The Theory of Property
The sections in blue in Chapter 9 are those that were omitted in Property is Theft!, the AK Press anthology.
- 1 Notice to the Reader
- 2 from Chapter 1: Introduction
- 3 Chapter 2: That Property is Absolute
- 4 Chapter 6: New Theory
- 5 Chapter 7: Equilibration of property. System of guarantees.
- 6 Chapter 9: Summary
- 7 Notes
- 8 Notes
Notice to the Reader
NOTICE THE READER
In the preface placed at the beginning of the book on Art [Du principe de l'art et de sa destination social], we have undertaken to tell the public the manuscripts of each of Proudhon's posthumous works has been found.
The one that we publish today contained two well-designed notes:
I. "To inform the reader to distinguish well form of possessing (possession), that everyone, learned and ignorant, even some jurists, confuse with property, giving the name of the one to the other."
II. "PROPERTY. To give an exact and forceful analysis of all my critiques:
"1st Memoir (1840)
"2nd Memoir (1841)
"3rd Memoir (1842)
"Creation of Order (1843);
"Economic Contradictions (1846);
"The People, etc. (1848-1852);
"Of Justice (1858);
"Of Taxation (1860);
"Of Intellectual Property (1862)."
Proudhon did not want to publish his Theory of Property, although it was ready in 1862, as he announced in his Majorats Littéraires, before the program sketched in the two preceding notes, and especially in the second, was fulfilled. The author having not had time to do this work himself, we have thought, in the interest of his memory, that it fell to us to supply it. It was for him principally a question of showing that his ideas on property developed according to a rational series in which the last term always had its point of departure in the preceding term, and that his present conclusion is not at all contradictory with his premises.
This summary forms the first sixty-two pages of the Introduction. We have used the form I, as if Proudhon himself had written: 1) because the idea of that analysis belongs to him; 2) because the work sketched in advance does not constitute on our part an individual, original production; 3) because it is composed in large part of textual citations from the author; 4° because we have inserted some of his unpublished notes; 5) finally, because, in the last pages of the chapter, Proudhon takes over, as if he had made the summary himself.
The reading thus informed, we do not hesitate to cite, in support of the author's idea, a judicial act which has occurred since his death, and which has inspired Mr. Eugène Paignon to one of his best articles (see the Introduction, page 10).
In the rest of the work we have only done, as in the book on Art, some arrangement and ordering; choosing, between several expressions of the same idea, the most lucid, and most complete; transporting to the chapters that they concern the scatter supplementary and explanatory notes scatter, whose place was naturally indicated by their content.
Let us add finally that the chapter divisions had not been made, but that the titles were all found in summary form on the first page of the manuscript.
J. A. Langlois. F. G. Bergmann.
G. Duchêne. F. Delhasse.
from Chapter 1: Introduction
1. - Various meanings of the word property.
In 1840, I promised to give a solution of the problem of property, and I renewed my promise in 1846. Today I keep my word. It is my turn to defend property, not against the phalansterians, the communists and the agrarians, who are no more, but against those who saved it in June 1848, in June 1849, in May 1830, in December 1851, and who have since brought it low.
Property, a question rendered formidable by the interests that it puts in play, the desires that it awakens, the terrors to which it gives rise. Property, a word made terrible by the numerous meanings that our language attributes to it, the equivocations that it allows, the nonsense [the amphigories] that it tolerates. Who have never, through ignorance or through bad faith, followed it onto this very terrain? What can I do or hope, when I see jurists, law professors, and laureates of the Institute confuse PROPERTY with all the forms of possession, rent, farm rent, emphyteusis, usufruct, and the enjoyment of things which are consumed by use? — What, someone says, I would not be the proprietor of my furnishings, of my coat, or my hat, for which I have well or duly paid! — one will dispute with me, says the other, the property of my wage, which I have gained by the sweat of my brow! — I invent a machine, cries this one; I have made twenty years of studies, research and attempts, and someone will take it from me, they will steal my discovery! — I have, responds that one, produced a book, fruit of long and patient meditations; I have put my style, my ideas, my soul, all that is most individual in a person into it, and I would not have the right to a remuneration!
It is to the logicians in this vigor that, pushing to the absurd that confusion of the various senses of the word property, I responded, in 1863, in my Majorats littéraires: “This word is subject to very different meanings, and it would be to argue in a buffoonish manner to pass, with no other transition, from one sense to another, as if it were always the same thing. What would you say to a physicist who, having written a treatise on light, and thus being the owner of this treatise, claimed to have acquired all the properties of light, arguing that his opaque body has become luminous, radiant, and transparent, that he travels seventy thousand miles per second and thus enjoys a kind of ubiquity?... In spring, the poor peasants go to the woods to harvest strawberries that they bring to the city. These strawberries are their product, therefore, to speak as does Father Pluquet, their property. Does this prove that these women are to be called proprietors? If you said so, everyone would think they own the wood from which the strawberries. Alas! just the opposite is true. If these marketers of strawberries were their owners, they would not go to the woods to seek what belongs to the owners, they would eat them themselves.”
Let us seek, then, to better understand my thought and to banish all ambiguity, other meanings of the word property.
Article 534 of the Civil Code says: “The proprietor of the land who has made constructions, plantations, and works thereon with materials which do not belong to him must pay the value thereof; he can also be ordered to pay damages, if proper; but the owner of the materials cannot remove them.”
Conversely article 555 dispose: “When the plantations, constructions, or works have been made by a third party and with his materials, the owner of the property has the right to keep them or to compel such third party to remove them. — If the owner of the land asks to have the plantations or constructions removed it shall be done at the expense of the person who has made them, without giving him any indemnity, and he can even be ordered to pay damages, if proper, for the injury which the owner of the land may have suffered. — If the owner prefers to keep the plantations and constructions he must repay the value of the materials and the price of the labor, without regard to the increase or loss in value which may have been occasioned to the land.”
Although the legislator uses the word proprietor, whether it is a question of funds or materials, we see however that the two persons are not on an equal footing. The possessor, simple user, tenant, farmer, who has planted, reforested, drained, or irrigated, perhaps condemned to destroy with his own hand his labors of development, amendment, and improvement of the soil, if the owner of the capital does not prefer to pay him back for his materials and labor, taking freely and completely the surplus value given to the land by the work of the settler. Thus regulated by the first and second chapters of the title II, book II, of the civil code on the right of accession: “all that which is united and incorporated with the thing belongs to the proprietor.”
Things do not happen otherwise in practice.
From time immemorial, Sologne, for example, was cited as a cursed land, barren, sandy, swampy, as unhealthy as infertile; some warrens, some poisonous pools, some heaths, some gorse, some poor grazing for the sheep, whose teeth gnaw the grass to the roots, some rare fields of buckwheat and other inferior crops, fifteen or twenty hectares de surface to provide for a family: such was the condition of this sad country. For about twenty years, the attention of the capitalist cultivators has been attracted from this side; they have said that with the railroads, it would be possible on the one hand to bring to the solognais soil the elements that it lacks: plaster, lime, manure, fertilizing refuse from the large towns, waste from the barracks, etc.; on the other hand, that the agricultural products that they will obtain will have their placement all found by the same means of circulation. What to do? Buy lands and form immense estates? Bad speculation from the point of view of the goal that it is a question of achieving. The one who, having 100,000 francs, ties up 50,000 in the acquisition of lands, has only 50,000 francs to dedicate to enrichment and labor; he diminishes by half his means of action. Also, instead of buying the land, the new settlers will contract leases of thirty, forty, or fifty years. The example was followed, and Sologne is today on the road to transformation, or let of say, of creation: draining, sanitation, plastering, liming, marling, manuring, plantations of pines and other species proper to poor lands, establishment of artificial meadows, large-scale livestock raising, as much for fertilizer as for other products, substitution of industrial grains and plants for the buckwheat, clearing of heaths, replacement of gorse with clover, sainfoin, and alfalfa: such are the marvels begotten by intelligence, science and labor on the cultivated estates of the idle and contemplative proprietor, whose only merit is to be willing to leave things be, IN RETURN FOR INCOME AND TRIBUTE.
It is easy to understand that at the expiration of the leases of thirty or forty years, the original value of the lands will carry little weight in the inventory of the enterprise, and that if the property was truly the fruit of the labor, the landlord’s portion would not be heavy to repay. But the right of accession has arranged things in another manner: the proprietor keeps everything by right, without regard for the increase in value his capital has received. So that the tenant, if he renews the lease, must pay the proprietor interest on sums that he has himself spent to improve the land; in short, that he remains he withdraws, his credit being lost to him.
We are far from the eclogues of Troplong, Thiers, Cousin, Sudre, and Laboulaye on property and its legitimation through labor, first occupancy, the affirmation of the self, and other transcendental or sentimental considerations. Does the public already understand that between a hat or coat, and a plot of land or a house, there is an abyss, as to the manner of possessing, and if grammar allows us to say, as a figure of speech, “the property of a bed, of a table,” as we say “the property of a field,” jurisprudence does not tolerate that confusion?
Let us take another example: “Ownership of the soil,” says article 552, “involves ownership of what is above and below it.” Great was the astonishment and loud the clamor of the gas-lighting companies, when the city of Paris informed them that in virtue of the aforementioned article, the property in the pipes established beneath the roads belonged to it. The law here is strict and does not include any shadow of ambiguity; the companies objected in vain: We have bought our pipe, and have installed it at our own cost; we have still paid the city for all the rights of way demanded in such circumstances; you rob us of our property: it is confiscation. The city responded, Code in hand: There is property and property; mine is national [domaniale] and yours serves, that is all. If you do not want to come to terms with me for the use of your materials, which has become mine, I will sell it or lease it to others.
Let us note here that the city does not claim, as the representative of a collectivity, a higher right than that of the individuals. What is does, the first proprietor of land that comes along can do, and does not miss the opportunity. A vast speculation has been established around Paris on this provision of the law, unknown to the masses. You see many signs: land for sale, with easy payments. Numerous bourgeoisillons, well-to-do workers, bitten by the proprietary tarantula, are allotted lands at 6 francs, 10 francs and up to 20 francs per meter, without first thinking that the price of 10 francs per meter carries the soil at 100,000 francs per hectare; thus they have bought junk at ten times the price of the best natural grasslands of Normandy or Angoumois. Then, the first terms and the costs of transfer paid, they begin to build. For the few who have been able to guide the enterprise to its goal, the greatest number are worn out. Unable to make their payments, they must abandon to the seller, with the land, their beginnings of construction. Thus, the proprietor end up having a for free a house of which one has paid for the excavation and foundations, another the bare walls, this one the roofing, that one the interior fittings. Thus ease in payment is granted in direct proportion to the presumed insolvency of the buyer: it is in the interest of the speculator that his buyer does not pay. the Parisians, thanks to the ceaselessly growing number of the victims of eviction, begin to understand that justice and property are not synonyms.
Let us end this popular account with an example still more striking than those preceding:
A manufacturer takes a lease for twenty years, at a fabulous price, some corner is one of the nicest quarters de Paris, in order to establish a café; he pays religiously, in conformity with the customs, his six months in advance; then he calls the painters, decorators, upholsterers, fitters for gas, manufacturers of bronzes and chandelier; he furnishes with a similar splendor his lounges and his cellar, all on credit. Let us first observe this difference: while the suppliers agree to be paid on time, the proprietor is paid in advance. After some time, a year or eighteen months, the entrepreneur of the café goes bankrupt. None of his suppliers is paid; each comes to reclaim their candelabras and plumbing, their divans, armchairs, tables, and chairs, their wines, liquors and cordials, their mirrors, etc., too happy to mitigate the loss that much. But they count without the privilege of the landlord, articles 2100 and following. The proprietor, who has lost nothing, thanks to his six months of advance, steps in and says: I have the advantage of an attractive lease, on which there still remains nineteen years to run; I doubt that I will find such rent from my building; that is why, to guarantee me the full product of my contract, I seize all the furniture, mirrors, clocks, wines, liquors and whatever other objects fill the place; it does not trouble me that they have not been paid for. I am the privileged proprietor, while you are simply merchants and manufacturers; real property is regulated by the Civil Code, and that of products and commodities by the Commercial Code. You are free to call your merchandise and supplies properties: the title is simply honorific, not to say usurping. The law know how to reduce this impertinent qualification to its true value.
Have we strained, in our hypothesis, the sense of the articles of the Code concerning the privilege of the proprietor-landlord? Here is what we read in the judiciary review of la Presse (September 11, 1865), under the signature of Mr. Eugène Paignon:
“A question which has agitated the judiciary world, and also the world of business, for half a century has been produced in recent times with a great intensity, and we believe that it will be expedient to bring an end to the regrettable controversies which it has brought about, by resolving them in a definitive manner by a law. It is this: In the case of the bankruptcy of his tenant, does the proprietor have a debt currently due which allows him to obtain the immediate payment of all the outstanding rents and even those yet to fall due?
“The question having been presented, by reference to the Court of Cassation, the imperial court of Orleans, this court has recognized the right of the owner, in its broadest scope.
“There is not only a right of privilege founded on article 2102 of the Napoleonic Code that the judgment has established to the profit of the proprietor, for all the rents, even not yet fallen due; the court of Orleans also recognize the proprietor’s right to exercise against the bankrupt or their trustee a direct action tending to the payment of all the rents due or to come due, if not to the immediate termination of the lease.
“The case brought before the imperial court presented some circumstances of fact on which the tenant leaned strongly to postpone the demanded termination, in default of payment, a termination disastrous for the liquidation of his bankruptcy.
“The proprietor demanded the immediate payment of around 58,000 francs for the rents to come due until the end of the lease. This payment would have absorbed, if it had been realized, even more than the assets of his bankruptcy. Paid into the hands of the proprietor, that sum makes for him, by its annual interest, a considerable profit.
