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What is Property?

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concluded that the stars were rolling torches set in the vault of
the sky; that, if left to themselves, they would fall to the
earth in a shower of fire; that the earth was one vast plain,
forming the lower portion of the world, &c. If he had been asked
by what the world itself was sustained, he would have answered
that he did not know, but that to God nothing is impossible.
Such were the ideas of St. Augustine in regard to space and
movement, ideas fixed within him by a prejudice derived from an
appearance, and which had become with him a general and
categorical rule of judgment. Of the reason why bodies fall his
mind knew nothing; he could only say that a body falls because it

With us the idea of a fall is more complex: to the general ideas
of space and movement which it implies, we add that of attraction
or direction towards a centre, which gives us the higher idea of
cause. But if physics has fully corrected our judgment in
this respect, we still make use of the prejudice of St.
Augustine; and when we say that a thing has FALLEN, we do not
mean simply and in general that there has been an effect of
gravitation, but specially and in particular that it is towards
the earth, and FROM ABOVE TO BELOW, that this movement has
taken place. Our mind is enlightened in vain; the imagination
prevails, and our language remains forever incorrigible. To
DESCEND FROM HEAVEN is as incorrect an expression as to MOUNT
TO HEAVEN; and yet this expression will live as long as men use

TO FALL FROM THE CLOUDS, &C.--are henceforth harmless, because
we know how to rectify them in practice; but let us deign to
consider for a moment how much they have retarded the progress of
science. If, indeed, it be a matter of little importance to
statistics, mechanics, hydrodynamics, and ballistics, that the
true cause of the fall of bodies should be known, and that our
ideas of the general movements in space should be exact, it is
quite otherwise when we undertake to explain the system of the
universe, the cause of tides, the shape of the earth, and its
position in the heavens: to understand these things we must leave
the circle of appearances. In all ages there have been ingenious
mechanicians, excellent architects, skilful artillerymen: any
error, into which it was possible for them to fall in regard to
the rotundity of the earth and gravitation, in no wise retarded
the development of their art; the solidity of their buildings and
accuracy of their aim was not affected by it. But sooner or
later they were forced to grapple with phenomena, which the
supposed parallelism of all perpendiculars erected from the
earth's surface rendered inexplicable: then also commenced a
struggle between the prejudices, which for centuries had sufficed
in daily practice, and the unprecedented opinions which the
testimony of the eyes seemed to contradict.

Thus, on the one hand, the falsest judgments, whether based on
isolated facts or only on appearances, always embrace some truths
whose sphere, whether large or small, affords room for a certain
number of inferences, beyond which we fall into absurdity. The
ideas of St. Augustine, for example, contained the following
truths: that bodies fall towards the earth, that they fall in a
straight line, that either the sun or the earth moves, that
either the sky or the earth turns, &c. These general facts
always have been true; our science has added nothing to them.
But, on the other hand, it being necessary to account for every
thing, we are obliged to seek for principles more and more
comprehensive: that is why we have had to abandon successively,
first the opinion that the world was flat, then the theory which
regards it as the stationary centre of the universe, &c.

If we pass now from physical nature to the moral world, we still
find ourselves subject to the same deceptions of appearance, to
the same influences of spontaneity and habit. But the
distinguishing feature of this second division of our knowledge
is, on the one hand, the good or the evil which we derive from
our opinions; and, on the other, the obstinacy with which we
defend the prejudice which is tormenting and killing us.

Whatever theory we embrace in regard to the shape of the earth
and the cause of its weight, the physics of the globe does not
suffer; and, as for us, our social economy can derive therefrom
neither profit nor damage. But it is in us and through us that
the laws of our moral nature work; now, these laws cannot be
executed without our deliberate aid, and, consequently, unless we
know them. If, then, our science of moral laws is false, it
is evident that, while desiring our own good, we are
accomplishing our own evil; if it is only incomplete, it may
suffice for a time for our social progress, but in the long run
it will lead us into a wrong road, and will finally precipitate
us into an abyss of calamities.

Then it is that we need to exercise our highest judgments; and,
be it said to our glory, they are never found wanting: but then
also commences a furious struggle between old prejudices and new
ideas. Days of conflagration and anguish! We are told of the
time when, with the same beliefs, with the same institutions, all
the world seemed happy: why complain of these beliefs; why banish
these institutions? We are slow to admit that that happy age
served the precise purpose of developing the principle of evil
which lay dormant in society; we accuse men and gods, the powers
of earth and the forces of Nature. Instead of seeking the cause
of the evil in his mind and heart, man blames his masters, his
rivals, his neighbors, and himself; nations arm themselves, and
slay and exterminate each other, until equilibrium is restored by
the vast depopulation, and peace again arises from the ashes of
the combatants. So loath is humanity to touch the customs of its
ancestors, and to change the laws framed by the founders of
communities, and confirmed by the faithful observance of the

_Nihil motum ex antiquo probabile est_: Distrust all
innovations, wrote Titus Livius. Undoubtedly it would be better
were man not compelled to change: but what! because he is born
ignorant, because he exists only on condition of gradual self-
instruction, must he abjure the light, abdicate his reason, and
abandon himself to fortune? Perfect health is better than
convalescence: should the sick man, therefore, refuse to be
cured? Reform, reform! cried, ages since, John the Baptist
and Jesus Christ. Reform, reform! cried our fathers, fifty years
ago; and for a long time to come we shall shout, Reform, reform!

Seeing the misery of my age, I said to myself: Among the
principles that support society, there is one which it does not
understand, which its ignorance has vitiated, and which causes
all the evil that exists. This principle is the most ancient of
all; for it is a characteristic of revolutions to tear down the
most modern principles, and to respect those of long-standing.
Now the evil by which we suffer is anterior to all revolutions.
This principle, impaired by our ignorance, is honored and
cherished; for if it were not cherished it would harm nobody, it
would be without influence.

But this principle, right in its purpose, but misunderstood: this
principle, as old as humanity, what is it? Can it be religion?

All men believe in God: this dogma belongs at once to their
conscience and their mind. To humanity God is a fact as
primitive, an idea as inevitable, a principle as necessary as are
the categorical ideas of cause, substance, time, and space to our
understanding. God is proven to us by the conscience prior to
any inference of the mind; just as the sun is proven to us by the
testimony of the senses prior to all the arguments of physics.
We discover phenomena and laws by observation and experience;
only this deeper sense reveals to us existence. Humanity
believes that God is; but, in believing in God, what does it
believe? In a word, what is God?

The nature of this notion of Divinity,--this primitive, universal
notion, born in the race,--the human mind has not yet fathomed.
At each step that we take in our investigation of Nature and of
causes, the idea of God is extended and exalted; the farther
science advances, the more God seems to grow and broaden.
Anthropomorphism and idolatry constituted of necessity the faith
of the mind in its youth, the theology of infancy and poesy. A
harmless error, if they had not endeavored to make it a rule of
conduct, and if they had been wise enough to respect the liberty
of thought. But having made God in his own image, man wished to
appropriate him still farther; not satisfied with disfiguring the
Almighty, he treated him as his patrimony, his goods, his
possessions. God, pictured in monstrous forms, became throughout
the world the property of man and of the State. Such was the
origin of the corruption of morals by religion, and the source of
pious feuds and holy wars. Thank Heaven! we have learned to
allow every one his own beliefs; we seek for moral laws outside
the pale of religion. Instead of legislating as to the nature
and attributes of God, the dogmas of theology, and the destiny of
our souls, we wisely wait for science to tell us what to reject
and what to accept. God, soul, religion,--eternal objects of our
unwearied thought and our most fatal aberrations, terrible
problems whose solution, for ever attempted, for ever remains
unaccomplished,--concerning all these questions we may still be
mistaken, but at least our error is harmless. With liberty in
religion, and the separation of the spiritual from the temporal
power, the influence of religious ideas upon the progress of
society is purely negative; no law, no political or civil
institution being founded on religion. Neglect of duties imposed
by religion may increase the general corruption, but it is not
the primary cause; it is only an auxiliary or result. It is
universally admitted, and especially in the matter which now
engages our attention, that the cause of the inequality of
conditions among men--of pauperism, of universal misery, and of
governmental embarrassments--can no longer be traced to
religion: we must go farther back, and dig still deeper.

But what is there in man older and deeper than the religious

There is man himself; that is, volition and conscience, free-will
and law, eternally antagonistic. Man is at war with himself:

"Man," say the theologians, "transgressed in the beginning; our
race is guilty of an ancient offence. For this transgression
humanity has fallen; error and ignorance have become its
sustenance. Read history, you will find universal proof of this
necessity for evil in the permanent misery of nations. Man
suffers and always will suffer; his disease is hereditary and
constitutional. Use palliatives, employ emollients; there is no

Nor is this argument peculiar to the theologians; we find it
expressed in equivalent language in the philosophical writings of
the materialists, believers in infinite perfectibility. Destutt
de Tracy teaches formally that poverty, crime, and war are the
inevitable conditions of our social state; necessary evils,
against which it would be folly to revolt. So, call it
same philosophy.

"The first man transgressed." If the votaries of the Bible
interpreted it faithfully, they would say: MAN ORIGINALLY
TRANSGRESSED, that is, made a mistake; for TO TRANSGRESS, TO
FAIL, TO MAKE A MISTAKE, all mean the same thing.

"The consequences of Adam's transgression are inherited by the
race; the first is ignorance." Truly, the race, like the
individual, is born ignorant; but, in regard to a multitude of
questions, even in the moral and political spheres, this
ignorance of the race has been dispelled: who says that it will
not depart altogether? Mankind makes continual progress
toward truth, and light ever triumphs over darkness. Our disease
is not, then, absolutely incurable, and the theory of the
theologians is worse than inadequate; it is ridiculous, since it
is reducible to this tautology: "Man errs, because he errs."
While the true statement is this: "Man errs, because he learns."

Now, if man arrives at a knowledge of all that he needs to know,
it is reasonable to believe that, ceasing to err, he will cease
to suffer.

