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Translation:Confessions of a Revolutionary/4

Translation:Confessions of a Revolutionary, to serve as a History of the February Revolution by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, translated by Wikisource
IV. 1789-1830: Government Acts

We teach morals to children with allegories and fables: the peoples learn philosophy in the manifestations of history.

Revolutions are the apologues of nations.

History is a gargantuan and enchanting fable, where the laws of society we are taught in the marvelous adventures of a character alternately grotesque and sublime, worthy both of love and pity, which the old Orientals called Adam, Humanity. Adam is accompanied by a good and a bad angel: the latter, which I call Fantasy, like Proteus, deceives us in a thousand figures, seduces us and pushes us to evil; but we are constantly returned to good by our good genie, who is Experience.

Thus, the events in which Providence likes to make us appear to be both actors and spectators are unreal; they are myths in action, great dramas that unfold, sometimes for centuries, on the vast stage of the world, for the refutation of our prejudices, and the nullification of our detestable practices. All these revolutions, which we have had in the last sixty years the moving spectacle, this succession of dynasties, this procession of ministries, these insurrectional movements, these electoral agitations, these parliamentary coalitions, these diplomatic intrigues, so much noise and so much smoke, all this I say, did not have any other purpose than to make known to our dumbfounded nation that elementary and always paradoxical truth, that it is not by their governments that people are saved, but that they become lost. For sixty years we watched, without understanding, this divine and human comedy: it is time that a little philosophy should come give us the interpretation.

The power lasted in France for fourteen centuries. For fourteen centuries it had witnessed the efforts of the third estate to constitute the commune and establish public liberty. It itself has sometimes taken part in the movement, by defeating feudalism, and creating, by despotism, national unity. It has even recognized, at various times, the imprescriptible right of the people, by convening, for the need of its treasury, the Estates General. But it had considered only with terror these assemblies, which spoke in a voice that, at times, had not been anything but divine: the voice, the great voice of the people. The time had come to achieve this Great Revolution. The country authoritatively required it; the government could not hide behind ignorance: it had to execute or perish.

But is it so that power reasons? is it capable of considering the fact and the law? is it established to serve liberty?

Who made, in 1789, the Revolution? — The third estate.

Who was opposed, in 1789, to the Revolution? The government.

The government, in spite of the initiative it had been forced to take, so opposed the Revolution, in 1789, that it became necessary, to compel it, to call the nation to arms. 14 July was a demonstration where the people dragged the government to the bar, like a victim for sacrifice. Certainly, I am far from pretending that the people, who wanted the Revolution, would not have reason to do that: I only say that the government, in resisting, obeyed its nature, and this is what our fathers had not comprehended. Instead of reconstituting power anew, they should have sought the method to earliest see the end: all the revolutionary peripeteias that we have been witnessing, from 14 July 1789 onward, were caused by this error.

Power, they said, existed since time immemorial. Some, such as Robespierre, foresaw indeed the possibility of changing its form: no one wanted to suppress it. The Revolution officially declared, it was thought that everything was done, and they set about restoring power, but only on other bases. Power had always been, and with reason, posed as a divine right: they alleged, peculiarly, that it emanated from social law, from the sovereignty of the people. They imagined, with the aid of a falsehood, reconciling power with progress: it was soon disabused.

What God has joined, man must not divide. Power remained what it was: the legitimate son of Jupiter could not be the adoptive son of popular sovereignty. Louis XVI, crowned in Reims, and having become in spite of himself a constitutional monarch, was the greatest enemy of the Constitution, moreover the most honest man in the world. Was it his fault? Itself confirming hereditary legitimacy, the Constitution implicitly recognized in him the right that it had claimed to repeal; and this right was in direct contradiction with the tenor of the contract. Conflict was therefore inevitable between the prince and the nation. No sooner was the new Constitution enacted, than the government resumed being an obstacle to the Revolution. Newly converted, he could habituate himself to the constitutional fictions. It took another day to vanquish this refractory spirit, which was nothing less than to invoke, against rebellious subjects, assistance from abroad. On 10 August 1792 was played the second act of the Revolution, between the men of the movement and those of the resistance.