“On the other hand, if the tenant alleged that, by the fact of his bankruptcy, he had diminished the securities of the proprietor, the securities that remained to him were however of a nature to shelter him from any serious fear:
“1° The property, leased already for six years, and for a period of twenty years, had been considerably increased in its market or rental value, by improvements worth more than 20,000 francs;
“2° The total value of the rentals agreed by the trustee totaling 5,000 francs instead of 2,800 francs, arising from the original rent;
“3° Finally, furnishing superior to the furnishings of the bankrupt, merchandise of a value at least equal to those which adorned the building during the bankrupt’s occupancy, were sufficient guaranties for the proprietor.
“All these considerations have not appear to the referring court of a nature to modify the solution of the question. The court has only granted an extension of three months to the bankrupt and the trustee to satisfy the demand for payment; and in default of such payment within that period, it declared the termination of the lease.
“Following that judgment, which deprived the lessee of all hope of commercial future, he committed suicide.
“We cannot be mistaken about how harsh this solution is for the lessees and for their creditors.
“Some excellent have bowed before this jurisprudence and have proclaimed that only the legislature can remedy the perhaps excessive exercise of the right of the proprietor by modifying the legislation on this point.
“That is for the legislature to deal with, exclaimed the Advocate General Moreau—a vigorous mind, that one—before the court of Paris, in 1862, in his remarkable verdict; as for us, as organ of the existing law, it is enough for us to say: Dura lex, sed lex. »
“Our laws, says Mr. Mourlon, one of the most eminent jurists of our time, cited on this topic by the author of the article; do our laws give owner-lessors the right, when their tenant goes bankrupt, to enrich themselves at his expense or complete his ruin, although they have no legitimate and substantial interest? If we pose the question in these terms, we will doubtless be reproached for the strangeness and irreverence of such a paradox.
“However, we do not invent anything. Anyone who will consent to see things in their reality will be forced to recognize that, ingenious disguises, the question that we just posed is pleaded every day before the courts.
“For the rest, let us speak of the facts. Some huge stores, for example, have been leased for fifty years, at an annual price of 50,000 francs; the tenant has brought furnishings and goods in a great enough quantity to assure, to a reasonable degree, the tranquility of the proprietor. He has done more: he has, by considerable outlays, and by the very success of his commercial operations, greatly increased the rental value of the premises where he operated. If it pleases him to assign his lease, as his title allows him or gives him the right to do, it would be easy for him to find a taker at 60,000 francs per year. After ten years of prosperity, during which the rents have been paid as things go along at their due dates, some unfortunate events, some reckless actions, if you wish, intervene, which lead to the bankruptcy of the tenant. From this arise a dispute, between the proprietor on the one hand and the bankrupt tenant or his creditor on the other, which must be settled.
“I leave you the choice, says the proprietor: either pay me now all my future rents, that is to say forty times 30,000 francs, or terminate the lease.
“Your alternative, respond the other creditors, leaves us no liberty: how, indeed, to pay you two million right away? Two million, it is more than the assets of the bankrupt. Thus, it is the ruin of the bankrupt and our ruin at the same time, if the law obliges us to submit to your claim. If you had a legitimate interest to show yourself so implacable, the law could doubtless be understood in the sense of the alternative that you oppose to us; but to only consider equity, what could you claim? Some reasonable securities for the payment of your possible rent? These securities, we are ready to give it to you. The leasehold rights which the bankrupt has, according to the arrangements you made with him, the full and complete disposition, we will assign to a third who will provide and even bring, to the premises leased, as much furnishings and merchandise as are necessary to shelter you interests from the dangers that you rightly fear.
“Let us take, if you like, another combination. An advantageous arrangement is proposed to us, and we are ready to accept it. The bankrupt, whom we will reestablish at the helm of his business, will leave in the leased premises all the furnishings and all the merchandise that were there during his bankruptcy; he will even, if you insist, bring new objects which will give your security an extent they never previously had, and which you could not even count.
“Do our propositions lack justice? What honest motive could make you refuse them? Is your security compromised? Instead of diminishing it, we strengthen it. Now, if no serious danger threatens you, if the bankruptcy of our tenant does you no harm, or if the damage that it cause you is completely erased, what aim could you pursue, if not to do evil for its own sake, or to enrich yourself at the expense of others? To pay you right now, without discount, the total of your rents that have come due: that would truly be to pay you twice at least what could be due to you. To terminate the lease would be to transfer from the hands of the bankrupt into your hand a portion of his capital, since that termination would award to you, to his detriment, the increase in rental value that he has created, either by the relations that they have established between the public and the leased premises, or by the work that they have performed there. Know it well: what you demand is outside all justice.
“What does it matter? replies the proprietor; the law grants me what I claim; submit yourself to it.
“It is painful to say, responds the jurisprudence in its turn, but what he claims and seeks is truly his by right.”
The reader should now understand the difference which exists between possession and PROPERTY. It is only the latter that I have called theft. Property is the greatest question facing the present society; it is everything. I have occupied myself with it for twenty-five years; but before I say my last word on the institution, I think it will be useful to summarize here my previous studies.
2. - Summary of my previous works on property
In 1840, when I had published my first Memoir on Property, I had taken care to distinguish it from possession or the simple right of use. When the right to abuse does not exist, when society does not recognize it in anyone, there is not, I said, a right of property; there is only right of possession. What I said in my first memoir, I still say today: the proprietor of a thing,--land, house, instrument of labor, raw material or product, it matters little,--perhaps a person or a group, a head of family or a nation: in one case as in the others, it is only truly property on one condition: it is to have over the thing an absolute sovereignty; it is in being exclusively the master, dominus; it is that that thing must be his domain, dominium.
Now, in 1840, I had frankly denied the right of property. All those who have read my first memoir known that I denied it for the nation as for the citizen, which excluded on my part every communist or governmentalist affirmation.--I had denied the right of property, that is the right of abuse in all things, even in those that we call our faculties. Man has no more right to abuse his faculties than society does to abuse its force. "M. Blanqui," I said in response to the letter that that worthy economist had just sent to me, "acknowledges that property is abused in many harmful ways; I call property the sum these abuses exclusively. To each of us property seems a polygon whose angles need knocking off; but, the operation performed, M. Blanqui maintains that the figure will still be a polygon (an hypothesis admitted in mathematics, although not proven), while I consider that this figure will be a circle. Honest people can at least understand one another." (Preface to the second edition, 1841.)
As a worker, I said at the time, man has incontestably a personal right to his product. But what form does that product take? It is in the shape or workmanship that that he has given to the material. As for that material itself, he has in no sense created it. If then, prior to that labor, he had had the right to appropriate that matter, it is not as a laborer, it is by another title. It is this that Victor Cousin understood very well. For that philosopher, the right to property is not only founded on the right to labor; it is founded at once on that right and on the prior right to occupation.--No doubt! But that prior right, which is no longer that of property, belongs to all, and when M. Cousin recognized a right of preference to the first occupant, he supposed that the materials are offered to all, that they are lacking to nobody, and that each may appropriate them. In that supposition, I do not hesitate to recognize that, prior to labor, the personal right of possession in the shape leads to a right of possession in the material shaped. But does the assumption agree with the facts?
"According to Ricardo, MacCulloch, and Mill, farm-rent, properly speaking, is simply the excess of the product of the most fertile land over that of lands of an inferior quality; so that farm-rent is not demanded for the former until the increase of population renders necessary the cultivation of the latter. . . How can the different qualities of the soil result in a right to the soil? . . . If they had gone no farther than to say that the difference in land has occasioned farm-rent, instead of caused it, this observation would have taught us a valuable lesson; namely, that farm-rent grew out of a desire for equality. Indeed, if all men have an equal right to the possession of good land, no one can be forced to cultivate bad land without indemnification. Farm-rent—according to Ricardo, Macculloch, and Mill—would then have been a compensation for loss and hardship. This system of practical equality is a bad one, no doubt; but it sprang from good intentions. What argument can Ricardo, Maculloch, and Mill develop therefrom in favor of property? . . ."
What had I attacked especially in 1840? The right of increase (aubaine), that right so inherent, so intimately a part of property, that where it does not exist, property is null.
"Increase," I said, "receives different names according to the thing by which it is yielded: if by land, farm-rent; if by houses and furniture, rent; if by life-investments, revenue; if by money, interest; if by exchange, advantage gain, profit (three things which must not be confounded with the wages or legitimate price of labor.) . . . The republican constitution of 1793, which defined property as 'the right to enjoy the fruit of one's labor,' was grossly mistaken. It should have said, 'Property is the right to enjoy and dispose at will of another's goods, -- the fruit of another's industry and labor.'
"In France, twenty millions of laborers, engaged in all the branches of science, art, and industry, produce every thing which is useful to man. Their annual wages amount, it is estimated. to twenty thousand millions; but, in consequence of the right of property, and the multifarious forms of increase, premiums, tithes, interests, fines, profits, farm-rents, house-rents, revenues, emoluments of every nature and description, their products are estimated by the proprietors and employers at twenty-five thousand millions. What does that signify? That the laborers, who are obliged to repurchase these products in order to live, must either pay five for that which they produced for four, or fast one day in five."
The first consequence of this profit is to render universal competition impossible, destroying the equality of wages between the various professions and social functions, and, in destroying it, to create an irrational division of these functions. The division of workers into two classes, unskilled workers and engineers, the directed and the directors, is at once irrational and unjust. The inequality of wages between the various social functions is unjust, since all these functions are equally useful, and because by their division we are all associated in production.
No one can say that he produces alone. The blacksmith, the tailor, the cobbler, etc., etc., cooperate with the cultivator in plowing the earth, just as the cultivator cooperates in the manufacture of their products. The manual laborer is a cooperator in the work of the engineer, just as the engineer is a cooperator in his.
In affirming in my first memoir that with equality of labor, wages must be equal among all the professions, I had forgotten to say two things: first, that labor is measured in a ratio composed of its duration and its intensity; second, that the wage of the worker must not include either the amortization of the costs of his education and of labor that he has made on himself as an unpaid apprentice, or the premium of insurance against the risks that he courts, and which are far from being the same in each profession: risks of unemployment and loss of status, infirmity and death; that last risk, because the father of the family must provide, even after his death, for the existence of his wife and minor children.
I had fixed various omissions in my second Memoir (1841), in the Warning to Proprietors (1842), and in the Creation of Order (1843). "To establish equality among men," I said to M. Blanqui in my second Memoir, "it is only necessary to generalize the principle of the insurance, agricultural, and commercial associations." In the agricultural and commercial organizations,--all the accounts
Chapter 2: That Property is Absolute
That property is absolute: prejudice opposed to absolutism.
The recognition or institution of property is the most extraordinary, if not the most mysterious, act of the Collective Reason, an act that much more extraordinary and mysterious as, by its principle, property rejects collectivity and reason equally. Nothing is more simple, more clear than the material fact of appropriation: a corner of land is unoccupied; a man comes and establishes himself there, exactly as the eagle does in his canton, the fox in a burrow, the bird on the branch, the butterfly on the flower, the bee in the hollow of the tree or the rock. It is there, I repeat it, only a simple fact, solicited by need, accomplished by instinct, then affirmed by egoism and defended by force. There is the origin of all property. Then comes Society, Law, General Reason, Universal Consent, all the authorities, divine and human, which recognize, consecrate that usucapion, say,—you can do it without fear,—that usurpation. Why? Here Jurisprudence is troubled, lowering its head, pleading that one not question it.
“The possession of the soil is a fact that force alone makes respectable, until society takes it in hand and sanctions the cause of the holder; then, under the empire of that social guarantee, the fact becomes a Right; that right, it is property. The right of property is a social creation: the laws do not only protect property; they are what give rise to it, determine it, and give it the rank and scope that it occupies in the rights of the citizen.” (E. Laboulaye. Histoire du droit de propriété, a work awarded by the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, August 10, 1838.)
It is necessary to observe here that the sanction of the fact is still not property, since the possession of the soil cannot have the same character for the tenant farmer, the feudataire, the Slavic possessor, the leaseholder or the proprietor. Now, if possession is understood, marvelously, as fact and as right, it is not the same of property, of which the motives are as unknown to Mr. Laboulaye as the others.
So do not ask him how the good pleasure of the lawmaker, or of society, of what he is the agent, has been able to transform the fact into a RIGHT: Mr. Laboulaye knows nothing of it, and you declare it clear-cut. The fact posited, the right supposed, (and all of that in ten lines,) he rolls out his History, at first very interesting, of the right of property; he recounts all its vicissitudes, contradictions, corrupt practices, abuses, violences, iniquities, corruptions, degradations and transformations. Of the reason for all these things, he does not know the first word; he does not even seek it. A prudent jurist, he withdraws into a significant silence: “The appropriation of the soil,” he says to you, “is one of these facts contemporary with the first societies, that science is obliged to admit as a point of departure, BUT THAT IT CANNOT QUESTION, without running the risk of putting society itself in question."
Powerful philosopher who does not want to discuss either fact or law, and who dares to call a social creation a purely arbitrary thing, where abuse, contradiction and violence abound, draws back to cast the responsibility for the disasters, sometimes on the presumed consent of the people, sometimes on the decrees of Providence, sometimes, finally, on the irresistible course of revolutions and the force of things! Silence on that which they do not understand and that appears dangerous to them to delve into: such is, in general, the motto of the gentlemen-laureates of the Institute.
For you reader, whom this academic hypocrisy could not please, you, proprietor, who doubtless desire for society and for yourself some guaranties a bit more serious than the elegance of phrases and the force of bayonets, you want it to be discussed, even if society itself be put in question, if you should restore to the mass what a caprice of the lawmaker would have wrongly auctioned off to you. Listen then; listen without fear, and be convinced in advanced that Truth and Justice will reward your good will.
Right is right: Law is uncertain, sometimes obscure, mysterious; and it is no small thing to be able to show what is just or unjust despite appearances. Jurisprudence is nothing other than the philosophy of Right. One is not a jurist for having acquired the erudition of the texts and the knowledge of the argot of the schools; one is not even a jurist for having learned the origins and filiation of the usages, customs and legislations, their analogies, their correlation, and the texts. One is a jurist when one knows à fond la raison of the laws, their scope and their aim; when one knows the superior, organic, political thought, that rules all; when one can demonstrate that such a law is faulty, insufficient, incomplete. And for that there is no need to be a laureate of the Academy.
