially, in Brahmin literature the great metaphysical
poems and the Puranas.

[9] Montaigne (1533-92) apparently also had 'sympathetic
imagination' when he wrote: "I am most tenderly symphathetic towards
the afflictions of others," ("On Cruelty"). (SR.)

[10] Voltaire, "Dic. Phil." the article on Punishments.

[11] "Resumé des cahiers," by Prud'homme, preface, 1789.

[12] Voltaire, Dialogues, Entretiens entre A. B. C.

[13] Voltaire, "Dict.Phil.," the article on Religion. "If there is
a hamlet to be governed it must have a religion."

[14] "Le rêve de d'Alembert," by Diderot, passim.

[15] "If a misanthrope (a hater of mankind) had proposed to himself
to injure humanity what could he have invented better than faith in an
incomprehensible being, about which men never could come to any
agreement, and to which they would attach more importance than to
their own existence?" Diderot, "Entretien d'un philosophe avec la
Maréchale de ....." (And that is just what our Marxist sociologist,
psychologists etc have done in inventing a human being bereft of those
emotions which in other animals force them to give in to their
maternal, paternal and leadership instincts thereby making them happy
in the process.. SR.)

[16] Cf. "Catéchisme Universel," by Saint-Lambert, and the "Loi
naturelle ou Catéchisme du citoyen français," by Volney.

[17] "Supplément au voyage de Bougainville."

[18] Cf. "Mémoires de Mm. D'Epinay," a conversation with Duclos and
Saint-Lambert at the house of Mlle. Quinault. - Rousseau's
"Confessions," part I, book V. These are the same principles taught by
M. de la Tavel to Mme. De Warens.

[19] "Suite du rêve de d'Alembert." "Entretien entre Mlls. de
Lespinasse et Bordeu." - "Mémoires de Diderot," a letter to Mlle.
Volant, III. 66.

[20] Cf. his admirable tales, "Entretiens d'un père avec ses
enfants," and "Le neveu de Rameau."

[21] Volney, ibid . "The natural law . . . consists wholly of
events whose repetition may be observed through the senses and which
create a science as precise and accurate as geometry and mathematics."

[22] Helvétius, "De l'Esprit." passim.

[23] Volney, ibid. Chap. III. Saint-Lambert, ibid. The first

[24] D'Holbach, "Systeme de la Nature," II. 408 493.

[25] D'Holbach, "Système de la nature, " I. 347.

[26] Diderot, "Supplément au voyage de Bougainville."

[27] Diderot, "Les Eleuthéromanes."

Et ses mains, ourdissant les entrailles du prêtre,
En feraient un cordon pour le dernier des rois.

Brissot: "Necessity being the sole title to property the result is
that when a want is satisfied man is no longer a property owner. . . .
Two prime necessities are due to the animal constitution, food and
waste. . . . May men nourish themselves on their fallen creatures?
(Yes for) all beings may justly nourish themselves on any material
calculated to supply their wants . . . Man of nature, fulfill your
desire, give heed to your cravings, your sole masters and your only
guide. Do you feel your veins throbbing with inward fires at the sight
of a charming creature? She is yours, your caresses are innocent and
your kisses pure. Love alone entitles to enjoyment as hunger is the
warrant for property." (An essay published in 1780, and reprinted in
1782 in the "Bibliothèque du Législateur," quoted by Roux and Buchez
"Histoire parlementaire," XIII, 431.

[28] The words of Rousseau himself ("Rousseau juge de Jan-Jacques,"
third dialogue, p 193): From whence may the painter and apologist of
nature, now so disfigured and so calumniated, derive his model if not
from his own heart ?"

[29] "Confessions," Book I. p.1, and the end of the fifth book. --
First letter to M. de Malesherbes: "I know my great faults, and am
profoundly sensible of my vices. Even so I shall die with the
conviction that of all the men I have encountered no one was better
than myself". -- To Madame B---, March 16, 1770, he writes: "You
have awarded me esteem for my writings; your esteem would be yet
greater for my life if it were open to you inspection, and still
greater for my heart if it were exposed to your view. Never was there
a better one, a heart more tender or more just.... My misfortunes are
all due to my virtues." -- To Madame de la Tour, "Whoever is not
enthusiastic in my behalf in unworthy of me."

[30] Letter to M. de Beaumont. p.24. - Rousseau juge de Jean-
Jacques, troisième entretien, 193.

[31] "Emile," book I, and the letter to M. de Beaumont, passim.

[32] Article I. "All Frenchmen shall be virtuous." Article II. "All
Frenchmen shall be happy." Draft of a constitution found among the
papers of Sismondi, at that time in school. (My French dictionary
writes: "SISMONDI, (Jean Charles Léonard Simonde de) Genève, 1773 -
id. 1842, Swiss historian and economist of Italian origin. He was a
forerunner of dirigisme and had influenced Marx with his book:
"Nouveaux principes d'économie politique.1819. SR.)

[33] "Confessions," part 2, book IX. 368. "I cannot comprehend how
any one can converse in a circle. . . . I stammer out a few words,
with no meaning in them, as quickly as I can, very glad if they convey
no sense. . . . I should be as fond of society as anybody if I were
not certain of appearing not merely to disadvantage but wholly
different from what I really am." -- Cf. in the "Nouvelle Héloise,"
2nd part, the letter of Saint-Preux on Paris. Also in "Emilie," the
end of book IV.

[34] "Confessions," part 2, IX. 361. "I was so weary of drawing-
rooms, of jets of water, of bowers, of flower-beds and of those that
showed them to me; I was so overwhelmed with pamphlets, harpsichords,
games, knots, stupid witticisms, simpering looks, petty story-tellers
and heavy suppers, that when I spied out a corner in a hedge, a bush,
a barn, a meadow, or when, on passing through a hamlet, I caught the
smell of a good parsley omelet . . I sent to the devil all the rouge,
frills, flounces and perfumery, and, regretting a plain dinner and
common wine, I would gladly have closed the mouth of both the head
cook and the butler who forced me to dine when I generally sup, and to
sup when a generally go to bed, but, especially the lackeys that
envied me every morsel I ate and who, at the risk of my dying with
thirst, sold me the drugged wine of their master at ten times the
price I would have to pay for a better wine at a tavern."

[35] "Discours sur l'influence des sciences et des arts" -- The
letter to d'Alembert on theatrical performances.

[36] Does it not read like a declaration of intent for forming a
Kibbutz? (SR.)

[37] "The high society (La societé) is as natural to the human
species as decrepitude to the individual. The people require arts,
laws, and governments, as old men require crutches." See the letter M.
Philopolis, p. 248.

[38] See the discourse on the "Origine de l'Inégalite," passim.

[39] "Emile," book IV. Rousseau's narrative. P. 13.

[40] "Discours sur l'économie politique," 326.

[41] "Discours sur l'Origine de l'Inégalité," 178, "Contrat
Social," I. ch. IV.

[42] Condorcet, "Tableau des progrès de l'esprit humain," the tenth



The mathematical method. - Definition of man in the abstract. - The
social contract. - Independence and equality of the contractors. - All
equal before the law and each sharing in the sovereignty.

Consider future society as it appears at this moment to our
legislators in their study, and bear in mind that it will soon appear
under the same aspect to the legislators of the Assembly. - In their
eyes the decisive moment has come. Henceforth two histories are to
exist;[1] one, that of the past, the other, that of the future,
formerly a history of Man still deprived of his reason, and at present
the history of the rational human being. The rule of right is at last
to begin. Of all that the past generations have founded and
transmitted nothing is legitimate. Overlaying the natural Man they
created an artificial Man, either ecclesiastic or laic, noble or
commoner, sovereign or subject, proprietor or proletary, ignorant or
cultivated, peasant or citizen, slave or master, all being phony
qualities which we are not to heed, as their origin is tainted with
violence and robbery. Strip off these superfluous garments; let us
take Man in himself, the same under all conditions, in all situations,
in all countries, in all ages, and strive to ascertain what sort of
association is the best adapted to him. The problem thus stated, the
rest follows. - In accordance with the customs of the classic
mentality, and with the precepts of the prevailing ideology, a
political system is now constructed after a mathematical model.[2] A
simple statement is selected, and set apart, very general, familiar,
readily apparent, and easily understood by the most ignorant and
inattentive schoolboy. Reject every difference, which separates one
man from other men; retain of him only the portion common to him and
to others. The remainder constitutes Man in general, or in other