But if we question the doctors as to this law, said to be
engraved upon the heart of man, we shall immediately see that
they dispute about a matter of which they know nothing; that,
concerning the most important questions, there are almost as many
opinions as authors; that we find no two agreeing as to the best
form of government, the principle of authority, and the nature of
right; that all sail hap-hazard upon a shoreless and bottomless
sea, abandoned to the guidance of their private opinions which
they modestly take to be right reason. And, in view of this
medley of contradictory opinions, we say: "The object of our
investigations is the law, the determination of the social
principle. Now, the politicians, that is, the social scientists,
do not understand each other; then the error lies in themselves;
and, as every error has a reality for its object, we must look in
their books to find the truth which they have unconsciously
deposited there."

Now, of what do the lawyers and the publicists treat? Of
what is justice? What is its principle, its character, its
formula? To this question our doctors evidently have no reply;
for otherwise their science, starting with a principle clear and
well defined, would quit the region of probabilities, and all
disputes would end.

What is justice? The theologians answer: "All justice comes
from God." That is true; but we know no more than before.

The philosophers ought to be better informed: they have argued so
much about justice and injustice! Unhappily, an examination
proves that their knowledge amounts to nothing, and that with
them--as with the savages whose every prayer to the sun is simply
_O! O!_--it is a cry of admiration, love, and enthusiasm; but
who does not know that the sun attaches little meaning to the
interjection O! That is exactly our position toward the
philosophers in regard to justice. Justice, they say, is a
GOD--and a thousand other similar things. What, I ask, does
this pious litany amount to? To the prayer of the savages: O!

All the most reasonable teachings of human wisdom concerning
justice are summed up in that famous adage: DO UNTO OTHERS THAT
But this rule of moral practice is unscientific: what have I a
right to wish that others should do or not do to me? It is of no
use to tell me that my duty is equal to my right, unless I am
told at the same time what my right is.

Let us try to arrive at something more precise and positive.

Justice is the central star which governs societies, the pole
around which the political world revolves, the principle and the
regulator of all transactions. Nothing takes place between men
save in the name of RIGHT; nothing without the invocation of
justice. Justice is not the work of the law: on the
contrary, the law is only a declaration and application of
JUSTICE in all circumstances where men are liable to come in
contact. If, then, the idea that we form of justice and right
were ill-defined, if it were imperfect or even false, it is clear
that all our legislative applications would be wrong, our
institutions vicious, our politics erroneous: consequently there
would be disorder and social chaos.

This hypothesis of the perversion of justice in our minds, and,
as a necessary result, in our acts, becomes a demonstrated fact
when it is shown that the opinions of men have not borne a
constant relation to the notion of justice and its applications;
that at different periods they have undergone modifications: in a
word, that there has been progress in ideas. Now, that is what
history proves by the most overwhelming testimony.

Eighteen Hundred years ago, the world, under the rule of the
Caesars, exhausted itself in slavery, superstition, and
voluptuousness. The people--intoxicated and, as it were,
stupefied by their long-continued orgies--had lost the very
notion of right and duty: war and dissipation by turns swept them
away; usury and the labor of machines (that is of slaves), by
depriving them of the means of subsistence, hindered them from
continuing the species. Barbarism sprang up again, in a hideous
form, from this mass of corruption, and spread like a devouring
leprosy over the depopulated provinces. The wise foresaw the
downfall of the empire, but could devise no remedy. What could
they think indeed? To save this old society it would have been
necessary to change the objects of public esteem and veneration,
and to abolish the rights affirmed by a justice purely secular;
they said: "Rome has conquered through her politics and her
gods; any change in theology and public opinion would be folly
and sacrilege. Rome, merciful toward conquered nations,
though binding them in chains, spared their lives; slaves are the
most fertile source of her wealth; freedom of the nations would
be the negation of her rights and the ruin of her finances.
Rome, in fact, enveloped in the pleasures and gorged with the
spoils of the universe, is kept alive by victory and government;
her luxury and her pleasures are the price of her conquests: she
can neither abdicate nor dispossess herself." Thus Rome had the
facts and the law on her side. Her pretensions were justified by
universal custom and the law of nations. Her institutions were
based upon idolatry in religion, slavery in the State, and
epicurism in private life; to touch those was to shake society to
its foundations, and, to use our modern expression, to open the
abyss of revolutions. So the idea occurred to no one; and yet
humanity was dying in blood and luxury.

All at once a man appeared, calling himself The Word of God.
It is not known to this day who he was, whence he came, nor what
suggested to him his ideas. He went about proclaiming everywhere
that the end of the existing society was at hand, that the world
was about to experience a new birth; that the priests were
vipers, the lawyers ignoramuses, and the philosophers hypocrites
and liars; that master and slave were equals, that usury and
every thing akin to it was robbery, that proprietors and idlers
would one day burn, while the poor and pure in heart would find a
haven of peace.

This man--The Word of God--was denounced and arrested as a
public enemy by the priests and the lawyers, who well understood
how to induce the people to demand his death. But this judicial
murder, though it put the finishing stroke to their crimes, did
not destroy the doctrinal seeds which The Word of God had
sown. After his death, his original disciples travelled about in
all directions, preaching what they called the GOOD NEWS,
creating in their turn millions of missionaries; and, when their
task seemed to be accomplished, dying by the sword of Roman
justice. This persistent agitation, the war of the executioners
and martyrs, lasted nearly three centuries, ending in the
conversion of the world. Idolatry was destroyed, slavery
abolished, dissolution made room for a more austere morality, and
the contempt for wealth was sometimes pushed almost to privation.

Society was saved by the negation of its own principles, by a
revolution in its religion, and by violation of its most sacred
rights. In this revolution, the idea of justice spread to an
extent that had not before been dreamed of, never to return to
its original limits. Heretofore justice had existed only for the
masters;[1] it then commenced to exist for the slaves.

[1] Religion, laws, marriage, were the privileges of freemen,
and, in the beginning, of nobles only. Dii majorum gentium--
gods of the patrician families; jus gentium--right of nations;
that is, of families or nobles. The slave and the plebeian had
no families; their children were treated as the offspring of
animals. BEASTS they were born, BEASTS they must live.

Nevertheless, the new religion at that time had borne by no means
all its fruits. There was a perceptible improvement of the
public morals, and a partial release from oppression; but, other
than that, the SEEDS SOWN BY THE SON OF MAN, having fallen into
idolatrous hearts, had produced nothing save innumerable discords
and a quasi-poetical mythology. Instead of developing into their
practical consequences the principles of morality and government
taught by The Word of God, his followers busied themselves in
speculations as to his birth, his origin, his person, and his
actions; they discussed his parables, and from the conflict of
the most extravagant opinions upon unanswerable questions and
texts which no one understood, was born THEOLOGY,--which may be

The truth of CHRISTIANITY did not survive the age of the
apostles; the GOSPEL, commented upon and symbolized by the
Greeks and Latins, loaded with pagan fables, became literally a
mass of contradictions; and to this day the reign of the
INFALLIBLE CHURCH has been a long era of darkness. It is said
that the GATES OF HELL will not always prevail, that THE WORD
OF GOD will return, and that one day men will know truth and
justice; but that will be the death of Greek and Roman
Catholicism, just as in the light of science disappeared the
caprices of opinion.

The monsters which the successors of the apostles were bent on
destroying, frightened for a moment, reappeared gradually, thanks
to the crazy fanaticism, and sometimes the deliberate connivance,
of priests and theologians. The history of the enfranchisement
of the French communes offers constantly the spectacle of the
ideas of justice and liberty spreading among the people, in spite
of the combined efforts of kings, nobles, and clergy. In the
year 1789 of the Christian era, the French nation, divided by
caste, poor and oppressed, struggled in the triple net of royal
absolutism, the tyranny of nobles and parliaments, and priestly
intolerance. There was the right of the king and the right of
the priest, the right of the patrician and the right of the
plebeian; there were the privileges of birth, province, communes,
corporations, and trades; and, at the bottom of all, violence,
immorality, and misery. For some time they talked of
reformation; those who apparently desired it most favoring it
only for their own profit, and the people who were to be the
gainers expecting little and saying nothing. For a long time
these poor people, either from distrust, incredulity, or
despair, hesitated to ask for their rights: it is said that the
habit of serving had taken the courage away from those old
communes, which in the middle ages were so bold.

Finally a book appeared, summing up the whole matter in these two
IT TO BE?--EVERY THING. Some one added by way of comment:

This was a sudden revelation: the veil was torn aside, a thick
bandage fell from all eyes. The people commenced to reason

If the king is our servant, he ought to report to us;

If he ought to report to us, he is subject to control;

If he can be controlled, he is responsible;

If he is responsible, he is punishable;

If he is punishable, he ought to be punished according to his

If he ought to be punished according to his merits, he can be
punished with death.

Five years after the publication of the brochure of Sieyes, the
third estate was every thing; the king, the nobility, the clergy,
were no more. In 1793, the nation, without stopping at the
constitutional fiction of the inviolability of the sovereign,
conducted Louis XVI. to the scaffold; in 1830, it accompanied
Charles X. to Cherbourg. In each case, it may have erred, in
fact, in its judgment of the offence; but, in right, the logic
which led to its action was irreproachable. The people, in
punishing their sovereign, did precisely that which the
government of July was so severely censured for failing to do
when it refused to execute Louis Bonaparte after the affair of
Strasburg: they struck the true culprit. It was an
application of the common law, a solemn decree of justice
enforcing the penal laws.[1]

[1] If the chief of the executive power is responsible, so must
the deputies be also. It is astonishing that this idea has never
occurred to any one; it might be made the subject of an
interesting essay. But I declare that I would not, for all the
world, maintain it; the people are yet much too logical for me to
furnish them with arguments.

The spirit which gave rise to the movement of '89 was a spirit of
negation; that, of itself, proves that the order of things which
was substituted for the old system was not methodical or well-
considered; that, born of anger and hatred, it could not have the
effect of a science based on observation and study; that its
foundations, in a word, were not derived from a profound
knowledge of the laws of Nature and society. Thus the people
found that the republic, among the so-called new institutions,
was acting on the very principles against which they had fought,
and was swayed by all the prejudices which they had intended to
destroy. We congratulate ourselves, with inconsiderate
enthusiasm, on the glorious French Revolution, the regeneration
of 1789, the great changes that have been effected, and the
reversion of institutions: a delusion, a delusion!