Every man who reasons about the Law is a jurist, just as he is a theologian if he reasons about his faith, is a philosopher if he reasons on the phenomena of nature and the mind. One is, to a greater or lesser degree, philosopher, theologian, jurist, as one brings more or less persistence, scope and depth to the research of causes, of reasons and ends. Mr. Laboulaye has done a great wrong in reproaching Michelet et Guizot for not being jurists; they are his equals and more.
Property, psychological by its nature, by constitution a matter of Law, and, I will soon add, social by destination, is ABSOLUTE: it cannot not be so. Now, before entering into the examination of motifs, we should not one thing religiously: it is that this absolutism forms against property a prejudice,—if I may put it that way,—which has up to this moment appeared invincible.
The absolute is a conception of the mind indispensable for the advance of reasoning and the clarity of ideas; it is a hypothesis necessary for speculative reason, but that is rejected by practical reason as a dangerous chimera, a logical absurdity and an immorality.
Religion, in the first place, declares to us: sovereignty, property, sanctity, glory, power, in a word, the absolute, belongs only to God: the man who aspires to it is impious and sacrilegious. The Psalmist said, with regard even to property: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all that it contains: Domini est terra et plenitudo ejus.” Notice to the chiefs of the tribes and to the proprietors to show themselves beneficent towards the people, not miserly. As if he had said: The true proprietor of the nation of Canaan is Jehovah; you are only its managers. That idea is found at the origin among all peoples: Mr. Laboulaye is in error when he says that property is a fact contemporary with the first society. What is contemporary with the first society is momentary occupation, or possession in common: property only comes later, by the progress of liberties and the slow elaboration of the laws.
The absolute is no less inadmissible in politics. That fullness of autocracy that attracts the theologian, because it is an image of the government of God; that the people conceive and accept with so much ease, because the absolutism is in essence religious, from divine right, is precisely what everyone condemns today, and that gives the lie to the theory of the separation and equilibrium of powers.
Political economy is in the same case as politics: just as the theory of government aims to make the State come out from the regime of the absolute, so economy science, by its theory of values, credit, exchange, taxation, division of labor, etc., has for object to make the operations of industry and exchange, the facts of circulation, production and distribution, come out from the absolute. What could be more opposed to the absolute than statistics, for example, la commercial accounting, the law of population, the dispute between supply and demand?...
Do I need to say that philosophy, or study of the reason of things, is the war of reason against the absolute? And science, finally, whose first name is analysis, science is the exclusion of every absolute, since it invariably proceeds by decomposition, definition, classification, coordination, harmony, enumeration, etc., and that where decomposition becomes impossible, or distinction is stopped, where definition is obscure, contradictory or impossible, where, finally, the absolute begins again, science ends.
Metaphysics, which gives us the notion of the absolute, joins its testimony to the others, as soon as it is a question of making the absolute enter into practice, of realizing it. Try as it might, the MOI cannot appropriate the non-moi, assimilate it and merge it with its own substance; they are fundamentally separated; try to confound them, or to suppress one or the other, both are ruined, and you no longer see anything.
How then could the proprietary absolutism justify itself, and become a law? Doubtless, the moi needs a non-moi in order to sense itself; doubtless, as we have said in the beginning, the citizen needs a reality that ballasts and fixes it, on pain of fading away like a fiction. But does that prove that the non-moi belongs to the moi, and is its product; that the earth could be give to the citizen as property and absolute domain? Isn’t it sufficient that he obtains possession, usufruct, tenancy, on the condition of good administration and responsibility? This is how it has been understood, in the beginnings, by the Germans, the Slaves, etc., how it is still practiced by the Arabs.
What strengthened this prejudice, is that the Law-maker divides it.
Thus, property is defined according to Roman Right: “Dominium est jus utendi et abutendi re sua, quatenùs juris ratio patitur; domain is the right to use and abuse one’s thing, as far as the reason of Right will suffer.” — The French definition comes down to this: “Property is the right to enjoy and to dispose of things in the most absolute manner, provided that one does not make a Usage of them prohibited by the laws and the regulations.” (Code civil, art. 541) — The Latin is more energetic, perhaps more profound than the French. But take notice of one thing, one marvelous thing, that the jurists have never grasped: it is that these two definitions contradict one another, in that each sanctions a double absolutism, that of the proprietor and that of the State, two manifestly incompatible absolutisms. Now, it must be thus, and it is here we find the wisdom of the Legislator, a wisdom assuredly very few of the jurists have been in doubt up to now.
I say first that property is absolute in its nature, and, in all of its tendencies, absolutist; that is to say that nothing must hinder, limit, restrain, or condition the action and enjoyment of the proprietor: apart from this there is no property. Everyone understands this. It is what the Latin expresses by the words: jus utendi et abutendi. How then, if property is absolute, can the legislator express reservations in the name of legal reason [raison du Droit], which is evidently nothing other than the reason of the State, organ and interpreter of Law [Droit]? Who will say how for these reservations will reach? Where, with regard to property, will the legal or State reason stop? What reproaches, what criticisms can we make against property? What conclusions can we posit which reduce its absolutism to nothing? The French Code is more guarded in the expression of its restrictions; it says: “Provided that one cannot make a use of property prohibited by the laws of regulation.” But one can make an infinite number of laws and regulations, laws and regulations which, perfectly well motivated by the abuse of property, would tie the hands of the proprietor, and reduce his sovereignty—egoistic, scandalous, and culpable—to nothing.
These à priori considerations against every pretention of humanity to absolutism, are the stumbling block on which are wrecked all those who have tried to resolve the problem of the origin and principle of property. They have furnished to the adversaries of the institution some formidable arguments, to which the only response has been persecution, or else, as in the case of M. Laboulaye, silence.
And yet, property is a universal fact, if not in actuality, at least in tendency; an invincible, fixed fact, to which the legislator must sooner or later give his sanction; which is reborn from its ashes, like the phoenix, which it has been destroyed by revolutions, and which the world has seen present itself in every epoch as the antithesis of caste, the guarantee of liberty, and I would almost say the incarnation of Justice.
Such is the mystery of which we are finally going to give the explanation.
Chapter 6: New Theory
New theory: that the motives, and thus the legitimacy of property, must be sought, not in its principle or origin, but in its aims. Presentation of these motives.
Philosophy has had, for three centuries, many institutions and many beliefs: will it be the same for property? If my opinion is of any weight here, I dare to respond that it will not. Jurisprudence has not grasped thus far the causes or the reasons for property, because property, as it has come to reveal itself to us in its principle and in its history, is a fact of collective spontaneity of which nothing would have been able a priori to detect the spirit and the reason; because, on the other hand, it is still in the process of formation, and in this regard experience is incomplete; because, until the last few years, philosophical doubt has struck it only timidly, and because it is necessary, beforehand, to destroy its religion; because in this moment it appears to us rather as a revolutionary force than as an inspiration of universal conscience, and that if it has reversed many despotisms, overcame many aristocracies, one cannot finally say that it has founded anything at all.
The moment has come when property must justify itself or disappear: if I have obtained, these last ten years, some success for the critique that I have made of it, I hope that the reader will not show themselves less favorable today to this exegesis.
I will first observe that if we want to be successful in our research, it is completely necessary that we abandon the road where our predecessors became lost. In order to make sense of property, they returned to the origins; they scrutinized and analyzed the principle; they invoked the needs of personality and the rights of labor, and appealed to the sovereignty of the legislator. That was to place oneself on the terrain of possession. We have seen in Chapter IV, in the summary critique that we have made of all the controversies, into what paralogisms the authors were thrown. Only skepticism could be the fruit of their efforts; and skepticism is today the only serious opinion which exists on the subject of property. It is necessary to change methods. It is neither in its principle and its origins, nor in its materials that we must seek the reason of property; in all those regards, property, I repeat, has nothing more to offer us than possession; it is in its AIMS.
But how to discover the purpose of an institution of which one has declared it useless to examine the principle, the origin and the material? Is it not, to lightheartedly pose an insoluble problem? Property, indeed, is absolute, unconditional, jus utendi et abutendi, or it is nothing. Now, who says absolute, says indefinable, says a thing which one can recognize neither by its limits nor its conditions, neither by its material, nor by the date of its appearance. To seek the aims of property in what we can know of it beginnings, of the animating principle on which it rests, of the circumstances under which it manifests itself, that would be always to go in circles, and to disappear into contradiction. We cannot even bring to testimony the services that it is supposed to render, since those services are none other than those of possession itself; because we only know them imperfectly; because nothing proves besides that we cannot obtain for ourselves the same guarantees, and still better ones, by other means.
Here again, and for the second time, I say that it is necessary to change methods and to start ourselves on an unknown road. The only thing that we can know clearly about property, and by which we can distinguish it from possession, is that it is absolute abusive; Very well! It is in its absolutism, in its abuses that we must seek the aim.
Do not let these odious names of abuse and absolutism, dear reader, frighten you unnecessarily. It is not a question of legitimating what your incorruptible conscience condemns, nor or misleading your own reason in the transcendental regions. This is an affair of pure logic, and since the Collective Reason, the sovereign of us all, is not at all frightened of proprietary absolutism, why should it scandalize you any more? Should we be ashamed, perhaps, of ourselves? Certain minds, from an excess of puritanism, or perhaps a feebleness of comprehension, have posed individualism as the antithesis of revolutionary thought: it was simply to drive the citizen and man from the republic. Let us be less timid. Nature has made man individual, which means rebellious; society in its turn, doubtless in order not to remain at rest, has instituted property; in order to achieve the triad, since, according to Pierre Leroux, every truth is manifested in three terms, man, rebellious and egoistic subject, has dedicated himself to all the fantasies of his free will. It is with these three great enemies, Revolt, Egoism and Good Pleasure that we must live; it is on their shoulders, as on the back of three caryatids, that we will raise the temple of Justice.
All the abuses of which property can make itself guilty, and they are as numerous as profound, can be reduced to three categories, according to the point of view from which one considers property: political abuses, economic abuses, moral abuses. We will examine one after another these different categories of abuse, and, concluding à mesure, we will deduce the AIMS of property, in other words its function and social destiny.
§ 1. —Necessity, after having organized the State, of creating a counter-weight to the State in the liberty of each citizen. Federalist and republican character of property. Observations on the electoral census and confiscation.
Considered in its political tendencies and its connections with the State, property tends to make of government and instrument of exploitation, nothing more, nothing less.
In that which concerns the system of power—whether monarchic, democratic, aristocratic, constitutional or despotic—property is by nature perfectly indifferent: what is wants is for the State to be its creature, for government to move by it and for it, at its pleasure and for its benefit. Surplus, division of powers, proportionality of taxes, education of the masses, respect for Justice, etc.—these matter little to property. More than anything, that the government be its creature and its slave, otherwise it will perish. No power prevails before it; no dynasty is sacred, no constitution inviolable. From two things one: it is necessary that property reign and govern as it pleases, otherwise it declares itself anarchical, regicide.
Romulus, original author of the division of land, founder of the quiritary domain, was brought down by the patricians: that was his fault. Why, if he wanted to subordinate the aristocracy to his power, did he give to them a superior force, by conferring on each noble a title equal to his own, that of proprietor?
Servius Tullius affects popularity, seeks support in the multitude. Tarquin the Superb, his successor, continued that policy and threatened the heads of the aristocracy.
But the Tarquins are driven off, royalty is vanquished by property. From that moment, up until the law of Licinius Stolon, in 376, the government at Rome was nothing other than a means of the exploitation of more into the hands of the patriciat. The plebs were reduced to servitude, the constitution of the State summed itself up entirely in the patrician prerogative; that is, in the most perfect arbitrariness. The decision acquired, in 450, to dispatch to Athens commissioners to study the Greek laws proves it. It would have been better to distribute, from time to time, some land to the plebs, carved from the ager publicus; military service and public charges ruined the plebian, forced him to sell, and the land always returned to the great. However, by the egoistic and anarchic nature of property, internal jealousies, divisions arise in the aristocracy; at the same time, the plebs are increasing in number, and the Licinian law admitting it to the division of conquered land, property turns against itself: that is what made the triumph of the plebian party. Never, without that possession, which was such only in name, would it have prevailed on the patrician party, and never would the plebs have obtained land without the propertarian anarchy.
It is the conversion of benefits into allodium which reverses the Carolingian power; on the contrary, it is the conversion of allodium into fief which little by little leads to feudal servitude.
The noble, from pride, in contempt of common birth, attaches himself to his fief, disdains allodial property. The law of primogeniture comes to add more to the immobilism of the fief. The bourgeois follow the Roman right; allodium unites with the king against the fief, which succumbs everywhere. In England, things occur otherwise, but always according to the same law. The barons, that threaten the royal power, seized the opportunity offered them by the poverty of King Jean, called Sans-Terre, to extract from him the Magna Carta, foundation of all English liberties; then, uniting themselves with the communes, fief with allodium, they definitively dominate the crown. The constitution of England and all its history is explained by that. Today industrial property, joined to a portion of the soil possessed by the bourgeoisie, balances the aristocratic power: thus the present predominance of the house of commons over the upper house. Where one finds the greatest sum of wealth united to the greatest liberty of action, there is the greatest force. But feudal property, rendered inferior, is not for that annihilated; far from that, its conservation has become a political element of English society. That is why England is at once monarchic, aristocratic and bourgeois: it will only be democracy like a France the day which the good of the nobles have been made by law alienable and divisible, and primogeniture abolished, as takes place for allodial properties.
We know how the French Revolution took place. Sales and mobilization of a third of the territory, as allodial property, abolition of all the old feudal rights, the abolition of primogeniture; conversion of fiefs, not sold, into allodial properties: that is what made France a democracy.