"a sensitive and rational being who, thus endowed, avoids pain and
seeks pleasure," and therefore aspiring to happiness, namely, a stable
condition in which one enjoys greater pleasure than pain,"[3] or,
again, "a sensitive being capable of forming rational opinions and of
acquiring moral ideas."[4]

Anyone (they say)may by himself experience this elementary idea,
and can verify it at the first glance. Such is the social unit; let
several of these be combined, a thousand, a hundred thousand, a
million, twenty-six millions, and you have the French people. Men born
at twenty-one years of age, without relations, without a past, without
traditions, without a country, are supposed to be assembled for the
first time and, for the first time, to treat with each other. In this
position, at the moment of contracting together, all are equal: for,
as the definition states, the extrinsic and spurious qualities through
which alone all differ have been rejected. All are free; for,
according to the definition, the unjust thralldom imposed on all by
brute force and by hereditary prejudice has been suppressed. - But if
all men are equal, no reason exists why, in this contract, any special
advantage should be conceded to one more than to another. Accordingly
all shall be equal before the law; no person, or family, or class,
shall be allowed any privilege; no one shall claim a right of which
another might be deprived; no one shall be subject to any duty from
another is exempt. - On the other hand, all being free, each enters
with a free will along with the group of wills constitute the new
community; it is necessary that in the common resolutions he should
fully concur. Only on these conditions does he bind himself; he is
bound to respect laws only because he has assisted in making them, and
to obey magistrates only because he has aided in electing them.
Underneath all legitimate authority his consent or his vote must be
apparent, while, in the humblest citizen, the most exalted of public
powers must recognize a member of their own sovereignty. No one may
alienate or lose this portion of his sovereignty; it is inseparable
from his person, and, on delegating it to another, he reserves to
himself full possession of it. - The liberty, equality and sovereignty
of the people constitute the first articles of the social contract.
These are rigorously deduced from a primary definition; other rights
of the citizen are to be no less rigorously deduced from it, the main
features of the constitution, the most important civil and political
laws, in short, the order, the form and the spirit of the new state.


The first result. - The theory easily applied. - Confidence in it
due to belief in man's inherent goodness and reasonableness.

Hence, two consequences.-In the first place, a society thus
organized is the only just one; for, the reverse of all others, it is
not the result of a blind subjection to traditions, but of a contract
concluded among equals, examined in open daylight, and assented to in
full freedom.[5] The social contract, composed of demonstrated
theorems, has the authority of geometry; hence an equal value at all
times, in every place, and for every people; it is accordingly
rightfully established. Those who put an obstacle in its way are
enemies of the human race; whether a government, an aristocracy or a
clergy, they must be overthrown. Revolt is simply just defense; in
withdrawing ourselves from their hands we only recover what is
wrongfully held and which legitimately belongs to us. - In the second
place, this social code, as just set forth, once promulgated, is
applicable without misconception or resistance; for it is a species of
moral geometry, simpler than any other, reduced to first principles,
founded on the clearest and most popular notions, and, in four steps,
leading to capital truths. The comprehension and application of these
truths demand no preparatory study or profound reflection; Reason is
enough, and even common sense. Prejudice and selfishness alone might
impair the testimony; but never will testimony be wanting in a sound
brain and in an upright heart. Explain the rights of man to a laborer
or to a peasant and at once he becomes an able politician; teach
children the citizen's catechism and, on leaving school, they
comprehend duties and rights as well as the four fundamental
principles. - Thereupon hope spreads her wings to the fullest extent,
all obstacles seem removed. It is admitted that, of itself, and
through its own force, the theory engenders its own application, and
that it suffices for men to decree or accept the social compact to
acquire suddenly by this act the capacity for comprehending it and the
disposition to carry it out.

What a wonderful confidence, at first inexplicable, which assume
with regard to man an idea which we no longer hold. Man, indeed, was
regarded as essentially good and reasonable. - Rational, that is to
say, capable of assenting to a plain obvious principle, of following
an ulterior chain of argument, of understanding and accepting the
final conclusion, of extracting for himself, on the occasion calling
for it, the varied consequences to which it leads: such is the
ordinary man in the eyes of the writers of the day; they judged him by
themselves. To them the human intellect is their own, the classic
intellect. For a hundred and fifty years it ruled in literature, in
philosophy, in science, in education, in conversation, by virtue of
tradition, of usage and of good taste. No other was tolerated and no
other was imagined; and if, within this closed circle, a stranger
succeeds in introducing himself, it is on condition of adopting the
oratorical idiom which the raison raisonnante imposes on all its
guests, on Greeks, Englishmen, barbarians, peasants and savages,
however different from each other and however different they may be
amongst themselves. In Buffon, the first man, on narrating the first
hours of his being, analyses his sensations, emotions and impulses,
with as much subtlety as Condillac himself. With Diderot, Otou the
Tahitian, with Bernardin de St. Pierre, a semi-savage Hindu and an old
colonist of the Ile-de-France, with Rousseau a country vicar, a
gardener and a juggler, are all accomplished conversationalists and
moralists. In Marmontel and in Florian, in all the literature of
inferior rank preceding or accompanying the Revolution, also in the
tragic or comic drama, the chief talent of the personage, whoever he
may be, whether an uncultivated rustic, tattooed barbarian or naked
savage, consists in being able to explain himself, in arguing and in
following an abstract discourse with intelligence and attention, in
tracing for himself, or in the footsteps of a guide, the rectilinear
pathway of general ideas. Thus, to the spectators of the eighteenth
century, Reason is everywhere and she stands alone in the world. A
form of intellect so universal necessarily strikes them as natural,
they resemble people who, speaking but one language, and one they have
always spoken with facility, cannot imagine another language being
spoken, or that they may be surrounded by the deaf and the dumb. And
so much the more in as much as their theory authorizes this prejudice.
According to the new ideology all minds are within reach of all
truths. If the mind does not grasp them the fault is ours in not being
properly prepared; it will comprehend if we take the trouble to guide
it properly. For it has senses the same as our own; and sensations,
revived, combined and noted by signs, suffice to form "not only all
our conceptions but again all our faculties."[6] An exact and constant
relationship of ideas attaches our simplest perceptions to the most
complex sciences, and, from the lowest to the highest degree, a scale
is practicable; if the scholar stops on the way it is owing to our
having left too great an interval between two degrees of the scale;
let no intermediary degrees be omitted and he will mount to the top of
it. To this exalted idea of the faculties of man is added a no less
exalted idea of his heart. Rousseau having declared this to be
naturally good, the refined class plunge into the belief with all the
exaggerations of fashion and all the sentimentality of the drawing-
room. The conviction is widespread that man, and especially the man of
the people, is sensitive and affectionate by nature; that he is
immediately impressed by benefactions and disposed to be grateful for
them, that he softens at the slightest sign of interest in him, and
that he is capable of every refinement. A series of engravings
represents two children in a dilapidated cottage,[7] one five and the
other three years old, by the side of an infirm grandmother, one
supporting her head and the other giving her drink; the father and
mother enter and, on seeing this touching incident, "these good people
find themselves so happy in possessing such children they forget they
are poor." "Oh, my father," cries a shepherd youth of the Pyrénées,[8]
"accept this faithful dog, so true to me for seven years; in future
let him follow and defend you, thus serving me better than in any
other manner." It would require too much space to follow in the
literature of the end of the century, from Marmontel to Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre, and from Florian to Berquin and Bitaubé, the
interminable repetition of these sweet insipidities. The illusion even
reaches statesmen. "Sire," says Turgot, on presenting the king with a
plan of political education,[9] "I venture to assert that in ten years
your nation will no longer be recognizable, and through enlightenment
and good morals, in intelligent zeal for your service and for the
country, it will rise above all other nations. Children who are now
ten years of age will then be men prepared for the state, loving their
country, submissive to authority, not through fear but through Reason,
aiding their fellow-citizens, and accustomed to recognizing and
respecting justice." - In the months of January, 1789,[10] Necker, to
whom M. de Bouillé pointed out the imminent danger arising from the
unswerving efforts of the Third-Estate , "coldly replied, turning his
eyes upward, 'reliance must be placed on the moral virtues of man.' "
- In the main, on the imagination forming any conception of human
society, this consists of a vague, semi-bucolic, semi-theatrical
scene, somewhat resembling those displayed on the frontispieces of
illustrated works on morals and politics. Half-naked men with others
clothed in skins, assemble together under a large oak tree; in the
center of the group a venerable old man arises and makes an address,
using "the language of nature and Reason," proposing that all should
be united, and explaining how men are bound together by mutual
obligations; he shows them the harmony of private and of public
interests, and ends by making them appreciate of the beauty of
virtue.[11] All utter shouts of joy, embrace each other, gather round
the speaker and elect him chief magistrate; dancing is going on under
the branches in the background, and henceforth happiness on earth is
fully established. - This is no exaggeration. The National Assembly
addresses the nation in harangues of this style. For many years the
government speaks to the people as it would to one of Gessner's
shepherds. The peasants are entreated not to burn castles because it
is painful for their good king to see such sights. They are exhorted
"to surprise him with their virtues in order that he may be the sooner
rewarded for his own."[12] At the height of the Jacquerie tumults the
sages of the day seem to think they are living in a state of pastoral
simplicity, and that with an air on the flute they may restore to its
fold the howling pack of bestial animosities and unchained appetites


The inadequacy and fragility of reason in man. - The rarity and
inadequacy of reason in humanity. - Subordination of reason in human
conduct. - Brutal and dangerous forces. - The nature and utility of
government. Government impossible under the new theory.

