Category Archives: Economy

Unanimity.—Universal Consent (c. 1852)

[“Economie,” manuscripts at Gallica]

Unanimity.—Universal Consent

P.-J. Proudhon

There are things, in the moral order, about which the human race is unanimous; there are even many of them.

So isn’t it possible that all the questions of politics, economics and morals could be simplified or clarified in such a way that the response to them would be unanimous?

In this way, the direct government of the people would be possible.

It is according to that idea, confirmed by the testimony of the sciences, that [Pierre-Napoléon] Domenjarie [1852] has written his pamphlet, La loi morale, loi d’unanimité, which we have read in prison.

That philosophical thesis [reveals] the ignorance of the author, but it is nonetheless useful to clarify it.

The things about which there can be unanimity (it is not a question of facts/deeds) are all definite abstractions, whatever order of ideas they may belong to.

Thus, is it not permitted to kill a man: Non occides.

But the disagreements begin when it is a question of practical cases:

Is it permitted to kill in legitimate defense?

Is it permitted to kill in war?

Is it permitted to kill judicially?

Is it permitted to kill deserters?

Is it permitted to kill a man or woman caught in flagrante delicto in the act of adultery?

Is it permitted to kill a tyrant?

Is it permitted to kill the abductor of a minor child? etc.

Now, on the practical cases, there is necessary flexibility, and as the circumstances alone make the law or non-law, it follows that one cannot posit an absolute principle, and that unanimity is impossible.

Thus, on a principle of abstract mathematics, there will be unanimity.—But if it is a question of assessing the results of a business, of an enterprise, of an experiment, etc., opinions can vary infinitely.

Similarly, in the moral realm, there is unanimity on principles, because the principle expresses an ideality, an abstraction. Only do to others what you would like others to do to you: everyone is unanimous on this precept, which we find expressed spontaneously everywhere.

It is an abstract, ideal formula.

But what should I want for myself? What can I demand? What is my right? That is where unanimity ceases to exist, and it is necessarily replaced by free debate, which ends in the transaction or the Contract.

The value of a product is a common example: it summarizes all cases.


Now, Reason asks itself:

Is there a science for undefinable things, on which unanimity will never practically exist, as there is one for definite things?…

It is this question to which the economic science responds.


From this previous explanation, it is easy to deduce and a priori judgment that declares void the so-called science of Fourier, which aspires to [resolve] everything, mathematically, that is to say abstractly, and by means of definitions.

From this as well, the elimination of the Communist thought, which, supposing unanimity, suppresses debate, competition, contract; the very principle of conventional right!….

It is time to open the eyes of the public in that regard and especially to repress the [   ] presumption of these poor Devils who believe they have found the secret of the world when they have produced a [   ] gross naïveté.

What then is the science of indefinable things, of things on which there remains unnecessary doubt, and where unanimity is impossible?

It is the science that teaches us to know the [causes], the reason, the laws that rule this very variability: and how bye judicious and equitable convention, we arrest that variability, and convert into something definite a thing that is not of that nature.

Sic Notion of dead weight [poids mort];—variable.

     Notion of maximum load [poids utile];—variable.

     Relation between one and the other;—variable.

What are the causes of these variations?—How do they come about?—What is their mode, their character?—What utility [can we] draw from them for the conduct of life? etc., etc. How to behave with them? etc.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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“Questions Eliminated…” and “Revolutionary Practice”

[I’ve been working through the texts in Ms. 2867, part of Economie, looking for material to include in the forthcoming edition of The Philosophy of Progress, and I’ve been finding all sorts of interesting things. The following section comes immediately after the “New Propositions Demonstrated in the Practice Of Revolutions,” so we should perhaps understand by “this organization” the program laid out at the end of that section: “To set aside the notion of substance and Cause, and move onto the terrain of Phenomena and Law, or of the Group.” While the translation here has a fair number of gaps in it (which can hopefully be filled by some more work with the manuscript-images), I think the gist of Proudhon’s argument is clear: a large number, and perhaps the vast majority, of our present concerns are, he seems to suggest, products of our failure to adequately understand the world and to set our relations on a foundation based in that understanding. That did not, of course, prevent Proudhon from dedicated another 10-15 years to the pursuit of almost all of these questions, since we remain far off from that prerequisite.]

