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Translation:Confessions of a Revolutionary, to serve as a History of the February Revolution by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, translated by Wikisource
III. Nature and Destination of Government

It must be, says the Holy Scripture, that there be parties: Oportet enim hæreses esse. — Terrible It must be! exclaims Bossuet in profound adoration, without having dared to seek the reason for this It must be!

A little bit of reflection revealed to us the principle and the significance of parties: it is all about knowing the aim and the end.

All men are equal and free: society, by nature and destination, is therefore autonomous, as it were, ungovernable. The sphere of activity of each citizen being determined by the natural division of labor and the choice he makes of a profession, social functions combined in a manner to produce a harmonious effect, order is the result of the free action of all: there is no government. Whoever puts his hand on me to govern me is a usurper and a tyrant: I declare him my enemy.

But social physiology does not initially entail this egalitarian organization: the idea of Providence, which appears to be among the first in society, there repugns. Equality arrives to us by a succession of tyrannies and governments, in which Liberty is continually grappling with absolutism, like Israel with Jehovah. Equality is thus continually born for us from inequality; Liberty has for its father Government.

When the first men assembled at the edge of forests to found society, they did not say to themselves, as would the shareholders of a partnership: Organize our rights and duties, in such manner as to provide for each and all the greatest sum of well-being, and fetch at one time our equality and our independence. So much of reason was beyond the reach of the first men, and in contradiction of the theory of the revelators. One had an entirely different language: We constitute in our midst an Authority which oversees and governs us, Constituamus super nos regem! It is in this way that we could understand, on 10 December 1848, our farmers, when they gave their votes to Louis Bonaparte. The voice of the people is the voice of power, until it becomes the voice of liberty. Also, all authority is of divine right: Omnis potestas a Deo, says Saint Paul.

Authority, that is thus what was the first social idea of mankind.

And the second was to immediately work to abolish authority, everyone wanting to serve the instrument of his own liberty against the liberty of others: such is destiny, such is the work of Parties.

Authority had no sooner been inaugurated in the rest of the world, when it became the object of universal competition. Authority, Government, Power, State, — these words designate the same thing; — everyone had there seen the means to oppress and exploit his fellow man. Absolutists, doctrinaires, demagogues and socialists, incessantly turned their eyes toward authority as to their unique pole.

Hence the aphorism of the radical party, which the doctrinaires and the absolutists assuredly do not disavow: The social revolution is the goal; the political revolution (that is to say the displacement of authority) is the means. What this means is: Give us the power of life and death over your persons and your property, and we will set you free!..... There have been more than six thousand years of kings and priests telling us this!

Thus Government and the Parties are reciprocally to one another Cause End and Means. They exist for one another; their destiny is common: it is to summon every day the peoples to emancipation; it is to energetically solicit their initiative by the embarrassment of their faculties; it is to mold their spirit and to continually push them towards progress by prejudice, by restrictions, by a calculated resistance to all their ideas, to all their needs. Thou shalt not do this; thou shalt abstain from that: Government, regardless of which party reigns, has never been able to say anything else. The Defense is since Eden the system of mankind's education. But, once man has reached the age of majority, Government and the Parties have a duty to disappear. This conclusion arrives herein with the same rigor of logic, with the same necessity of tendency by which we have seen socialism come out of absolutism, philosophy be born of religion, equality install itself over inequality.

When, through philosophical analysis, one wants to become aware of authority, its principles, its forms, its effects, one soon recognizes that the constitution of authority, spiritual and temporal, is nothing but a preparatory organism, essentially parasitic and corruptible, incapable by itself of producing anything else, whatever its form, some idea of what it represents, that being tyranny and misery. Philosophy consequently affirms, contrary to faith, that the constitution of an authority over the people is only a transitional establishment; that power is not a conclusion of science, but a product of spontaneity, vanishing as soon as it is discussed; that, far from fortifying and growing over time, as is surmised by the rival parties who besiege it, it must be reduced indefinitely and be absorbed into the industrial organization; consequently, it must not be placed over, but under society; and, reversing the aphorism of the radicals, it concludes: The political revolution, the abolition of authority among men is the goal; the social revolution is the means.