It is a sad thing to fall asleep in a sheep-shed and, on
awakening, to find the sheep transformed into wolves; and yet, in the
event of a revolution that is what we may expect. What we call reason
in Man is not an innate endowment, basic and enduring, but a tardy
acquisition and a fragile composition. The slightest physiological
knowledge will tell us that it is a precarious act of balance,
dependent on the no less greater instability of the brain, nerves,
circulation and digestion. Take women that are hungry and men that
have been drinking; place a thousand of these together, and let them
excite each other with their cries, their anxieties, and the
contagious reaction of their ever-deepening emotions; it will not be
long before you find them a crowd of dangerous maniacs. This becomes
evident, and abundantly so, after 1789. - Now, consult psychology.
The simplest mental operation, a sensuous perception, is an act of
memory, the appliance of a name, an ordinary act of judgment is the
play of complicated mechanism, the joint and final result of several
millions of wheels which, like those of a clock,[13] turn and propel
blindly, each for itself, each through its own force, and each kept in
place and in functional activity by a system of balance and
compensation.[14] If the hands mark the hour with any degree of
accuracy it is due to a wonderful if not miraculous conjunction, while
hallucination, delirium and monomania, ever at the door, are always
ready to enter it. Properly speaking Man is mad, as the body is sick,
by nature; the health of our mind, like the health of our organs, is
simply a repeated achievement and a happy accident. If such happens to
be the case with the coarse woof and canvas, with the large and
approximately strong threads of our intellect, what are the chances
for the ulterior and superadded embroidery, the subtle and complicated
netting forming reason properly so called, and which is composed of
general ideas? Formed by a slow and delicate process of weaving,
through a long system of signs, amidst the agitation of pride, of
enthusiasm and of dogmatic obstinacy, what risk, even in the most
perfect brain, for these ideas only inadequately to correspond with
outward reality! All that we require in this connection is to witness
the operation of the idyll in vogue with the philosophers and
politicians. - These being the superior minds, what can be said of
the masses of the people, of the uncultivated or semi-cultivated
brains? According as reason is crippled in man so is it rare in
humanity. General ideas and accurate reasoning are found only in a
select few. The comprehension of abstract terms and the habit of
making accurate deductions requires previous and special preparation,
a prolonged mental exercise and steady practice, and besides this,
where political matters are concerned, a degree of composure which,
affording every facility for reflection, enables a man to detach
himself for a moment from himself for the consideration of his
interests as a disinterested observer. If one of these conditions is
wanting, reason, especially in relation to politics, is absent. - In
a peasant or a villager, in any man brought up from infancy to manual
labor, not only is the network of superior conceptions defective, but
again the internal machinery by which they are woven is not perfected.
Accustomed to the open air, to the exercise of his limbs, his
attention flags if he stands inactive for a quarter of an hour;
generalized expressions find their way into his mind only as sound;
the mental combination they ought to excite cannot be produced. He
becomes drowsy unless a powerful vibrating voice contagiously arouses
in him the instincts of flesh and blood, the personal cravings, the
secret enmities which, restrained by outward discipline, are always
ready to be set free. - In the half-cultivated mind, even with the
man who thinks himself cultivated and who reads the newspapers,
principles are generally disproportionate guests; they are above his
comprehension; he does not measure their bearings, he does not
appreciate their limitations, he is insensible to their restrictions
and he falsifies their application. They are like those preparations
of the laboratory which, harmless in the chemist's hands, become
destructive in the street under the feet of passing people. - Too soon
will this be apparent when, in the name of popular sovereignty, each
commune, each mob, shall regard itself as the nation and act
accordingly; when Reason, in the hands of its new interpreters, shall
inaugurate riots in the streets and peasant insurrections in the

This is owing to the philosophers of the age having been mistaken
in two ways. Not only is reason not natural to Man nor universal in
humanity, but again, in the conduct of Man and of humanity, its
influence is small. Except with a few cool and clear intellects, a
Fontenelle, a Hume, a Gibbon, with whom it may prevail because it
encounters no rivals, it is very far from playing a leading part; it
belongs to other forces born within us, and which, by virtue of being
the first comers, remain in possession of the field. The place
obtained by reason is always restricted; the office it fulfills is
generally secondary. Openly or secretly, it is only a convenient
subaltern, a domestic advocate constantly suborned, employed by the
proprietors to plead in their behalf; if they yield precedence in
public it is only through decorum. Vainly do they proclaim it the
recognized sovereign; they grant it only a passing authority, and,
under its nominal control, they remain the inward masters. These
masters of Man consists of physical temperament, bodily needs, animal
instinct, hereditary prejudice, imagination, generally the dominant
passion, and more particularly personal or family interest, also that
of caste or party. We are making a big mistake were we assume men to
be naturally good, generous, pleasant, or at any rate gentle, pliable,
and ready to sacrifice themselves to social interests or to those of
others. There are several, and among them the strongest, who, left to
themselves, would only wreak havoc. - In the first place, if there is
no certainty of Man being a remote blood cousin of the monkey, it is
at least certain that, in his structure, he is an animal closely
related to the monkey, provided with canine teeth, carnivorous,
formerly cannibal and, therefore, a hunter and bellicose. Hence there
is in him a steady substratum of brutality and ferocity, and of
violent and destructive instincts, to which must be added, if he is
French, gaiety, laughter, and a strange propensity to gambol and act
insanely in the havoc he makes; we shall see him at work. - In the
second place, at the outset, his condition casts him naked and
destitute on an ungrateful soil, on which subsistence is difficult,
where, at the risk of death, he is obliged to save and to economize.
Hence a constant preoccupation and the rooted idea of acquiring,
accumulating, and possessing, rapacity and avarice, more particularly
in the class which, tied to the globe, fasts for sixty generations in
order to support other classes, and whose crooked fingers are always
outstretched to clutch the soil whose fruits they cause to grow;-we
shall see this class at work. - Finally, his more delicate mental
organization makes of him from the earliest days an imaginative being
in which swarming fancies develop themselves into monstrous chimeras
to expand his hopes, fears and desires beyond all bounds. Hence an
excess of sensibility, sudden outbursts of emotion, contagious
agitation, irresistible currents of passion, epidemics of credulity
and suspicion, in short, enthusiasm and panic, especially if he is
French, that is to say, excitable and communicative, easily thrown off
his balance and prompt to accept foreign impulsion, deprived of the
natural ballast which a phlegmatic temperament and concentration of
lonely meditations secure to his German and Latin neighbors; and all
this we shall see at work. - These constitute some of the brute
forces that control human life. In ordinary times we pay no attention
to them; being subordinated they do not seem to us formidable. We take
it for granted that they are allayed and pacified ; we flatter
ourselves that the discipline imposed on them has made them natural,
and that by dint of flowing between dikes they are settled down into
their accustomed beds. The truth is that, like all brute forces, like
a stream or a torrent, they only remain in these under constraint; it
is the dike which, through its resistance, produces this moderation.
Another force equal to their force had to be installed against their
outbreaks and devastation, graduated according to their scale, all the
firmer as they are more menacing, despotic if need be against their
despotism, in any event constraining and repressive, at the outset a
tribal chief, later an army general, all modes consisting in an
elective or hereditary man-at-arms, possessing vigilant eyes and
vigorous arms, and who, with blows, excites fear and, through fear,
maintains order. In the regulation and limitation of his blows divers
instrumentalities are employed, a pre-established constitution, a
division of powers, a code of laws, tribunals, and legal formalities.
At the bottom of all these wheels ever appears the principal lever,
the efficacious instrument, namely, the policeman armed against the
savage, brigand and madman each of us harbors, in repose or manacled,
but always living, in the recesses of his own breast.[16]