From that moment, the will of the people not encountering any obstacle, the Revolution had seemed to establish itself as sovereign. For a few years the Convention, to which power have been vested with a mission to protect the liberty won, and also, — one did not come of it! — to redo the Political Constitution, had experienced the energy that had given it the insurrection of 10 August, the menaces of the counter-revolution, and the vows of '89. As it fought for the unity of the Republic, the liberty of the country, the equality of citizens, the Convention was great and sublime. But, admire the puissance of principles! Just brought together to avenge the Revolution of the perjury of the royalty, these men were seized by a real furor of government. Some public safety measures, free of legal formalities, had become necessary: soon the pleasure of dictators was all their reason; they only knew how to proscribe and guillotine. They had the power, they acted like kings. Absolutism was revived in their decrees and in their works. They were philosophers, yet!... It was necessary to react against this despotic frenzy: 9 Thermidor was a warning given by the country to the Conventional Authority. As long as the people had feared for the achievements of the Revolution, for the independence of the territory and the unity of the Republic, they had tolerated the dictatorship of the committees. The day on which the Terror became a system, where this provisory of blood seemed to want to become definitive, where utopia penetrated into the councils, where Robespierre, the man of plebeian vengeance, was not a leader of a sect, that day a crisis became inevitable. The logic of the virtuous reformer pushed him to suppress the men at once with the abuses: it was power which had gotten the Jacobins lost.

From the Convention succeeds the Directory. After the extremes, the middles; after the terrorists, it was the moderates' turn. And it will be the same as long as the political fantasia shall deliver society in the seesawing coups of the parties. Yet, it is the nature of all authority to obey the principle which gave it birth: the Directory, like Louis XVI and the Convention, quickly furnishes the proof. The hand of Robespierre seemed to be too harsh; that of the Directory was found to be too weak. Whose fault is it, again? The Directory, born under the impressions of Thermidor, had emerged from a thought of relaxation; never, despite the republicanism of Carnot, the firmness of La Révellière-Lépeaux, the support of General Bonaparte and the coup d'etat of Fructidor, could it provide the attitude of a strong power, and obtain respect. That which the need of the moment made it be, it more and more became, in spite of itself. The Directory summarized itself in Barras, and Barras, that was all the corruption of Thermidor. Power, if it is not god, is a brute or an automaton: the will, the reason of individuals are powerless. Elevated to power, they soon become themselves what power wants them to be. Louis XVI, representing an impossible transaction, lied to the Constitution; the Convention, created for peril, no longer understood the torment; its intelligence had retired entirely into the scaffold. The Directory, who had been asked for repose, fell into lethargy. When Bonaparte returned from Egypt, the Revolution was in peril, and, as always, by the incapacity of the government. So we must recognize, to our shame perhaps, that 18 Brumaire was less the work of the General than of the immense majority of the country. The government wasn't going any longer; it was changed: that is all. The Consulate was thus established, like the Directory, like the Convention, like the Monarchy of 1790, for the Revolution, at the risk of falling in its turn, when, for the deployment of its principle, it would happen to be an obstacle to the Revolution. In Bonaparte the Revolution was therefore, as he has said since, incarnated anew. Would it be better served by the new representative of power? That is what was soon seen. We follow, under Bonaparte, the fortune of the government.

The illusion, then as now, was to count, for public liberty and prosperity, much more upon the action of power than upon the initiative of the citizens; to attribute to the State an intelligence and an efficacy which did not belong to it; to seek ONE MAN in whom they could remit entirely the care of the Revolution. Fatigue, moreover, was general; they longed for repose. The country resembled an assembly of shareholders awaiting a manager: Bonaparte presented himself; he was elected to acclamations.

But power has its own logic, inflexible logic, which does not yield to the hopes of opinion, which never lets itself divert from its principle, and admits no compromises with the circumstances. It is the logic of the cannonball, which strikes down the mother, the child, the old man, without diverting from a line; the logic of the tiger who gorges on blood, because its appetite wants blood; the logic of the mole which digs its tunnel; the logic of fatality. Under the reformed Monarchy, the government had been unfaithful; under the Convention, violent; under the Directory, impotent. Now one wanted, to lead the Revolution, a strong power: one was served to perfection. Power, in the hands of Bonaparte, became so strong, that there was soon no place in the Republic for the man who represented it. The Revolution is me, said Bonaparte, his hand on the hilt of his sword. He could have said just as well: the divine right is me. Nary a conqueror, indeed, expressed power with as much truth. He wished that the pope would have come to the coronation in Paris, he, a soldier of fortune, as a sign from his imperial deity. Poor onlookers! we had the time to groan, over our foolish confidence, when we saw the Chief of State place everywhere his will in the place of that of the people, confiscating one by one all our liberties, provoking against us the upheaval of Europe, and twice bringing foreign invaders onto the soil of the fatherland. So, against such great evils, it was necessary to run to desperate measures. The nation, inconsequent, repudiated her elected. The cause of the despot was separated from that of the country: anger was so great, indignation was so general, that one saw a people, the proudest of the earth, open their arms to their invaders. The tribunes of the people were running to Ghent, as in the past the courtesans of the Monarchy had run to Coblentz: Waterloo was the expiatory altar that gave us liberty.

It has been said, since Homer, that peoples suffer the foolishness of kings: Quidquid delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi. It is quite the contrary that is true. The history of nations is the martyrology of kings: witness Louis XVI, Robespierre and Napoleon. We will see many others.