Questions eliminated by this organization.

  1. Government or Anarchy.—Words.
  2. Monarchy or Republic.—Words.
  3. Unitary Democracy or Federalism.—Words.
  4. Direct or Indirect Government.—Words.
  5. Dictatorship or Constitution.—Words.
  6. Separation or Confusion of Powers.—Both are impossible.
  7. Revolution from above or from below.—Both at once.
  8. Universal or limited suffrage.—Nonsense.
  9. [   ] of two, or several degrees.—Nonsense.
  10. Supremacy of the legislative or executive.—Nonsense.
  11. One, two or three [legislative] chambers.—Senseless [question.]
  12. Centralization or Decentralization.—Words.
  13. Radical and moderate Republicans.—Absurd.
  14. Formalists or [effectifs].—[M…]
  15. Montagnards and Girondins.—Absurdity.
  16. Revolutionary Power and Regular Power.—They are identical.
  17. Transitory or perpetual.—It is progress, [   ].
  18. Capacity or incapacity of the people.—One is always capable of possessing.
  19. Socialism or Politics.—Words.
  20. Association and individualism.—Ad libitum.
  21. Community and Property.—Ad libitum.
  22. Interest or Gratuity.—Ad libitum.
  23. Liberty and Order.—They are identical.
  24. Absolute or limited liberty.—There is reciprocity everywhere.
  25. Progressive or proportional taxation.—The first is
  26. Incompatibilities.—No more [   ]!
  27. Organization [   ] by the citizen or by the State.—The citizen is the State.
  28. Agrarian or non-agrarian law.—It is the [   ].
  29. Inheritance and wills.—No more abuse.
  30. Competition.—No more abuse.
  31. Unemployment, drudgery, hours of labor.—Senseless.
  32. Conservation and resistance.—Senseless.
  33. Paleo-Christian or Neo-Christian.—[   ].
  34. Gallican or Ultramontane.—Senseless.
  35. Removability or immutability.—[   ]
  36. Conservation or revolution.—They are the same thing.
  37. Movement and resistance.—Unintelligible.
  38. [   ], absolute dictatorial, oligarchic, [   ], parliamentary or constitutional power.—[left blank by Proudhon]
  39. Status quo, happy medium, etc.—Words.
  40. Equality or inequality of conditions..—The condition of each is equal to their product, and they produce as much as they can and wish to.
  41. The Prince and the Sovereign.—They are the same thing: the People.
  42. The Nation, the law, the king.—Absurd.
  43. The Country and the State?—Absurd.

[In margin: The true religion is the always greater liberty of the man and citizen, in conformity with social and popular law.]

Revolutionary Practice.

The basic thought of this work can be reduced to three points:

1.—The formation of a patrimony for the people, non-transferable and inalienable.

2.—The People, in effective possession of Power, as they are of Labor, Property and Wealth.

3.—The Representative of the Country is neither a man, nor an assembly, nor even a city; it is each commune of France, in the territory it occupies and each citizen in the sphere of their prerogatives.

From which it results that if on a given spot the Homeland and Liberty are in danger, the duty and right to fix it belongs ipso facto to the city in question, which can take any measure and call for its neighbors.

From which results, finally, the political prerogative resulting from the revolutionary initiative of the People of Paris.

Those who do not want this and demand liberty, equality and fraternity, want an impossible thing.

[There is a 44th point, which follows the section on “Revolutionary Practice,” but Proudhon’s notes there are very fragmentary, and it will take some time to reconstruct the argument.]

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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New Propositions Demonstrated in the Practice Of Revolutions


1 — The interests established by society are mobile, subject to a constant and fundamentally unstable shifting.

2 — Fixity, permanence or perpetuity in the relations of interests is a chimera.

3 — That mobility of interests is the primary source of revolutions.

4 — An interest, however unjust it may be, can only be abolished on the condition of being replaced by another, which itself could appear every bit as unjust later.

5 — The human mind has a horror of the void; it does not accept pure negation, even if it is the negation of the greatest of crimes.

6 — Nations do nothing from pure love or pure justice; there is always a self-serving motive for every reform.

7 — The worship of truth for its own sake is pure nonsense in revolution.

