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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
V. 1830-1848: Government Corruption

The government of Louis Philippe is one of the most curious episodes of this long historical period, where we see the nations, abandoned to their providential instinct, wandering at random through the labyrinth of their utopias. All hatreds have coalesced against that memorable reign, all the insults were lavished upon him. I will try to get the facts into their true light, and to avenge the man who was on the throne, after Bonaparte, the most active and most intelligent instrument of the Revolution.

The principle of the July government, founded by and for the middle class, was therefore property, capital. Under a monarchical form, the essence of that government was bankocracy. This is what was expressed by the most spiritual of the socialist writers, Mr. Toussenel, in the title of his curious work: The Jews, Kings of the Epoch.

Any government tends to develop its principle: that of July could not fail in this law. The legislature of 1830, Capital, had said, like the Egyptian Isis: “I am all that is, all that was, all that will be. Nothing exists except through me, and so far no one has lifted my veil.” Faithful to its origin, relating entirely to its principle, the government began therefore to erode and assimilate what remained of the institutions, of the ideas of the past. It was the task of Louis Philippe, whose genius, free from scruples, accomplished this work of dissolution, the prelude to the great palingenesis of the nineteenth century.

Attacked at once in its origin, in its politics, in its morality, the government of Louis Philippe has squeezed out the hatred and contempt of the people. And yet, equitable history will say that never a reign was better fulfilled, by consequence more legitimate, more irreproachable than that of Louis Philippe.

And first, Louis Philippe is the true representative of July. Who was responsible for the three days? — The people, say the republicans. — Yes, as Bonaparte's soldiers had been responsible for Marengo. The masses were in July only the militia of the bourgeoisie: only the latter had prepared for fifteen years and organized the victory; to them alone belonged the disposition of the victory. What do we say here of the popular vote? If the people had been consulted in the choice of the prince, from the time after the principle of the Charter had, conserving the form, changed, it is clear that the people, for whom form takes precedence over substance, would have chosen Henry V. Any other candidate would have been to their eyes illegitimate. But things could not go this way: it was not only the Charter of 1814 we had to take revenge upon, there was a new principle that was all about being represented in power; and only those who inaugurated the principle had standing to choose the representative. The people could not be consulted in this matter, and that was fortunate for the Revolution. It was a necessity that the government of interests appear in its turn: now, the people never would have consented to taking the golden calf for their god; ever from the procurer of Malthusians, the vassals of legitimacy had not recognized their king. As for the republican party, their protests were even less well-founded as they attacked the very principle of the new government, the fatal work of Louis Philippe. Louis Philippe was the only man who could accept the burden of the iniquities of July: or it must deny the legitimacy of the glorious; otherwise, if one accepts the transition, he must recognize the legitimacy of the bourgeois king.

As for the politics of Louis Philippe, the thought of the reign, it is even easier to justify. Disregard the details, and deal only, as Mr. Guizot teaches, with the essential facts, with those which make great politics.

What purpose did he offer the bourgeoisie in 1830, when it established, in its truth, the constitutional regime, object of his wishes for a half century? take a good look, and you will see that, behind this political form, necessary in the transition to the destinies of France, the bourgeoisie have not willed anything, planned anything; you will see that the Charter has only been for them a great negation.

The bourgeoisie did not know in 1830, they do not know still in 1849, what they were pursuing through their reformed Charter and their representative government: they only know, and very well, what they did not want.

The bourgeoisie did not want a legitimate monarchy, resulting from any other principle than what they wanted: that monarchy, they came to exclude by a coup d'etat.

They cared little for a classical or romantic Republic, in the fashion of the Greeks and Romans, or such even that we wanted to establish after February.

They disliked the Jesuits, meaning by Jesuit both the Gallicans and the Ultramontanes. For them, the Jansenist is only a variety of Jesuit: if they admired Bossuet, their hearts belonged to Voltaire. They tolerated the cult and the salariat; but, as if they refused to enter into share with God, they put religion outside the law.

They suffered neither nobility, nor aristocracy, or any other hierarchy than that of employment and wealth, conquered at the point of labor.