When our ideas on any subject, material, intellectual, or social,
undergo a thorough change in consequence of new observations, I
call that movement of the mind REVOLUTION. If the ideas are
simply extended or modified, there is only PROGRESS. Thus the
system of Ptolemy was a step in astronomical progress, that of
Copernicus was a revolution. So, in 1789, there was struggle and
progress; revolution there was none. An examination of the
reforms which were attempted proves this.

The nation, so long a victim of monarchical selfishness,
thought to deliver itself for ever by declaring that it alone
was sovereign. But what was monarchy? The sovereignty of one
man. What is democracy? The sovereignty of the nation, or,
rather, of the national majority. But it is, in both cases, the
sovereignty of man instead of the sovereignty of the law, the
sovereignty of the will instead of the sovereignty of the reason;
in one word, the passions instead of justice. Undoubtedly, when
a nation passes from the monarchical to the democratic state,
there is progress, because in multiplying the sovereigns we
increase the opportunities of the reason to substitute itself for
the will; but in reality there is no revolution in the
government, since the principle remains the same. Now, we have
the proof to-day that, with the most perfect democracy, we cannot
be free.[1]

[1] See De Tocqueville, "Democracy in the United States;" and
Michel Chevalier, "Letters on North America." Plutarch tells us,
"Life of Pericles," that in Athens honest people were obliged to
conceal themselves while studying, fearing they would be regarded
as aspirants for office.

Nor is that all. The nation-king cannot exercise its sovereignty
itself; it is obliged to delegate it to agents: this is
constantly reiterated by those who seek to win its favor. Be
these agents five, ten, one hundred, or a thousand, of what
consequence is the number; and what matters the name? It is
always the government of man, the rule of will and caprice. I
ask what this pretended revolution has revolutionized?

We know, too, how this sovereignty was exercised; first by the
Convention, then by the Directory, afterwards confiscated by the
Consul. As for the Emperor, the strong man so much adored and
mourned by the nation, he never wanted to be dependent on it;
but, as if intending to set its sovereignty at defiance, he dared
to demand its suffrage: that is, its abdication, the abdication
of this inalienable sovereignty; and he obtained it.

But what is sovereignty? It is, they say, the POWER TO MAKE
LAW.[1] Another absurdity, a relic of despotism. The nation
had long seen kings issuing their commands in this form: FOR
SUCH IS OUR PLEASURE; it wished to taste in its turn the
pleasure of making laws. For fifty years it has brought them
forth by myriads; always, be it understood, through the agency of
representatives. The play is far from ended.

[1] "Sovereignty," according to Toullier, "is human omnipotence."
A materialistic definition: if sovereignty is any thing, it is a
RIGHT not a FORCE or a faculty. And what is human

The definition of sovereignty was derived from the definition of
the law. The law, they said, is THE EXPRESSION OF THE WILL OF
THE SOVEREIGN: then, under a monarchy, the law is the expression
of the will of the king; in a republic, the law is the expression
of the will of the people. Aside from the difference in the
number of wills, the two systems are exactly identical: both
share the same error, namely, that the law is the expression of a
will; it ought to be the expression of a fact. Moreover they
followed good leaders: they took the citizen of Geneva for their
prophet, and the contrat social for their Koran.

Bias and prejudice are apparent in all the phrases of the new
legislators. The nation had suffered from a multitude of
exclusions and privileges; its representatives issued the
THE LAW; an ambiguous and redundant declaration. MEN ARE EQUAL
BY NATURE: does that mean that they are equal in size, beauty,
talents, and virtue? No; they meant, then, political and civil
equality. Then it would have been sufficient to have said: ALL

But what is equality before the law? Neither the constitution of
1790, nor that of '93, nor the granted charter, nor the accepted
charter, have defined it accurately. All imply an inequality in
fortune and station incompatible with even a shadow of equality
in rights. In this respect it may be said that all our
constitutions have been faithful expressions of the popular will:
I am going, to prove it.

Formerly the people were excluded from civil and military
offices; it was considered a wonder when the following high-
sounding article was inserted in the Declaration of Rights: "All
citizens are equally eligible to office; free nations know no
qualifications in their choice of officers save virtues and

They certainly ought to have admired so beautiful an idea: they
admired a piece of nonsense. Why! the sovereign people,
legislators, and reformers, see in public offices, to speak
plainly, only opportunities for pecuniary advancement. And,
because it regards them as a source of profit, it decrees the
eligibility of citizens. For of what use would this precaution
be, if there were nothing to gain by it? No one would think of
ordaining that none but astronomers and geographers should be
pilots, nor of prohibiting stutterers from acting at the theatre
and the opera. The nation was still aping the kings: like them
it wished to award the lucrative positions to its friends and
flatterers. Unfortunately, and this last feature completes the
resemblance, the nation did not control the list of livings; that
was in the hands of its agents and representatives. They, on the
other hand, took care not to thwart the will of their gracious

This edifying article of the Declaration of Rights, retained in
the charters of 1814 and 1830, implies several kinds of civil
inequality; that is, of inequality before the law: inequality
ofstation, since the public functions are sought only for the
consideration and emoluments which they bring; inequality of
wealth, since, if it had been desired to equalize fortunes,
public service would have been regarded as a duty, not as a
reward; inequality of privilege, the law not stating what it
means by TALENTS and VIRTUES. Under the empire, virtue and
talent consisted simply in military bravery and devotion to the
emperor; that was shown when Napoleon created his nobility, and
attempted to connect it with the ancients. To-day, the man who
pays taxes to the amount of two hundred francs is virtuous; the
talented man is the honest pickpocket: such truths as these are
accounted trivial.

The people finally legalized property. God forgive them, for
they knew not what they did! For fifty years they have suffered
for their miserable folly. But how came the people, whose voice,
they tell us, is the voice of God, and whose conscience is
infallible,--how came the people to err? How happens it that,
when seeking liberty and equality, they fell back into privilege
and slavery? Always through copying the ancient regime.

Formerly, the nobility and the clergy contributed towards the
expenses of the State only by voluntary aid and gratuitous gift;
their property could not be seized even for debt,--while the
plebeian, overwhelmed by taxes and statute-labor, was continually
tormented, now by the king's tax-gatherers, now by those of the
nobles and clergy. He whose possessions were subject to mortmain
could neither bequeath nor inherit property; he was treated like
the animals, whose services and offspring belong to their master
by right of accession. The people wanted the conditions of
OWNERSHIP to be alike for all; they thought that every one
not invent property; but as they had not the same privileges in
regard to it, which the nobles and clergy possessed, they decreed
that the right should be exercised by all under the same
conditions. The more obnoxious forms of property--statute-labor,
mortmain, maitrise, and exclusion from public office--have
disappeared; the conditions of its enjoyment have been modified:
the principle still remains the same. There has been progress in
the regulation of the right; there has been no revolution.

These, then, are the three fundamental principles of modern
society, established one after another by the movements of 1789
and 1830: 1. SOVEREIGNTY OF THE HUMAN WILL; in short,
PROPERTY --above JUSTICE, always invoked as the guardian angel
of sovereigns, nobles, and proprietors; JUSTICE, the general,
primitive, categorical law of all society.

We must ascertain whether the ideas of DESPOTISM, CIVIL
INEQUALITY and PROPERTY, are in harmony with the primitive
notion of JUSTICE, and necessarily follow from it,--assuming
various forms according to the condition, position, and relation
of persons; or whether they are not rather the illegitimate
result of a confusion of different things, a fatal association of
ideas. And since justice deals especially with the questions of
government, the condition of persons, and the possession of
things, we must ascertain under what conditions, judging by
universal opinion and the progress of the human mind, government
is just, the condition of citizens is just, and the possession of
things is just; then, striking out every thing which fails to
meet these conditions, the result will at once tell us what
legitimate government is, what the legitimate condition of
citizens is, and what the legitimate possession of things is; and
finally, as the last result of the analysis, what JUSTICE is.

Is the authority of man over man just?

Everybody answers, "No; the authority of man is only the
authority of the law, which ought to be justice and truth." The
private will counts for nothing in government, which consists,
first, in discovering truth and justice in order to make the law;
and, second, in superintending the execution of this law. I do
not now inquire whether our constitutional form of government
satisfies these conditions; whether, for example, the will of the
ministry never influences the declaration and interpretation of
the law; or whether our deputies, in their debates, are more
intent on conquering by argument than by force of numbers: it is
enough for me that my definition of a good government is allowed
to be correct. This idea is exact. Yet we see that nothing
seems more just to the Oriental nations than the despotism of
their sovereigns; that, with the ancients and in the opinion of
the philosophers themselves, slavery was just; that in the middle
ages the nobles, the priests, and the bishops felt justified in
holding slaves; that Louis XIV. thought that he was right when he
said, "The State! I am the State;" and that Napoleon deemed it a
crime for the State to oppose his will. The idea of justice,
then, applied to sovereignty and government, has not always been
what it is to-day; it has gone on developing and shaping itself
by degrees, until it has arrived at its present state. But has
it reached its last phase? I think not: only, as the last
obstacle to be overcome arises from the institution of property
which we have kept intact, in order to finish the reform in
government and consummate the revolution, this very institution
we must attack.

Is political and civil inequality just?

Some say yes; others no. To the first I would reply that, when
the people abolished all privileges of birth and caste, they
did it, in all probability, because it was for their advantage;
why then do they favor the privileges of fortune more than those
of rank and race? Because, say they, political inequality is a
result of property; and without property society is impossible:
thus the question just raised becomes a question of property. To
the second I content myself with this remark: If you wish to
enjoy political equality, abolish property; otherwise, why do you

Is property just?

Everybody answers without hesitation, "Yes, property is just." I
say everybody, for up to the present time no one who thoroughly
understood the meaning of his words has answered no. For it is
no easy thing to reply understandingly to such a question; only
time and experience can furnish an answer. Now, this answer is
given; it is for us to understand it. I undertake to prove it.