Bonaparte fallen, someone promised to regulate, by an effective pact, the conditions of power. We had the Charter. What was the principle of the Charter? It is necessary that it be remembered.

Oblivious to the Revolution that has made him its chief, Bonaparte had a popular power a power of usurpation. An irreproachable magistrate when he was first consul, on the throne he did not appear to be more than the abductor of another's property. What happened? The Restoration posed itself as a legitimate power. It was in 1814, for the first time, that absolutism assumed this sobriquet. The emperor did not take with him absolutism to the Isle of Elba: we were left with the Restoration. What was intended to be restored? two incompatible things: the divine right of kings, represented by the proscribed family of the Bourbons and the emigrant nobility; — and the constitutional system attempted in '89, and reversed on 10 August. The Charter of 1814, octroyed in appearance by the prince, but tacitly imposed by the country, was only a return to the ideas of 1790, violently repressed by revolutionary agitations, and that, not having had the time to develop, asked to be given time.

“[The Declaration of Saint-Ouen of 2 May 1814],” said Chateaubriand, “although it was natural to the spirit of Louis XVIII, nevertheless did not belong to him or to his counselors: it was quite simply Time that parted from its repose. Its wings had been folded, its flight suspended since 1792; it resumed its flight or its course. The excesses of the Terror, the despotism of Bonaparte, had retrograded the ideas; but as soon as the obstacles that had opposed them were destroyed, they flowed into the bed that they had to at once follow and dig. Things picked up right where they left off: that which had happened was void. The human species, put back at the commencement of the Revolution, had only lost twenty-five years of its life. Yet, what is twenty-five years in the general life of society? This gap had disappeared when the cut-off sections of Time were rejoined...”

Furthermore, all of France applauded the return of their king.

“These are the men of the Republic and of the Empire,” including even Chateaubriand, “who greeted with enthusiasm the Restoration.... Imperialists and liberals, it is you who are kneeled down before the descendant of Henry IV! Who spent his life in the house of the autocrat Alexander, in the house of that brutal Tartar? The classes of the Institute, scholars, men of letters, philosophers, philanthropists, theophilanthropists, and others. They came back charmed, satisfied with accolades and snuffboxes. The most cherished friends of Napoleon, Berthier, for example, to whom do they bear their devotion? To legitimacy: Who composed these proclamations, these accusatory and outrageous addresses about Napoleon, with which France was inundated? Royalists? No: the ministers, the generals, the authorities chosen and maintained by Bonaparte. Where did they fiddle with the Restoration? In the houses of royalists? No: in the house of Mr. Talleyrand. With whom? With Mr. Pradt, almoner to the god Mars and mitred street entertainer. Where were feasts given to infamous foreign princes? At the royalists' castles? No: at Malmaison, in the house of the empress Josephine.” (Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe)

The monarchy of 1790 was acclaimed by the people, the Republic acclaimed by the people, the Empire acclaimed by the people; the Restoration was, in turn, acclaimed by the people. This new apostasy, which the fatal prejudice of government only renders excusable, could not remain impune. With the legitimate king it was worse still than with the usurper. The Restoration, taking itself seriously, immediately proceeded to restore all that the Revolution had abolished or thought it had abolished: feudal rights, divine right, right of primogeniture; — and abolished all that the Revolution had established: freedom of conscience, freedom of the podium, freedom of the press, equality in taxation, equal participation in employment, etc. The Revolution is set by the Restoration in a state of siege: claiming the national properties; forming, under the name of the Holy Alliance, a pact with foreign despotism; sending an army, called of Faith, to combat the Revolution in Spain. The legitimate government was following, the most logical in the world, its principle. In short, legitimacy was so much so, that one day it found itself, inadvertently, outside the law. Paris hence erected its barricades: the knight king was driven out, and you banished his family from his kingdom. Now, I ask you all, upon whom would fall responsibility for this strange denouement? Who then had that power? Who had acclaimed the Restoration, embraced its allies, received the Charter with happiness? When we should have died of shame, if a nation had a sense of decency, and if she could die, a monument was erected, an anniversary feast was instituted for the celebration of the glorious days of July, and we started most beautifully again to organize power!

Also, we were not at the end of ordeals.

The governments had beautifully fallen like marionettes under the mass of the revolutionary devil, the country did not return to its ardent love of authority. However one began to suspect that some things are the instincts of power, other things the ideas of the people: but how to pass beyond government? It was conceived so little, one did not even think to pose the question. The idea had not yet come that society would be moving by itself; that in it the driving force is immanent and perpetual; that it did not act to communicate the movement, but to regulate that which is its own: it insisted upon giving an engine to the eternal mobile.