On the contrary, in the new theory, every principle promulgated,
every precaution taken, every suspicion awaked is aimed against the
policeman. In the name of the sovereignty of the people all authority
is withdrawn from the government, every prerogative, every initiative,
its continuance and its force. The people, being sovereign the
government is simply its clerk, and less than its clerk, merely its
domestic. - Between them "no contract" indefinite or at least
enduring, "and which may be canceled only by mutual consent or the
unfaithfulness of one of the two parties. It is against the nature of
a political body for the sovereign to impose a law on himself which he
cannot set aside." - There is no sacred and inviolable charter
"binding a people to the forms of an established constitution. The
right to change these is the first guarantee of all rights. There is
not, and never can be, any fundamental, obligatory law for the entire
body of a people, not even the social contract." - It is through
usurpation and deception that a prince, an assembly, and a body of
magistrates declare themselves representatives of the people.
"Sovereignty is not to be represented for the same reason that it is
not to be ceded. . . . The moment a people gives itself
representatives it is no longer free, it exists no more. . . The
English people think themselves free but they deceive themselves; they
are free only during an election of members of parliament; on the
election of these they become slaves and are null. . . the deputies of
the people are not, nor can they be, its representatives; they are
simply its commissioners and can sign no binding final agreement.
Every law not ratified by the people themselves is null and is no
law."[17] -- "A body of laws sanctioned by an assembly of the people
through a fixed constitution of the State does not suffice; other
fixed and periodical assemblies are necessary which cannot be
abolished or extended, so arranged that on a given day the people may
be legitimately convoked by the law, no other formal conviction being
requisite. . . The moment the people are thus assembled the
jurisdiction of the government is to cease, and the executive power is
to be suspended," society commencing anew, while citizens, restored to
their primitive independence, may reconstitute at will, for any period
they determine, the provisional contract to which they have assented
only for a determined time. "The opening of these assemblies, whose
sole object is to maintain the social compact, should always take
place with two propositions, never suppressed, and which are to be
voted on separately; the first one, whether the sovereign( people) is
willing to maintain the actual form of the government; the second,
whether the people are willing to leave its administration in the
hands of those actually performing its duties." - Thus, "the act by
which a people is subject to its chiefs is absolutely only a
commission, a service in which, as simple officers of their sovereign,
they exercise in his name the power of which he has made them
depositories, and which he may modify, limit and resume at
pleasure."[18] Not only does it always reserve to itself "the
legislative power which belongs to it and which can belong only to
it," but again, it delegates and withdraws the executive power
according to its fancy. Those who exercise it are its employees. " It
may establish and depose them when it pleases." In relation to it they
have no rights. "It is not a matter of contract with them but one of
obedience;" they have "no conditions" to prescribe; they cannot demand
of it the fulfillment of any engagement. - It is useless to raise the
objection that, according to this, every man of spirit or of culture
will decline our offices, and that our chiefs will bear the character
of lackeys. We will not leave them the freedom of accepting or
declining office; we impose it on them authoritatively. "In every true
democracy the magistrature is not an advantage but an onerous burden,
not to be assigned to one more than to another." We can lay hands on
our magistrates, take them by the collar and set them on their benches
in spite of themselves. By fair means or foul they are the working
subjects (corvéables) of the State, in a lower condition than a valet
or a mechanic, since the mechanic does his work according to
acceptable conditions, and the discharged valet can claim his eight
days' notice to quit. As soon as the government throws off this humble
attitude it usurps, while constitutions are to proclaim that, in such
an event, insurrection is not only the most sacred right but the most
imperative duty. - The new theory is now put into practice, and the
dogma of the sovereignty of the people, interpreted by the crowd, is
to result in a complete anarchy, up to the moment when, interpreted by
its leaders, it produces perfect despotism.


The second result. - The new theory leads to despotism. -
Precedents for this theory. - Administrative centralization. - The
Utopia of the Economists. - Invalidity of preceding rights. -
Collateral associations not tolerated. - Complete alienation of the
individual from the community. - Rights of the State in relation to
property, education and religion. - The State a Spartan convent.

For this theory has two aspects; whereas one side leads towards
the perpetual demolition of government, the other results in the
unlimited dictatorship of the State. The new social contract is not a
historic pact, like the English Declaration of Rights in 1688, or the
Dutch federation in 1579, entered into by actual and living
individuals, admitting acquired situations, groups already formed,
established positions, and drawn up to recognize, define, guarantee
and complete anterior rights. Antecedent to the social contract no
veritable right exist; for veritable rights are born solely out of the
social contract, the only valid one, since it is the only one agreed
upon between beings perfectly equal and perfectly free, so many
abstract creatures, so many species of mathematical units, all of the
same value, all playing the same part and whose inequality or
constraint never disturbs the common understanding. Hence at the
moment of its completion, all other facts are nullified. Property,
family, church, no ancient institution may invoke any right against
the new State. The area on which it is built up must be considered
vacant; if old structures are partly allowed to remain it is only in
its name and for its benefit, to be enclosed within its barriers and
appropriated to its use; the entire soil of humanity is its property.
On the other hand it is not, according to the American doctrine, an
association for mutual protection, a society like other societies,
circumscribed in its purpose, restricted to its office, limited in its
powers, and by which individuals reserving to themselves the better
portion of their property and persons, assess each other for the
maintenance of an army, a police, tribunals, highways, schools, in
short, the major instruments of public safety and utility, at the same
time withholding the remainder of local, general, spiritual and
material services in favor of private initiative and of spontaneous
associations that may arise as occasion or necessity calls for them.
Our State is not to be a simple utilitarian machine, a convenient,
handy implement, of which the workman avails himself without
abandoning the free use of his hand, or the simultaneous use of other
implements. Being elder born, the only son and sole representative of
Reason it must, to ensure its sway, leave nothing beyond its grasp. -
In this respect the old régime paves the way for the new one, while
the established system inclines minds beforehand to the budding
theory. Through administrative centralization the State already, for a
long time, has its hands everywhere.[19]

"You must know," says Law to the Marquis d'Argenson, "that the
kingdom of France is governed by thirty intendants. You have neither
parliaments, assemblies or governors, simply thirty masters of
requests, provincial clerks, on whom depends the happiness or misery,
the fruitfulness or sterility of these provinces."

The king, in fact, sovereign, father, and universal guardian,
manages local affairs through his delegates, and intervenes in private
affairs through his favors or lettres-de-cachet(royal orders of
imprisonment). Such an example and such a course followed for fifty
years excites the imagination. No other instrument is more useful for
carrying large reforms out at one time. Hence, far from restricting
the central power the economists are desirous of extending its action.
Instead of setting up new dikes against it they interest themselves
only in destroying what is left of the old dikes still interfering
with it. "The system of counter-forces in a government," says Quesnay
and his disciples, "is a fatal idea . . . The speculations on which
the system of counter-balance is founded are chimerical . . . . Let
the government have a full comprehension of its duties and be left
free. . . The State must govern according to the essential laws of
order, and in this case unlimited power is requisite." On the approach
of the Revolution the same doctrine reappears, except in the
substitution of one term for another term. In the place of the
sovereignty of the king the "Contrat social" substitutes the
sovereignty of the people. The latter, however, is much more absolute
than the former, and, in the democratic convent which Rousseau
constructs, on Spartan and Roman model, the individual is nothing and
the State everything.

In effect, "the clauses of the social contract reduce themselves to
one, namely, the total transfer of each associate with all his rights
to the community."[20] Every one surrenders himself entirely, "just as
he stands, he and all his forces, of which his property forms a
portion." There is no exception nor reservation; whatever he may have
been previously and whatever may have belonged to him is no longer his
own. Henceforth whatever he becomes or whatever he may possess
devolves on him only through the delegation of the social body, the
universal proprietor and absolute master. All rights must be vested in
the State and none in the individual; otherwise there would be
litigation between them, and, "as there is no common superior to
decide between them" their litigation would never end. One the
contrary, through the complete donation which each one makes of
himself, "the unity is as perfect as possible;" having renounced
himself "he has no further claim to make."

