The Philosophy of Progress/Forward

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France has exhausted the principles that once sustained it. Its conscience is empty, just like its reason. All the famous writers that it has produced in the last half-century, — the de Maistres, the Chateaubriands, the Lamennais, the de Bonalds, the Cousins, the Guizots, the Lamartines, the Saint-Simons, the Michelets, Catholics, eclectics, economists, socialists, and members of parliament, — have not ceased to predict that moral collapse which, thanks to God's mercy, man's foolishness, and the necessity of things, has finally arrived. The philosophers of Germany have echoed the prophets of France, as finally the destiny of our homeland has become common to all the old world; for it is written that as French society is, so shall the human race become.

The Church, which we once boasted was the oldest, is no longer anything but an institution of convenience for us, protected more by the police than by sympathy. Take away the secular arm and the State subsidy, and what would become of that gallic Church, the glory of which made Bossuet tremble, the last fortress of Christendom, now fallen to the ultramontanes?... [6]

A man, after having read the Profession of faith of the vicar of Savoy,<ref>In Rousseau's Emile.</ref> the sermons of Robespierre, the Catechism of the freemasons, the Paroles d'un Croyant, <ref> By Lammenais</ref> the Lettres sur la Religion of M. Enfantin, the Histoire de la Révolution of M. Bûchez, and the preamble of the Constitution of 1848, might say to himself: There is in this country a need of a church-wardenship which will be satisfied at any price. Bring back the Jesuits! — That is why we are still, after February, of the religion of our fathers... That makes you murmur: it is repugnant to you that the religion of thirty millions of souls, a thing so holy, remains at the discretion of a head of State, himself perfectly disinterested in the question. What could you have done better? I'll give you a hundred guesses.

The ancient monarchy could compare itself to a marriage contracted under the regime of joint property, which, because of disagreement between the couple, has been converted into paraphernal marriage. It was thought that if the husband was made the simple administrator of the wife's goods, the harmony would be perfect and imperturbable between them. Every year, with great pomp, the king came to present his accounts to the nation, who, for its part, through its representatives, excused the king. From that ceremonious and solemn meeting was born, in the natural way, the Law, the third person of the constitutional trinity. But, whatever precautions were taken, the dialogue constantly ended in dispute. — That's not the case, the man doggedly insisted. Peace can only exist in the household if the wife obeys without speaking, and the husband speaks by signs. And beside, today it is really just a matter of negotiation!... Now we are married, as they say in the suburbs, in the thirteenth<ref>In the thirteenth: i.e., "in the thirteenth arrondissement of Paris," which, before 1860, had only 12 arrondissements - i.e., not really married, or "living in sin."</ref>, morganatically.

Democracy, as it was formulated by the acts of [7] 1793 and of 1848, has succumbed to the logic of its application. Who would dare to affirm today, in the sense of the Réforme, popular sovereignty, universal and direct suffrage? Seven times in eight years the people have been called upon to manifest their will, to act as sovereign; seven times they have responded, like Thiers: The people reign and do not govern!

The Bourgeoisie! What did it demand in 89? Sieyès has said it: Everything! It didn't try to hide it. Once the aristocracy was dispossessed, and the national goods put up for sale, the bourgeoisie cried that the revolution was accomplished, that there was only anarchy beyond. Elle a été pour tous les gouvernements qui vendaient, vendaient, by saving it and making order... What has it demanded since 1830? Grants, awards, positions, monopolies, privileges, actions de jouissance, concessions, canals, mines and railroads, which is to say, still and always: Everything. Whatever government is given to it, monarchy, republic or empire, it receives with both hands. The people would not have except for it the Right to work, invoked for the first time by a bourgeois of 89, Malouet. To better take hold of everything, the bourgeoisie takes credit for a socialist idea, forms in companies, places itself under the patronage of the State, which it makes its organizer, contractor and provider. As for producing itself, by labor and genius, agricultural, mercantile or industrial conquest, it no longer remembers how. The least enterprise, to that degenerate bourgeoisie, seems a revolution. To flatten a molehill, it would borrow the hoe from the State. Only the size of the annuities does not frighten it. Annuities! That is its Positivism: it invented it before M. Comte.

The Bourgeoisie is sick with gras-fondu: as an institution, [8] it has ceased to exist in the political and social orders. In the place of that word, which no one hears anymore, on has put capital, a term of avarice, and in opposition to capital, a term of envy, the salariat. The salariat is the revolutionary level, invented by capital. These two passwords have entered into the language of the people. That is why nothing is finished! Capital, like wages, is from now on at the discretion of the prince; and now that the prince borrows all stability from the people, there is nothing stable, neither religion, nor government, nor labor, nor property, nor confidence.

