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The Philosophy of Misery by Joseph-Pierre Proudhon

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In man sentiment flows, so to speak, from a thousand different
sources: it contradicts itself, it confuses itself, it rends
itself; otherwise, it would not feel itself. In God, on the
contrary, sentiment is infinite,--that is, one, complete, fixed,
clear, above all storms, and not needing irritation as a contrast
in order to arrive at happiness. We ourselves experience this
divine mode of feeling when a single sentiment, absorbing all our
faculties, as in the case of ecstasy, temporarily imposes silence
upon the other affections. But this rapture exists always only
by the aid of contrast and by a sort of provocation from without;
it is never perfect, or, if it reaches fulness, it is like the
star which attains its apogee, for an indivisible instant.

Thus we do not live, we do not feel, we do not think, except by a
series of oppositions and shocks, by an internal warfare; our
ideal, then, is not infinity, but equilibrium; infinity expresses
something other than ourselves.

It is said: God has no attributes peculiar to himself; his
attributes are those of man; then man and God are one and the
same thing.

On the contrary, the attributes of man, being infinite in God,
are for that very reason peculiar and specific: it is the nature
of the infinite to become speciality, essence, from the fact that
the finite exists. Deny then, if you will, the reality of God,
as one denies the reality of a contradictory idea; reject
from science and morality this inconceivable and bloody phantom
which seems to pursue us the more, the farther it gets from us;
up to a certain point that may be justified, and at any rate can
do no harm. But do not make God into humanity, for that would be
slander of both.

Will it be said that the opposition between man and the divine
being is illusory, and that it arises from the opposition that
exists between the individual man and the essence of entire
humanity? Then it must be maintained that humanity, since it is
humanity that they deify, is neither progressive, nor contrasted
in reason and feeling; in short, that it is infinite in
everything,--which is denied not only by history, but by

This is not a correct understanding, cry the humanists. To have
the right ideal of humanity, it must be considered, not in its
historic development, but in the totality of its manifestations,
as if all human generations, gathered into one moment, formed a
single man, an infinite and immortal man.

That is to say, they abandon the reality to seize a projection;
the true man is not the real man; to find the veritable man, the
human ideal, we must leave time and enter eternity,--what do I
say?--desert the finite for infinity, man for God! Humanity, in
the shape we know it, in the shape in which it is developed, in
the only shape in fact in which it can exist, is erect; they show
us its reversed image, as in a mirror, and then say to us: That
is man! And I answer: It is no longer man, it is God. Humanism
is the most perfect theism.

What, then, is this providence which the theists suppose in God?
An essentially human faculty, an anthropomorphic attribute, by
which God is thought to look into the future according to the
progress of events, in the same way that we men look into
the past, following the perspective of chronology and history.

Now, it is plain that, just as infinity--that is, spontaneous and
universal intuition in knowledge--is incompatible with humanity,
so providence is incompatible with the hypothesis of the divine
being. God, to whom all ideas are equal and simultaneous; God,
whose reason does not separate synthesis from antinomy; God, to
whom eternity renders all things present and contemporary,--was
unable, when creating us, to reveal to us the mystery of our
contradictions; and that precisely because he is God, because he
does not see contradiction, because his intelligence does not
fall under the category of time and the law of progress, because
his reason is intuitive and his knowledge infinite. Providence
in God is a contradiction within a contradiction; it was through
providence that God was actually made in the image of man; take
away this providence, and God ceases to be man, and man in turn
must abandon all his pretensions to divinity.

Perhaps it will be asked of what use it is to God to have
infinite knowledge, if he is ignorant of what takes place in

Let us distinguish. God has a perception of order, the sentiment
of good. But this order, this good, he sees as eternal and
absolute; he does not see it in its successive and imperfect
aspects; he does not grasp its defects. We alone are capable of
seeing, feeling, and appreciating evil, as well as of measuring
duration, because we alone are capable of producing evil, and
because our life is temporary. God sees and feels only order;
God does not grasp what happens, because what happens is BENEATH
him, beneath his horizon. We, on the contrary, see at once the
good and the evil, the temporal and the eternal, order and
disorder, the finite and the infinite; we see within us and
outside of us; and our reason, because it is finite, surpasses
our horizon.

Thus, by the creation of man and the development of society, a
finite and providential reason, our own, has been posited in
contradiction of the intuitive and infinite reason, God; so that
God, without losing anything of his infinity in any direction,
seems diminished by the very fact of the existence of humanity.
Progressive reason resulting from the projection of eternal ideas
upon the movable and inclined plane of time, man can understand
the language of God, because he comes from God and his reason at
the start is like that of God; but God cannot understand us or
come to us, because he is infinite and cannot re-clothe himself
in finite attributes without ceasing to be God, without
destroying himself. The dogma of providence in God is shown to
be false, both in fact and in right.