This being admitted let us trace the consequences. -

In the first place, I enjoy my property only through tolerance and
at second-hand; for, according to the social contract, I have
surrendered it;[21] "it now forms a portion of the national estate;"
If I retain the use of its for the time being it is through a
concession of the State which makes me a "depositary" of it. And this
favor must not be considered as restitution. "Far from accepting the
property of individuals society despoils them of it, simply converting
the usurpation into a veritable right, the enjoyment of it into
proprietorship." Previous to the social contract I was possessor not
by right but in fact and even unjustly if I had large possessions;
for, "every man has naturally a right to whatever he needs," and I
have robbed other men of all that I possessed beyond my subsistence.
Hence, so far from the State being under obligation to me, I am under
obligation to it, the property which it returns to me not being mine
but that with which the State favors me. It follows, accordingly, that
the State may impose conditions on its gift, limit the use I may make
of it, according to its fancy, restrict and regulate my disposition of
it, my right to bequeath it. "According to nature,[22] the right of
property does not extend beyond the life of its owner; the moment he
dies his possessions are no longer his own. Thus, to prescribe the
conditions on which he may dispose of it is really less to change his
right in appearance than to extend it in effect." In any event as my
title is an effect of the social contract it is precarious like the
contract itself; a new stipulation suffices to limit it or to destroy
it. "The sovereign[23] may legitimately appropriate to himself all
property, as was done in Sparta in the time of Lycurgus." In our lay
convent whatever each monk possesses is only a revocable gift by the

In the second place, this convent is a seminary. I have no right to
bring up my children in my own house and in my own way.

"As the reason of each man[24] must not be the sole arbiter of his
rights, so much less should the education of children, which is of
more consequence to the State than to fathers, be left to the
intelligence and prejudice of their fathers." "If public authority, by
taking the place of fathers, by assuming this important function, then
acquires their rights through fulfilling their duties, they have so
much the less reason to complain inasmuch as they merely undergo a
change of name, and, under the title of citizens, exercise in common
the same authority over their children that they have separately
exercised under the title of fathers."

In other words you cease to be a father, but, in exchange, become a
school inspector; one is as good as the other, and what complaint have
you to make? Such was the case in that perpetual army called Sparta;
there, the children, genuine regimental children, equally obeyed all
properly formed men.

"Thus public education, within laws prescribed by the government
and under magistrates appointed by sovereign will, is one of the
fundamental maxims of popular or legitimate government."

Through this the citizen is formed in Advance.

"The government gives the national form to souls.[25] Nations, in
the long run, are what the government makes them - soldiers, citizens,
men when so disposed, a populace, canaille if it pleases," being
fashioned by their education. "Would you obtain an idea of public
education? Read Plato's 'Republic.'[26].... The best social
institutions are those the best qualified to change man's nature, to
destroy his absolute being, to give him a relative being, and to
convert self into the common unity, so that each individual may not
regard himself as one by himself, but a part of the unity, and no
longer sensitive but through the whole. An infant, on opening its
eyes, must behold the common patrimony and, to the day of its death,
behold that only.... He should be disciplined so as never to
contemplate the individual except in his relations with the body of
the State."

Such was the practice of Sparta, and the sole aim of the "great

"All being equal through the law, they must be brought up together
and in the same manner." "The law must regulate the subjects, the
order and the form of their studies." They must, at the very least,
take part in public exercises, in horse-races, in the games of
strength and of agility instituted "to accustom them to law, equality,
fraternity, and competition;" to teach them how "to live under the
eyes of their fellow-citizens and to crave public applause."

Through these games they become democrats from their early youth,
since, the prizes being awarded, not through the arbitrariness of
masters, but through the cheers of spectators, they accustom
themselves to recognizing as sovereign the legitimate sovereignty,
consisting of the verdict of the assembled people. The foremost
interest of the State is, always, to form the wills of those by which
it lasts, to prepare the votes that are to maintain it, to uproot
passions in the soul that might be opposed to it, to implant passions
that will prove favorable to it, to fix firmly with the breasts of its
future citizens the sentiments and prejudices it will at some time
need.[27] If it does not secure the children it will not possess the
adults, Novices in a convent must be as monks, otherwise, when they
grow up, the convent will no longer exist.

Finally, our lay convent has its own religion, a lay religion. If I
possess any other it is through its condescension and under
restrictions. It is, by nature, hostile to other associations than its
own; they are rivals, they annoy it, they absorb the will and pervert
the votes of its members.

"To ensure a full declaration of the general will it is an
important matter not to allow any special society in the State, and
that each citizen should pronounce according to it alone."[28]
"Whatever breaks up social unity is worthless," and it would be better
for the State if there were no Church. -

Not only is every church suspicious but, if I am a Christian, my
belief is regarded unfavorably. According to this new legislator
"nothing is more opposed to the social spirits than Christianity. . .
. A society of true Christians would no longer form a society of men."
For, "the Christian patrimony is not of this world." It cannot
zealously serve the State, being bound by its conscience to support
tyrants. Its law "preaches only servitude and dependence. . . it is
made for a slave," and never will a citizen be made out of a slave.
"Christian Republic, each of these two words excludes the other."
Therefore, if the future Republic assents to my profession of
Christianity, it is on the understood condition that my doctrine shall
be shut up in my mind, without even affecting my heart. If I am a
Catholic, (and twenty-five out of twenty-six million Frenchmen are
like me), my condition is worse. For the social pact does not tolerate
an intolerant religion; any sect that condemns other sects is a public
enemy; "whoever presumes to say that there is no salvation outside the
church, must be driven out of the State."

Should I be, finally, a free-thinker, a positivist or skeptic, my
situation is little better.

"There is a civil religion," a catechism, "a profession of faith,
of which the sovereign has the right to dictate the articles, not
exactly as religious dogmas but as sentiments of social import without
which we cannot be a good citizen or a loyal subject." These articles
embrace "the existence of a powerful, intelligent, beneficent,
foreseeing and provident divinity, the future life, the happiness of
the righteous, the punishment of the wicked, the sacredness of the
social contract and of the laws.[29] Without forcing anyone to believe
in this creed, whoever does not believe in it must be expelled from
the State; it is necessary to banish such persons not on account of
impiety, but as unsociable beings, incapable of sincerely loving law
and justice and, if need be, of giving up life for duty."

Take heed that this profession of faith be not a vain one, for a
new inquisition is to test its sincerity.

"Should any person, after having publicly recognized these dogmas,
act as an unbeliever, let him be punished with death. He has committed
the greatest of crimes: he has lied before the law."

Truly, as I said above, we are in a convent


Complete triumph and last excesses of classic reason. - How it
becomes monomania. - Why its work is not enduring.

These articles are all inevitable consequences of the social
contract. The moment I enter the corporation I abandon my own
personality; I abandon, by this act, my possessions, my children, my
church, and my opinions. I cease to be proprietor, father, Christian
and philosopher. The state is my substitute in all these functions. In
place of my will, there is henceforth the public will, that is to say,
in theory, the mutable absolutism of a majority counted by heads,
while in fact, it is the rigid absolutism of the assembly, the
faction, the individual who is custodian of the public authority. -
On this principle an outburst of boundless conceit takes place. The
very first year Grégoire states in the tribune of the Constituent
Assembly, "we might change religion if we pleased, but we have no such
desire." A little later the desire comes, and it is to be carried out;
that of Holbach is proposed, then that of Rousseau, and they dare go
much farther. In the name of Reason, of which the State alone is the
representative and interpreter, they undertake to unmake and make
over, in conformity with Reason and with Reason only, all customs,
festivals, ceremonies, and costumes, the era, the calendar, weights
and measures, the names of the seasons, months, weeks and days, of
places and monuments, family and baptismal names, complimentary
titles, the tone of discourse, the mode of salutation, of greeting, of
speaking and of writing, in such a fashion, that the Frenchman, as
formerly with the puritan or the Quaker, remodeled even in his inward
substance, exposes, through the smallest details of his conduct and
exterior, the dominance of the all-powerful principle which refashions
his being and the inflexible logic which controls his thoughts. This
constitutes the final result and complete triumph of the classic
spirit. Installed in narrow brains, incapable of entertaining two
related ideas, it is to become a cold or furious monomania, fiercely
and unrelentingly destroying a past it curses, and attempting to
establish a millennium, and all in the name of an illusory contract,
at once anarchical and despotic, which unfetters insurrection and
justifies dictatorship; all to end in a conflicting social order
resembling sometimes a drunken orgy of demons, and sometimes a Spartan
convent; all aimed at replacing the real human being, slowly formed by
his past with an improvised robot, who, through its own debility, will
collapse when the external and mechanical force that keeps it up will
no longer sustain it.