Thanks to the modern eclectics, we have no philosophy. Thanks to the novelists and to the romantics, are at the end of literature. The dancers have put us off statuary, and the milliners off painting. In the homeland of taste we now make books, paintings, marble statues, bronzes and chairs: articles from Paris, for trans-Atlantic exportation.

While stockjobbing, organized with privilege, justifies the theory of MM. Malthus and Dupin, and makes us doubt more and more the reality of an economic science, the central prerogative, always invasive, crushes the institutions, undermines, modifies and repeals unceasingly a system of laws which have lasted hardly fifty years! Justice, blind by trade, knows nothing of what happens at the Bourse, and, if it knew it, could do nothing. While wild boars and bears devastate the fields of the nation, it chases toads and lizards. More inept still, property applauds despotism, and, saved from insults from below, believes that no decree from on high can await it. Ha, ha! You have crushed anarchy; you will have the State in all its glory.

Struck to the heart, the old dynastic parties have lost, along with the understanding of facts, an awareness of their position: [9] so much more irritated against the coup of December 2, that they regret not having made the coup themselves. The same frenzy of absolutism possesses them: do they believe, by that jealousy of trade, to inspire in the people an envy of the haves?

What! Bourbon, eldest son of France, you still harbor a grudge against the Revolution! You have not been able to reconcile yourself with 89! That brave bourgeoisie makes you afraid: Mounier seems to you a red, Mirabeau a terrorist, Chateaubriand and atheist! As hostile to the charter as your grandfather, it is still in the lit de justice of 23 June 1789 that draws from you the hope of a third restoration! You know it though; your sire Henri IV became king of France for a trait of mind: Paris is well worth a mass, he said. He thought that much of the preaching. Do you not believe that Paris is also well worth liberty?...

And you, gentlemen of Orleans, who had to be for France, according to the phrase of Lafayette, the best of republics; you alone that the bourgeois will not restore, have you not a single word for the poor laborer? Socialism was born under your father: the old king would have been only too happy, if he had thrown to the devil the 150 millions for his fortresses! Is there then also incompatibility between your title and our aspirations? Listen to the popular bid: Twenty-five millions! Are you not humbled at all by this?

Let us not speak of the republicans. One knows, alas!, that the adversity has not discouraged their respect for law, and that there will never have been among them but lost children who take for rallying cry dictatorship, with Pompey, instead of Caesar, for dictator.

France believes only in force, obeys only instincts. It has no more indignation; it seems to find it good not to think. Such a people, such a government! The power, which no inspiration of from country illuminates, [10] does not return in its turn any idea to the country. It advances as the table turn, without visible impulsion: on can define it as a spontaneity. Thus it is seen after the great crises, the horror of discussions and systems becomes such, that governed and governing, vanquished parties and vanquishing, everyone, again and again, closes their eyes, covers their ears, at the mere appearance of an idea. Superstition and suicide: these two words summarize the moral and intellectual state of the masses. The timon des affaires is to the practitioners and to the men of action; hold back once more the ideologues! One speaks of the isolation of present power in the midst of silent populations: the fact is that the populations have nothing to say to power. They return to it its place in the heavens; they believe in its vocation, in its predestination, as itself. Let it speak and its word will be taken for law. Ita jus esto! said the latin plebs. La revolution protects its beloved: that is the truth about the communications between the country and the government. Will the dawn come soon? One knows nothing of it, but one does not doubt it.

Foreign policy is like domestic opinion. It seeks itself, awaiting the stroke of destiny, writing notes that would would be called lacking in good faith, if they were not totally without sense. The signatory powers of the treaty Westphalia and of the Holy Alliance no longer believe in European equilibrium. Against the west in revolution, they invoke the oriental barbarism, the war of the races, the absorption of nationalities. No more Poland! No more Italy! No more Hungary! No more Turkey soon! Haven't they said in a whisper: No more France! Oh, tocsin of 92!... Diplomacy goes like speculation and the season. Encouraged by the rain, the czar makes a gesture at the emperor, who refuses it: fire mounted to the face of the soldier. But he, eye fixed on the hand of the [11] Bourse, perhaps he waits for the hour to sound on the chauvinism of the bourgeois.

The papacy, however, believes itself returned to its good days, -- not to the days of Leo X, but to those of Innocent III. It dreams of inquisition and of crusade. The expedition of Rome against the democrats is not enough for it, it requires an expedition of Jerusalem against the Muslims and the Greeks. It is for this reason that it fans, like a flame, the question of the holy sites: Forward, Gaulois and Francs! We would not be surprised if this race of fighters began to shout, as in the past: God wills it. Distribute to them, Holy Father, your scapulars and your rosaries: they will not bring back relics to you. There reigns over all of Europe a solemn shadow, similar to the darkness with which the oracles were surrounded, in the depths of their oak woods and in their caves. Watch out, Napoleon! Prepare yourselves, Guillaume, Ferdinand, Nicolas, the whole company of the crowned! And you, popes and pontiffs, prepare your Kyrie eleison and your Requiem. For the esprit of the nations no longer inhabits the rostrums; it has left the mouth of the orator and the pen of the writer. It marches with the soldier, carried like a glint at the point of his bayonet.