We are to proceed with the demonstration in the following

I. We dispute not at all, we refute nobody, we deny nothing; we
accept as sound all the arguments alleged in favor of property,
and confine ourselves to a search for its principle, in order
that we may then ascertain whether this principle is faithfully
expressed by property. In fact, property being defensible on no
ground save that of justice, the idea, or at least the intention,
of justice must of necessity underlie all the arguments that have
been made in defence of property; and, as on the other hand the
right of property is only exercised over those things which can
be appreciated by the senses, justice, secretly objectifying
itself, so to speak, must take the shape of an algebraic formula.

By this method of investigation, we soon see that every argument
which has been invented in behalf of property, WHATEVER IT MAY
BE, always and of necessity leads to equality; that is, to
the negation of property.

The first part covers two chapters: one treating of occupation,
the foundation of our right; the other, of labor and talent,
considered as causes of property and social inequality.

The first of these chapters will prove that the right of
occupation OBSTRUCTS property; the second that the right of
labor DESTROYS it.

II. Property, then, being of necessity conceived as existing only
in connection with equality, it remains to find out why, in spite
of this necessity of logic, equality does not exist. This new
investigation also covers two chapters: in the first, considering
the fact of property in itself, we inquire whether this fact is
real, whether it exists, whether it is possible; for it would
imply a contradiction, were these two opposite forms of society,
equality and inequality, both possible. Then we discover,
singularly enough, that property may indeed manifest itself
accidentally; but that, as an institution and principle, it is
mathematically impossible. So that the axiom of the school--ab
actu ad posse valet consecutio: from the actual to the possible
the inference is good--is given the lie as far as property is

Finally, in the last chapter, calling psychology to our aid, and
probing man's nature to the bottom, we shall disclose the
principle of JUSTICE--its formula and character; we shall state
with precision the organic law of society; we shall explain the
origin of property, the causes of its establishment, its long
life, and its approaching death; we shall definitively establish
its identity with robbery. And, after having shown that these
CONDITIONS, AND PROPERTY--are one and the same; that they may be
taken for each other, and are reciprocally convertible,--we
shall have no trouble in inferring therefrom, by the principle of
contradiction, the basis of government and right. There our
investigations will end, reserving the right to continue them in
future works.

The importance of the subject which engages our attention is
recognized by all minds.

"Property," says M. Hennequin, "is the creative and conservative
principle of civil society. Property is one of those basic
institutions, new theories concerning which cannot be presented
too soon; for it must not be forgotten, and the publicist and
statesman must know, that on the answer to the question whether
property is the principle or the result of social order, whether
it is to be considered as a cause or an effect, depends all
morality, and, consequently, all the authority of human

These words are a challenge to all men of hope and faith; but,
although the cause of equality is a noble one, no one has yet
picked up the gauntlet thrown down by the advocates of property;
no one has been courageous enough to enter upon the struggle.
The spurious learning of haughty jurisprudence, and the absurd
aphorisms of a political economy controlled by property have
puzzled the most generous minds; it is a sort of password among
the most influential friends of liberty and the interests of the
people that EQUALITY IS A CHIMERA! So many false theories and
meaningless analogies influence minds otherwise keen, but which
are unconsciously controlled by popular prejudice. Equality
advances every day--fit aequalitas. Soldiers of liberty, shall
we desert our flag in the hour of triumph?

A defender of equality, I shall speak without bitterness and
without anger; with the independence becoming a philosopher, with
the courage and firmness of a free man. May I, in this momentous
struggle, carry into all hearts the light with which I am filled;
and show, by the success of my argument, that equality failed to
conquer by the sword only that it might conquer by the pen!


The Roman law defined property as the right to use and abuse
one's own within the limits of the law--jus utendi et abutendi
re sua, guatenus juris ratio patitur. A justification of the
word ABUSE has been attempted, on the ground that it signifies,
not senseless and immoral abuse, but only absolute domain. Vain
distinction! invented as an excuse for property, and powerless
against the frenzy of possession, which it neither prevents nor
represses. The proprietor may, if he chooses, allow his crops to
rot under foot; sow his field with salt; milk his cows on the
sand; change his vineyard into a desert, and use his vegetable-
garden as a park: do these things constitute abuse, or not? In
the matter of property, use and abuse are necessarily

According to the Declaration of Rights, published as a preface to
the Constitution of '93, property is "the right to enjoy and
dispose at will of one's goods, one's income, and the fruit of
one's labor and industry."

Code Napoleon, article 544: "Property is the right to enjoy and
dispose of things in the most absolute manner, provided we do not
overstep the limits prescribed by the laws and regulations."

These two definitions do not differ from that of the Roman law:
all give the proprietor an absolute right over a thing; and as
for the restriction imposed by the code,--PROVIDED WE DO NOT
object is not to limit property, but to prevent the domain of one
proprietor from interfering with that of another. That is a
confirmation of the principle, not a limitation of it.

There are different kinds of property: 1. Property pure and
simple, the dominant and seigniorial power over a thing; or, as
they term it, NAKED PROPERTY. 2. POSSESSION. "Possession,"
says Duranton, "is a matter of fact, not of right." Toullier:
"Property is a right, a legal power; possession is a fact." The
tenant, the farmer, the commandite', the usufructuary, are
possessors; the owner who lets and lends for use, the heir who is
to come into possession on the death of a usufructuary, are
proprietors. If I may venture the comparison: a lover is a
possessor, a husband is a proprietor.

This double definition of property--domain and possession --is of
the highest importance; and it must be clearly understood, in
order to comprehend what is to follow.

From the distinction between possession and property arise two
sorts of rights: the jus in re, the right in a thing, the right
by which I may reclaim the property which I have acquired, in
whatever hands I find it; and the jus ad rem, the right TO a
thing, which gives me a claim to become a proprietor. Thus the
right of the partners to a marriage over each other's person is
the jus in re; that of two who are betrothed is only the jus
ad rem. In the first, possession and property are united; the
second includes only naked property. With me who, as a laborer,
have a right to the possession of the products of Nature and my
own industry,--and who, as a proletaire, enjoy none of
them,--it is by virtue of the jus ad rem that I demand
admittance to the jus in re.

This distinction between the jus in re and the jus ad rem is
the basis of the famous distinction between possessoire and
petitoire,--actual categories of jurisprudence, the whole of
which is included within their vast boundaries. Petitoire
refers to every thing relating to property; possessoire to that
relating to possession. In writing this memoir against property,
I bring against universal society an action petitoire: I prove
that those who do not possess to-day are proprietors by the same
title as those who do possess; but, instead of inferring
therefrom that property should be shared by all, I demand, in the
name of general security, its entire abolition. If I fail to win
my case, there is nothing left for us (the proletarian class and
myself) but to cut our throats: we can ask nothing more from the
justice of nations; for, as the code of procedure (art 26) tells
us in its energetic style, THE PLAINTIFF WHO HAS BEEN NON-SUITED
ACTION POSSESSOIRE. If, on the contrary, I gain the case, we
must then commence an action possessoire, that we may be
reinstated in the enjoyment of the wealth of which we are
deprived by property. I hope that we shall not be forced to that
extremity; but these two actions cannot be prosecuted at once,
such a course being prohibited by the same code of procedure.

Before going to the heart of the question, it will not be useless
to offer a few preliminary remarks.

% 1.--Property as a Natural Right.

The Declaration of Rights has placed property in its list of the
natural and inalienable rights of man, four in all: LIBERTY,
EQUALITY, PROPERTY, SECURITY. What rule did the legislators of
'93 follow in compiling this list? None. They laid down
principles, just as they discussed sovereignty and the laws; from
a general point of view, and according to their own opinion.
They did every thing in their own blind way.

If we can believe Toullier: "The absolute rights can be reduced
to three: SECURITY, LIBERTY, PROPERTY." Equality is eliminated
by the Rennes professor; why? Is it because LIBERTY implies
it, or because property prohibits it? On this point the author
of "Droit Civil Explique" is silent: it has not even occurred to
him that the matter is under discussion.

Nevertheless, if we compare these three or four rights with each
other, we find that property bears no resemblance whatever to the
others; that for the majority of citizens it exists only
potentially, and as a dormant faculty without exercise; that for
the others, who do enjoy it, it is susceptible of certain
transactions and modifications which do not harmonize with the
idea of a natural right; that, in practice, governments,
tribunals, and laws do not respect it; and finally that
everybody, spontaneously and with one voice, regards it as

Liberty is inviolable. I can neither sell nor alienate my
liberty; every contract, every condition of a contract, which has
in view the alienation or suspension of liberty, is null: the
slave, when he plants his foot upon the soil of liberty, at that
moment becomes a free man. When society seizes a malefactor and
deprives him of his liberty, it is a case of legitimate defence:
whoever violates the social compact by the commission of a crime
declares himself a public enemy; in attacking the liberty of
others, he compels them to take away his own. Liberty is the
original condition of man; to renounce liberty is to renounce the
nature of man: after that, how could we perform the acts of man?

Likewise, equality before the law suffers neither restriction
nor exception. All Frenchmen are equally eligible to office:
consequently, in the presence of this equality, condition and
family have, in many cases, no influence upon choice. The
poorest citizen can obtain judgment in the courts against one
occupying the most exalted station. Let the millionaire, Ahab,
build a chateau upon the vineyard of Naboth: the court will have
the power, according to the circumstances, to order the
destruction of the chateau, though it has cost millions; and to
force the trespasser to restore the vineyard to its original
state, and pay the damages. The law wishes all property, that
has been legitimately acquired, to be kept inviolate without
regard to value, and without respect for persons.

The charter demands, it is true, for the exercise of certain
political rights, certain conditions of fortune and capacity; but
all publicists know that the legislator's intention was not to
establish a privilege, but to take security. Provided the
conditions fixed by law are complied with, every citizen may be
an elector, and every elector eligible. The right, once
acquired, is the same for all; the law compares neither persons
nor votes. I do not ask now whether this system is the best; it
is enough that, in the opinion of the charter and in the eyes of
every one, equality before the law is absolute, and, like
liberty, admits of no compromise.

It is the same with the right of security. Society promises its
members no half-way protection, no sham defence; it binds itself
to them as they bind themselves to it. It does not say to them,
"I will shield you, provided it costs me nothing; I will protect
you, if I run no risks thereby." It says, "I will defend you
against everybody; I will save and avenge you, or perish myself."

The whole strength of the State is at the service of each
citizen; the obligation which binds them together is absolute.