In 1799, the new property manifested itself by a coup d'État and abolished the Republic. Fourteen years later, dissatisfied with the Emperor, who had contained it, it abandoned Napoleon and decided the fall of the imperial system. — It is property that, in 1830, made Charles X fall; it is property again which, in 1848, brought down Louis-Philippe. The high bourgeoisie or great proprietors were divided; the middle class or small proprietors were stirred up; a handful of Republicans, followed by some men of the people, decided the thing. Louis-Philippe brushed aside, it was logical that power would thus pass to the republicans. But logic did not make force: property, surprised for a moment, soon reappeared, and for the second time rid itself of the republic. The plebs having nothing, democracy rested on nothing. The coup d'État of December 2 succeeded, like that of the 18 Brumaire, by the support of property. Louis-Napoléon had only to anticipate the wishes of the bourgeoisie, so much more certain of success as the plebs saw in him a protector against bourgeois exploitation.
Thus it is proven that property, by itself, holds to no form of government; that no dynastic or juridical link shackle it; that all of its politics is reduced to a word, exploitation, if not anarchy; that it is for power the most redoubtable enemy and the most perfidious ally; in a word that, in its relations to the State, it is directed by only one principle, a single sentiment, one sole idea, personal interest, egoism. It is in this that consists, from the point of view, the abuse of property. Whoever will research what it has done in all the States where its existence was more or less recognized, in Carthage, Athens, Venice, Florence, etc., will always find there the same. On the contrary, whoever will study the political effects of possession or fief, will be led constantly to the opposite results. It is property which makes liberty, since the anarchy and finally the dissolution of the Athenian democracy; it is communism which sustained the tyranny and stasis of the noble Spartan, engulfed in the ocean of wars, who perished with weapons in hand.
And this is also why every government, every utopia and every Church mistrust property. Without speaking of Lycurgus and Plato, who chased it, along with poetry, from their republics, we see the Caesars, leaders of the plebs, who have conquered only to obtain property, scarcely in possession of the dictatorship, attack the quiritary right in every way. That quiritary right was the apanage [the concession of a fief], so to speak, of the Roman people. Augustus extended it to all Italy, Caracalla to all the provinces. One combats property with property: it is for politics to balance. Then one attacks property by taxation; Augustus established the tax on successions, 5 p. 400; then another tax on adjudications, 1 p. 100; later one established indirect taxes. Christianity, in its turn, attacked property with its dogma; the great feudal lords with military service: things come to a point that under the emperors, the citizens renounce their property and their municipal functions; and under the Barbarians, from the sixth to the tenth century, the small allodial proprietors regarded it a pleasure to attach themselves to a suzerain. As much as, in a word, property, by its own nature, shows itself redoubtable to power, that much power attempts to avert the danger by protecting itself against property. One contains it by the fear of the plebs, by permanent armies, by divisions, rivalries and competition; by restrictive laws of all sorts, by corruption. Property is thus reduced little by little to being only a privilege of the idle: at this point, property is tamed; the proprietor, from warrior or baron, is made pêquin; he trembles, he is nothing anymore.
All these considerations recalled, we can conclude: property is the greatest revolutionary force which exists and which can be opposed to power. Now, the force itself cannot be said to be beneficent or maleficent, abusive or non-abusive: it is indifferent to the use in which it is employed; as much as it shows itself destructive, so much can it become conservator; if sometimes it sparkled in subversive effects, instead of giving out useful results, the fault is in those who manage it, and who are as blind as it.
The state, constituted in the most rational and liberal manner, animated by the most just intentions, is none the less an enormous power, capable of crushing everything, all by itself, if it is not given a counter-balance. What can that counter-balance be? The state draws all of its power from the support of the citizens. The state is the gathering together of the general interest, supported by the general will and served, if necessary, by the combination of all the individual forces. Where will we find a power capable of counter-balancing that formidable power of the state? It is nothing other than property. Take the sum of the proprietors' force: you have a power equal to that of the state.—Why, you ask me, isn't that counter-balance also found in possession, or in fief?—Because possession, or fief, is itself a dependence of the state; it is encompassed by the state, and consequently, instead of opposing it, it gives it aid; it weighs in on the same side of the scale: which, instead of producing an equilibrium, only aggravates the power of government. In such a system, the state is on one side, all the subjects or citizens with it; there is nothing on the other side. It is governmental absolutism in its highest expression and in all its immobility. Thus Louis XIV understood it, who not only was in perfectly good faith, but logical and just from his point of view, when he claimed that everything in France, persons and things, answers to him. Louis XIV denied absolute property; he acknowledged sovereignty only in the State represented by the king. In order that one force could hold another force in respect, it is necessary that they be independent from one another, that they are two and not one. In order for the citizen to be something in the State, it is not enough then that he be free in his person; his personality must be supported, like that of the State, on a portion of material that he possesses in all sovereignty, as the State has sovereignty over the public domain. That condition is fulfilled by property.
To serve as counter-weight to the public power, to balance the State, and by that means to insure individual liberty: such is then, the public system, the principal function of property. Suppress that function or, what amounts to the same thing, to remove from property the absolutist character that we have recognized in it and that distinguishes it; impose conditions on it, declare it not transferable and indivisible: at that instant it loses its force, it no longer carries any weight; it becomes again a simple benefit, a flimsy thing; it is a movement of the government, without action against it.
Thus the absolute right of the State finds itself in struggle with the absolute right of the proprietor. It is necessary to follow closely the course of that combat.
Generally, where the State has started from conquest, as in France after the invasion of the Barbarians, it is the absolutism of the State which posits itself first: divine right sort from the patriarchate. The social pact comes down from heaven; it is God who has instituted the priesthood and royalty; it is to his vicars that everything must lead. The dependence of man, the hierarchy of society, the exclusive attribution to the prince of eminent domain, is a result of that conception. Fro that a first form of appropriation celebrated under the name of feudal property or fief, for the constitution that the Church gave it in the Middle Ages.
The fundamental characteristics of that form of property are:
1. Dependence (all land belongs to the king, or to the emperor);
3. Immobilization or inalienability;
4. Thus, the tendency to inequality.
It is from that conception that we born subsequently, from the point of view of exploitation of the land and of taxation: emphyteusis, lease for farming and grazing, duty, tithe, mainmorte and all the seigneurial charges, and serfdom.
That form of property carries with it a special form of political organization, the hierarchy of classes and ranks, in a word the whole system of feudal rights.
But soon the proprietary absolutism reacts against imperial absolutism, the domain of the citizen against the domain of the State; then a new form of property is constituted, which is allodial property
The characteristics of that property are, contrary to the preceding:
2. Equal division between the children after the death of the father;
3. Mobilization and division, or alienability;
4. Finally, a clear tendency towards equality.
Allodial property engenders, as a consequence of its principle, credit by mortgage; it makes a veritable moveable property of the land; it tends to make the sharecropper participate in the profits of the farm, in the rent, by rendering real property less and less productive for the non-working proprietor; it changes the nature of taxation, by making the fiscal system turn on the land-rent, instead of leaving it on capital and consumption.
Allodium implies a special form of government, the representative and democratic regime.
Property in England has never ceased to be organized feudally. The famous law on cereals, of Robert Peel, large exception to the principle protection, by bringing down the price of grains, has attacked small culture, and allodial property. That is why the political system of England, on which on does not cease to repeat that the charters of 1814 and 1830 were traced, is entirely different from ours; that is why the representative government of France must not be confused with that of England: the English government is an aristocracy; the French government, — Louis-Philippe has said it with a great hauteur de raison, and his misfortune was to have forgotten it, — was, had to be, from 1814 to 1848, a monarchy surrounded by republican institutions.
Historically, allodial property has outstripped feudal property in the countries conquered by the Germans; the invading soldiers having divided the conquered territory as spoils, without making application of the national customs on property. But that society was not mature; also, at the end of several centuries the allods were converted into fiefs: as if liberty and equality had never existed in the camps of the French kings. It would take a period of historical evolution to restore the present form of property, allodium.
We could classify the nations, States and governments according to the form of property which is in force there; that would be a simple way to explain their history and predict their future. Indeed, the history of nations, As I will demonstrate it with regard to Poland, is very often only that of property.
It is not necessary however to believe that the State, in passing from the feudal to the allodial system, had lost all of its prerogatives and its superior domain. At the same time that property gained independence, mobility, equality of division, the ability to loan by means of mortgage, etc., the State, by virtue of its prerogative, had established servitudes, made regulations de commodo et incommoda, decreed a law of expropriation for the cause of public utility; one asks it today to set a limit on division: it is thus that the absolutism of the State opposes itself to proprietary absolutism, and that they act on each other, constantly engendering, by their mutual action and reaction, new sureties for society, new guarantees to the proprietor, and make Liberty, Labor and Justice triumph definitively.
It is well understood that, for the sincerity of that system, it is absolutely necessary that the government had cast off every despotic aspect; that it be representative, parliamentary, republican in forms, based on a serious responsibility, not of the prince, but of his ministers. It is necessary, in a word, that the nation be governed by itself, so that the reaction of the prerogative of the State against the prerogative of the proprietor stems, not from the free will of a man, of a despot, which would make a bascule of the system, but the reason of the State expressed by national representation. Without that, property is placed in the hands of the autocrat; it is in peril of feudalism.
Such is, since 89, the constitution of property. It is easy to see that as much as allodium is superior to fief, so much it would be impossible a priori to discover it: it is one of the things which surpasses philosophical reason, and that the genius of Humanity alone can produce.
Who does not see, indeed that the feudal constitution has come from a perfectly reasoned respect of Right, from an idea of justice which refused itself to that proprietary absolutism, judging it irrational, usurping, immoral, full of menaces and egoism, injurious to God and men? It is the calculated respect of Right that has created that enchained, non-transferable, indivisible, dependant property, guarantee of subordination and of hierarchy, as of protection and surveillance. And it was found, by experience, that tyranny was there precisely where one had believed to find right; anarchy, where hierarchy manifested itself; servitude and misery, where one had flattered oneself to create protection and charity.
It is permitted to believe that in the times of the Roman republic and of the omnipotence of the patricians, the definition of property was simply unilateral: Dominium est jus utendi et abutendi; and that only later, under the emperors, the jurists would add the restriction: quatenùs juris ratio patitur. But the evil was done; the emperors could do nothing about it. Roman property remained untamed; and it was in the hatred of this proprietary absolutism, without counter-weight, in hatred of the senatorial tyranny and of the latifundia, that, at the heart of the Christian societies, was conceived the system of feudal property, renewed from the ancient patriarchate, by the papacy united with empire and sustained by the prestige of religion.
Modern property, constituted, as it appears, against all thought of rights and all good sense, on a double absolutism, must be considered as a triumph of Liberty. It is Liberty which has made it, not, as it seems at first glance, against law or right, but by an intelligence superior to those. What is Justice, indeed, but the equilibrium between forces? Justice is not a simple relation, an abstract conception, a fiction of the understanding, or an act of faith of the conscience: it is a real thing, all the more obligatory because it rests on realities, on free forces.
From the principle that property, irreverent with regard to the prince, rebellious against authority, anarchic in the end, is the only force which can serve as a counter-balance to the state, follows this corollary: property, absolutism piled on an absolutism, is still for the state an element of division. The power of the state is a power of concentration; give it freedom to grow and all individuality will soon disappear, absorbed into the collectivity; society will fall into communism; property, on the other hand, is a power of decentralization; because it is itself absolute, it is anti-despotic, anti-unitary; it is because of this that it is the principle of all federation; and it is for this reason that property, autocratic in essence carried into political society, becomes straightway republican.
It is entirely the opposite with possession or fief, which has a fatal tendency to unity, to concentration, to universal subjection. Of all the despotisms, the must crushing was that of the czars, to the point that it became impossible, and that for half a century one has seen the emperors of Russia labor of themselves to lighten the weight. Now, the first cause of that despotism was in Slavic possession, against which the reforms of Alexandre II just struck a first blow.
One of the most odious abuses of property, which from its origins has raised against it the complaint of the masses, is monopolization. The great properties have ruined Italy, latifundia perdidere Italiam. It is the cry of the historians who have recounted the last days of the empire. It can be a very good thing that a vast domain well worked, well enclosed, and giving regularly to the proprietor a good revenue. Society has its part in that wealth: so that one can say up to certain point the public is in agreement with the large property. But it is encore more sad to see companies of farmers without patrimony, wandering on the roads, chased from the land that seems to belong to them, and forced by the latifundia into the proletariat of the large cities, where they stagnate, without rights as without holdings. Now, it is that which would not occur in a system of conditional and restricted property, which forbade the division and the alienation of the soil. For it is by division and sale that monopolization is made possible: take from property its absolutist prerogative, and the earth will be possessed by all, precisely because it will belong as domain to no one.
This comes down to saying that the citizens all have the same rights and the same dignity in the State; that if nature has created them unequal with regard to faculties of realization, the tendency of civilization and of the laws is to restrict in practice the effects of that inequality, by giving the same guarantees to all and, as much as possible, the same education; but that property hinders this happy tendency, by its constant mutations and monopolizations. Consequently, one accuses property of being hostile to equality, and places it in this regard below possession.
The abuse denounced here exists: Heaven forbid that I should fail to take it into account, because it is in the abuse of property that I seek its organic function and providential destination. But, singular thing, the reproach that one addresses here to property of being an obstacle to the equality of conditions and of fortunes, is merited much more by fief and possession, which seem to be instituted by a thought and for an end that are diametrically opposite. It is a fact of universal history, that the land has never been divided more unequally than there where the system of simple possession simple has been predominant, and where fief has supplanted allodium: and conversely, that the States where one finds the most liberty and equality are those ruled by property. It is enough to recall here the existence of the large fiefs, the feudal rights, and the servitude or feudal serfdom. Perhaps, one will reply, the principle of possession was violated, and it is not just, in theory, to charge a principle with the malversations of its applicators. But it is exactly that which is the illusion, as I will demonstrate.