It is easy now to see how the same reasoning turns against the
system of the deification of man.

Man necessarily positing God as absolute and infinite in his
attributes, whereas he himself develops in a direction the
inverse of this ideal, there is discord between the progress of
man and what man conceives as God. On the one hand, it appears
that man, by the syncretism of his constitution and the
perfectibility of his nature, is not God and cannot become God;
on the other, it is plain that God, the supreme Being, is the
antipode of humanity, the ontological summit from which it
indefinitely separates itself. God and man, having divided
between them the antagonistic faculties of being, seem to be
playing a game in which the control of the universe is the stake,
the one having spontaneity, directness, infallibility, eternity,
the other having foresight, deduction, mobility, time. God and
man hold each other in perpetual check and continually avoid
each other; while the latter goes ahead in reflection and theory
without ever resting, the former, by his providential incapacity,
seems to withdraw into the spontaneity of his nature. There is a
contradiction, therefore, between humanity and its ideal, an
opposition between man and God, an opposition which Christian
theology has allegorized and personified under the name of Devil
or Satan,--that is, contradictor, enemy of God and man.

Such is the fundamental antinomy which I find that modern critics
have not taken into account, and which, if neglected, having
sooner or later to end in the negation of the man-God and
consequently in the negation of this whole philosophical
exegesis, reopens the door to religion and fanaticism.

God, according to the humanists, is nothing but humanity itself,
the collective me to which the individual me is subjected as to
an invisible master. But why this singular vision, if the
portrait is a faithful copy of the original? Why has man, who
from his birth has known directly and with out a telescope his
body, his soul, his chief, his priest, his country, his
condition, been obliged to see himself as in a mirror, and
without recognizing himself, under the fantastic image of God?
Where is the necessity of this hallucination? What is this dim
and ambiguous consciousness which, after a certain time, becomes
purified, rectified, and, instead of taking itself for another,
definitively apprehends itself as such? Why on the part of man
this transcendental confession of society, when society itself
was there, present, visible, palpable, willing, and
acting,--when, in short, it was known as society and named as

No, it is said, society did not exist; men were agglomerated, but
not associated; the arbitrary constitution of property and
the State, as well as the intolerant dogmatism of religion, prove

Pure rhetoric: society exists from the day that individuals,
communicating by labor and speech, assume reciprocal obligations
and give birth to laws and customs. Undoubtedly society becomes
perfect in proportion to the advances of science and economy, but
at no epoch of civilization does progress imply any such
metamorphosis as those dreamed of by the builders of utopia; and
however excellent the future condition of humanity is to be, it
will be none the less the natural continuation, the necessary
consequence, of its previous positions.

For the rest, no system of association being exclusive in itself,
as I have shown, of fraternity and justice, it has never been
possible to confound the political ideal with God, and we see in
fact that all peoples have distinguished society from religion.
The first was taken as END, the second regarded only as MEANS;
the prince was the minister of the collective will, while God
reigned over consciences, awaiting beyond the grave the guilty
who escaped the justice of men. Even the idea of progress and
reform has never been anywhere absent; nothing, in short, of that
which constitutes social life has been entirely ignored or
misconceived by any religious nation. Why, then, once more, this
tautology of Society-Divinity, if it is true, as is pretended,
that the theological hypothesis contains nothing other than the
ideal of human society, the preconceived type of humanity
transfigured by equality, solidarity, labor, and love?

Certainly, if there is a prejudice, a mysticism, which now seems
to me deceptive in a high degree, it is no longer Catholicism,
which is disappearing, but rather this humanitary philosophy,
making man a holy and sacred being on the strength of a
speculation too learned not to have something of the arbitrary in
its composition; proclaiming him God,--that is, essentially good
and orderly in all his powers, in spite of the disheartening
evidence which he continually gives of his doubtful morality;
attributing his vices to the constraint in which he has lived,
and promising from him in complete liberty acts of the purest
devotion, because in the myths in which humanity, according to
this philosophy, has painted itself, we find described and
opposed to each other, under the names of hell and paradise, a
time of constraint and penalty and an era of happiness and
independence! With such a doctrine it would suffice--and
moreover it would be inevitable--for man to recognize that he is
neither God, nor good, nor holy, nor wise, in order to fall back
immediately into the arms of religion; so that in the last
analysis all that the world will have gained by the denial of God
will be the resurrection of God.