They have proved finally, under many circumstances, that they cared neither for regulation, nor for corporation, nor for communism; they do not even accept free trade. Free trade, in the eyes of a conservative, is one of the thousand faces of socialism.

What do they want these wily, meddlesome, ungovernable bourgeoisie? As long as you press them to respond, they will tell you that they want business; they ignore the rest. At opinions and parties, they jeer; of religion, we know what they think; their representative regime, for which they have fought so hard, they had pity. What it means, what the bourgeoisie demand, is well-being, luxury, enjoyment, is to make money.

And the people, on all these points, are of the same view as the bourgeoisie. They also expect to have their share of well-being, enjoyment and luxury, be free, ready, to this condition, to believe what they want in religion as in politics.

Well! the mission of Louis Philippe, the mission given to him by the pact of 1830, was to make predominant the bourgeois idea, that is to say, — let us understand! — not to ensure that they work, for their profit, for all the well-being; not to open the markets to trade, and to be the provider of business of the country: that would have been to resolve the social problem; — but to propagate the moral of interest, to inoculate in all the classes political and religious indifference, and, by the ruin of the parties, by the deprivation of consciences, to dig the foundations of a new society, to force, so to speak, a revolution halted in the councils of destiny, but contemporary society does not accept.

Yes, it was necessary; and it is you, dynastic in all its nuances, who wanted it! Ah! you recoil from this awful system: I fully and without reserve adhere to the inexorable government of Louis Philippe.

In good faith, what do you want to occupy a king to whom his constituents had said: Thou shalt be the corrupter of our generation; and who, by an admirable understanding of nature and politics, seemed to have been created expressly for such an epoch? How could he have resisted his eager suitors, expecting from him a boon, as the little birds expect from their mother the beak? How could he continue without pity for these souls corrupted by vice, such that the appearance of virtue made them suffer like they were in a purgatory?

Put yourself in the perspective of the power of July; reminisce to yourself the institutions and ideas that had previously formed the moral capital of society, which composed, if I might say so, the armor of consciences: you will find no one who merited consideration as the Chief of State, no one who was worth on the part of the citizens the suffering of a pinprick, the sacrifice of the smallest enjoyment.

Is it religious prejudice, monarchical dignity which stops you? — But, read therefore Chateaubriand, it is not only the royalist who smiles thinking of his kings, not only the Christian who believes in eternal punishment, and who moreover has not found that asceticism has had its day.

Is it the sanctity of justice, the purity of morals? — But it is neither moral nor justice; it has no certainty of right and duty: just and unjust are confused, indiscernible. I defy you to tell me in what consists indecent assault, adultery, perjury, theft, bankruptcy and assassination; to define for me usury, monopolization, conspiracy, bribery, the corruption of officials, the counterfeiting of money: with the liberty of serials, of speech, of paintings, of dance; with the liberty of commerce and industry; with the variability of values and the venality of offices; with extenuating circumstances; with freedom of association, of movement, of donation; with the free worker and the free woman! Not that I want, take care, to charge liberty; I only say that, under the Charter of 1830, our liberty, having neither ballast nor compass, was that of all crimes, and our social order a perfect dissolution.

Is it less respect for constitutional forms, fidelity to political convictions? But what is politics, with sovereign capital? A spectacle of shadow puppets, a dance of the dead. What, please, can carry opinions and votes? On question of repartitive and distributive justice, public morality, police, administration, property. Now, to get to the bottom; you will find that free thought has dissected everything, destroyed everything; that chaos is everywhere, whichever way we turn, so finally, in order to conserve a balance of peace and order in this shaken world, it is no more resource than arbitrariness. In this uncertainty, where reflection will not rationally indicate any choice, where logic proves that white and black are equal, what will you decide, if it is not your interest?

Let it therefor be, let pass everyone and everything, and content yourself to wipe your splashes. Neither Christian, nor Jew; neither royalist, nor democrat; neither academic, nor romantic; Everyone for his home, everyone for himself; God, that is to say Fortune, for all, and intolerance only for the intolerant. He alone is a bad citizen, who cannot live in an environment where there is an honorable place even for thieves and prostitutes.