How different with property! Worshipped by all, it is
acknowledged by none: laws, morals, customs, public and private
conscience, all plot its death and ruin.

To meet the expenses of government, which has armies to support,
tasks to perform, and officers to pay, taxes are needed. Let all
contribute to these expenses: nothing more just. But why should
the rich pay more than the poor? That is just, they say, because
they possess more. I confess that such justice is beyond my

Why are taxes paid? To protect all in the exercise of their
natural rights--liberty, equality, security, and property; to
maintain order in the State; to furnish the public with useful
and pleasant conveniences.

Now, does it cost more to defend the rich man's life and liberty
than the poor man's? Who, in time of invasion, famine, or
plague, causes more trouble,--the large proprietor who escapes
the evil without the assistance of the State, or the laborer who
sits in his cottage unprotected from danger?

Is public order endangered more by the worthy citizen, or by the
artisan and journeyman? Why, the police have more to fear from a
few hundred laborers, out of work, than from two hundred thousand

Does the man of large income appreciate more keenly than the poor
man national festivities, clean streets, and beautiful monuments?

Why, he prefers his country-seat to all the popular pleasures;
and when he wants to enjoy himself, he does not wait for the
greased pole!

One of two things is true: either the proportional tax affords
greater security to the larger tax-payers, or else it is a wrong.

Because, if property is a natural right, as the Declaration of
'93 declares, all that belongs to me by virtue of this right is
as sacred as my person; it is my blood, my life, myself:
whoever touches it offends the apple of my eye. My income of one
hundred thousand francs is as inviolable as the grisette's daily
wage of seventy-five centimes; her attic is no more sacred than
my suite of apartments. The tax is not levied in proportion to
strength, size, or skill: no more should it be levied in
proportion to property.

If, then, the State takes more from me, let it give me more in
return, or cease to talk of equality of rights; for otherwise,
society is established, not to defend property, but to destroy
it. The State, through the proportional tax, becomes the chief
of robbers; the State sets the example of systematic pillage: the
State should be brought to the bar of justice at the head of
those hideous brigands, that execrable mob which it now kills
from motives of professional jealousy.

But, they say, the courts and the police force are established to
restrain this mob; government is a company, not exactly for
insurance, for it does not insure, but for vengeance and
repression. The premium which this company exacts, the tax, is
divided in proportion to property; that is, in proportion to the
trouble which each piece of property occasions the avengers and
repressers paid by the government.

This is any thing but the absolute and inalienable right of
property. Under this system the poor and the rich distrust, and
make war upon, each other. But what is the object of the war?
Property. So that property is necessarily accompanied by war
upon property. The liberty and security of the rich do not
suffer from the liberty and security of the poor; far from that,
they mutually strengthen and sustain each other. The rich man's
right of property, on the contrary, has to be continually
defended against the poor man's desire for property. What a
contradiction! In England they have a poor-rate: they wish me to
pay this tax. But what relation exists between my natural
and inalienable right of property and the hunger from which ten
million wretched people are suffering? When religion commands us
to assist our fellows, it speaks in the name of charity, not in
the name of law. The obligation of benevolence, imposed upon me
by Christian morality, cannot be imposed upon me as a political
tax for the benefit of any person or poor-house. I will give
alms when I see fit to do so, when the sufferings of others
excite in me that sympathy of which philosophers talk, and in
which I do not believe: I will not be forced to bestow them. No
one is obliged to do more than comply with this injunction: IN
OF ANOTHER; an injunction which is the exact definition of
liberty. Now, my possessions are my own; no one has a claim upon
them: I object to the placing of the third theological virtue in
the order of the day.

Everybody, in France, demands the conversion of the five per
cent. bonds; they demand thereby the complete sacrifice of one
species of property. They have the right to do it, if public
necessity requires it; but where is the just indemnity promised
by the charter? Not only does none exist, but this indemnity is
not even possible; for, if the indemnity were equal to the
property sacrificed, the conversion would be useless.

The State occupies the same position to-day toward the
bondholders that the city of Calais did, when besieged by Edward
III, toward its notables. The English conqueror consented to
spare its inhabitants, provided it would surrender to him its
most distinguished citizens to do with as he pleased. Eustache
and several others offered themselves; it was noble in them, and
our ministers should recommend their example to the
bondholders. But had the city the right to surrender them?
Assuredly not. The right to security is absolute; the country
can require no one to sacrifice himself. The soldier standing
guard within the enemy's range is no exception to this rule.
Wherever a citizen stands guard, the country stands guard with
him: to-day it is the turn of the one, to-morrow of the other.
When danger and devotion are common, flight is parricide. No one
has the right to flee from danger; no one can serve as a
scapegoat. The maxim of Caiaphas--IT IS RIGHT THAT A MAN SHOULD
DIE FOR HIS NATION--is that of the populace and of tyrants; the
two extremes of social degradation.

It is said that all perpetual annuities are essentially
redeemable. This maxim of civil law, applied to the State, is
good for those who wish to return to the natural equality of
labor and wealth; but, from the point of view of the proprietor,
and in the mouth of conversionists, it is the language of
bankrupts. The State is not only a borrower, it is an insurer
and guardian of property; granting the best of security, it
assures the most inviolable possession. How, then, can it force
open the hands of its creditors, who have confidence in it, and
then talk to them of public order and security of property? The
State, in such an operation, is not a debtor who discharges his
debt; it is a stock-company which allures its stockholders into a
trap, and there, contrary to its authentic promise, exacts from
them twenty, thirty, or forty per cent. of the interest on their

That is not all. The State is a university of citizens joined
together under a common law by an act of society. This act
secures all in the possession of their property; guarantees to
one his field, to another his vineyard, to a third his rents, and
to the bondholder, who might have bought real estate but who
preferred to come to the assistance of the treasury, his bonds.
The State cannot demand, without offering an equivalent, the
sacrifice of an acre of the field or a corner of the vineyard;
still less can it lower rents: why should it have the right to
diminish the interest on bonds? This right could not justly
exist, unless the bondholder could invest his funds elsewhere to
equal advantage; but being confined to the State, where can he
find a place to invest them, since the cause of conversion, that
is, the power to borrow to better advantage, lies in the State?
That is why a government, based on the principle of property,
cannot redeem its annuities without the consent of their holders.

The money deposited with the republic is property which it has no
right to touch while other kinds of property are respected; to
force their redemption is to violate the social contract, and
outlaw the bondholders.

The whole controversy as to the conversion of bonds finally
reduces itself to this:--

QUESTION. Is it just to reduce to misery forty-five thousand
families who derive an income from their bonds of one hundred
francs or less?

ANSWER. Is it just to compel seven or eight millions of tax-
payers to pay a tax of five francs, when they should pay only
three? It is clear, in the first place, that the reply is in
reality no reply; but, to make the wrong more apparent, let us
change it thus: Is it just to endanger the lives of one hundred
thousand men, when we can save them by surrendering one hundred
heads to the enemy? Reader, decide!

All this is clearly understood by the defenders of the present
system. Yet, nevertheless, sooner or later, the conversion will
be effected and property be violated, because no other course
is possible; because property, regarded as a right, and not being
a right, must of right perish; because the force of events, the
laws of conscience, and physical and mathematical necessity must,
in the end, destroy this illusion of our minds.

To sum up: liberty is an absolute right, because it is to man
what impenetrability is to matter,--a sine qua non of
existence; equality is an absolute right, because without
equality there is no society; security is an absolute right,
because in the eyes of every man his own liberty and life are as
precious as another's. These three rights are absolute; that is,
susceptible of neither increase nor diminution; because in
society each associate receives as much as he gives,--liberty for
liberty, equality for equality, security for security, body for
body, soul for soul, in life and in death.

But property, in its derivative sense, and by the definitions of
law, is a right outside of society; for it is clear that, if the
wealth of each was social wealth, the conditions would be equal
for all, and it would be a contradiction to say: PROPERTY IS A
are associated for the sake of liberty, equality, and security,
we are not associated for the sake of property; then if property
is a NATURAL right, this natural right is not SOCIAL, but
ANTI-SOCIAL. Property and society are utterly irreconcilable
institutions. It is as impossible to associate two proprietors
as to join two magnets by their opposite poles. Either society
must perish, or it must destroy property.

If property is a natural, absolute, imprescriptible, and
inalienable right, why, in all ages, has there been so much
speculation as to its origin?--for this is one of its
distinguishing characteristics. The origin of a natural right!
Good God! who ever inquired into the origin of the rights of
liberty, security, or equality? They exist by the same right
that we exist; they are born with us, they live and die with
us. With property it is very different, indeed. By law,
property can exist without a proprietor, like a quality without a
subject. It exists for the human being who as yet is not, and
for the octogenarian who is no more. And yet, in spite of these
wonderful prerogatives which savor of the eternal and the
infinite, they have never found the origin of property; the
doctors still disagree. On one point only are they in harmony:
namely, that the validity of the right of property depends upon
the authenticity of its origin. But this harmony is their
condemnation. Why have they acknowledged the right before
settling the question of origin?

Certain classes do not relish investigation into the pretended
titles to property, and its fabulous and perhaps scandalous
history. They wish to hold to this proposition: that property is
a fact; that it always has been, and always will be. With that
proposition the savant Proudhon[1] commenced his "Treatise on
the Right of Usufruct," regarding the origin of property as a
useless question. Perhaps I would subscribe to this doctrine,
believing it inspired by a commendable love of peace, were all my
fellow-citizens in comfortable circumstances; but, no! I will
not subscribe to it.

[1] The Proudhon here referred to is J. B. V. Proudhon; a
distinguished French jurist, and distant relative of the

The titles on which they pretend to base the right of property
are two in number: OCCUPATION and LABOR. I shall examine
them successively, under all their aspects and in detail; and I
remind the reader that, to whatever authority we appeal, I shall
prove beyond a doubt that property, to be just and possible, must
necessarily have equality for its condition.

% 2.--Occupation, as the Title to Property.