That is why, says the philosopher, all parties, without exception, as they affect power, are varieties of absolutism, and there will only be liberty for the citizens, order for society, union among the workers, when the renunciation of authority will have replaced in the political catechism faith in authority.

More than parties;

More than authority;

Absolute liberty of man and of the citizen

In three words, I made my profession of political and social faith.

It is in this spirit of governmental negation that I said one day to a man of rare intelligence, but who has the weakness of will to be a minister:

“Conspire with us for the demolition of government. Make yourself a revolutionary for the transformation of Europe and the world, and remain a journalist.” (Représentant du Peuple, 5 June 1848)

I was answered:

“There are two ways to be a revolutionary: from above, that is revolution by initiative, by intelligence, by progress, by ideas; — from below, that is revolution by insurrection, by force, by cobblestones.

“I was, I am still a revolutionary from above; I have never been, I will never be a revolutionary from below.

“So do not count on me to ever conspire for the demolition of any government, my spirit would refuse. It is accessible only to one thought: to ameliorate government.” (Presse, 6 June 1848)

There is in this distinction, from above, from below, a lot of clatter and very little truth. Mr. Girardin, in speaking this way, has believed that he said a thing as new as it is profound: all he did was reproduce the eternal illusion of demagogues who, thinking, with the aid of power, they would advance the revolutions, have never known that makes them retrogress. Closely examine the thought of Mr. Girardin.

It pleases this ingenious publicist to call revolution by initiative, by intelligence, progress and ideas, revolution from above; it pleases him to call revolution by insurrection and despair, revolution from below. It is just the opposite that is true.

From above, in the mind of the author whom I quote, evidently signifies power; from below signifies the people. On the one hand the action of government, on the other the initiative of the masses.

It is therefore as to which of these two initiatives, that of the government or that of the people, is the most intelligent, the most progressive, the most pacific.

Now, revolution from above is inevitably, I will tell you later why, revolution by the pleasure of the prince, by the arbitrariness of a minister, by the trials and errors of an assembly, by the violence of a club; it is revolution by dictatorship and despotism.

So have practiced Louis XIV, Napoleon, Charles X; so desire Messrs. Guizot, Louis Blanc, Léon Faucher. The whites, the blues, the reds, all on this point agree.

Revolution by the initiative of the masses is revolution by the concert of citizens, by the experience of workers, for progress and the dissemination of knowledge, revolution for liberty. Condorcet, Turgot, Robespierre, sought revolution from below, true democracy. One of the men who revolutionized the most, and who governed the least, was Saint Louis. France, at the time of Saint Louis, had made herself; she had produced, as a vine sprouts its buds, her lords and vassals: when the king published his famous regulations, they were only the registrar of public will.

Socialism has given fully into the illusion of radicalism: the divine Plato, over two thousand years ago, was a sad example. Saint-Simon, Fourier, Owen, Cabet, Louis Blanc, all supporters of the organization of work by the State, by capital, by an authority, calling for, as Mr. Girardin, revolution from above. Rather than teaching the people to organize themselves, than appealing to their experience and reason, they demand power from them! How are they different from despots? So they are utopians as all despots: the latter leave, the former cannot take root.

It implies that Government can ever be revolutionary, and this for the very simple reason that it is government. Society alone, the mass imbued with intelligence, can revolutionize itself, because it alone can rationally deploy is spontaneity, analyze, explain the mystery of its destiny and its origin, change its faith and its philosophy; because it alone, finally, is able to fight against its author, and to produce its fruit. Governments are the scourges of God, established to discipline the world; and you want them to destroy themselves, create liberty, make revolutions!