[1] Barrère, "Point du jour," No. 1, (June 15, 1789). " You are
summoned to give history a fresh start."

[2] Condorcet, ibid., "Tableau des progrès de l'esprit humain," the
tenth epoch. "The methods of the mathematical sciences, applied to new
objects, have opened new roads to the moral and political sciences." -
Cf. Rousseau, in the "Contrat Social," the mathematical calculation of
the fraction of sovereignty to which each individual is entitled.

[3] Saint-Lambert, "Catéchisme universel," the first dialogue, p.

[4] Condorcet, ibid., ninth epoch. "From this single truth the
publicists have been able to derive the rights of man."

[5] Rousseau still entertained admiration for Montesquieu but, at
the same time, with some reservation; afterwards, however, the theory
developed itself, every historical right being rejected. "Then," says
Condorcet, (ibid., ninth epoch), "they found themselves obliged
abandon a false and crafty policy which, forgetful of men deriving
equal rights through their nature, attempted at one time to estimate
those allowed to them according to extent of territory, the
temperature of the climate, the national character, the wealth of the
population, the degree of perfection of their commerce and industries,
and again to apportion the same rights unequally among diverse classes
of men, bestowing them on birth, riches and professions, and thus
creating opposing interests and opposing powers, for the purpose of
subsequently establishing an equilibrium alone rendered necessary by
these institutions themselves and which the danger of their tendencies
by no means corrects."

[6] Condillac, "Logique."

[7] "Histoire de France par Estampes," 1789. (In the collection of
engravings, Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris.)

[8] Mme. de Genlis, "Souvenirs de Félicie," 371-391.

[9] De Tocqueville, "L'Ancien régime," 237. - Cf. "L'an 2440," by
Mercier, III. vols. One of these lovely daydreams in all its detail
may be found here. The work was first published in 1770. "The
Revolution," says one of the characters, "was brought about without an
effort, through the heroism of a great man, a royal philosopher worthy
of power, because he despised it," etc. (Tome II. 109.)

[10] "Mémoires de M. Bouillé," p.70. - Cf. Barante, "Tableau de la
litt. française au dixhuitième siècle," p. 318. "Civilization and
enlightenment were supposed to have allayed all passions and softened
all characters. It seemed as if morality had become easy of practice
and that the balance of social order was so well adjusted that nothing
could disturb it."

[11] See in Rousseau, in the "Lettre à M. de Beaumont," a scene of
this description, the establishment of deism and toleration,
associated with a similar discourse.

[12] Roux et Buchez, "Histoire parlementaire," IV. 322, the address
made on the 11th Feb., 1790. "What an affecting and sublime address,"
says a deputy. It was greeted by the Assembly, with "unparalleled
applause." The whole address ought to have been quoted entire.

[13] The number of cerebral cells is estimated (the cortical layer)
at twelve hundred millions (in 1880)and the fibers binding them
together at four thousand millions. (Today in 1990 it is thought that
the brain contains one million million neurons and many times more
fibers. SR.)

[14] In his best-selling book "The Blind Watchmaker",(Published
1986) the biologist Richard Dawkins writes: "All appearances to the
contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of
physics, albeit deployed in a very special way. A true watchmaker has
foresight: he designs his cogs and springs, and plans their
interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind's eye. Natural
selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin
discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence
and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It
has no mind and no mind's eye. it does not plan for the future. It has
no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play
the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker." (SR.)

[15] Already Michel Montaigne (1533-1592) had noted man's tendency
to over-estimate his own powers of judgment:

'So, to return to myself, the sole feature for which I hold myself
in some esteem is that in which no man has ever thought himself
defective. My self-approbation is common, and shared by all. For who
has ever considered himself lacking in common sense? This would be a
self-contradictory proposition. Lack of sense is a disease that never
exists when it is seen; it is most tenacious and strong, yet the first
glance from the patient's eye pierces it through and disperses it, as
a dense mist is dispersed by the sun's beams. To accuse oneself would
amount to self-absolution. There never was a street-porter or a silly
woman who was not sure of having as much sense as was necessary. We
readily recognize in others a superiority in courage, physical
strength, experience, agility, or beauty. But a superior judgment we
concede to nobody. And we think that we could ourselves have
discovered the reasons which occur naturally to others, if only we had
looked in the same direction.') (SR.)

[16] My father's cousin, a black-smith issue from a long line of
country black-smiths, born in 1896, used to say that the basic
principle elevating children was to ensure "that the child never
should be able to exclude the possibility of good thrashing." (SR).

[17] Rousseau, "Contrat social," I, ch. 7; III. ch. 13, 14, 15, 18;
IV. ch. 1. - Cf. Condorcet, ninth epoch.

[18] Rousseau, "Contrat social," III, 1, 18; IV, 3.

[19] De Tocqueville, "L'Ancien régime," book II. entire, and book
III. ch. 3.

[20] Rousseau, "Contrat social." I.6.

[21] Ibidem I. 9. "The State in relation to its members is master
of all their possessions according to the social compact . . .
possessors are considered as depositaries of the public wealth."

[22] Rousseau, "Discours sur l'Economie politique," 308.

[23] Ibid. "Emile," book V. 175.

[24] Rousseau, "Discours sur l'Economie politique," 302

[25] Rousseau, on the "Government de Pologne," 277, 283, 287.

[26] Ibid. "Emile," book I.

[27] Morelly, "Code de la nature." "At the age of five all children
should be removed their families and brought up in common, at the
charge of the State, in a uniform manner." A similar project,
perfectly Spartan, was found among the papers of St.-Just.

[28] Rousseau, "Contrat social," II. 3; IV.8.

[29] Cf. Mercier, "L'an 2240," I. ch. 17 and 18. From 1770 on, he
traces the programme of a system of worship similar to that of the
Théophilanthropists, the chapter being entitled: "Pas si éloigné qu'on




Several similar theories have in the past traversed the
imagination of men, and similar theories are likely do so again. In
all ages and in all countries, it sufficed that man's concept of his
own nature changed for, as an indirect consequence, new utopias and
discoveries would sprout in the fields of politics and religion.[1] -
But this does not suffice for the propagation of the new doctrine nor,
more important, for theory to be put into practice. Although born in
England, the philosophy of the eighteenth century could not develop
itself in England; the fever for demolition and reconstruction
remained but briefly and superficial there. Deism, atheism,
materialism, skepticism, ideology, the theory of the return to nature,
the proclamations of the rights of man, all the temerities of
Bolingbroke, Collins, Toland, Tindal and Mandeville, the bold ideas of
Hume, Hartley, James Mill and Bentham, all the revolutionary
doctrines, were so many hotbed plants produced here and there, in the
isolated studies of a few thinkers: out in the open, after blooming
for a while, subject to a vigorous competition with the old vegetation
to which the soil belonged, they failed[2]. - On the contrary, in
France, the seed imported from England, takes root and spreads with
extraordinary vigor. After the Regency it is in full bloom[3]. Like
any species favored by soil and climate, it invades all the fields,
appropriating light and air to itself, scarcely allowing in its shade
a few puny specimens of a hostile species, a survivor of an antique
flora like Rollin, or a specimen of an eccentric flora like Saint-
Martin. With large trees and dense thickets, through masses of
brushwood and low plants, such as Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau,
Diderot, d'Alembert and Buffon, or Duclos, Mably, Condillac, Turgot,
Beaumarchais, Bernadin de Saint-Pierre, Barthélemy and Thomas, such as
a crowd of journalists, compilers and conversationalists, or the elite
of the philosophical, scientific and literary multitude, it occupies
the Academy, the stage, the drawing room and the debate. All the
important persons of the century are its offshoots, and among these
are some of the grandest ever produced by humanity. - This was
possible because the seed had fallen on suitable ground, that is to
say, on the soil in the homeland of the classic spirit. In this land
of the raison raisonnante[4] it no longer encounters the antagonists
who impeded its growth on the other side of the Channel, and it not
only immediately acquires vigor of sap but the propagating organ which
it required as well.