We have recognized that the faculties of realization between individuals and races were unequal; that at least the development was not the same for all: some showing more, others less precocity; that is was necessary to attribute to this cause the inequality conditions, fortunes and ranks; but that the laws of the political organism were contrary to this inequality; that there was, consequently, a general effort of humanity towards leveling, and that it was in order to reestablish the social level that the principle of equality before the law had been posited by unanimous consent.
We have remarked that this principle, of an incalculable significance, must have the effect, in a society of justice and order, of reducing the inequality of conditions and fortunes, always tainted by arbitrariness, to that of services and products; in other words, to make the fortune of each citizen the exact expression, not of his capacity or his virtue, things which are not measured, but of his works, compared to the works of his fellow citizens. One can see, by the comparison of the rates of wages in the various industrial categories, even taking account of all the anomalies of trade, how much that mercantile manner of proceeding is favorable to equality; how much, in the sphere of labor, the inequality of goods is far from reaching the proportions that politics allows it to take, and which manifests itself especially in territorial possession.
In a society where land is nearly the only capital, and the harvest of the cultivator the sole product, the sovereign, before taking account of the natural inequalities and having no means of assess it, the distribution of the soil will occur, not according to the rate of services, but rather according to dignity and rank. Just as in our time one gives a hundred thousand francs of rent to the general who commanded at the taking of Sebastopol, and a medal of brass to the soldier who mounted the attack, so, in a society constituted on the regime of possession, the king gives to his barons, counts, dukes, princes, a thousand, ten thousand or a hundred thousand hectares of land, and only four to the man-at-arms. The costs of exploitation, risks of culture, the deductions to make in exchange, the disadvantages of isolation, soon come to add themselves to that defective mode of division in order to augment the inequality. The small possessor, forced to beg assistance of the large, becomes his tenant farmer; the small tenures, grouping together, form a sort of rustic commune, the principal landlord of which becomes seigneur; with the result that finally, there where at first everyone was free, there no longer remains anything by nobles and serfs.
Now make that communal property and all its nobiliary domains could be divided and sold like quarters of beef, make them enter into exchange and be paid for in products, as if they were themselves only products: soon you will see the inequality decrease, and property, by the very property that it is given to monopolize, will become a leveling institution. Here, the tendency is the opposite of what it is there: while possession, beginning from liberty and primitive equality, sinks more and more into inequality and servitude, property, established on anarchic absolutism, anti-unitary and yet monopolistic, accumulating the most contrary vices, advances to equality and serves Justice.
Thus property is not posited a priori as a right of man and citizen, as has been believed previously and as the declarations of 89, 93 and 95 seem to say: all the arguments that one could make to establish a priori the right of property are petitio principii, and imply contradiction. Property reveals itself, in its abuses, as a FUNCTION; and it is because it is a function to which every citizen is called, as he is called to possess and to produce, that it becomes a right: the right resulting here from the destiny, not the destiny from the right. (See my Théorie de l'Impôt, chap. II, page 64, "Relations of Liberty and the State.")
The functional and, we can say, liberatory character of property, reveals itself at each step in our political and civil legislation.
Thus, article 57 of the Charter of 1814 holds that confiscation is abolished. Naturally, every proprietor is delighted by such a declaration; but he would not be mistaken in understanding its sense. Many people see in that abolition only a restriction on the greed of the taxman, a mark of the kindliness of the legislator towards families, that one punished for the offence of their heads, a softening of the penalty, a deference toward the proprietors. Egoism is so much of the essence of the proprietor, that it is as rare to see him understand his rights as to fulfill his duties. Under the previous regime, where all possession of land was considered an expression of the State, confiscation was a right of the prince, who claimed it, in certain cases, to punish crimes of high treason. The feudatory felon was despoiled of his tenure; he had broken the social pact; this was justice.
But the citizen proprietor is no longer in the same case. Politically, he is the equal of the prince; he does not hold his property from him, but from himself: accused of ordinary crime or political crime, he is only liable, apart from personal pains, afflictive or derogatory, for a fine or compensation, which fine or compensation must be proportional to the material damage occasioned by the crime or offence. Except for these repetitions, property remains to the condemned and passes to his heirs. It is sacred, even as the product of labor. In short, the proprietor is, in the new political system, a confederate, just the opposite of the fieffeux or vassal: that quality excludes confiscation, which no longer makes any sense.
M. Laboulaye, in his Histoire du droit de propriété, makes this remark:
“The French civil code is the first which has confused (art. 1138 and 1583) obligation and property. To say that property is acquired from the right of the buyer with regard to the seller, as soon as one is agreed on the thing and the price, is a subtlety; if you respect the right of the third, the force of things resists the force of law. Your buyer, who does not have the capital and who cannot have it, is only a creditor with an eye to damages. If on the contrary you do not respect the right of the third possessor, it is a taut snare to good faith.”
One can regret, with M. Laboulaye, in the interest of the mortgage system, that the French Code does not show itself more severe on the form and solemnities of the sale. But when he reproaches it for having confused obligation and property, I admit that I would not be of his opinion. In the true spirit of the institution, the proprietor in land possesses the soil by the same title, with the same plenitude of right, and by virtue of the same of the same absolutism as the producer possesses his product. The quiritary domain does not go that far, but leads there. As, in fact, property and the authority of the father of the family were instituted especially in view of the family, it was natural that the roman law surrounded the sale with a increase of precautions, and distinguished, more than the French Code, the obligation of property; but the roman tradition is not ours: French property is an antithesis of feudal possession, et, up to a certain point, to the ancient quiritary domain itself; industry, by developing a new species of property, has given still more extent to the concept. Thus it is natural, it is logical that the Code, treating obligations, has extended the rules to property as to all the rest. Property is a function; the promises that it gives the citizen in its regard are of the same nature and must have the same effect as those that gives a regard de its labor, its workers, its backers, its customers, etc.
But where the action of property manifests itself with the most energy is in the electoral system. Not only has the State lost its right of confiscation with regard to the proprietor; it has to submit to ask of that proprietor the periodic renewal of his own investiture: it is that which has taken place by the elections to Parliament. In that regard, one struggled against the principle that made of property the sign of political capital; one has declaimed against a regime which excluded from the elections men such as Rousseau, Lammenais and Beranger, and allowed the Proudhommes, Jourdains, Dandins and Geronts of every sort. The Revolution of February has replaced censitary privilege with universal suffrage; still the democratic puritanism has not shown itself satisfied: some wanted the vote to be given to women and children; others will protest against the exclusion of the bankrupt, of freed convicts and detainees; one very nearly demanded the addition of horses and mules.
The theory of property, as we would produce it at this moment, dispels all these clouds. According to that theory, property is not given as a sign or guarantee of political capacity: political capacity is a faculty of intelligence and conscience independent of the quality of being a proprietor; on this point one can say that everyone is in agreement. But we add that if the opposition to despotism is an act of conscience, which does not need, in order to be produced, the citizen to pay two hundred or five hundred francs of contributions, and enjoy some three thousand francs or more of revenue, that same opposition, considered as a manifestation of collectivity, has puissance with regard to power, and becomes efficacious only if it is the expression of a mass of proprietors. This is a matter of mechanics, and has nothing in common with the capacity and civic-mindedness of the citizens. One comparison will make me understood. Every individual male, of twenty years of age and able-bodied, is fit for military service. But it is still necessary, before sending him to the enemy, to exercise, discipline, and arm him; without that, he will serve absolutely nothing. An army of conscripts without arms would be as without effect in war as a cartload of matriculation registers. It is the same for the voter. His vote has real value, I do not say moral value, against the power, only if it represents a real force: that force is that of property. Thus, in order to return to universal suffrage, to the system of have-not electors, one of two things must occur: either they vote with the proprietors, and thus are useless; or else they separate themselves from the proprietors, and in that case the Power remains master of the situation, or they rely on the electoral multitude, either that it lines up on the side of property, or that, instead, placing itself between the two, it establishes itself as mediator and imposes its arbitration. To confer political rights on the people was not itself a bad idea; it would have been necessary only to begin by giving them property.
§2.—Abstention from all regulatory law in that which concerns the possession, production, circulation and consumption of things. Analogies from love and art. Mobilization of the immovable. Character of the true proprietor.
If the reader has understood what has just been said, from the political point of view, of property, namely: one the one hand, that it can only be a right if it is function; on the other, that it is in the very abuse of property that it is necessary to seek that function, he will have not trouble grasping what remains to be said about the ends of property from the point of view of public economy and morals: which will permit me to be more brief.
When I say that the ends of property, that is its functionality, and thus its right, must be sought in its abuses, each understands that in expressing myself in this way I do not intend in any way to glorify the abuse, bad in itself, and that everyone would like to abolish. I mean that, property being absolute, unconditional, starting off indefinable, one can know its destination, if it has one, the function, if it is true that it is part of the social organism, only by the study of its abuses, if not by research then,—the function of property once understood and the right proven by the aim of the institution,—how one could triumph over this very abuse.
Property is abusive, from the economic point of view, in that not only is it an object of monopolization, as we have seen earlier, which tends to deprive a multitude of citizens of their legitimate share; but in that is can be parceled out and split up: which causes a serious harm to agriculture. I believe I recall that in France the 25 million hectares of workable land, in which is found included consequently neither woods, nor meadows, nor vines, nor garden plots, etc., and which form nearly half of the territory, are divided 290 or 300 million parcels: which makes the average of those division less that one-tenth of a hectare, a square of thirty meters on a side. There are many that are smaller. One conceives the harm done to the nation by this parceling out. Fourier estimated that the normal extent of an agricultural exploitation, together with the essential industries that it entails, and disposing of all the mechanical means, should be around a league square, served by a population of 15 to 1,800 persons of every age, sex, profession and grade. That was what gave him the idea of his phalanstery. One of the causes of the inferiority of agriculture in France is that excessive division, which does not exist in England, country of feudal tenure. We have thought many times of preventing that parceling out by facilitating the exchange of parcels: which would allow divided inheritances to be reconstituted. Nothing has succeeded. The division goes its way, without anyone being able to stop it, short of a law of public utility which would undermine property.
Another abuse, no less prejudicial than the preceding, is that of an anarchic exploitation, without concert between the farmers, without sufficient capital, given to ignorance and chance. It is to that evil that the schools of agriculture, the agricultural associations, the model farms, the crédit foncier, etc, attempt to remedy. Doubtless, we have already succeeded in obtaining some improvements: progress made itself felt little by little, even in the most remote countryside, and science wins everywhere. But it is necessary that the cure be better than the evil; far from that, it most often only aggravates the malady. It would be necessary to reduce the property taxes by half: is that possible? It would be necessary that the mortgage loans could be granted at no more than one and a half percent, half of the net revenue of the land; now, the rate of interest is regularly five. It would be necessary that the small proprietor would be able to profit from all the discoveries of science in order to withstand the competition of the large farms, but that is what can take place only by associating the small properties; which is indeed to return to Slavic possession, and to renounce that which is most attractive in property, the free and absolute disposition. This is the objection that I made, twenty years ago, to the disciples of Fourier, who claimed to preserve property to the phalanstery.
The third abuse, still more serious than those preceding, since it involves at once public economy and morals: property has found means of separating, in agricultural exploitation, the net product from the gross product. That separation has led to the divorce of man from the earth, and makes of the earth an object of speculation [agiotage], I nearly said of prostitution.
It is here that property appears decidedly inferior to feudal tenure, and I have never been able to conceive how the economists, denouncing and combating all the abuses, protesting against division, routine and bad methods, preaching to the proprietor love of the soil, and residency, and labor, riding roughshod over politics, how, I say, they cam consider themselves partisans of property. The rent is doubtless a good thing for the one that consumes it and who takes no part in the agricultural labor: but what it is not easy to accept, is that the country and its customs find it equally good. Christianity had abolished slavery; the Revolution suppressed feudal privileges: but what is it then, I ask you, but tenant farming?...
Here is what I wrote in that regard, in 1858, in my work on Justice in the Révolution and in the Church, 5th study:
“The metaphysics of property has devastated the French soil (by the arbitrariness of the exploitations), decrowned the mountains, dried up the headwaters, changed the rivers into torrents, graveled the valleys: all with the authorization of the government. It has rendered agriculture odious to the peasant (tenant farmer); more odious still homeland; it encourages depopulation... One no longer values the soil, as in the past, because one inhabits it, because one cultivates it, one breathes its emanations, one lives on its substance, one has received it from his fathers with the blood, and one will transmit it from generation to generation in his race, because one taken there his body, his temperament, his instincts, his ideas, his character, and could not separate himself from it without dying. One values the soil as a tool, less than that, at an inscription of rents by means of which one collects each year, on the common mass, a certain revenue. As to that profound feeling for nature, that love of the soil which the rustic life alone gives, it is extinct. A sensibility of convention, particular to the blasé societies to which nature no longer reveals itself except in the novel, the salon and the theater, has taken its place.
“... Man no longer loves the land: as proprietor, he sells it, he rents it, he divides it by shares, he prostitutes it, he trifles with it, he makes it an object of speculations; the cultivator, he torments it, violates it, he exhausts it, he sacrifices it to his impatient cupidity, but he never unites with it...”
The practice of net product, much more clever in our day than it was in antiquity, has carried human egoism to the last degree of refinement. Certainly, the old Roman patrician was miserly, more harsh with his slaves than we are with our domestics; but in the end he worked with them, he inhabited the same holding, breathed the same air, and ate at the same table; from him to the absentee landlord, the difference was enormous. So Italy was beautiful, rich, populous and healthy as long as it was cultivated by its proprietors: it became deserted, pestilential when it was abandoned to slaves, and the master went to Rome to consume its/his immense revenues. And mores will fall with the culture, at the same time that the proprietor, exercising his right, was unaware of his duties.