This is the inflexible, providential line, that prescribed to follow for the monarch the Charter of 1830. The product of a revolutionary series, that Charter was like a judgment of Nemesis, condemning us to drink the hemlock. Louis Philippe has done nothing more than to present us the cut: formerly the role of executioner was one of the royal prerogatives.

Of all the reproaches made to the government of Louis Philippe, only one, perhaps, might be justified: it is the one addressed to the Molé ministry, if I am not mistaken, by the Thiers-Barrot opposition. “We would do the same things you do,” they said, “but we would do better than you!” — This is understandable: under the admitted system, the debate runs no longer than to the execution. Louis Philippe took eighteen years to demoralize France: it is too long. It has cost this country, each year, 1,500 million: it is too expensive. What a pity that Mr. Odilon Barrot has only become a minister under the Republic!

What had they thus to reproach the man according to their heart, these paragons of virtue and honor, these policies on principles: when they accuse him of being a Jesuit and atheist; of speaking alternately of conservation and revolution; of slumming it with the commoners and caressing the nobles; of delivering infancy to ignoramuses, and leaving the youth to colleges without faith; of conspiring with the kings, and of having been excluded from the Holy Alliance?

He could only answer them:

The contradictions in my policies are the justification. What is God, according to you, my masters? a word; — the people? slaves; — the royalty? a ruin; — the Charter? a negation; — the Revolution? a mummy. What are you yourselves? replastered sepulchers. Hypocrites, you deliver me to scorn and hatred, because I have unveiled your secret! Ah! you mourn Your lost religion! Why thus did you drive off Charles X? You cry your faded glory! Why did you betray the Emperor? You cry your republican virtue! Why did you slay Robespierre? You groan about your humiliated monarchy, once so noble and popular! Why did you dethrone Louis XVI? why, after having dethroned him, did you cowardly condemn him to death, by a majority of five votes? You reproach me for doing nothing for the people! Why did you kill Babeuf?... Doctrinaires without shame, Malthusian egoists, bourgeois ingrates! You accuse the corruption of my kingdom, and you enthroned me on the dunghill! There you'll just strangle yourselves in my person. Complete your work. But, before doing that, know who you are, and you will know who I am.

It was said that the February Revolution was the Revolution of contempt. This is true, but who does not see that there is precisely the secret of the marvelous destiny of Louis Philippe?

As was bound to happen to the corrupter of all principles, Louis Philippe was the most hated, the most despised of all the princes, all the more despised, all the more hated, that he had a higher intelligence of his mandate.

Louis XVI reigned by the idolatry of his person; Caesar and Napoleon, by admiration; Sulla and Robespierre, by terror; the Bourbons, by the reaction of Europe against imperial conquest.

Louis Philippe is the first, the only who ruled by contempt.

Is it that Casimir Périer esteemed Louis Philippe? And Lafayette, and Laffitte, and Dupont (de l'Eure), they loved him? I am not speaking of Talleyrand, of Thiers, of Dupin, of Guizot, nor of all the others, who were or who wanted to be his ministers: they were too much like the patron to have a high opinion of him. But have we ever seen, for example, academics, in their sessions, praise Louis Philippe, as they celebrated the glory of the great king and the great emperor? Have we seen, in the theater, actors compliment him; priests, in the church, preach of him; magistrates celebrate him in their mercurials?.. And yet these men, the most honorable of whom were at heart sincere republicans, were brought together to carry Louis Philippe on the shield; and, while cursing him, they continued to support him. Lafayette had said of him: It is the best of Republics! Laffitte sacrificed his fortune, O. Barrot his popularity, Messrs. Thiers and Guizot their most intimate convictions. Dupont (de l'Eure) demanded for him a civil list of 18 million; Casimir Périer died in office, taking to the grave the execration of republicans and Poles. Will you tell me the reason for so much devotion united with so much hatred?

As on 18 Brumaire, in order to ensure the faltering revolution, it took one man; similarly, in 1830, in order to make the old world rot, it also took one man. Louis Philippe was that man.