However, it is certain that the French speech, ushered in by the old monarchy, cannot perish, any more than the nation can subsist without unity and without right.

It is certain that the democracy, which is nothing else, after all, than the party of movement and liberty, cannot be erased from history for the aberrations and naivety of 1848.

It is certain that the bourgeoisie had a political and social mission to fulfill toward the proletariat. Would you like it better, leaving to Caesar the care of nourishing the electors of Caesar, to eternalize by his egoism the power [12] of a retrograde multitude, and destitute the countries of their liberties?

It is certain, finally, that Europe is a federation of states rendered solidary by their interests, and that in that federation, inevitably brought about by the development of commerce and industry, the priority and predominance of initiative belongs to the west. That predominance, -- obtained by Louis XIV and Napoleon, as long as they acted, the first in the name of the principle of nationalities posited by Henri IV and Richelieu, the second in the name of the French Revolution, in the interest of our preservation, much more than that of our glory, -- commands us to seize it again. Should one, to this end, proceed by the road of conquest or that of influence? Should the head of the French state be the president of the European republic, or do you prefer to allow him to pursue the chance to be its monarch, at the risk of a third invasion and the rending of the homeland?...

What am I saying? If there is a thing obvious to every observer, it is that France profits at this moment only by the very ideas that it has proscribed; it is that modern civilization, aboil with traditions and examples, is irrevocably committed to the path of revolution, where neither the historical precedents, nor the written law, nor the established faith can guide it any longer.

Thus it is necessary that royalists and democrats, bourgeois and proletarians, French, Germans and Slavs, set themselves to seek the unknown principles which govern them. It is necessary to substitute for the empirical formulas of 1648, 1789, 1814 and 1848, an idea, prior and superior, which would have nothing to fear from diplomatic and parliamentary sophisms, bourgeois failures, and plebian hallucination. It is necessary, humanity aspiring to know and not being able to believe, to determine a priori its route, to write history [13] before the facts were accomplished! Do we want to be governed by science, or abandoned to fate?

Every era is ruled by an idea, which is expressed in a literature, developed in a philosophy, and embodied, if need be, in a government. There was, in the secret thought of 1848, as in that of 1793, 1814 and 1830, the stuff of a democracy, of a dynasty perhaps: that thought has been despised... like an angular stone cut by bad masons. We will not cease to reproduce it, and whatever will be the standard-bearer of French destinies, prince or tribune, we proclaim it, with a growing faith and energy: It is by this sign that you will overcome!

One has said: What do you publish on the present situation?

Here is the situation: our task is to face up, by reflection, to the necessity of things; it is to begin again our social and intellectual education; and as a party founded on the very nature of the human mind cannot perish, it is to give to democracy the idea and the flag that it lacks.

Up to now, democracy has followed the forms of monarchic government, monarchic politics, and monarchic economics. This is why democracy has always been only a fiction, incapable of constituting itself. It is time that it learns to think for itself; that it posits the principle which is proper to it, and by affirming itself in a positive manner, that it carries to completion the system of social ideas.

The two letters that you are going to read were written at the end of 1851. They should have appeared in La Presse, in response to the questions of a learned critic, M. Romain-Cornut, when the coup of December 2 occurred. — They can be regarded as the author's philosophical and social profession of faith. [14]

Nothing persists, said the ancient sages: everything change, everything flows, everything becomes; consequently, everything remains and everything is connected; by further consequence all is opposition, balance, equilibrium, in the universe. There is nothing, neither outside or inside, apart from that eternal dance; and the rhythm that commands it, pure form of existences, supreme idea to which any reality can respond, is the highest conception that reason can attain.

How then are things connected and engendered? How are beings produced and how do they disappear? How is society and nature transformed? Such is the sole object of science.

The notion of Progress, carried into all the spheres of consciousness and the understanding, become the base of practical and speculative reason, must renew the entire system of human knowledge, purge the mind of its last prejudices, replace the constitutions and catechisms in social relations, teach to man all that he can legitimately know, do, hope and fear: the value of his ideas, the definition of his rights, the rule of his actions actions, the purpose of his existence...

The theory of Progress is the railway of liberty.

Before publishing, with the procession of proofs that it requires, the ensemble of our views on these high questions, we have thought it necessary to consult the public and our friends on the sequence to give to our researches. We dare to hope that criticism will not be lacking for this first sample: we will be happy if, informed by salutary advice, we are able to lift a corner of the veil that steals the light from us!...