Such are, from the economic and social point of view, the abuses of property, flagrant abuses, that every conscious reproves, but which do not constitute, in the eyes of the law, either crime or offense, and that official justice could not pursue, since they are an essential part of the right of the proprietor, and one could not suppress them without destroying property by the same blow; abuses, consequently, that we are careful not to conceal or diminish, since they should serve to reveal to us new ends in property, the knowledge of which will serve us to master its excesses.
One of the attributes of property is the power to be divided, parceled out, the division the division pushed as far as the proprietor pleases. It is necessary for the mobilization of the soil: there indeed is the great advantage of allodium over fief. With feudal tenure or the ancient Germanic or Slavic possession, still in use in Russia, society advances all of a piece, like an army ranged in battle. It is in vain that individuals have been declared free, and the State subordinated to the assembly of the people; the freedom of action of the citizen, that faculty of initiative, that we have indicated as the character of constitutional States, remains powerless; the immobilism of the soil, or, to put it better, the incommutability of the possessions always returns to social stasis, and consequently autocracy in government. Property must circulate itself, with man, like a merchandise, like a currency. Without that, the citizen is like Pascal's man that the universe crushes, who knows it, who senses it, but who cannot prevent it, because the universe does not hear him, and because the law that presides over the movements of the heavens is deaf to his prayers. But change that law, make is to that universe moves at the will of the imperceptible creature who is for it only a thinking monad, and straightaway all will change: it is no longer the man who will be ground between the worlds; it is the worlds which will whirl at his command, like pith balls. That is exactly what occurs by the mobilization of the soil, accomplished by the magic power of that single word, property. It is thus that our species has elevated itself from the inferior regime of patriarchal association and undivided land to the high civilization of property, a civilization to which no one can have been initiated, and wish to turn back. Let on figure what will happen if suddenly, property abolished, the land divided new, all possessors of land were forbidden from selling, exchanging, alienating their share; if, I say, the soil was again, and for good, immobilized! Isn’t it true that the possessor, although working for himself alone and no longer paying any rent, would believe himself tied, as in the past, to the glebe?... I leave it to the reader to explore more deeply that which I can only indicate here.
Another attribute, another abuse of property, is in the faculty recognized in the proprietor to dispose in the most absolute manner. Give for the products of labor and genius; give for what we may call the proper creations of man; but for the land, nothing, it seems, is more contrary to all legal and contractual habits. The sovereign who makes a mining concession, for example, the proprietor who leases his land or who leaves it in an annuity, both never fail to impose certain conditions on the concessionaire, the tenant farmer, the donee. He must preserve the thing, exploiter en bon père de famille, etc. Here the sole condition imposed is that of the Abbey of Thélème, to do as one wills.
It looks like a comedy of Panurge. Never, certainly, were legislators, prince or national assembly, advised of any such idea, and that is for me proof that property is no legislative institution; it has not been declared by an assembly of representatives, pronouncing after careful deliberation and in knowledge of the causes; it is the product of social spontaneity, the expression of a self-confident will, which is affirmed equally in individuals and in the mass.
Let us note the profound reason for this constitution. There are things, expressed the wisdom of nations, for which the human conscience demands full and complete freedom, and rejects any sort of regulation. Of this number are love, art and labor; we must add property to the list.
From the point of view of moral perfection, every affection of the soul, every act of the will, being more or less tinged with selfishness, may be deemed as sin or as inducing sin. There is only the sense of right that is pure; justice is incorruptible by nature, never being able to harm, serving on the contrary as panacea. Thus love, flower of life, sustains the creation, without which all existence is desolated, love is not pure: despite the charms that poetry gives it, it resolves itself finally in immorality and corruption. What then will the moralist legislator do here? Will he, after having established the marriage and the pulled the family from promiscuity, impose a regulation on the husband, to make lois d'alcôve [laws of the bedroom], sometimes to invite action, sometimes to prescribe abstinence, to give amorous recipes and to make an art of conjugal love? No: the law of marriage extends a veil over the nuptial bed. It imposes on the conjoined fidelity and devotion; it forbids the husband from fixing his regard on the wife and child of his neighbor; the wife from looking at a stranger; it reminds them to respect themselves, and then abandons them to their own discretion. Let them go now in the mutuality of their tenderness, conscious of the rights of the other and of their own dignity, and it will be on love transfigured by Justice that the unshakeable edifice of the family will be raised; it will be by this that the wife, immodest and provocative by nature, will become holy and sacred.
What we have just said of love is equally true of art and of labor. That does not mean that the works of genius, the labors of the industrious, know neither rule nor measure, nor rhyme nor reason: in that regard, the romantic school taken a completely false route. That means that the operations of the industrial worker, of the artist, the poet and the thinker, though subject to principles, to technical procedures, exclude on the part of public authority, as of the Academy, every sort of regulation, which is very different. Liberty, such is here the true law: in which I am of the opinion of M. Dunoyer and of the majority of the economists.
I add that it must be with property as with love, labor and art. Not that the proprietor is to imagine that he is above all reason and all measure: as absolute as the law makes him, he will soon perceive, at his cost, that property cannot live with abuse; that it too must bow before common sense and before morals; he will understand that if the absolute aspires to depart from its metaphysical existence and to become something positively, that can only be by reason and justice. As soon as the absolute tends to realize itself, it becomes amenable to science and right. Only, as it is essential to the progress of justice that the conformity of property to truth and morals be voluntary, that to this end the proprietor must be master of his own movements, no obligation will be imposed on him by the State. And this fits perfectly with our principles: the aim of civilization, we have said, he work of the State being that every individual exercise the right of justice, becomes organ of right and minister of the law; which leads to the suppression of written constitutions and codes. The least laws, I mean of regulatory prescriptions and official statutes, possible, such is the principle which rules property, the principle of an obviously superior morality, by which alone the free man is distinguished from the slave.
In the system inaugurated by the revolution of 89, and consecrated by the French Code, the citizen is more than a free man: he is a fraction of the sovereign. It is not only in the electoral associations that his sovereignty is exercised, nor in the assemblies of his representatives; it is also, it is especially in the exercise of his industry, the direction of his mind, the administration of his property. The legislator has desired that the citizen enjoy, at his own risks and perils, the most complete autonomy, responsible only for his acts, when they harmed a third party, society or the State considered itself as a third. In these conditions only, the revolutionary legislator has believed that society could prosper, advance on the paths of wealth and justice. He has rejected all the feudal hindrances and restrictions. That is why the citizen, in so far as he works, produces, and possesses,—function of society,—is not at all a functionary of the State: he depends on no one, does what he wants, disposes of his intelligence, of his arms, of his capital, as it pleases him; and the events proves that indeed, it is in the countries where that industrial autonomy, that proprietary absolutism reigns, that there is the most wealth and virtue.
The legislator, in order to guarantee that independence of initiative, that unlimited freedom of action, has thus wanted property to be sovereign in all the force of the expression: one wonders what would have happened if he had wanted to submit it to regulation? How to separate the use from the abuse? How to predict all the malpractice, repress the insubordination, to remove the laziness, the incapacity, to monitor the clumsiness, etc., etc.—In a few words, exploitation by the State, the governmental community rejected, there was no other choice.
Thus, let the proprietor separate as much as he wants the net product from the gross product; instead of attaching himself closely to the land by a religious culture, let him seek only the rent, responsible only to the conscience and opinion, he will not be pursued for that. It is good, in itself, that the rent be distinguished from the gross product and become an object of speculation; lands being of different qualities, social circumstances favoring unequally these exploitations, the calculation and pursuit of the rent can become an instrument of better division. Experience will tell individuals when the practice of rent becomes detrimental and immoral to all; the abuse will then be restrained by itself, and there will remain only right and liberty.
Let the same proprietor borrow on his title, as on his clothes or his watch: the operation can become very dangerous for his, and full of miseries for the country; but the State will not intervene anymore, if it is not to compete with the usurers, by providing money to the borrowers at a better price. Mortgage credit is the means by which property in land enters into relation with movable wealth; agricultural with industrial laboratories: an excellent thing in itself, which facilitates enterprises, adds to the power of production, and becomes a new means of leveling. Experience alone can determine for each with regard to it, the liberty, to fix the measure and impose a curb.
Let the proprietor, finally, turn and turn again his earth, or leave it to lay, as he intends; let him make plantations, seedbeds or nothing at all; that he raises thorns there, or puts in cattle, he is the master. Naturally, society will have its part of the damage occasioned by an operation that is lazy or badly intended, as it suffers from every vice and every individual aberration. But it is still better for society to support this prejudice, than to ward it off with regulations. Napoleon I said that if he saw a proprietor leave his fields fallow, he would take his property from him. It was a thought of justice that the conqueror said, but it was not a thought of genius. No, not even in the case where it pleases the proprietor to leave his land without cultivation, you must not, you chief of State, intervene. Let the proprietor be the example will not be contagious; but do not commit to a labyrinth without exit. You permit one proprietor to fell a forest that provided heat for an entire district; another to transform five hectares of land in wheat into a park, and to raise foxes there. Why would you not allow him to grow bramble, thistle and thorn? The abuse of property is the price you pay for its inventions and its efforts: with time it will correct itself. Laissez faire.
It is thus that property, founded on egoism, is the flame which will purify egoism. It is by property that the self,—individual, unsocial, greedy, envious, jealous, full of pride and bad faith,—is transfigured, and makes itself like the collective self, its master and model. The institution which seems made to deify concupiscence, as it has been so often reproached by Christianity, is precisely that which will return concupiscence to conscience. If selfishness never becomes in us identical and adequate to Justice; if the moral law is sought with the same zeal as profit and wealth; if, as Hobbes claimed, the rule of utility can one day serve as the rule of right; and one cannot doubt that would be, indeed, the aim of civilization; it is to property that the world would owe this miracle.
Depending on whether we envision property according to its principle or its ends, it will appear to us as the greatest and most cowardly of immoralities, or as the ideal of civil and domestic virtue.
Look at that vulgar face, on which shines no glint of genius, love or honor. The eye is suspicious, the smile false, the front inaccessible to shame, features clash, the formidable jaw, not the jaw of the lion, but of a hippopotamus. The whole physiognomy seems to say: All is nothing, except to have goods, to have enough of them, in whatever manner they have been acquired. The character is not so coarse that he does not understand that property is no merit; but he makes no case for merit, convinced that nobility, bravery, industry, talent, probity, everything that men esteem, without Holdings, is zero, and that he who can say: I have, can very well pass on the rest. He will not argue with you about the origin and legitimacy of property; he is inclined to believe, in petto, that property was in its origin only a usurpation which the legislator has just let slide. But as, according to him, what was good to begin is good to continue, he has only one thought: it is, aside from respect for the sergeants, to increase his Holdings, by all the dubious means which have served to establish them. He exploits the poor, disputes wages with the worker, plunders everywhere and gleans, digs a furrow in the field of his neighbor, and moves the markers when he can do it without being seen. I have seen one who took up in his hand the earth in the ditch and removed it from his side: one would have said that he ate it. To his is rendered of the rent, of the interest on money, all that they can render: so he is the worst usurer as he is the worst master and the very worst paymaster. For the rest, hypocrite and poltroon, fearing the Devil and Justice alike, afraid of effort, not opinion; measuring all men by his own yardstick, which is to say regarding them as rogues; foreign especially to public affairs and not mixing with the government, if it is not in order lighten his share of the tax or pay for his vote, happy that he finds around him citizens to the prejudice of which the incorruptible suffrage permits him to make a good profit of his own. This is the proprietor according to the letter and principle, which amounts to saying, according to egoism and matter.
Cast your eyes now to the other side, and consider that figure on which is painted, with dignity and sincerity, the high thoughts of the heart. What distinguishes this subject first of all, is that never, in the candor of his soul, would he have invented property. He would have protested with all the force of his conscience against that institution of absolutism and abuse; out of respect for the right, in the interest of the masses, he would have maintained the ancient possession; and without being aware of it, against his formal intention, he would have eternalized despotism in the State, servitude in society. Property exists presently; the accident of birth has made him one of its owners. He possesses without being possessed; he believes in good faith in a principle that he has not wanted, and the responsibility of which weighs on everyone. But he said at the same time that property obliges, and if the law demands nothing of him, his conscience imposes all. Prince of labor, the guardian of law and of liberty, the life of the owner is not to be a life of enjoyment and parasitism, but a life of struggle. He was in the old Rome, noble laborer, head of the austere family, reuniting in his person the threefold capacity of priest, justice and master, made immortal, glorious like the kings, the name, today almost ridiculous, of citizen. It was he who, in 1789, armed both against feudal despotism and against the world. Conscription has replaced the battalions of volunteers, but if the armies of the Empire have rivaled in courage those of the Republic, they have remained inferior in virtue. Friend of the working people, never its courtesan, awaiting the progress of equality; it is also he who said in 1848 that democracy was intended not to shorten coats, it is to lengthen jackets; he finally who supports contemporary society against the assaults of an unbridled industrialism, a corrupt literature, a long-winded demagoguery, a Jesuitism without faith and a politics without principle. Such is the proprietor according to the aims, that one could also call the proprietor according to the spirit.
Chapter 7: Equilibration of property. System of guarantees.
One thing remains to be done, the most difficult of all.
I believe that I have proven, to the satisfaction of the reader, on one hand, that property cannot find its justificative reason in any principle, whether juridical, economic, psychological or metaphysical, or in any origin, whether usucapion, prescription, labor, conquest or concession of the legislator, and in that regard jurisprudence is completely mistaken, if it had even understood the question. That was, from 1839 to 1858, the object of my polemic. I add now that if one studies the essentially abusive power of property in its political, economic and moral consequences, one untangles from that bundle of abuses an energetic functionality, which awakens immediately in the spirit the idea of a highly civilized goal, as favorable to right as to liberty. So that if the State, with the division and balance of its powers, appeared to us first as the regulator of society, property has in its turn manifested itself as its great ressort, to such [enseignes] that, if it is suppressed, distorted or weakened, the system stops; there is no longer either life or movement.
Chapter 9: Summary
The Theory of Property P.-J. Proudhon
Chapter IX Summary
The developments that I have given to my theory of property can be summed up in a few pages.