Examine him closely: he is naively, conscientiously corrupting. Himself above calumny, without reproach in his private life, corrupting but not corrupt, he knows what he wants and what he does. An abominable destiny called him: he obeyed. He pursued his task with devotion, with joy, without any divine or human law, without any remorse for the trouble. He held in his hand the key of consciences; no will could resist him. To the politician who speaks of the wishes of the country, he offers a purse for his son; to the priest who maintains the needs of the Church, he asks how many mistresses he had. Consciences fall before him by the thousands, like soldiers fell on the battlefield before Napoleon: and neither was the emperor touched by the carnage, nor is Louis Philippe moved by the perdition of these souls. Napoleon, dominated by a fatality he sensed without understanding it, could with composure give the signal that rushed millions of men to their deaths: was he for this a Nero or a Domitian? In this way Louis Philippe, stern paterfamilias in his interior, master of himself, had made a pact with hell for the damnation of his country: he remains beyond reproach before God and men.

That the wretches he corrupts adjure, for a patent, for a place, they still believe to be a virtue, justice and honor: of them immortality, shame.

But him, the chief of state, the representative of society, the instrument of Providence, wherein is he immoral? Morality, for him, is it not to sacrifice to progress these cadaverous souls? is it not to provide, per fus et nefas, the accomplishment of destinies?

Philosophy and history teach that morality, unalterable in its essence, is changing in its form. Among the Christians, morality was first to give their property to the community; later, to shed their blood as proof of the reality of a myth; then it was to exterminate, with iron and fire, Saracens, heretics and communists. In '93, morality was hatred of royalty; ten years later, it was hatred of democracy: five million votes proved that such was the opinion of France.

Now that religion is fully discredited, philosophy indecisive; that national sovereignty, represented by more or less true mandataries, stumbles like a drunken peasant: everything is confused in morals, everything is returned to arbitrariness and nullity of value, except one point, which is to live well and make money. Morality, you see, is to have only one legitimate wife, on pain of the galleys, and twenty mistresses, if you can feed them; morality, is to fight a duel, on pain of infamy, and not to fight, on pain of the assize court; morality is to provide yourself luxury and enjoyment (see the Program of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences for the Year 1846) at all costs, except to evade the cases provided in the Penal Code. My pleasure is my law, I know of no other. For that we find a positive and obligatory morality requires that society be rebuilt from the bottom up; and for it to be rebuilt, it must be demolished. How, again, would the prince, purveyor of this great revolution, be guilty of immorality, because he courageously works toward the one thing necessary and at the time possible, toward discrediting the old prejudices, toward social decomposition?

So deign to keep in mind that, in humanity, reasons are not words, but actions; that demonstration is experience, that noumenon is phenomenon.

Louis Philippe was given the mission of demonstrating that the constitutional system is the negation of negations, a supreme utopia, like the empire and legitimacy. A statesman, a practical man above all, he does not reason, he acts. He attacks the parliamentary system by influences; he kills the monarchical principle by a ridiculous exhibition, the bourgeois monarchy, the only one of the century. Same method for Catholicism. Of what use to people, who do not read, are the Encyclopédie, Voltaire, Rousseau, Dupuis, Volney, Lessing, Kant, Hegel, Strauss, Feuerbach? One million volumes do not enlighten, in a century, four thousand readers: Providence goes about it differently. It contrasts religion and interest; it attacks faith via egoism: and the demonstration is made.

Dare we say: the moral man, because he is the man of the epoch, was Louis Philippe. Do not be afraid of that word corruption, even if it is terrible to our unhealthy consciences: corruption was all the morality of the July government. The Charter had so willed; Providence had been given to us from eternity by precept.

Louis Philippe is the only man in Europe who, for nineteen years, has been constantly in his role: also, he has totally succeeded. He has escaped the bullets of regicide, blind in their thoughts, and uncertain of their shots; he has defeated factions and intrigues; odious to all, he has trampled them underfoot, he defied their audacity. Feeble himself, as sovereign and as a prince devoid of prestige, he has nevertheless been the fateful man, whom the world has adored; the antagonism of the principles he fought made his strength.