8 — All religion, every political institution, all the economy of society are successive modifications of cannibalism.

9 — The ideas that govern society, with the interests, are mobile like those interests themselves, liable to increase and decrease, subject by nature to conflict and contradiction, perpetually changed.

10 — Consistency in ideas is the opposite of the social Mind; the immutability of symbols and professions of faith, in Society, is a chimera.

11 — That fundamental oscillation of ideas is the second cause of revolutions.

12 — An idea, however absurd it may be, can never be entirely abolished, except when it is replaced by another, which could appear as absurd later.

13 — The mobility of ideas and interests is not sufficient to explain Revolutions.

14 — Human Nature remains the same, with regard to worthiness and unworthiness;—well-being increases, the sum of knowledge is multiplied: the quantity of virtue remains the same.

15 — Evil, vice, selfishness and sadness are essential elements of humanity.

16 — The antagonism of powers creates all of our life: the status quo, bread, the absolute, happiness, sanctity, perfection is nothingness, death.

17 — The intimate knowledge of that truth is the principle of resistance to revolutions.

18 — The feeling of the beautiful and the sublime, the fascination with the absolute, is the cause that tips the balance and incites revolutions.

19 — The beautiful, the sublime, the absolute, the perfect, the true and the ideal are the infinite in thought.

20 — This feeling produces the marvelous in Humanity; it is the supreme cause, the ultima ratio of revolutions.

21 — The idea of God is not the conception of a Supreme Being, but of a Supreme Ideal.

22 — The supreme ideal is without reality: there is no God.

23 — A society cannot exist without a transcendent ideal: without religion, modern society is in danger of dying.

24 — Every ideal has a real and intelligible basis: every reality and every idea is susceptible to idealization.

25 — The mind inevitably tend to realize its ideal, in nature, in labor, in person, in government, in religion: that is why it decides to make a revolution.

26 — Society needing an ideal, and that ideal needing to belong to a real being, we must seek a supplement to the idea of God.

27 — Truth, as well as Justice, is essentially mobile and historical; there is nothing absolute or eternal about it.

28 — Only the laws of movement are absolutely and eternally true.

29 — The state of revolution is the normal state of societies.

30 — Every manifestation supposes a subject: thus, the series of revolutions leads us to suppose a revolutionary subject.

31 — Revolutions are the Transitions [Passages] of Humanity

32 — There have been some presentiments of that idea; the Peoples, the Poets, the Writers have had an intuition of it.

33 — The phenomena of revolution can only be explained and understood with the aid of this hypothesis

34 — The hypothesis of a revolutionary subject is as rational and more legitimate than that of God and that of Providence.

35 — A being is not a simple thing, but a group.

36 — All beings, living and unorganized, are groups.

37 — Everything that forms a group is a reality or has the power of realization.

38 — The old ontology went astray which it defined the Being as a simple substance.

39 — Simple substance, mind or matter, is a chimera.

40 — A man is an organized group, in which the mind arises from the organization.

41 — The People are an organized group: thus, the People are a real being, endowed with Life, Personality, Will, Intelligence and prescience.

42 — The definition of man by Bonald is the same, at base, as that of Cabanis:—a simple transposition of terms has made all the difference.

43 — The family, the familial group, is a Complex Being, which has its Self, like the People and the Individual.

44 — The old ontology, in its materialist form, leads to this proposition: Matter does not exist.

45 — In its spiritualist form it leads to this other proposition: Mind does not exist.

46 — To set aside the notion of substance and Cause, and move onto the terrain of Phenomena and Law, or of the Group.

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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Principles of the Philosophy of Progress (IV and V)


Everyone has read, in A. Smith, J.-B. Say, and others, the marvelous results of that force; but what few people have noticed, no doubt, is the technical inexactitude with which these two masters of the science explain its nature. They have not seen that what they call division of labor or separation of industries is only an application, in reverse, of the collective force, so that the same scientific demonstration suits them both. And because they have not seen it, not only have they been led to omit from their treatises the initial force, which is the agglomerated force, but they have understood nothing in the theory of the one they wanted to set out, the force of division.

As that question is serious, essential in science, I must, by a rapid discussion, furnish the proof of what I have claimed.