Causes of this difference. - This art of writing in France. - Its
superiority at this epoch. - It serves as the vehicle of new ideas.
- Books are written for people of the world. - This accounts for
philosophy descending to the drawing room.

This organ is the "talent of speech, eloquence applied to the
gravest subjects, the talent for making things clear." [5]"The great
writers of this nation," says their adversary, "express themselves
better than those of any other nation. Their books give but little
information to true savants," but "through the art of expression they
influence men" and "the mass of men, constantly repelled from the
sanctuary of the sciences by the dry style and bad taste of (other)
scientific writers, cannot resist the seductions of the French style
and method." Thus the classic spirit that furnishes the ideas likewise
furnishes the means of conveying them, the theories of the eighteenth
century being like those seeds provided with wings which float and
distribute themselves on all soils. There is no book of that day not
written for people of the high society, and even for women of this
class. In Fontenelle's dialogues on the Plurality of worlds the
principal person age is a marchioness. Voltaire composes his
"Métaphysique" and his "Essai sur les Moeurs" for Madame du Chatelet,
and Rousseau his "Emile" for Madame d'Epinay. Condillac wrote the
"Traité des Sensations" from suggestions of Mademoiselle Ferrand, and
he sets forth instructions to young ladies how to read his "Logique."
Baudeau dedicates and explains to a lady his "Tableau Economique."
Diderot's most profound work is a conversation between Mademoiselle de
l'Espinasse and d'Alembert and Bordeu[6]. Montesquieu had placed an
invocation to the muses in the middle of the "Esprit des Lois." Almost
every work is a product of the drawing-room, and it is always one
that, before the public, has been presented with its beginnings. In
this respect the habit is so strong as to last up to the end of 1789;
the harangues about to be made in the National Assembly are also
passages of bravura previously rehearsed before ladies at an evening
entertainment. The American Ambassador, a practical man, explains to
Washington with sober irony the fine academic and literary parade
preceding the political tournament in public[7].

"The speeches are made beforehand in a small society of young men
and women, among them generally the fair friend of the speaker is one,
or else the fair whom he means to make his friend,; and the society
very politely give their approbation, unless the lady who gives the
tone to that circle chances to reprehend something, which is of course
altered, if not amended."

It is not surprising, with customs of this kind, that professional
philosophers should become men of society. At no time or in any place
have they been so to the same extent, nor so habitually. The great
delight of a man of genius or of learning here, says an English
traveler, is to reign over a brilliant assembly of people of
fashion[8]. Whilst in England they bury themselves morosely in their
books, living amongst themselves and appearing in society only on
condition of "doing some political drudgery," that of journalist or
pamphleteer in the service of a party, in France they dine out every
evening, and constitute the ornaments and amusement of the drawing-
rooms to which they resort to converse[9]. There is not a house in
which dinners are given that has not its titular philosopher, and,
later on, its economist and man of science. In the various memoirs,
and in the collections of correspondence, we track them from one
drawing room to another, from one chateau to another, Voltaire to
Cirey at Madame du Chatelet's, and then home, at Ferney where he has a
theater and entertains all Europe; Rousseau to Madame d'Epinay's, and
M. de Luxembourg's; the Abbé Barthelemy to the Duchesse de Choiseul's;
Thomas, Marmontel and Gibbon to Madame Necker's; the encyclopedists to
d'Holbach's ample dinners, to the plain and discreet table of Madame
Geoffrin, and to the little drawing room of Mademoiselle de
L'Espinasse, all belonging to the great central state drawing-room,
that is to say, to the French Academy, where each newly elected member
appears to parade his style and obtain from a polished body his
commission of master in the art of discourse. Such a public imposes
on an author the obligation of being more a writer than a philosopher.
The thinker is expected to concern himself with his sentences as much
as with his ideas. He is not allowed to be a mere scholar in his
closet, a simple erudite, diving into folios in German fashion, a
metaphysician absorbed with his own meditations, having an audience of
pupils who take notes, and, as readers, men devoted to study and
willing to give themselves trouble, a Kant, who forms for himself a
special language, who waits for a public to comprehend him and who
leaves the room in which he labors only for the lecture-room in which
he delivers his lectures. Here, on the contrary, in the matter of
expression, all are experts and even professional. The mathematician
d'Alembert publishes a small treatise on elocution; Buffon, the
naturalist pronounces a discourse on Style; the legist Montesquieu
composes an essay on Taste; the psychologist Condillac writes a volume
on the art of writing. In this consists their greatest glory;
philosophy owes its entry into society to them. They withdrew it from
the study, the closed-society and the school, to introduce it into
company and into conversation.


Owing to this method it becomes popular.

"Madame la Maréchale," says one of Diderot's personages,[10]. "I
must consider things from a somewhat higher point of view." - " As
high as you please so long as I understand you." - "If you do not
understand me it will be my fault." - " You are very polite, but you
must know that I have studied nothing but my prayer. book." - That
makes no difference; the pretty woman, ably led on, begins to
philosophize without knowing it, arriving without effort at the
distinction between good and evil, comprehending and deciding on the
highest doctrines of morality and religion. - Such is the art of
the eighteenth century, and the art of writing. People are addressed
who are perfectly familiar with life, but who are commonly ignorant of
orthography, who are curious in all directions, but ill prepared for
any; the object is to bring truth down to their level[11]. Scientific
or too abstract terms are inadmissible; they tolerate only those used
to ordinary conversation. And this is no obstacle; it is easier to
talk philosophy in this language than to use it for discussing
precedence and clothes. For, in every abstract question there is some
leading and simple conception on which the rest depends, those of
unity, proportion, mass and motion in mathematics; those of organ,
function and being in physiology; those of sensation, pain, pleasure
and desire in psychology; those of utility, contract and law in
politics and morality; those of capital, production, value, exchange
in political economy, and the, same in the other sciences, all of
these being conceptions derived from passing experience; from which it
follows that, in appealing to common experience by means of a few
familiar circumstances, such as short stories, anecdotes, agreeable
tales, and the like, these conceptions are fashioned anew and rendered
precise. This being accomplished, almost everything is accomplished;
for nothing then remains but to lead the listener along step by step,
flight by flight, to the remotest consequences.

"Will Madame la Maréchale have the kindness to recall my
definition? " - "I remember it well-do you call that a definition?"
- "Yes." -"That, then, is philosophy! " - "Admirable ! " - "And I
have been philosophical? " - " As you read prose, without being
aware of it."

The rest is simply a matter of reasoning, that is to say, of
leading on, of putting questions in the right order, and of analysis.
With the conception thus renewed and rectified the truth nearest at
hand is brought out, then out of this, a second truth related to the
first one, and so on to the end, no other obligation being involved in
this method but that of carefully advancing step by step, and of
omitting no intermediary step. - With this method one is able to
explain all, to make everything understood, even by women, and even by
women of society. In the eighteenth century it forms the substance of
all talents, the warp of all masterpieces, the lucidity, popularity
and authority of philosophy. The "Eloges" of Fontenelle, the
"Philosophe ignorant et le principe d'action" by Voltaire, the "
Lettre à M. de Beaumont," and the "Vicaire Savoyard" by Rousseau, the
"Traité de l'homme" and the "Époques de la Nature" by Buffon, the "
Dialogues sur les blés" by Galiani, the " Considérations" by
d'Alembert, on mathematics, the " Langue des Calculs" and the
"Logique" by Condillac, and, a little later, the "Exposition du
système du Monde" by Laplace, and "Discours généraux" by Bichat and
Cuvier; all are based on this method[12]. Finally, this is the method
which Condillac erects into a theory under the name of ideology, soon
acquiring the ascendancy of a dogma, and which then seems to sum up
all methods. At the very least it sums up the process by which the
philosophers of the century obtained their audience, propagated their
doctrine and achieved their success.


Owing to style it becomes pleasing. - Two stimulants peculiar to
the 18th century, coarse humor and irony.