It cannot be so. All revolutions, from the coronation of the first king to the Declaration of the Rights of Man, have been accomplished by the spontaneity of the people: governments have always prevented, always compressed, always struck down; they have never revolutionized anything. Their role is not to provide the movement, but to restrain it. Just the same, it is repugnant, they could have revolutionary science, social science, they could not apply these, they do not have the right. It would be necessary that they previously pass their knowledge onto the people, that they obtain the consent of the citizens: this is to misunderstand the nature of authority and power.

The facts come forth to confirm the theory. The freest nations are those where power has the least initiative, where its role is the most restrained: for example the United States of America, Switzerland, England, Holland. On the contrary, the most enslaved nations are those where power is the best organized and strongest, we witness. And yet we complain incessantly of not being governed, we demand a strong power, always stronger!

The church used to say, speaking like a tender mother: Everything for the people, but everything by the priests.

The monarchy coming after the church: Everything for the people, but everything by the prince.

The doctrinaires: Everything for the people, but everything by the bourgeoisie.

The radicals have not changed the principle by having changed the formula: Everything for the people, but everything by the state.

It is always the same governmentalism, the same communism.

Who then would dare say finally: Everything for the people, and everything by the people, even the government? — Everything for the people: Agriculture, commerce, industry, philosophy, religion, police, etc. Everything by the people: government and religion as well as agriculture and trade.

Democracy is the abolition of all power, spiritual and temporal; legislative, executive, judicial, proprietary. This is not the Bible, no doubt, which reveals it; it is the logic of societies, it is the sequence of revolutionary actions, it is all of modern philosophy.

According to Mr. Lamartine, agreeing in this with Mr. Genoude, it is for the government to say: I want. The country has only to respond: I consent.

And the experience of centuries responded to them that the best of governments is that which best succeeds to render itself unnecessary. Do we need parasites to work and priests to talk to God? We do not need more elected officials to govern us.

The exploitation of man by man, someone said, is theft. Well! the government of man by man is servitude; and all positive religion, leading to the dogma of papal infallibility, is itself nothing other than the worship of man by man, idolatry.

Absolutism, blending at once the power of the altar, of the throne, and of the strongbox, has multiplied, as a network, the chains of humanity. After the exploitation of man by man, after the government of man by man, after the worship of man by man, we still have:

The judgment of man by man,

The condemnation of man by man,

And to finish the series, the punishment of man by man!

These religious, political, judicial institutions, of which we are so proud, which we must respect, which must be obeyed until, by the progress of time, they wither and fall, as the fruit falls in its season, are the instruments of our apprenticeship, visible signs of government of Instinct over humanity, enfeebled, but not disfigured, remains of bloody customs that marked our infancy. Anthropophagy has long since disappeared, not without resistance from authority however, with its atrocious rites: it survives everywhere in the spirit of our institutions, I attest the sacrament of Eucharist and the Penal Code.

Philosophical reason repudiates this symbolism of savages; it proscribed these exaggerated forms of human respect. And it does not intend, with the radicals and the doctrinaires, that one might proceed with this reform by legislative authority; it does not admit that anyone has the right to procure the good of the people in spite of the people, that it is licit to make free a nation that wants to be governed. Philosophy only gives its confidence to reforms emanating from the free will of societies: the only revolutions that it avows are those which proceed from the initiative of the masses: it denies, in the most absolute manner, the revolutionary competence of governments.

In summary:

We do not question that faith, the schism of society appears as the terrible effect of the original downfall of man. This is what Greek mythology has expressed by the fable of the warriors born of the serpent's teeth, and who all killed each other after their birth. God, according to this myth, has left in the hands of antagonistic parties the government of humanity, so that discord might establish his kingdom on earth, and that man might learn, under a perpetual tyranny, to postpone his thought to another sojourn.

In the eyes of reason, governments and parties are merely the mise en scène of the fundamental concepts of society, a realization of abstractions, a metaphysical pantomime, from which the direction is Liberty.

I make my profession of faith. You know the characters who, in this account of my political life should play the principal roles; you know what the subject of the representation is: be attentive to that which I now tell you.