Government, they said, is to society what God is to the universe, the cause of the movement, the principle of order. Liberty, Order, such was the motto under which they began again to make the government, I would almost say the counter-revolution. They had exhausted, in the forty years that had preceded, the government of pure divine right, the government of insurrection, the government of moderation, the government of force, the government of legitimacy; they would not return to the government of priests: what was left? the government of interests. This was that which was adopted. And, in fairness, it was impossible, in 1830, that they would not arrive at this conclusion. Therefore it was greeted with a powerful majority, that must have been there recognized as the national will.

It seems, at first sight, that there is almost no difference between the Charter of 1814 and that of 1830; that the country had only changed dynasty, but without changing principles; that the act which divested Charles X and transmitted authority to Louis Philippe, was not an act of popular justice in relation to the unfaithful depositary of authority.

That would entirely disregard the scope of the July Revolution. 1830 and 1848 are two dates chained to one another by an indissoluble bond. In July 1830, was conceived the Democratic and Social Republic; 24 February 1848 had been, if I may so, only the parturition. Now, if the transition, in July, seemed so easy, the Revolution was no less radical, as will be seen.

The deposed monarchy had claimed, like that of '89, to answer only to feudal law; it had affected a kind of dynastic autocracy, incompatible with the principle of popular sovereignty. People wanted one which answered directly to the will of the nation. The Charter was not granted, but accepted by the king. The situations were reversed. Behold, said on this occasion Lafayette, in presenting Louis Philippe to the people, the best of Republics. Louis Philippe, in effect, was the bourgeoisie on the throne; and if that innovation seemed to ardent spirits quite mediocre, it was, as will be seen, profoundly revolutionary. People came to humanize the monarchy; however, of the humanism to socialism, there is only a difference in the word. The parties would have made a big step towards their reconciliation if they could once again be convinced of this truth.

To justify his fatal ordinances, Charles X had invoked Art. 14 of the Charter, which authorized, according to him, the crown to take all measures claimed to be for the security of the State. To remove from power any pretext like this, it was reduced to submission: it was stipulated that in the future the king could not suspend the laws nor dispense with their enforcement. The Charter, cried Louis Philippe in a moment of enthusiasm, and I dare say he was in good faith, will now be a truth. But O fatality of revolutions! O sad improvidence of poor humans! O ingratitude of blinded people! we will see just how the Orleans dynasty was lost by Art. 13, just as the Bourbon dynasty had been by Art. 14. Neither Louis Philippe, nor Charles X came near their mandate: it is for having been too loyal that they fell, the one and the other.

The priest party had manifested more than once in the hope of returning to its temporal status, and of recovering the privileges and influence that had been taken from it by the Constitution of 1790. It prevailed in this goal in another article of the Charter which declared the Catholic religion religion of State. To tranquilize egoisms as much as consciences, it was decided that in the future there would be no more religion of State. Disciple of Hegel and Strauss, I had not dared; the doctrinaires did not hesitate. It was the first step toward the decatholicization, expressed in the wishes of the Jacobins.

Finally the seal was put on it, reform, in decreeing: “Art. 67. France has adopted its colors. In the future, it will bear no other cockade than the tricolor cockade.” — As if it might be said: The only thing that is legitimate, now, and holy, and sacred, is the Revolution. By this article, the government was declared revolutionary; power put under the feet of the people; authority subordinated, not to its own principles, but to the judgment of opinion. A new order was created.

Thus, in the Charter of 1830, the old absolutism found itself attained, on the one part, in the royalty, made in the image of the bourgeoisie, and of which it was no longer the mandatary; then in Catholicism, formerly dispenser and arbiter of States, now salaried by the State, neither more nor less than other cults. Until then, power had remained in heaven: it was made, by this exorcism, to descend from the clouds and take root in the ground. It was mystical: they made it positive and real. Therefore one could say that it would not have been there for long. Frankly, it was unjust in relation to the revolutionaries of 1830. By cutting in the same stroke in their roots Catholicism and the monarchy, they have done two-thirds of the work: we, their successors, we have had no trouble drawing from these premises the legitimate consequence.

The reformers of 1830 had halted only before capital. It was capital that they had adored, in maintaining the poll tax at 200 fr., capital they had made god and government. Before this new force, the king, the nobility, the clergy, the people bowed. Remove the capitalist hierarchy, all would become equals and brothers. The monarchical faith, the authority of the Church, had been substituted by the cult of interests, the religion of property. What could be more reassuring, it was thought, more inviolable? In spite of excommunication and the burning stake, philosophy prevailed against Catholicism, in spite of the lits de justice and the bastilles, popular sovereignty had prevailed against royal prerogative: it had been necessary to take advantage of all these changes and adapt new customs. But who could prevail against property? The establishment of July, they said, is immortal: 1830 closed the era of revolutions.

Thus reasoned the doctrinaires: ardent revolutionaries against the altar and against the throne, ruthless absolutists when it came to monopoly.