Thanks to this method one can be understood; but, to be read,
something more is necessary. I compare the eighteenth century to a
company of people around a table; it is not sufficient that the food
before them be well prepared, well served, within reach and easy to
digest, but it is important that it should be some choice dish or,
better still, some dainty. The intellect is Epicurean; let us supply
it with savory, delicate viands adapted to its taste; it will eat so
much the more owing to its appetite being sharpened by sensuality.
Two special condiments enter into the cuisine of this century, and,
according to the hand that makes use of them, they furnish all
literary dishes with a coarse or delicate seasoning. In an Epicurean
society, to which a return to nature and the rights of instinct are
preached, voluptuous images and ideas present themselves
involuntarily; this is the appetizing, exciting spice-box. Each guest
at the table uses or abuses it; many empty its entire contents on
their plate. And I do not allude merely to the literature read in
secret, to the extraordinary books Madame d'Audlan, governess to the
French royal children, peruses, and which stray off into the hands of
the daughters of Louis XV,[13] nor to other books, still more
extraordinary,[14] in which philosophical arguments appear as an
interlude between filth and the illustrations, and which are kept by
the ladies of the court on their toilet-tables, under the title of
"Heures de Paris." I refer here to the great men, to the masters of
the public intellect. With the exception of Buffon, all put pimento
into their sauces, that is to say, loose talk or coarseness of
expression. We find this even in the" Esprit des Lois;" there is an
enormous amount of it, open and covered up, in the "Lettres Persanes."
Diderot, in his two great novels, puts it in by handfuls, as if during
an orgy. The teeth crunch on it like so many grains of pepper, on
every page of Voltaire. We find it, not only piquant, but strong and
of burning intensity, in the "Nouvelle Héloïse," scores of times in "
Emile," and, in the "Confessions," from one end to the other. It was
the taste of the day. M. de Malesherbes, so upright and so grave,
committed "La Pucelle" to memory and recited it. We have from the pen
of Saint-Just, the gloomiest of the "Mountain," a poem as lascivious
as that of Voltaire, while Madame Roland, the noblest of the
Girondins, has left us confessions as venturesome and specific as
those of Rousseau[15]. - On the other hand there is a second box,
that containing the old Gallic salt, that is to say, humor and
raillery. Its mouth is wide open in the hands of a philosophy
proclaiming the sovereignty of reason. Whatever is contrary to Reason
is to it absurd and therefore open to ridicule. The moment the solemn
hereditary mask covering up an abuse is brusquely and adroitly torn
aside, we feel a curious spasm, the corners of our mouth stretching
apart and our breast heaving violently, as at a kind of sudden relief,
an unexpected deliverance, experiencing a sense of our recovered
superiority, of our revenge being gratified and of an act of justice
having been performed. But it depends on the mode in which the mask
is struck off whether the laugh shall be in turn light or loud,
suppressed or unbridled, now amiable and cheerful, or now bitter and
sardonic. Humor (la plaisanterie) comports with all aspects, from
buffoonery to indignation; no literary seasoning affords such a
variety, or so many mixtures, nor one that so well enters into
combination with that above-mentioned. The two together, from the
middle ages down, form the principal ingredients employed by the
French cuisine in the composition of its most agreeable dainties, -
fables, tales, witticisms, jovial songs and waggeries, the eternal
heritage of a good-humored, mocking people, preserved by La Fontaine
athwart the pomp and sobriety of the seventeenth century, and, in the
eighteenth, reappearing everywhere at the philosophic banquet. Its
charm is great to the brilliant company at this table, so amply
provided, whose principal occupation is pleasure and amusement. It is
all the greater because, on this occasion, the passing disposition is
in harmony with hereditary instinct, and because the taste of the
epoch is fortified by the national taste. Add to all this the
exquisite art of the cooks, their talent in commingling, in
apportioning and in concealing the condiments, in varying and
arranging the dishes, the certainty of their hand, the finesse of
their palate, their experience in processes, in the traditions and
practices which, already for a hundred years, form of French prose the
most delicate nourishment of the intellect. It is not strange to find
them skilled in regulating human speech, in extracting from it its
quintessence and in distilling its full delight.


The art and processes of the masters. - Montesquieu. - Voltaire.
- Diderot. - Rousseau. - "The Marriage of Figaro."

In this respect four among them are superior, Montesquieu,
Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau. It seems sufficient to mention their
names. Modern Europe has no greater writers. And yet their talent
must be closely examined to properly comprehend their power.- In tone
and style Montesquieu is the first. No writer is more master of
himself, more outwardly calm, more sure of his meaning. His voice is
never boisterous; he expresses the most powerful thoughts with
moderation. There is no gesticulation; exclamations, the abandonment
of impulse, all that is irreconcilable with decorum is repugnant to
his tact, his reserve, his dignity. He seems to be always addressing
a select circle of people with acute minds, and in such a way as to
render them at every moment conscious of their acuteness. No flattery
could be more delicate; we feel grateful to him for making us
satisfied with our intelligence. We must possess some intelligence to
be able to read him, for he deliberately curtails developments and
omits transitions; we are required to supply these and to comprehend
his hidden meanings. He is rigorously systematic but the system is
concealed, his concise completed sentences succeeding each other
separately, like so many precious coffers or caskets, now simple and
plain in aspect, now superbly chased and decorated, but always full.
Open them and each contains a treasure; here is placed in narrow
compass a rich store of reflections, of emotions, of discoveries, our
enjoyment being the more intense because we can easily retain all this
for a moment in the palm of our hand. "That which usually forms a
grand conception," he himself says, "is a thought so expressed as to
reveal a number of other thoughts, and suddenly disclosing what we
could not anticipate without patient study." This, indeed, is his
manner; he thinks with summaries; he concentrates the essence of
despotism in a chapter of three lines. The summary itself often bears
the air of an enigma, of which the charm is twofold; we have the
pleasure of comprehension accompanying the satisfaction of divining.
In all subjects he maintains this supreme discretion, this art of
indicating without enforcing, these reticences, the smile that never
becomes a laugh.

"In my defense of the 'Esprit des Lois,"' he says, "that which
gratifies me is not to see venerable theologians crushed to the ground
but to see them glide down gently."

He excels in tranquil irony, in polished disdain,[16] in disguised
sarcasm. His Persians judge France as Persians, and we smile at their
errors; unfortunately the laugh is not against them but against
ourselves, for their error is found to be a verity[17]. This or that
letter, in a sober vein, seems a comedy at their expense without
reflecting upon us, full of Muslim prejudices and of oriental
conceit;[18] reflect a moment, and our conceit, in this relation,
appears no less. Blows of extraordinary force and reach are given in
passing, as if thoughtlessly, against existing institutions, against
the transformed Catholicism which "in the present state of Europe,
cannot last five hundred years," against the degenerate monarchy which
causes useful citizens to starve to fatten parasite courtiers[19].
The entire new philosophy blooms out in his hands with an air of
innocence, in a pastoral romance, in a simple prayer, in an artless
letter[20]. None of the gifts which serve to arrest and fix the
attention are wanting in this style, neither grandeur of imagination
nor profound sentiment, vivid characterization, delicate gradations,
vigorous precision, a sportive grace, unlooked-for burlesque, nor
variety of representation. But, amidst so many ingenious tricks,
apologues, tales, portraits and dialogues, in earnest as well as when
masquerading, his deportment throughout is irreproachable and his tone
is perfect. If; as an author, he develops a paradox it is with almost
English gravity. If he fully exposes indecency it is with decent
terms. In the full tide of buffoonery, as well as in the full blast
of license, he is ever the well-bred man, born and brought up in the
aristocratic circle in which full liberty is allowed but where good-
breeding is supreme, where every idea is permitted but where words are
weighed, where one has the privilege of saying what he pleases, but on
condition that he never forgets himself.

A circle of this kind is a small one, comprising only a select few;
to be understood by the multitude requires another tone of voice.
Philosophy demands a writer whose principal occupation is a diffusion
of it, who is unable to keep it to himself; who pours it out like a
gushing fountain, who offers it to everybody, daily and in every form,
in broad streams and in small drops, without exhaustion or weariness,
through every crevice and by every channel, in prose, in verse, in
imposing and in trifling poems, in the drama, in history, in novels,
in pamphlets, in pleadings, in treatises, in essays, in dictionaries,
in correspondence, openly and in secret, in order that it may
penetrate to all depths and in every soil; such was Voltaire. -
"I have accomplished more in my day," he says somewhere, "than either
Luther or Calvin," in which he is mistaken. The truth is, however, he
has something of their spirit. Like them he is desirous of changing
the prevailing religion, he takes the attitude of the founder of a
sect, he recruits and binds together proselytes, he writes letters of
exhortation, of direction and of predication, he puts watchwords in
circulation, he furnishes "the brethren" with a device; his passion
resembles the zeal of an apostle or of a prophet. Such a spirit is
incapable of reserve; it is militant and fiery by nature; it

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