A first thing to observe is that, under the generic name of property, the apologists for that institution have confused, either through ignorance or through artifice, all manners of possession: communal system, emphyteusis, usufruct, feudal and allodial systems; they have reasoned about capital as if it was income, of fungible property as if it was immovable property. We have done justice to that confusion.
Possession, indivisible, untransferable, inalienable, pertains to the sovereign, prince, government, or collectivity, of which the tenant is more or less the dependent, feudataire or vassal. The Germans, before the invasion, the barbarians of the Middle Ages, knew only it; it is the principle of all the Slavic race, applied at this moment by the Emperor Alexander to sixty millions peasants. That possession implies in it the various rights of use, habitation, cultivation, pasture, hunting, and fishing—all the natural rights that Brissot called property according to nature; it is to a possession of that sort, but which I had not defined, that I referred in my first Memoir and in my Contradictions. That form of possession is a great step in civilization; it is better in practice than the absolute domain of the Romans, reproduced in our anarchic property, which is killing itself with fiscal crises and its own excesses. It is certain that the economist can require nothing more: there the worker is rewarded, his fruits guaranteed; all that belongs legitimately to him is protected. The theory of possession, principle of civilization of the Slavic societies, is the most honorable of that race: it makes up for the tardiness of its development and makes inexpiable the crime of the Polish nobility.
But is that the last word of civilization, and of right as well? I do not think so; one can conceive something more; the sovereignty of man is not entirely satisfied; liberty and mobility are not great enough.
Simple or allodial property—divisible, [engageable], and alienable—is the absolute domain of the holder over something, "the right of use and of abuse," known initially as the quiritaire law; "within the limits of the law," the collective consciousness adds later. Property is Roman; I find it clearly articulated only in Italy; and still its formation is slow.
The justification of the domain of property has always been the despair of jurists, economists, and philosophers. The principle of appropriation is that every product of labor,--such as a bow, some arrows, a plow, a rake, a house,--belongs of right to whoever has created it. Man does not create matter; he only shapes it. Nevertheless, although he did not create the wood from which he fashions a bow, a bed, a table, some chairs, or a bucket, it is the practice that material follows the form, and that property in labor implies property in materials. It is supposed that this material is offered to all, that no one is excluded, and that each may appropriate it.
Does that theory, that "la forme emporte le fonds," apply to cultivated land? It is well-proven that the producer has a right to his product, the settler to the fruits that he has created. It is proven as well that one has a right to limit his consumption, accumulate a capital, and dispose of it at one's will. But [the land question cannot be answered in this manner]; it is a new fact which exceeds the limit of the right of the producer. That producer did not create the soil, common to all. It is proven that he who has readied, furnished, cleaned up and cleared the soil has a right to remuneration, to compensation; it will be demonstrated that that compensation must consist, not in a monetary sum, but in the privilege of planting the cleared soil during a given time. Let us go all the way: it will be proven that each year of culture, involving improvement, entails for the cultivator the right to a fresh compensation. Very well! The property is not perpetual. The farm leases of nine, twelve, or thirty years can take into account all of that with regard to the farmer, with respect to whom the proprietor represents the public domain. The land tenure of the Slavic commune also takes into account the partiaire peasant; the law is satisfied, labor compensated: there is no property. The Roman law and the Civil Code have perfectly distinguished all of these things: rights of use, usufruct, habitation, exploitation, possession. How do the economists pretend to confuse these with the right of property? What are we to make of the bucolic of Mr. Thiers and all the stupid declamations of the coterie?
Social economy, like right, knows no domain, and exists entirely outside of property: concept of value, wages, labor, product, exchange, circulation, rent, sale and purchase, currency, tax, credit, theory of population, monopoly, patents, rights of authors, insurance, public service, association, etc. The relations of family and city have no more need of property; domain may be reserved to the commune, or to the State; rent then becomes tax; the cultivator becomes possessor; it is better than tenant farming, better than metayage; liberty and individuality enjoy the same guarantees.
It must be well understood: humanity even is not proprietor of the earth: how could a nation, how could a private individual say that it is sovereign of the portion which it is due? Humanity has not created the soil: man and the earth have been created for one another and come under a higher authority. We have received the earth in tenancy and usufruct; it has been given to us to be possessed, exploited by us solidarily and individually, under our collective and personal responsibility. We become the cultivator, the possessor, by enjoying, not arbitrarily, but according to rules that consciousness and reason discover, and for an end which goes beyond our pleasure: these rules and this end exclude all absolutism on our part, and refer terrestrial domain to a higher authority than ours. Man, said one of our bishops one day, is the foreman of the globe. That speech has been highly praised. Well, it does not express anything but what I have just said, that property is superior to humanity, superhuman, and that every attribution of that sort, to us poor creatures, is usurpation.
All of our arguments in favor of property, that is, of an eminent sovereignty over things, only succeed in demonstrating possession, usufruct, usage, the right to live and to work, nothing more.
We must always come to the conclusion that property is a true legal fiction; only it could be that the fiction grounded in such a way that we must regard it as legitimate. Otherwise, we do not depart from the realm of the possessory, and all of our argumentation is sophistic and in bad faith. It may be possible that this fiction, which appalls us because we do not see the sense of it, is so sublime, so splendid, so lofty in its justice, that none of our most real, most positive, most immanent rights approach it, and they only survive themselves by means of that keystone, a true fiction.
The principle of property--ultra-legal, extra-juridical, anti-economic, superhuman--is nonetheless a spontaneous product of the collective Being and of society, and it falls to us to search in it for, if not a complete justification, at least an explanation.
The right of property is absolute, jus utendi et abutendi, the right of use and abuse. It opposes itself to another absolute, government, which begins by imposing on its antagonist the restriction, quatenùs juris ratio patitur, "within the limits of the law." From the reason of the law to the reason of the State is only a step: we are in constant danger of usurpation and despotism. The justification of property, that we have vainly sought in its origins--first occupancy, usucapion, conquest, appropriation by labor,--we find in its aims: it is essentially political. Where domain belongs to the collectivity, senate, aristocracy, prince or emperor, there is only feudalism, vassalage, hierarchy and subordination; no liberty, consequently, nor autonomy. It is to break the bonds of collective sovereignty, so exorbitant, so formidable, that the domain of property has been raised against it, true sign of the sovereignty of the citizen; it is to break those bonds that this domain has been assigned to the individual, the State only keeping the parts deemed indivisible and common: waterways, lakes, ponds, roads, public places, waste lands, uncultivated mountains, forests, deserts, and all that which cannot be appropriated. It is in order to increase the ease of transport and circulation that the earth has been rendered mobilizable, alienable, divisible, after having rendered it hereditary. Allodial property is a division of sovereignty: on that account it is particularly odious to power and democracy. It is odious first because of its omnipotence; it is the adversay of autocracy, as liberty is the enemy of authority; it does not please the democrats, who are all on fire for unity, centralization, and absolutism. The people are cheerful when they look to make war against the proprietors. And yet allodium is the basis of the republic.
The constitution of a republic,--permit me at least to use that word in its high juridical sense,--is the sine qua non condition of safety. General Lafayette said one day, in presenting Louis-Philippe, "This is the best of republics;" and the constitutional royalty was defined: "A monarchy surrounded by republican institutions." The word republic is not then seditious by itself: it responds to the views of science as much as it satisfies desires.
The immediate consequences of allodial property are: 1) administration of the commune by the proprietors, farmers and workers, gathered in council; [partant] communal independence and the arrangement of its properties; 2) administration of the province by the provincials: thus decentralization and the germ of federation. The royal function, defined by the constitutional system, is replaced here by the citizen proprietors, having an open eye on public affairs: nothing is in need of mediation.
Feudal property will never engender a republic; and similarly a republic which would allow allodium to sink into fief, which would return to slavic communism from property, will not remain; it will become an autocracy.
Likewise, true property will not engender a monarchy; a monarchy will not engender true property. If the opposite was achieved, if an agglomeration of proprietors elected a head, by that same they would abdicate their share of sovereignty, and sooner or later the proprietary principle would be altered by their hands; or if a monarchy created proprietors, it would implicitly abdicate, it would demolish itself, unless it transformed itself voluntarily into a constitutional royalty, more nominal than effective, representing the proprietors. We have seen this in France, when, under Louis-Philippe, liberals and republicans made war on parochialism, l'esprit de clocher. The cause of royalty was served.
In this way, all of my previous criticisms, all the egalitarian conclusions that I have deduced from them, receive a brilliant confirmation.
The principle of property is ultra-legal, extra-legal, absolutist, and egoist by nature, to the point of iniquity: it must be this way.
It has for counter-weight the reason of the State, which is absolutist, ultra-legal, illiberal, and governmental, to the point of oppression: it must be this way.
Here is how, in the projections of universal reason, the principle of egoism, usurper by nature, without integrity, becomes an instrument of justice and of order, to the point that property and right are inseparable ideas and nearly synonyms. Property is egoism idealized, consecrated, invested with a political and juridical function.
It must be this way: because right is never better observed than when it finds a defender in egoism and in the coalition of egoisms. Liberty will never be defended against power, if it does not have at its disposal a means of defense, if it does not have its impregnable fortress.
The reader must take care not to see in this antagonism, these oppositions, these equilibrations, a simple witticism, a jeu d'esprit. I know that a simplistic theory, like communism or the absolutism of the State, is easier to comprehend than the study of the antinomies. But the fault is not in me, a simple observer and seeker of series. I hear certain reformers say: Let us suppose all of the complications of authority, liberty, possession, competition, monopoly, tax, balance of trade, public services; let us create a uniform plan of society, and all will be simplified and resolved. They reason like the doctor who said: With its diverse elements,--bone, muscles, tendons, nerves, viscera, arterial and venous blood, gastic and pancreatic fluids, chyle, lachrymal and synovial humors, gas, liquids and solids,--the body is ungovernable. Let us reduce it to a single, solid, resilient matter, bone for example; hygiene and therapy will become child's play.--So be it, only society cannot ossify any more than the human body. Our social system is complicated, much more than one would have thought. If, today, we have acquired all the data, it needs to be coordinated, synthesized according to its own laws. There, a thought exposes itself, an intimate collective life that develops apart from the laws of geometry and mechanics; that is reluctant to assimilate to the rapid, uniform, infallible movement of a crystallization; of which the ordinary, syllogistic, fatalist, unitary logic is incapable of taking account, but which is explained marvelously with the aid of a larger philosophy, admitting in a system the plurality of principles, the struggle of elements, the opposition of contraries and the synthesis of all the indefinables and absolutes.
Now, as we know that there are degrees in intelligence as well as in force; degrees in memory, reflection, idealization, the faculty of invention; degrees in love and in thought; degrees of sensibility; degrees of self or of consciousness; as it is impossible to say where that which we call the soul begins and where it ends, why refuse to admit to us that the social principles,--so well linked, so well thought out, and in which are found so much reason, foresight, feeling, passion, and justice,--are the sign of a true life, of a higher thought, of a reason constituted differently from our own.
Why, if it is thus, won't we see in these facts the achievement of the direct creation of society by itself, resulting from the simple connection of the elements and of the play of forces which constitute society?
We have surprised a logic apart, maxims which are not those of our individual reason, although that reason comes, by the study of society, to discover them and to make them its own. There is then a difference between individual reason and collective reason.
We have been able to observe again, thanks to property and its accompaniments, another phenomenon, another law, the one of free forces, going and returning, indefinite approximations, latitude of action and of reaction, elasticity of nature, harmony extended, which is the distinctive character of life, of liberty, and of imagination. Property and government are to spontaneous creations of a law of immanence which denies itself to the idea of an initiation étrangère, in which case each human group would need a special initiator
This understood, we will remark that the general laws of history are the same as those of social organization. To make the history of property among a people is to tell how it has gone through the crises of its political formation, how it has produced its powers and its organs, equalized its forces, regulated its interests, endowed its citizens; how it has lived, and how it has died. Property is the most fundamental principle by the aid of which one may explain the revolutions of history. It has not yet existed in the conditions where theory places it; no nation has ever been up to that institution, but it positively governs history, although absent, and it hastens the nations to recognize it, punishing the traitor.
The Roman law had recognized it only in an incomplete manner, unilaterally. It had well defined the sovereignty of the citizen on the land due to him; it had not recognized the role and defined the right of the State. Roman property is property independent of the social contract, absolute, without solidarity or reciprocity, prior to and also superior to the public right, egoist, vicious, sinful, and thus justly condemned by the Church. The Republic and the Empire have crumbled, the one atop the other, since the patriciate had only wanted property for itself alone; because the victorious plebe has not known how to acquire it, to put it to work, and to consolidate it; and because slavery, the colonat spoiled everything. For the rest, it is by allodial property that all the aristocracies and all despotism have been defeated, from the end of the western empire up to today. Allodial property, abandoned by the nobility to the communes and to roture, stifled the lordly power, and, in 1789, gobbled up the fiefs;--it is the same principle which, after having brought about the usurpation of the Polish nobility, simple usufructaries in the beginning, turned against it and cause it to lose the nationality; which, in 1846, has brought about the massacres of Gallacia.
It is against the allodial principle that England stiffened itself, preferring, following the example of the Roman patricians, to throw the world to its workers ["jeter la monde en pâture, as one would throw food to hungry animals] than to allow the division and mobilization of the soil, and to equalize property.
The principle of synthetic, allodial or equal property, would have progressively conducted the France of '89 to an egalitarain Republic, without or without dynasty: the dynastic principle having to be subordinated in France as it is in England, but following another system. There was a moment of hope, in 1830. Sadly, the spirits predisposed to English ideas did not grasp the profound difference which must distinguish the French Constitution, based on allodium, and the English constitution, based on fief. It was Sieyès, one of the most profound of our politicians, who spread the error.
