Moral Education

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The Organization of Labor and Association.
Moral Education, by Just Muiron.
Back. Mathieu Briancourt. Forward.

This short text by Just Muiron appeared inside the endpapers of The Organization of Labor and Association, by Mathieu Briancourt.


* * * All the social calamities of which men complain so loudly, which are attributed by turns to philosophy, to fanaticism, to the passions, to fatality, perhaps proceed from a single cause, from falsified and incomplete moral education.

By falsified moral education, I understand that which is solely directed to abstractions, which neglects to present in their true light and to take account of, the essential requirements of human nature, the usages, the wants and characteristic necessities of the social movement, such as it is; the opinions which govern this movement, and the real value of the pleasures and interest of which the affairs of the world are composed.

By incomplete more education, I understand not only that which fails to impress individuals sufficiently to lead them to that state of second nature of which I have spoken; I indicate also by this word incomplete, that more education which does not extend to the whole population, which is restricted to certain privileged classes, which leaves on one side the class of proletaries, of workmen, of poor people, whom certain persons, in their proud contempt, find it so convenient to call the vile populace, and who are a vile populace only because the leaders of the nations do not wish, or do not know how, to elevate them to a condition of comfort—without which, with some rare exceptions, no good education is possible.

Each individual is endowed with a shade of character which is peculiar to himself; this character is developed for good or for evil, for the advantage of the disadvantage of the individual and of the public, according to the good or evil impulse which is given to him by social influences, and especially by moral education.

Jacques belongs to the class of street-porters, his wife is a washerwoman. Jacques's character is lively, ardent; Jane's' is shiftless. From their earliest years, with parents of the same occupation, for all moral education they have acquired coarse and quarrelsome habits, the only ones they have had an opportunity to contract: they were barely able to attend the infant schools and the parish catechising; the poverty of their homes made them venal while very young; while children they eagerly executed little commissions for a few coppers. Later in life, they performed services less poorly paid, because more difficult; later still they did whatever was asked of them, Jacques for the sake of drink, Jane for a collar or a piece of lace., Every day they are ready to sell themselves to any one who shall offer money; and their children will be brought up into the same life.

Simon is a cooper in a wine store: even in his apprenticeship he was convinced, from the example of his master, that the profit was in proportion to the differences of measure, to the various mixtures which are made, sometimes to the detriment of the excise, sometimes to the prejudice of the purchaser or the seller. Simon now sees in all this only a necessity of trade. The principal feature of his moral education has been the habit of fraud.

Lawrence is a shop-keeper: it is so well known that business is merely the art of buying cheap and selling dear, that it is quite superfluous to say what must have been the moral education of Lawrence.

Alphonse is head clerk in a public office: having incessantly before his eyes the example of hi superiors, he has not been able to avoid the influences of their proximity; he has acquired habits of display, of expense, his wife has wished to make a show, debts have come, and all their moral education must have been directed to the means of eluding payment and of finding, per fas aut nefas, the means of sustaining their position.

Edward, born rich, is accustomed to command, to compel obedience, to want nothing. Taught by numerous masters, lectured by his teachers, Edward only sees one side, only obstacles to his pleasures, on the other, only means of enjoyment: to remove the first, to taste the last, is the moral education of the rich. To him, dissipation, extravagances, are what coarseness is to Jacques, craft to Simon, cheatery to Lawrence, indelicacy to Alphonse.

All professions, all conditions in society, have thus a special tendency in moral education, which does not prevent there being, in each profession or condition, men of honor actuated by noble sentiments. Unhappily, the number is so small, that they can only be considered as confirmatory exceptions.

Generally, the paths to well-being, in the existing social order, are so rare, so precarious, so little conformable to the laws of honesty, of good faith, of justice,; the elements of moral education are usually so mixed, so vitiated, that the frauds, the spoliations, the collusions which our eyes constantly witness, even if we are not ourselves the victims, should not occasion any surprise. * * * * *

Just Muiron