Jean-Guillaume-César-Alexandre-Hippolyte, baron de Colins

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Jean-Guillaume-César-Alexandre-Hippolyte, baron de Colins (1783-1859) was a Belgian socialist writer, the primary theorist of "rational socialism." His school engaged in debates with Pierre-Joseph Proudhon on a variety of topics, including intellectual property rights.

from The New Encyclopedia of Social Reform

[Source: The New Encyclopedia of Social Reform (1908), 252-253.]

COLINS, JEAN GUILLAUME CESAR ALEXANDRE HIPPOLYTE, BARON DE: French soldier and sociologist; born at Brussels, 1783. He entered the French army at an early age, and won many honors. In 1833 he settled down to a quiet life, and pursued at Paris his scientific and social studies. In 1835 he issued his first work, entitled "Le Pact Social." In it he advocated collectivism, and declared that "immovable property belongs to all." Numerous other works on social questions followed, and he continued to write until his death in 1859.

Colins and his disciples called their system Rational Socialism. They believed in spiritualism and atheism, denying the existence of a God, while at the same time affirming the immortality of the human soul. Morality, they say, is sufficiently based upon personal immortality. All men are equal, free, moral, and therefore responsible beings. M. de Laveleye, in his "Socialism of To-day," gives the following concise account of their economic doctrines:

Originally there existed only man and the earth on which he lived: on the one hand, labor; and on the other, the soil or raw material, without which all labor would be impossible. But from the joint action of these two elements of production there soon came into being wealth of a peculiar kind, in which labor was, as it were, accumulated, which was movable and separate from the soil. This was capital. Labor is free when the raw material, the soil, belongs to it; otherwise it is enslaved. Man therefore can, in fact, only exercise his energy with the permission of the owners of the raw material; and he who requires the authority of another before he can act is clearly not free. In order, then, that all the members of the community should become permanent proprietors of the national soil, the soil must be collectively appropriated.

The collective appropriation of the soil implies, in the first place, that it should be at the disposal of all who wish to utilize it; and secondly, that the rent, paid by the tenants to the community, should be expended for the common benefit of all.

The above relates to the production of wealth. Let us now consider the way in which rational socialism regulates its distribution. When labor is free — as is necessarily the case when the land is accessible to all — every one can live without being obliged to accept wages from anybody. In that case, a man would work for others only if they offered him, as wages, more than [253] he could gain by working for himself. This situation is exprest in economic terms by saying that then wages would tend to a maximum, and when it exists, the distribution of wealth is so affected that the larger share of the product goes to labor and the smaller to capital. But when labor is enslaved, the laborers are forced, under pain of starvation, to compete with one another in offering their labor to those who possess land and capital; and then their wages fall to what is strictly necessary for existence and reproduction; while if the holders of wealth do not need labor, the unemployed laborers must disappear. Wages, then, tend to a minimum, and the distribution of wealth takes place in such a way that the greater part goes to the landowners and capitalists, and the smaller to the laborers. When labor is free, every man's wealth increases in proportion to the toil he has expended; but when labor is enslaved, his wealth grows in proportion to the capital he has accumulated.

From these two opposite modes of distribution flow, according to Colins, the two following consequences, each of which has reference to one or other of the two systems of holding land above described : When land is owned by individuals, the wealth of one class of the community and the poverty of the other increase in parallel lines, and in proportion to the growth of intellectual power; but when land is collectively appropriated, the wealth of all increases in proportion to the activity of each, and to the advance of civilization.

Colins has developed also some original views on the history of communities, which have been reproduced by M. L. de Potter in his "Dictionnaire Rationnel."


Misc. Colinsian publications

  • Philosophie de 'lavenir / Revue internationale du socialisme rationnel v. 3 [1]