An electoral census was then established, of large and small colleges: these supposed large and small property holdings; imperceptibly, while [possession of] the soil eroded dramatically among the lower class, it was gathered anew, and large property reformed itself with the aid of industrial capital; feudalism,--financial, manufacturing, transport, mining, Judaic,--followed; so that today France no longer knows itself; some say that the constitutional government, imported from England, was not made for it; a small number, who affirm the Republic and desire only a Chamber, do not themselves know the reason for their desire, or the constitutive principles of the government of the Revolution.
Property has undergone numerous eclipses in history, under the Romans, among the barbarians, in modern times and in our own day. We find the causes of those lapses in ignorance, incompetence, and especially in the indignity of the proprietors. In Rome, the avarice of the nobles, their blind resistance to the legitimate complaints of the people, the decline of the plebians, preferring to culture the brigandage of armies, military pillage, and the caesarean grants, made a clean slate, along with property, of law, liberties, and nationality. Feudal oppression, in the Middle Ages, expelled all the small proprietors from allodium to fief. Property, eclipsed for more than a thousand years, reappeared with the French Revolution. Its ascendant period stopped at the end of the reign of Louis Philippe; since then, it is in decline: indignity.
The mass of the proprietors are disgraceful, especially in the countryside. The Revolution, in selling the goods of the Church and of émigrés, has created a new class of proprietors; it has believed them to be interested in liberty. Not at all: what has interested this class is that the émigrés and the Bourbons do not return, and that is all. To that end, the beneficiaries have imagined nothing better than to given themselves a master, Napoleon. And when, exercising clemency, he authorized the émigrés to return, they made it a crime: they would never have thought them far enough away.
Property, created by the Revolution, no longer thinks of itself as a political institution, counter-balancing the State, as a guarantee of liberty and good administration; it considers itself, by force of habit, as privilege, enjoyment, as a new aristocracy, allied to the poor by the division of employments, consequently of taxes, and it is interested in that way in the exploitation of the mases. It has only to think of its prey. The chaos is profound and it is not clear which particular system to accuse. The legislature of '89 lacked foresight; the new proprietors, purchasers of national goods, have lacked character and public spirit, in saying to Napoleon I: Reign and govern, provided that we enjoy. Under the Restoration, there was an instinct of reform; the bourgeoisie passed into the opposition, which is its place; it made an antithesis to the State; but this was accidental: some saw in the Bourbons the princes of the ancien regime; some made war for the maintenance of sales; and when the Revolution of July had changed the dynasty, property devoted itself to power. Their deal was soon concluded: the bourgeoisie, through its deputies, consented to the tax, nine-tenths of which returned to them by employment. It had created corruption in a system, and dishonored property by agiotage; it wanted to join the benefits of the bank to those of rent; it had preferred the stipends of the state, the gains of traffic and of the stock market to production and to commerce; it is the serf of the big companies.
A key point that must not be forgotten is that the citizen, by the federative pact which confers property to him, brings together two contradictory duties: he must follow, on one side, the law of his interests, and, on the other, he must make sure that, as a member of the social body, his property is not detrimental to public affairs. In short, he is constituted police agent and watcher over himself. That double quality is essential to the constitution of liberty; without it all edifices crumble; it is necessary to return to the principle of police and authority. Where is public morality in that chapter?
We have had a regulation of the baker's shop. Now, it would have been useless if the social body had been organized in such a manner that the making of bread, the sale of wheat, was made truthful and upright, which has not taken place and will not take place so long as our morals are not renewed. Anyway, regulation has never had any power against the pact of famine, as real today as before '89. We have regulated the butcher's shop, which sells cadavers for fresh meat, and dogs for beef; regulation of the markets: weights and measures, quality and quantity. Vegetables, fruits, poultry, fish, game, butter, dairy,--all is defective, all is over-priced. There is not a remedy in suppression, so long as public consciousness is not renewed, so long as, by that regeneration, the citizen producer does not become his own strict supervisor. Can he do that, yes or no? Can property become holy? Is the condemnation, which the Gospel has placed on it, indelible? In the first case, we can be free; in the second, we have resigned ourselves; we are fatally and always under the double law of the Empire and the Church, and all of our displays of liberalism are pure hypocrisy and increase of misery.
All things considered, it is a question of knowing if the French nation is capable today of supplying true proprietors. What is certain is that property is to be regenerated among us. The element of that regeneration is, along with the moral regeneration of which we have just spoken, equilibration.
Every institution of property supposes either: 1) an equal distribution of land between the holders; or 2) an equivalent in favor of those who possess none of the soil. But this is a pure assumption: the equality of property is not at all an initial fact; it is in the ends of the institution, not in its origins. We have remarked first of all that property, because it is abusive, absolutist, and based in egoism, must inevitably tend to restrict itself, to compete with itself, and, as a consequence, to balance. Its tendency is to equality of conditions and fortunes. Exactly because it is absolute, it dismisses any idea of absorption. Let us weigh this well.
Property is not measured by merit, as it is neither wages, nor reward, nor decoration, nor honorific title; it is not measured by the power of the individual, since labor, production, credit and exchange do not require it at all. It is a free gift, accorded to man, with a view to protecting him against the attacks of poverty and the incursions of his fellows. It is the breastplate of his personality and equality, independent of differences in talent, genius, strength, industry, etc.
"Suppose," I said in 1840, "that this daily social task consists in the ploughing, hoeing, or reaping of two square decameters, and that the average time required to accomplish it is seven hours: one laborer will finish it in six hours, another will require eight; the majority, however, will work seven. But provided each one furnishes the quantity of labor demanded of him, whatever be the time he employs, they are entitled to equal wages. Shall the laborer who is capable of finishing his task in six hours have the right, on the ground of superior strength and activity, to usurp the task of the less skilful laborer, and thus rob him of his labor and bread? Who dares maintain such a proposition? . . . If the strong come to the aid of the weak, their kindness deserves praise and love; but their aid must be accepted as a free gift, — not imposed by force, nor offered at a price."<ref>Tucker translation.</ref>
Under the communist or governmentalist regime, it is necessary for the police and authority to guarantee the weak against the strong; sadly, the police and authority, as long as they have existed, have only ever functioned for the profit of the strong, for whom they have magnified the means of usurpation. Property—absolute, uncontrollable—protects itself. It is the defensive weapon of the citizen, his shield; labor is his sword.
Here is why it is suitable for all: the young ward as much as the mature adult, the black as the white, the straggler as the precocious, the ignorant as the learned, the artisan as the functionary, the worker as the entrepreneur, the farmer as the bourgeois and the noble. Here is why the Church prefers it to wages; and, for the same reason, why the papacy requires, in its turn, sovereignty. All the bishops, in the Middle Ages, were sovereign; all, until 1789, were proprietors; the pope alone remained as a relic.
The equilibrium of property still requires some political and economic guarantees. Property,—State, such are the two poles of society. The theory of property is the companion piece to the theory of the justification, by the sacraments, of fallen man.
The guarantees of property against itself are:
- Mutual and free credit.
- Warehouses, docks, markets. (See my project for the Palais de l'Exposition universelle, p. 249.)
- Mutual insurance and balance of commerce.
- Public, universal and equal instruction.
- Industrial and agricultural association.
- Organization of public services: canals, railroads, roads, ports, mail, telegraphs, draining, irrigation.
The guarantees of property against the State are:
- Separation and distribution of powers.
- Equality before the law.
- Jury, judge of fact, and judge of law.
- Liberty of the press.
- Public monitoring.
- Federal organization.
- Communal and provincial organization.
The State is composed: 1) of the federation of proprietors, grouped by districts, departments, and provinces; 2) of the industrial associations, small worker republics; 3) of public services (at cost-price); 4) of artisans and free merchants. Normally, the number of industrialists, artisans, and merchants is determined by those of the proprietors of land. Every country must live by its own production; as a consequence, industrial production must be equal to the excess of subsistences not consumed by the proprietors.
There are exceptions to that rule: in England, for example, industrial production exceeded that proportion, thanks to foreign exchange. It is a temporary anomaly; unless certain races should be doomed to an eternal subalternization. Moreover, there exist exceptional products in demand everywhere: those from fishing, for example, and those from mineral exploitation. But, measured over the entire globe, the proportion is as I say: the quota lot of subsistences is the regulator; consequently, agriculture is the essential and predominant industry.
In constituting property in land, the legislator wanted one thing: that the earth would not be in the hands of the State, dangerous communism or governmentalism, but in the hands of all. The tendency is, as a consequence, we are constantly told, toward the balance of property, and subsequently to that of conditions and fortunes.
It is thus that, by the rules of industrial association, which sooner or later, with the aid of better legislation, will include large industrial bodies, each worker has his hand on a portion of capital.
It is thus that, by the law of the diffusion of labor, and the ramification of taxes, everyone must pay his more or less equal part of the public expenses.
It is thus that, by the true organization of universal suffrage, every citizen has a hand in government; and thus also that, by the organization of credit, every citizen has a hand in circulation, and finds himself at once general partner and silent partner, banker and discounter before the public.
It is thus that, by enlistment, each citizen takes part in the defence; by education, takes part in philosophy and science.
It is thus, finally, that, by the right of free examination and of free publicity each citizen has a hand in all the ideas and all the ideals which can be produced.
Humanity proceeds by approximations:
- 1st. The approximation of the equality of faculties through education, the division of labor, and the development of aptitudes;
- 2nd. The approximation of the equality of fortunes through industrial and commercial freedom.
- 3rd. The approximation of the equality of taxes;
- 4th. The approximation of the equality of property;
- 5th. The approximation of an-archy;
- 6th. The approximation of non-religion, or non-mysticism;
- 7th. Indefinite progress in the science, law, liberty, honor, justice.
It is proof that fate does not govern society; that geometry and arithmetic proportions do not regulate its movements, as in minerology or chemistry; that there is a life, a soul, a liberty which escapes from the precise, fixed measures governing matter. Materialism, in that which touches society, is absurd.
Thus, on this great question, our critique remains at base the same, and our conclusions are always the same: we want equality, more and more fully approximated, of conditions and fortunes, as we want, more and more, the equalization of responsibilities. We reject, along with governmentalism, communism in all its forms; we want the definition of official functions and individual functions; of public services and of free services. There is only one thing new for us in our thesis: it is that that same property, the contradictory and abusive principle of which has raised our disapproval, we today accept entirely, along with its equally contradictory qualification: Dominium est just utendi et abutendi re suâ, quatenus juris ratio patur. We have understood finally that the opposition of two absolutes—one of which, alone, would be unpardonably reprehensive, and both of which, together, would be rejected, if they worked separately—is the very cornerstone of social econony and public right: but it falls to us to govern it and to make it act according to the laws of logic.
What would the apologists for property do? The economists of the school of Say and Malthus?
For them, property was a sacrament which remained alone and by itself, prior and superior to the reason of the State, independent of the State, which they would humble beyond all measure.
They would desire then property independent of law, as they want competition independent of law; freedom of import and export independent of law; industrial sponsorship, the Stock Exchange, the Bank, the salariat, tenant farming, independent of law.—That is, in their theories of property, of competition, of concurrence, and of credit, not content to declare an unlimited liberty, a limitless initiative, which we also desire, they disregard the interests of the collectivity, which are the law; not understanding that political economy is composed of two fundamental parts: the description of economic forces and phenomena apart from law, and their regularization by law.
They would dare to say that the equilibration of property, as I mean it, is its very destruction. So what! Will it no longer be property, since the farmer will share in the rent and the surplus value; because the rights of the third who have built or planted will be established and recognized; because property in the soil will no longer necessarily mean property in that which is above or beneath it; because the lessor, in case of bankruptcy, will come with the other creditors to a division of the assets, without privilege; because between legitimate holders there will be equality, not hierarchy; because instead of seeing in property only enjoyment and rent, the holder will find in it the guarantee of his independence and dignity; because instead of being a ridiculous character, Mr. Prudhomme or Mr. Jourdain, the proprietor will be a dignified citizen, conscious of his duties as well as his rights, the sentry of liberty against despotism and usurpation?
I have developed the considerations which make property intelligible, rational, legitimate, and without which it remains usurping and odious.
And yet, even in these conditions, it presents something egoist which is always unpleasant to me. My reason being egalitarian, anti-governmental, and the enemy of ferocity and the abuse of force, can accept, the dependence on property as a shield, a place of safety for the weak: my heart will never be in it. For myself, I do not need that concession, either to earn my bread, or to fulfill my civic duties, or for my happiness. I do not need to encounter it in others to aid them in their weakness and respect their rights. I feel enough of the energy of conscience, enough intellectual force, to sustain with dignity all of my relations; and if the majority of my fellow citizens resembled me, what would we have to do with that institution? Where would be the risk of tyranny, or the risk of ruin from competition and free exchange? Where would be the peril to the small, the orphan and the worker? Where would be the need for pride, ambition, and avarice, which can satisfy itself only by immense appropriation?
A small, rented house, a garden to use, largely suffices for me: my profession not being the cultivation of the soil, the vine, or the meadow, I have no need to make a park, or a vast inheritance. And when I would be a laborer or vintner, the Slavic possession will suffice for me: the share falling due to each head of household in each commune. I cannot abide the insolence of the man who, his feet on ground he holds only by a free cession, forbids you passage, prevents you from picking a bluet in his field or from passing along the path.
When I see all these fences around Paris, which block the view of the country and the enjoyment of the soil by the poor pedestrian, I feel a violent irritation. I ask myself whether the property which surrounds in this way each house is not instead expropriation, expulsion from the land. Private Property! I sometimes meet that phrase written in large letters at the entrance of an open passage, like a sentinel forbidding me to pass. I swear that my dignity as a man bristles with disgust. Oh! In this I remain of the religion of Christ, which recommends detachment, preaches modesty, simplicity of spirit and poverty of heart. Away with the old patrician, merciless and greedy; away with the insolent baron, the avaricious bourgeois, and the hardened peasant, durus arator. That world is odious to me. I cannot love it nor look at it. If I ever find myself a proprietor, may God and men, the poor especially, forgive me for it!