It is remarkable that, at those meetings of the State Council at
which the Code was discussed, no controversy arose as to the
origin and principle of property. All the articles of Vol. II.,
Book 2, concerning property and the right of accession, were
passed without opposition or amendment. Bonaparte, who on other
questions had given his legists so much trouble, had nothing to
say about property. Be not surprised at it: in the eyes of that
man, the most selfish and wilful person that ever lived, property
was the first of rights, just as submission to authority was the
most holy of duties.

The right of OCCUPATION, or of the FIRST OCCUPANT, is that
which results from the actual, physical, real possession of a
thing. I occupy a piece of land; the presumption is, that I am
the proprietor, until the contrary is proved. We know that
originally such a right cannot be legitimate unless it is
reciprocal; the jurists say as much.

Cicero compares the earth to a vast theatre: _Quemadmodum
theatrum cum commune sit, recte tamen dici potest ejus esse eum
locum quem quisque occuparit_.

This passage is all that ancient philosophy has to say about the
origin of property.

The theatre, says Cicero, is common to all; nevertheless, the
place that each one occupies is called HIS OWN; that is, it is
a place POSSESSED, not a place APPROPRIATED. This comparison
annihilates property; moreover, it implies equality. Can I, in a
theatre, occupy at the same time one place in the pit, another in
the boxes, and a third in the gallery? Not unless I have three
bodies, like Geryon, or can exist in different places at the same
time, as is related of the magician Apollonius.

According to Cicero, no one has a right to more than he needs:
such is the true interpretation of his famous axiom-- _suum
quidque cujusque sit_, to each one that which belongs to him--an
axiom that has been strangely applied. That which belongs to
each is not that which each MAY possess, but that which each
HAS A RIGHT to possess. Now, what have we a right to possess?
That which is required for our labor and consumption; Cicero's
comparison of the earth to a theatre proves it. According to
that, each one may take what place he will, may beautify and
adorn it, if he can; it is allowable: but he must never allow
himself to overstep the limit which separates him from another.
The doctrine of Cicero leads directly to equality; for,
occupation being pure toleration, if the toleration is mutual
(and it cannot be otherwise) the possessions are equal.

Grotius rushes into history; but what kind of reasoning is that
which seeks the origin of a right, said to be natural, elsewhere
than in Nature? This is the method of the ancients: the fact
exists, then it is necessary, then it is just, then its
antecedents are just also. Nevertheless, let us look into it.

"Originally, all things were common and undivided; they were the
property of all." Let us go no farther. Grotius tells us how
this original communism came to an end through ambition and
cupidity; how the age of gold was followed by the age of iron,
&c. So that property rested first on war and conquest, then on
treaties and agreements. But either these treaties and
agreements distributed wealth equally, as did the original
communism (the only method of distribution with which the
barbarians were acquainted, and the only form of justice of which
they could conceive; and then the question of origin assumes this
form: how did equality afterwards disappear?)--or else these
treaties and agreements were forced by the strong upon the
weak, and in that case they are null; the tacit consent of
posterity does not make them valid, and we live in a permanent
condition of iniquity and fraud.

We never can conceive how the equality of conditions, having once
existed, could afterwards have passed away. What was the cause
of such degeneration? The instincts of the animals are
unchangeable, as well as the differences of species; to suppose
original equality in human society is to admit by implication
that the present inequality is a degeneration from the nature of
this society,--a thing which the defenders of property cannot
explain. But I infer therefrom that, if Providence placed the
first human beings in a condition of equality, it was an
indication of its desires, a model that it wished them to realize
in other forms; just as the religious sentiment, which it planted
in their hearts, has developed and manifested itself in various
ways. Man has but one nature, constant and unalterable: he
pursues it through instinct, he wanders from it through
reflection, he returns to it through judgment; who shall say that
we are not returning now? According to Grotius, man has
abandoned equality; according to me, he will yet return to it.
How came he to abandon it? Why will he return to it? These are
questions for future consideration.

Reid writes as follows:--

"The right of property is not innate, but acquired. It is not
grounded upon the constitution of man, but upon his actions.
Writers on jurisprudence have explained its origin in a manner
that may satisfy every man of common understanding.

"The earth is given to men in common for the purposes of life, by
the bounty of Heaven. But to divide it, and appropriate one part
of its produce to one, another part to another, must be the work
of men who have power and understanding given them, by which
every man may accommodate himself, WITHOUT HURT TO ANY OTHER.

"This common right of every man to what the earth produces,
before it be occupied and appropriated by others, was, by ancient
moralists, very properly compared to the right which every
citizen had to the public theatre, where every man that came
might occupy an empty seat, and thereby acquire a right to it
while the entertainment lasted; but no man had a right to
dispossess another.

"The earth is a great theatre, furnished by the Almighty, with
perfect wisdom and goodness, for the entertainment and employment
of all mankind. Here every man has a right to accommodate
himself as a spectator, and to perform his part as an actor; but
without hurt to others."

Consequences of Reid's doctrine.

1. That the portion which each one appropriates may wrong no
one, it must be equal to the quotient of the total amount of
property to be shared, divided by the number of those who are to
share it;

2. The number of places being of necessity equal at all times to
that of the spectators, no spectator can occupy two places, nor
can any actor play several parts;

3. Whenever a spectator comes in or goes out, the places of all
contract or enlarge correspondingly: for, says Reid, "THE RIGHT
not absolute; consequently, the occupancy on which it is based,
being a conditional fact, cannot endow this right with a
stability which it does not possess itself. This seems to have
been the thought of the Edinburgh professor when he added:--

"A right to life implies a right to the necessary means of life;
and that justice, which forbids the taking away the life of an
innocent man, forbids no less the taking from him the necessary
means of life. He has the same right to defend the one as the
other. To hinder another man's innocent labor, or to deprive him
of the fruit of it, is an injustice of the same kind, and has the
same effect as to put him in fetters or in prison, and is equally
a just object of resentment."

Thus the chief of the Scotch school, without considering at all
the inequality of skill or labor, posits a priori the
equality of the means of labor, abandoning thereafter to each
laborer the care of his own person, after the eternal axiom:

The philosopher Reid is lacking, not in knowledge of the
principle, but in courage to pursue it to its ultimate. If the
right of life is equal, the right of labor is equal, and so is
the right of occupancy. Would it not be criminal, were some
islanders to repulse, in the name of property, the unfortunate
victims of a shipwreck struggling to reach the shore? The very
idea of such cruelty sickens the imagination. The proprietor,
like Robinson Crusoe on his island, wards off with pike and
musket the proletaire washed overboard by the wave of
civilization, and seeking to gain a foothold upon the rocks of
property. "Give me work!" cries he with all his might to the
proprietor: "don't drive me away, I will work for you at any
price." "I do not need your services," replies the proprietor,
showing the end of his pike or the barrel of his gun. "Lower my
rent at least." "I need my income to live upon." "How can I pay
you, when I can get no work?" "That is your business." Then the
unfortunate proletaire abandons himself to the waves; or, if he
attempts to land upon the shore of property, the proprietor takes
aim, and kills him.

We have just listened to a spiritualist; we will now question a
materialist, then an eclectic: and having completed the circle of
philosophy, we will turn next to law.

According to Destutt de Tracy, property is a necessity of our
nature. That this necessity involves unpleasant consequences, it
would be folly to deny. But these consequences are necessary
evils which do not invalidate the principle; so that it as
unreasonable to rebel against property on account of the abuses
which it generates, as to complain of life because it is sure
to end in death. This brutal and pitiless philosophy promises at
least frank and close reasoning. Let us see if it keeps its

"We talk very gravely about the conditions of property, . . . as
if it was our province to decide what constitutes
property. . . . It would seem, to hear certain philosophers and
legislators, that at a certain moment, spontaneously and without
cause, people began to use the words THINE and MINE; and that
they might have, or ought to have, dispensed with them. But
THINE and MINE were never invented."

A philosopher yourself, you are too realistic. THINE and
MINE do not necessarily refer to self, as they do when I say
your philosophy, and my equality; for your philosophy is you
philosophizing, and my equality is I professing equality.
THINE and MINE oftener indicate a relation,--YOUR country,
YOUR parish, YOUR tailor, YOUR milkmaid; MY chamber, MY
seat at the theatre, MY company and MY battalion in the
National Guard. In the former sense, we may sometimes say MY
labor, MY skill, MY virtue; never MY grandeur nor MY
majesty: in the latter sense only, MY field, MY house, MY
vineyard, MY capital,--precisely as the banker's clerk says
MY cash-box. In short, THINE and MINE are signs and
expressions of personal, but equal, rights; applied to things
outside of us, they indicate possession, function, use, not

It does not seem possible, but, nevertheless, I shall prove, by
quotations, that the whole theory of our author is based upon
this paltry equivocation.

"Prior to all covenants, men are, not exactly, as Hobbes says, in
a state of HOSTILITY, but of ESTRANGEMENT. In this state,
justice and injustice are unknown; the rights of one bear no
relation to the rights of another. All have as many rights as
needs, and all feel it their duty to satisfy those needs by any
means at their command."

Grant it; whether true or false, it matters not. Destutt de
Tracy cannot escape equality. On this theory, men, while in
a state of ESTRANGEMENT, are under no obligations to each
other; they all have the right to satisfy their needs without
regard to the needs of others, and consequently the right to
exercise their power over Nature, each according to his strength
and ability. That involves the greatest inequality of wealth.
Inequality of conditions, then, is the characteristic feature of
estrangement or barbarism: the exact opposite of Rousseau's idea.

But let us look farther:--

"Restrictions of these rights and this duty commence at the time
when covenants, either implied or expressed, are agreed upon.
Then appears for the first time justice and injustice; that is,
the balance between the rights of one and the rights of another,
which up to that time were necessarily equal."

Listen: RIGHTS WERE EQUAL; that means that each individual had
OTHERS. In other words, that all had the right to injure each
other; that there was no right save force and cunning. They
injured each other, not only by war and pillage, but also by
usurpation and appropriation. Now, in order to abolish this
equal right to use force and stratagem,--this equal right to do
evil, the sole source of the inequality of benefits and
injuries,--they commenced to make COVENANTS EITHER IMPLIED OR
EXPRESSED, and established a balance. Then these agreements and
this balance were intended to secure to all equal comfort; then,
by the law of contradictions, if isolation is the principle of
inequality, society must produce equality. The social balance is
the equalization of the strong and the weak; for, while they are
not equals, they are strangers; they can form no associations,--
they live as enemies. Then, if inequality of conditions is a
necessary evil, so is isolation, for society and inequality are
incompatible with each other. Then, if society is the true
condition of man's existence, so is equality also. This
conclusion cannot be avoided.