It takes pettiness not to see that such a role was profound and great! What! Louis Philippe is a contemptible fourbe, an ignoble scrooge, a soul without faith, a mediocre genius, an egotistical bourgeois, an insipid speaker; his government, if possible, is even beneath him. His ministers avow it; his ex-ministers spread it; France knows it; the Parisian gamin repeats it; person, person! was for him a word of esteem. Lafayette, Dupont (de l'Eure), Laffitte, C. Périer, have said of him by turns, borrowing the colorful language of the halls: The b.... deceives us! And it endured for eighteen years! Everything that was in France generous, vital, heroic, was pulverized before this devastating influence; everything had been gangrenous, corruption emerged from us through the nose and the ears; and, for eighteen years, France had not moved. And now that he is fallen, now that the Republic has crushed the infamous, France still regrets it! Is it then that everything would not be finished?... No, for the honor of my fatherland, for the respect of the French name, I cannot believe in such a power of evil. This man who you charge of your iniquities, who you accuse of your miseries, is in my eyes the Attila of false consciences, the last plague of revolutionary justice.

Breaking characters, ruining convictions, bringing everything to mercantile positivism, everything to money, until a theory of money would signal the hour and the principle of the resurrection: this was the work of Louis Philippe, it is his glory. That I see Louis Philippe reproached of pettiness of views, of small-minded guile, of triviality, of gossip, of false taste, of hollow glibness, of hypochondriac philanthropy, of bigoted complacency, all of which seems to me sublime in irony and appropriateness. What more do you want, overwhelming to your parliamentary regime and talkative, these speeches from the throne that say nothing, precisely because legislators at 500 as at 25 francs, have and cannot have anything to say?

The life of Louis Philippe would be incomplete; he would have missed something in his reign, if he had not have in the end found a minister worthy of him. It was Mr. Guizot, of whom, by the testimony of his enemies and rivals, no passion ever came, except that of power. Like his master, pure among the soil of his victims, this great corrupter could apply the words of a psalmist: Non appropinquabit ad me malum, corruption does not come to me. Only he knew the thought of the reign, only he was a friend of Louis Philippe, as Apemantus was a friend of Timon. — Yes, thou wert sublime, O great minister, O great man, when, at the banquet of Lisieux, thou dared reveal the secret of thy power in a toast to corruption. Yes, these legitimists, these radicals, these opposition puritans, these Jesuits, these economists, it is a vile scoundrel, a slave to his senses and to his pride, and by that thou knew that with a little gold thou still hast reason. These moralists are the lovers of old courtesans; these artists are the artisans of luxury and lust: the flood of their impurity passes to thy feet and does not defile them. These so-called progressives, who do not have the courage of their venality, thou hast said, they do not know! But thou knowest them, thou knowest the price of their virtue; and they pretend to disown thee, thou rejoicest in thine self again: they have attained the apogee of crime; they are corrupt in bad faith.

Alas! it must be that corruption, if it was in the hands of these two men in a potent revolutionary way, does not hear the state to which we are destined by fate. Without that, Mr. Guizot would be a minister, and the dynasty of Louis Philippe would reign forever. Capital was installed in 1830 as the only principle which, after the divine right and the right of force, might have had a chance to have endured; it has been found, in 1848, that the government of capital was a pestilence upon society, abominatio desolationis! A dispute in parliament threw into the mud the great prostitute. The same bourgeois who had enthusiastically acclaimed the accession of Louis Philippe to the throne rushed into a sudden fit of disgust; the public conscience was raised anew against the minister of supreme will. The people situated themselves behind the ranks of the national guard to give the catastrophe its true signification: for eighteen years they awaited this initiative of the bourgeoisie, and stood ready. That my contemporaries deny, if they dare, or they come back, if they can! But me, I am neither a sell out on the day before, nor a renegade on the day after; and I swear that the French bourgeoisie, in overturning the dynasty they had made, have thereby destroyed the principle of property.