Charity, as the Remedy of Evil

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Pierre Leroux

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The sages of the olden time, Confucius, Jesus, said, " Love your neighbor as yourself." We have hardly yet understood, it seems to me, the deep meaning of these words. Philosophy now furnishes the demonstration of their truth by saying, "Your neighbor — he is yourself; for he is your object."

Life is a communion; a communion with God, a communion with our kind, a communion with the universe. But man cannot commune directly either with God or with any creatures other than man; while on the other hand, by means of communion with man, he can commune legitimately and normally with God and the universe. If he relinquishes his necessary communion with his kind, in order to attach himself to the lower orders of creation, he degrades himself from his human nature ; without be. ing able to make himself like those lower orders with whom he has placed himself in contact. And in the same manner, if he leaves his necessary communion with his kind to enter into direct communion with God, as this direct communion with the Infinite Being is impossible, he equally degrades himself from his human nature, without any more on that account becoming like God. In the former case he vainly tries to become sensation, and he suffers ; justly, because his normal nature is to be sensation — sentiment — intelligence, indissolubly united. In the latter case, again, he tries in vain to become intelligence, and he suffers; with equal justice, because his normal nature is to be sensation — sentiment — intelligence, indissolubly united.

But if on the other hand, he recognizes his true nature, and communes directly with his kind, indirectly with God through this direct communion with his kind, and indirectly too with the universe through this direct communion with his kind, man is in harmony with his nature and with truth.

Love then your neighbor, because he is united to you in life, and because your neighbor is in this sense yourself. Learn to love yourself where you are, that is to say, in your kind, whose existence manifests your existence. You cannot evade this law of love and union; you cannot violate it in the slightest degree without suffering. For you are indissolubly sensation — sentiment — intelligence ; and your intelligence consists in recognizing this law ; your sentiment consists in loving it and willing it ; and your sensation or activity consists in practising it. And if you cannot recognize it, love it, and practice it, by a necessary consequence, by a necessity corresponding with the law itself, and which is a corollary identical with it, you violate the essence of your nature ; and by the same act consequently you corrupt yourself, and you suffer.

What becomes of the revulsions of Self-love before this law of life, which we have demonstrated. Inasmuch as our life is thus bound up with that of our kind, as we are united to humanity, as our kind are at bottom ourselves, what becomes of Self-love and of the false doctrines founded upon every man's individual and isolated interest? Evidently Self-love defeats itself; it is destroyed by itself. You would love yourself, love yourself then in others, for your life is in others, and without others your life is nothing. Love yourself in others, for if you do not love yourself so, you do not know how really to love yourself at all. On the other hand you do not wish to love yourself. But can you live and still not live? In vain you repress nature, in vain you condemn the human aspirations of your soul as tainted with an innate, radical and incorrigible vice. Not to love yourself is not to love life, for life necessarily comprehends this self which you are not willing to love; and not to love life is to love death, that is to say, nothingness.

Again, you are not willing to have any other object than God, the Infinite Being. But the Infinite Being does not manifest himself to you except through yourself and other men. God then manifesting himself only in this way, and appearing only in an act, which makes you feel at the same time your own existence and that of other men, is not willing to be loved in any other way, that is to say, wishes that in loving him you should be conscious of yourself, and of other men. God does not ask to be removed far from us, and to be worshipped at a distance. God wills to live in us, and has no need of placing himself beyond us in order to command us. Is he not in all his creatures, without being either any one of these creatures, or all of these creatures together ? He enters into life, and manifests himself only there; preserve then life, if you wish to communicate with him. Love God; but do not pretend to love him directly and, so to speak, face to face. He is the Infinite, and you are the finite. The finite cannot communicate with the infinite but by the intervention of life, which embraces at the same time the finite and the infinite. The love of God, then, always brings you in the ultimate analysis to this life, which comprizes the finite, the me and the not me, a subject and an object; while at the same time it comprises also the infinite, that is to say, an intervention of the Infinite Being, by which the me and the not me, the subject and the object are distinguished from each other in the very act of their union.

Finally, you are not willing to love your kind truly, because you are not willing really to love any thing but God. But this again is the same thing as a separation from yourself. In ceasing to love yourself I have just shown that you cease to live, and that instead of turning to life you are turning to death, to nothingness. The evil is greater still in this denial of real love applied to others; for you not only annihilate yourself, but you annihilate others so far as it is in your power to do so. You are made, you say, for God alone; and what then are your kind to you! In vain do you say that you will not truly love any but God, but that still on his account you will conduct yourself towards his creatures as if you loved them. You will not in this way love them as they ought to be loved. For you are their object, as they are yours; you are necessary to their life, as they are to your life; it is not then a semblance of love that is wanting, but a true love. To be truly useful to them, and to contribute truly and essentially to their life and perfection, you must feel yourself united to them, one with them.

When once however, true charity becomes known, that is to say, when charity is understood to be the very law of life, the law of natures made one with each other, the law of identity and therefore of the identification of the me and the not me, of man and of his kind ; then does all contradiction cease, and Self-love humble itself before charity, because so far as it is legitimate and holy, it finds itself again in charity. Self-love ceases to be Self-love to become liberty. This Self-love or this liberty is the foundation of right; and right is found to be charity. Thus charity becomes liberty itself. There is, then, no more division, no more a pathless abyss, between the me or human liberty and our kind, or human charity. We can love at once ourselves and others, for we love ourselves in others, and others in ourselves. And thus to love is to love God, and to love him, as Christ says, above all things else.

From the moment that the human me is thus reinstated in its rights in the very formula of charity, does the living principle of charity become capable of organization. For as soon as the me is legitimated, do all the different modes of this communion of this me with men and with nature become legitimate. The family, then, and the nation, and property, are legitimate and right. Then society, which comprises the family, city, property, is also legitimate and necessary. This family, this nation, this property, require to be organized not solely on their own account, but on account of humanity; for human Self-love, knowing its true interest and its right, requires communion with the whole of humanity. Politics, which is the science of these things, rests on this principle of the harmony between the individual and humanity; and the manifestation of this science, which is government, is commissioned to realize this principle.

Man ceases to be isolated, or to have an isolated family, or an isolated property, or an isolated city. He exists, he exists by himself, he exists as an individual; he possesses, he has a family, a city, a property. His me is found in all these things, and living therefore in the normal order of nature and of life, he is no less in communion with all other men, receiving from them and giving to them, having them all for his object, and being an object to them all directly or indirectly. He has, I repeat, this capacity of living in nature, that is, in egoism, and still of living in humanity; for knowing his law, he realizes this law by politics and government.

In Christianity, it was the Church, living out of nature, which was charged with the task of organizing charity. Temporal society had egoism as its principle. Hence arose a dualism, which has filled history throughout. On the contrary, with the principle of charity comprehended as we understand it, that is, by the principle of the unity of humanity, temporal society is charged with the duty of organizing charity; because charity at bottom is Self-love. So that temporal society, which until now had no religious principle, now possesses one. The Church can cease to exist. What was her mission has become our mission. The Church was, in fact, in the purposes of Providence, only the type of that great Church, which will reunite in its bosom what until now has been falsely separated, the reign of God and the reign of nature.

Note: from pages 143-144, 163-165, 173-175.

  • Pierre Leroux, “Charity, as the Remedy of Evil,” The Present 1, no. 5-6 (December 15, 1843): 201-205.