This being so, how is it that, ever since the establishment of
this balance, inequality has been on the increase? How is it
that justice and isolation always accompany each other? Destutt
de Tracy shall reply:--

"NEEDS and MEANS, RIGHTS and DUTIES, are products of the
will. If man willed nothing, these would not exist. But to have
needs and means, rights and duties, is to HAVE, to POSSESS,
something. They are so many kinds of property, using the word in
its most general sense: they are things which belong to us."

Shameful equivocation, not justified by the necessity for
generalization! The word PROPERTY has two meanings: 1. It
designates the quality which makes a thing what it is; the
attribute which is peculiar to it, and especially distinguishes
it. We use it in this sense when we say THE PROPERTIES OF THE
expresses the right of absolute control over a thing by a free
and intelligent being. It is used in this sense by writers on
jurisprudence. Thus, in the phrase, IRON ACQUIRES THE PROPERTY
OF A MAGNET, the word PROPERTY does not convey the same idea
that it does in this one: I HAVE ACQUIRED THIS MAGNET AS MY
PROPERTY_. To tell a poor man that he HAS property because he
HAS arms and legs,--that the hunger from which he suffers, and
his power to sleep in the open air are his property,--is to play
upon words, and to add insult to injury.

"The sole basis of the idea of property is the idea of
personality. As soon as property is born at all, it is born, of
necessity, in all its fulness. As soon as an individual knows
HIMSELF,--his moral personality, his capacities of enjoyment,
suffering, and action,--he necessarily sees also that this SELF
is exclusive proprietor of the body in which it dwells, its
organs, their powers, faculties, &c. . . . Inasmuch as
artificial and conventional property exists, there must be
natural property also; for nothing can exist in art without its
counterpart in Nature."

We ought to admire the honesty and judgment of philosophers! Man
has properties; that is, in the first acceptation of the term,
faculties. He has property; that is, in its second acceptation,
the right of domain. He has, then, the property of the property
of being proprietor. How ashamed I should be to notice such
foolishness, were I here considering only the authority of
Destutt de Tracy! But the entire human race, since the
origination of society and language, when metaphysics and
dialectics were first born, has been guilty of this puerile
confusion of thought. All which man could call his own was
identified in his mind with his person. He considered it as his
property, his wealth; a part of himself, a member of his body, a
faculty of his mind. The possession of things was likened to
property in the powers of the body and mind; and on this false
analogy was based the right of property,--THE IMITATION OF
NATURE BY ART, as Destutt de Tracy so elegantly puts it.

But why did not this ideologist perceive that man is not
proprietor even of his own faculties? Man has powers,
attributes, capacities; they are given him by Nature that he may
live, learn, and love: he does not own them, but has only the use
of them; and he can make no use of them that does not harmonize
with Nature's laws. If he had absolute mastery over his
faculties, he could avoid hunger and cold; he could eat
unstintedly, and walk through fire; he could move mountains, walk
a hundred leagues in a minute, cure without medicines and by the
sole force of his will, and could make himself immortal. He
could say, "I wish to produce," and his tasks would be finished
with the words; he could say. "I wish to know," and he would
know; "I love," and he would enjoy. What then? Man is not
master of himself, but may be of his surroundings. Let him use
the wealth of Nature, since he can live only by its use; but let
him abandon his pretensions to the title of proprietor, and
remember that he is called so only metaphorically.

To sum up: Destutt de Tracy classes together the external
PRODUCTIONS of nature and art, and the POWERS or FACULTIES
of man, making both of them species of property; and upon this
equivocation he hopes to establish, so firmly that it can never
be disturbed, the right of property. But of these different
kinds of property some are INNATE, as memory, imagination,
strength, and beauty; while others are ACQUIRED, as land,
water, and forests. In the state of Nature or isolation, the
strongest and most skilful (that is, those best provided with
innate property) stand the best chance of obtaining acquired
property. Now, it is to prevent this encroachment and the war
which results therefrom, that a balance (justice) has been
employed, and covenants (implied or expressed) agreed upon: it is
to correct, as far as possible, inequality of innate property by
equality of acquired property. As long as the division remains
unequal, so long the partners remain enemies; and it is the
purpose of the covenants to reform this state of things. Thus we
have, on the one hand, isolation, inequality, enmity, war,
robbery, murder; on the other, society, equality, fraternity,
peace, and love. Choose between them!

M. Joseph Dutens--a physician, engineer, and geometrician, but a
very poor legist, and no philosopher at all--is the author of a
"Philosophy of Political Economy," in which he felt it his duty
to break lances in behalf of property. His reasoning seems to be
borrowed from Destutt de Tracy. He commences with this
definition of property, worthy of Sganarelle: "Property is
the right by which a thing is one's own." Literally translated:
Property is the right of property.

After getting entangled a few times on the subjects of will,
liberty, and personality; after having distinguished between
distinction similar to Destutt de Tracy's of innate and acquired
property,--M. Joseph Dutens concludes with these two general
propositions: 1. Property is a natural and inalienable right of
every man; 2. Inequality of property is a necessary result of
Nature,--which propositions are convertible into a simpler one:
All men have an equal right of unequal property.

He rebukes M. de Sismondi for having taught that landed property
has no other basis than law and conventionality; and he says
himself, speaking of the respect which people feel for property,
that "their good sense reveals to them the nature of the
ORIGINAL CONTRACT made between society and proprietors."

He confounds property with possession, communism with equality,
the just with the natural, and the natural with the possible.
Now he takes these different ideas to be equivalents; now he
seems to distinguish between them, so much so that it would be
infinitely easier to refute him than to understand him.
Attracted first by the title of the work, "Philosophy of
Political Economy," I have found, among the author's obscurities,
only the most ordinary ideas. For that reason I will not speak
of him.

M. Cousin, in his "Moral Philosophy," page 15, teaches that all
morality, all laws, all rights are given to man with this
injunction: "FREE BEING, REMAIN FREE." Bravo! master; I wish
to remain free if I can. He continues:--

"Our principle is true; it is good, it is social. Do not fear to
push it to its ultimate.

"1. If the human person is sacred, its whole nature is sacred;
and particularly its interior actions, its feelings, its
thoughts, its voluntary decisions. This accounts for the respect
due to philosophy, religion, the arts industry, commerce, and to
all the results of liberty. I say respect, not simply
toleration; for we do not tolerate a right, we respect it."

I bow my head before this philosophy.

"2. My liberty, which is sacred, needs for its objective action
an instrument which we call the body: the body participates then
in the sacredness of liberty; it is then inviolable. This is the
basis of the principle of individual liberty.

"3. My liberty needs, for its objective action, material to work
upon; in other words, property or a thing. This thing or
property naturally participates then in the inviolability of my
person. For instance, I take possession of an object which has
become necessary and useful in the outward manifestation of my
liberty. I say, `This object is mine since it belongs to no one
else; consequently, I possess it legitimately.' So the
legitimacy of possession rests on two conditions. First, I
possess only as a free being. Suppress free activity, you
destroy my power to labor. Now it is only by labor that I can
use this property or thing, and it is only by using it that I
possess it. Free activity is then the principle of the right of
property. But that alone does not legitimate possession. All
men are free; all can use property by labor. Does that mean that
all men have a right to all property? Not at all. To possess
legitimately, I must not only labor and produce in my capacity of
a free being, but I must also be the first to occupy the
property. In short, if labor and production are the principle of
the right of property, the fact of first occupancy is its
indispensable condition.

"4. I possess legitimately: then I have the right to use my
property as I see fit. I have also the right to give it away. I
have also the right to bequeath it; for if I decide to make a
donation, my decision is as valid after my death as during my

In fact, to become a proprietor, in M. Cousin's opinion, one must
take possession by occupation and labor. I maintain that the
element of time must be considered also; for if the first
occupants have occupied every thing, what are the new comers
to do? What will become of them, having an instrument with which
to work, but no material to work upon? Must they devour each
other? A terrible extremity, unforeseen by philosophical
prudence; for the reason that great geniuses neglect little

Notice also that M. Cousin says that neither occupation nor
labor, taken separately, can legitimate the right of property;
and that it is born only from the union of the two. This is one
of M. Cousin's eclectic turns, which he, more than any one else,
should take pains to avoid. Instead of proceeding by the method
of analysis, comparison, elimination, and reduction (the only
means of discovering the truth amid the various forms of thought
and whimsical opinions), he jumbles all systems together, and
then, declaring each both right and wrong, exclaims: "There you
have the truth."

But, adhering to my promise, I will not refute him. I will only
prove, by all the arguments with which he justifies the right of
property, the principle of equality which kills it. As I have
already said, my sole intent is this: to show at the bottom of
all these positions that inevitable major, EQUALITY; hoping
hereafter to show that the principle of property vitiates the
very elements of economical, moral, and governmental science,
thus leading it in the wrong direction.

Well, is it not true, from M. Cousin's point of view, that, if
the liberty of man is sacred, it is equally sacred in all
individuals; that, if it needs property for its objective action,
that is, for its life, the appropriation of material is equally
necessary for all; that, if I wish to be respected in my right of
appropriation, I must respect others in theirs; and,
consequently, that though, in the sphere of the infinite, a
person's power of appropriation is limited only by himself, in
the sphere of the finite this same power is limited by the
mathematical relation between the number of persons and the
space which they occupy? Does it not follow that if one
individual cannot prevent another--his fellow-man--from
appropriating an amount of material equal to his own, no more can
he prevent individuals yet to come; because, while individuality
passes away, universality persists, and eternal laws cannot be
determined by a partial view of their manifestations? Must we
not conclude, therefore, that whenever a person is born, the
others must crowd closer together; and, by reciprocity of
obligation, that if the new comer is afterwards to become an
heir, the right of succession does not give him the right of
accumulation, but only the right of choice?