Such is not my view of the meaning of the religious fables.
Humanity, in recognizing God as its author, its master, its alter
ego, has simply determined its own essence by an antithesis,--an
eclectic essence, full of contrasts, emanated from the infinite
and contradictory of the infinite, developed in time and aspiring
to eternity, and for all these reasons fallible, although guided
by the sentiment of beauty and order. Humanity is the daughter
of God, as every opposition is the daughter of a previous
position: that is why humanity has formed God like itself, has
lent him its own attributes, but always by giving them a specific
character,--that is, by defining God in contradiction of itself.
Humanity is a spectre to God, just as God is a spectre to
humanity; each of the two is the other's cause, reason, and end
of existence.

It was not enough, then, to have demonstrated, by criticism
of religious ideas, that the conception of the divine me leads
back to the perception of the human me; it was also necessary to
verify this deduction by a criticism of humanity itself, and to
see whether this humanity satisfies the conditions that its
apparent divinity supposes. Now, such is the task that we
solemnly inaugurated when, starting at once with human reality
and the divine hypothesis, we began to unroll the history of
society in its economic institutions and speculative thoughts.

We have shown, on the one hand, that man, although incited by the
antagonism of his ideas, and although up to a certain point
excusable, does evil gratuitously and by the bestial impulse of
his passions, which are repugnant to the character of a free,
intelligent, and holy being. We have shown, on the other hand,
that the nature of man is not harmoniously and synthetically
constituted, but formed by an agglomeration of the potentialities
specialized in each creature,--a circumstance which, in revealing
to us the principle of the disorders committed by human liberty,
has finished the demonstration of the non- divinity of our race.
Finally, after having proved that in God providence not only does
not exist, but is impossible; after having, in other words,
separated the divine attributes of the infinite Being from the
anthropomorphic attributes,--we have concluded, contrary to the
affirmations of the old theodicy, that, relatively to the destiny
of man, a destiny essentially progressive, intelligence and
liberty in God suffered a contrast, a sort of limitation and
diminution, resulting from his eternal, immutable, and infinite
nature; so that man, instead of adoring in God his sovereign and
his guide, could and should look on him only as his antagonist.
And this last consideration will suffice to make us reject
humanism also, as tending invincibly, by the deification of
humanity, to a religious restoration. The true remedy for
fanaticism, in our view, is not to identify humanity with God,
which amounts to affirming, in social economy communism, in
philosophy mysticism and the statu quo; it is to prove to
humanity that God, in case there is a God, is its enemy.

What solution will result later from these data? Will God, in
the end, be found to be a reality?

I do not know whether I shall ever know. If it is true, on the
one hand, that I have today no more reason for affirming the
reality of man, an illogical and contradictory being, than the
reality of God, an inconceivable and unmanifested being, I know
at least, from the radical opposition of these two natures, that
I have nothing to hope or to fear from the mysterious author whom
my consciousness involuntarily supposes; I know that my most
authentic tendencies separate me daily from the contemplation of
this idea; that practical atheism must be henceforth the law of
my heart and my reason; that from observable necessity I must
continually learn the rule of my conduct; that any mystical
commandment, any divine right, which should be proposed to me,
must be rejected and combatted by me; that a return to God
through religion, idleness, ignorance, or submission, is an
outrage upon myself; and that if I must sometime be reconciled
with God, this reconciliation, impossible as long as I live and
in which I should have everything to gain and nothing to lose,
can be accomplished only by my destruction.

Let us then conclude, and inscribe upon the column which must
serve as a landmark in our later researches:

The legislator DISTRUSTS man, an abridgment of nature and a
syncretism of all beings. He DOES NOT RELY on Providence, an
inadmissible faculty in the infinite mind.

But, attentive to the succession of phenomena, submissive to the
lessons of destiny, he seeks in necessity the law of humanity,
the perpetual prophecy of his future.

He remembers also, sometimes, that, if the sentiment of Divinity
is growing weaker among men; if inspiration from above is
gradually withdrawing to give place to the deductions of
experience; if there is a more and more flagrant separation of
man and God; if this progress, the form and condition of our
life, escapes the perceptions of an infinite and consequently
non-historic intelligence; if, to say it all, appeal to
Providence on the part of a government is at once a cowardly
hypocrisy and a threat against liberty,--nevertheless the
universal consent of the peoples, manifested by the establishment
of so many different faiths, and the forever insoluble
contradiction which strikes humanity in its ideas, its
manifestations, and its tendencies indicate a secret relation of
our soul, and through it of entire nature, with the infinite,--a
relation the determination of which would express at the same
time the meaning of the universe and the reason of our existence.


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