I have followed M. Cousin so far as to imitate his style, and I
am ashamed of it. Do we need such high-sounding terms, such
sonorous phrases, to say such simple things? Man needs to labor
in order to live; consequently, he needs tools to work with and
materials to work upon. His need to produce constitutes his
right to produce. Now, this right is guaranteed him by his
fellows, with whom he makes an agreement to that effect. One
hundred thousand men settle in a large country like France with
no inhabitants: each man has a right to 1/100,000 of the land.
If the number of possessors increases, each one's portion
diminishes in consequence; so that, if the number of inhabitants
rises to thirty-four millions, each one will have a right only to
1/34,000,000. Now, so regulate the police system and the
government, labor, exchange, inheritance, &c., that the means of
labor shall be shared by all equally, and that each individual
shall be free; and then society will be perfect.

Of all the defenders of property, M. Cousin has gone the
farthest. He has maintained against the economists that
labor does not establish the right of property unless
preceded by occupation, and against the jurists that the civil
law can determine and apply a natural right, but cannot create
it. In fact, it is not sufficient to say, "The right of property
is demonstrated by the existence of property; the function of the
civil law is purely declaratory." To say that, is to confess
that there is no reply to those who question the legitimacy of
the fact itself. Every right must be justifiable in itself, or
by some antecedent right; property is no exception. For this
reason, M. Cousin has sought to base it upon the SANCTITY of
the human personality, and the act by which the will assimilates
a thing. "Once touched by man," says one of M. Cousin's
disciples, "things receive from him a character which transforms
and humanizes them." I confess, for my part, that I have no
faith in this magic, and that I know of nothing less holy than
the will of man. But this theory, fragile as it seems to
psychology as well as jurisprudence, is nevertheless more
philosophical and profound than those theories which are based
upon labor or the authority of the law. Now, we have just seen
to what this theory of which we are speaking leads,--to the
equality implied in the terms of its statement.

But perhaps philosophy views things from too lofty a standpoint,
and is not sufficiently practical; perhaps from the exalted
summit of speculation men seem so small to the metaphysician that
he cannot distinguish between them; perhaps, indeed, the equality
of conditions is one of those principles which are very true and
sublime as generalities, but which it would be ridiculous and
even dangerous to attempt to rigorously apply to the customs of
life and to social transactions. Undoubtedly, this is a case
which calls for imitation of the wise reserve of moralists and
jurists, who warn us against carrying things to extremes, and
who advise us to suspect every definition; because there is not
one, they say, which cannot be utterly destroyed by developing
its disastrous results--_Omnis definitio in jure civili
periculosa est: parum est enim ut non subverti possit_. Equality
of conditions,--a terrible dogma in the ears of the proprietor, a
consoling truth at the poor-man's sick-bed, a frightful reality
under the knife of the anatomist,--equality of conditions,
established in the political, civil, and industrial spheres, is
only an alluring impossibility, an inviting bait, a satanic

It is never my intention to surprise my reader. I detest, as I
do death, the man who employs subterfuge in his words and
conduct. From the first page of this book, I have expressed
myself so plainly and decidedly that all can see the tendency of
my thought and hopes; and they will do me the justice to say,
that it would be difficult to exhibit more frankness and more
boldness at the same time. I do not hesitate to declare that the
time is not far distant when this reserve, now so much admired in
philosophers--this happy medium so strongly recommended by
professors of moral and political science--will be regarded as
the disgraceful feature of a science without principle, and as
the seal of its reprobation. In legislation and morals, as well
as in geometry, axioms are absolute, definitions are certain; and
all the results of a principle are to be accepted, provided they
are logically deduced. Deplorable pride! We know nothing of our
nature, and we charge our blunders to it; and, in a fit of
unaffected ignorance, cry out, "The truth is in doubt, the best
definition defines nothing!" We shall know some time whether
this distressing uncertainty of jurisprudence arises from the
nature of its investigations, or from our prejudices; whether, to
explain social phenomena, it is not enough to change our
hypothesis, as did Copernicus when he reversed the system of

But what will be said when I show, as I soon shall, that this
same jurisprudence continually tries to base property upon
equality? What reply can be made?

% 3.--Civil Law as the Foundation and Sanction of Property.

Pothier seems to think that property, like royalty, exists by
divine right. He traces back its origin to God himself--ab Jove
principium. He begins in this way:--

"God is the absolute ruler of the universe and all that it
contains: _Domini est terra et plenitudo ejus, orbis et universi
qui habitant in eo_. For the human race he has created the earth
and all its creatures, and has given it a control over them
subordinate only to his own. `Thou madest him to have dominion
over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his
feet,' says the Psalmist. God accompanied this gift with these
words, addressed to our first parents after the creation: `Be
fruitful, and multiply and replenish the earth,'" &c.

After this magnificent introduction, who would refuse to believe
the human race to be an immense family living in brotherly union,
and under the protection of a venerable father? But, heavens!
are brothers enemies? Are fathers unnatural, and children

GOD GAVE THE EARTH TO THE HUMAN RACE: why then have I received
none? HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS UNDER MY FEET,--and I have not
where to lay my head! MULTIPLY, he tells us through his
interpreter, Pothier. Ah, learned Pothier! that is as easy to do
as to say; but you must give moss to the bird for its nest.

"The human race having multiplied, men divided among themselves
the earth and most of the things upon it; that which fell to
each, from that time exclusively belonged to him. That was the
origin of the right of property."

Say, rather, the right of possession. Men lived in a state of
communism; whether positive or negative it matters little.
Then there was no property, not even private possession. The
genesis and growth of possession gradually forcing people to
labor for their support, they agreed either formally or
tacitly,--it makes no difference which,--that the laborer should
be sole proprietor of the fruit of his labor; that is, they
simply declared the fact that thereafter none could live without
working. It necessarily followed that, to obtain equality of
products, there must be equality of labor; and that, to obtain
equality of labor, there must be equality of facilities for
labor. Whoever without labor got possession, by force or by
strategy, of another's means of subsistence, destroyed equality,
and placed himself above or outside of the law. Whoever
monopolized the means of production on the ground of greater
industry, also destroyed equality. Equality being then the
expression of right, whoever violated it was UNJUST.

Thus, labor gives birth to private possession; the right in a
thing--jus in re. But in what thing? Evidently IN THE
PRODUCT, not IN THE SOIL. So the Arabs have always understood
it; and so, according to Caesar and Tacitus, the Germans formerly
held. "The Arabs," says M. de Sismondi, "who admit a man's
property in the flocks which he has raised, do not refuse the
crop to him who planted the seed; but they do not see why
another, his equal, should not have a right to plant in his turn.

The inequality which results from the pretended right of the
first occupant seems to them to be based on no principle of
justice; and when all the land falls into the hands of a certain
number of inhabitants, there results a monopoly in their favor
against the rest of the nation, to which they do not wish to

Well, they have shared the land. I admit that therefrom results
a more powerful organization of labor; and that this method of
distribution, fixed and durable, is advantageous to
production: but how could this division give to each a
transferable right of property in a thing to which all had an
inalienable right of possession? In the terms of jurisprudence,
this metamorphosis from possessor to proprietor is legally
impossible; it implies in the jurisdiction of the courts the
union of possessoire and petitoire; and the mutual
concessions of those who share the land are nothing less than
traffic in natural rights. The original cultivators of the land,
who were also the original makers of the law, were not as learned
as our legislators, I admit; and had they been, they could not
have done worse: they did not foresee the consequences of the
transformation of the right of private possession into the right
of absolute property. But why have not those, who in later times
have established the distinction between jus in re and jus ad
rem, applied it to the principle of property itself?

Let me call the attention of the writers on jurisprudence to
their own maxims.

The right of property, provided it can have a cause, can have but
one--_Dominium non potest nisi ex una causa contingere_. I can
possess by several titles; I can become proprietor by only one--
_Non ut ex pluribus causis idem nobis deberi potest, ita ex
pluribus causis idem potest nostrum esse_. The field which I
have cleared, which I cultivate, on which I have built my house,
which supports myself, my family, and my livestock, I can
possess: 1st. As the original occupant; 2d. As a laborer; 3d. By
virtue of the social contract which assigns it to me as my share.

But none of these titles confer upon me the right of property.
For, if I attempt to base it upon occupancy, society can reply,
"I am the original occupant." If I appeal to my labor, it will
say, "It is only on that condition that you possess." If I speak
of agreements, it will respond, "These agreements establish only
your right of use." Such, however, are the only titles which
proprietors advance. They never have been able to discover any
others. Indeed, every right--it is Pothier who says it--supposes
a producing cause in the person who enjoys it; but in man who
lives and dies, in this son of earth who passes away like a
shadow, there exists, with respect to external things, only
titles of possession, not one title of property. Why, then, has
society recognized a right injurious to itself, where there is no
producing cause? Why, in according possession, has it also
conceded property? Why has the law sanctioned this abuse of

The German Ancillon replies thus:--

"Some philosophers pretend that man, in employing his forces upon
a natural object,--say a field or a tree,--acquires a right only
to the improvements which he makes, to the form which he gives to
the object, not to the object itself. Useless distinction! If
the form could be separated from the object, perhaps there would
be room for question; but as this is almost always impossible,
the application of man's strength to the different parts of the
visible world is the foundation of the right of property, the
primary origin of riches."

Vain pretext! If the form cannot be separated from the object,
nor property from possession, possession must be shared; in any
case, society reserves the right to fix the conditions of
property. Let us suppose that an appropriated farm yields a
gross income of ten thousand francs; and, as very seldom happens,
that this farm cannot be divided. Let us suppose farther that,
by economical calculation, the annual expenses of a family are
three thousand francs: the possessor of this farm should be
obliged to guard his reputation as a good father of a family, by
paying to society ten thousand francs,--less the total costs of
cultivation, and the three thousand francs required for the
maintenance of his family. This payment is not rent, it is an

What sort of justice is it, then, which makes such laws as

"Whereas, since labor so changes the form of a thing that the
form and substance cannot be separated without destroying the
thing itself, either society must be disinherited, or the laborer
must lose the fruit of his labor; and

"Whereas, in every other case, property in raw material would
give a title to added improvements, minus their cost; and
whereas, in this instance, property in improvements ought to give
a title to the principal;

"Therefore, the right of appropriation by labor shall never be

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