  1. I begin by citing A. Smith:

“Let us take, for example, a manufacture the object of which appears frivolous, but that has merited more than once that we have noted the details with a sort of admiration, I mean the fabrication of pins. Let the most industrious worker, but still a novice in their trade, wish to give himself up to it, he could perhaps manage to make in a day only a single pin, and certainly not as many as twenty, so diverse and multiplied are the are the labors demanded by a pin! He thus needs to divide the labor, first separate this trade from all the others; he must then follow, with all the details that they demand, so many individual trades; then finally he must create, to speed up the whole of the work, the play and movement of the machines: such is, in fact, that art today. One man draws out the brass wire, another straightens it, another cuts it, farther along one sharpens the point, and then one prepares the end that must receive the head. To shape that head requires two or three distinct manipulations; to place it is a new occupation; to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade to line them up on the paper. In the end, eighteen operations make up the grand art of making a pin.

“In several manufactories, these eighteen operations are almost all executed by different hands. However, I have seen one manufactory of this sort, which employed only ten men, some of whom, consequently, performed two or three distinct manipulations. The establishment was poor, and as a result poorly provided with the necessary machines; but their zeal sometimes made up for it all, and the common labor gave them about twelve pounds of middle-sized pins each day. Now the point being made up of four thousand pins, it follows that more than forty-eight thousand pins came each day from the hands of ten persons, and that each of these workers, doing a tenth of the general labor, must be considered individually as the artisan of four thousand eight hundred pins per day.”

Now here is the example supposed by J.-B. Say:

“The division of labor seems to have been pushed even farther in the fabrication of playing cards. It is not even the same workers who prepare the paper of which the cards are made, nor the colors with which they are printed; and by only paying attention to the single use of these materials, we will find that a deck of cards is the result of several operations, each of which occupies a distinct series of workers, male or female, who always apply themselves to the same operation. It is different persons, and always the same, who skim off the lumps and blockages that are found in the paper and harm the equality of thickness; the same who glue together the three sheets of paper of which the cardstock is made and put them in the press; the same who color the side destined to form the back of the cards; the same who print in black the outline of the figures; other workers print the colors of the same figures; others dry the cardstock at the stove once it has been printed; once they are printed, other are occupied smoothing them on both sides. It is one particular occupation that cuts them with equal dimensions; it is another to assemble them to form packs; another still to print the wrappers for the packs, and yet another to pack them; without counting the functions of those persons responsible for sales and purchases, for paying the workers and keeping records. In the end, if we are to believe the people in that trade, each card, one little bit of cardstock that will fit in the hand, before being in a saleable state, is subject to not less than 70 different operations, which could all be the object of the labor a different sort of workers. And if there are not 70 series of workers in each card factory, it is because the division of labor has not been pushed as far as it could be, and because the same worker is responsible for two, three, or four distinct operations.

“The influence of the division [partage] of occupations is immense. I have seen a factory for playing cards where thirty workers produce 30,500 cards each day, that is to say more than 500 cards per worker, and we can assume that if each of these workers found themselves obliged to do all the operations by themselves, and even supposing them practiced in their art, they would perhaps not finish two cards in a day and consequently, instead of producing 15,500 cards, they would only make 60.”

It is thus that two of the founders of political economy accounted for the division of labor and its effects: I will later [   ] what is false and puerile in their [account].

  1. But, what is, according to A. Smith and J.-B. Say, the reason for that prodigious multiplication of one single product, by a wisely combined division of labor?

According to the two writers, that reason, or that [ ] is triple: first, there is 1) the dexterity acquired by each worker, in a simple and often repeated operation; 2) suppression of the loss of time that workers make, in passing from one occupation to another, changing place, position and tools; 3) finally, the use, for each divided [parcellaire] function, of the most expeditious procedures, that is to say of machines, which are only truly advantageous in the large establishments where the abundance of work allows its division.

  1. Smith, after having signaled these three causes of the fecundity of the division, adds that the principle of that division is the need for the exchanges; and as soon
  2. Now, it is false that [in] the trade of the pin-maker, a single worker cannot come to produce 20 pins in a day; it is false that in the industry of the manufacture of cards and tarots, the same worker could not, at the same time, produce more than two [   ]; and Smith and Say, by admiring the effects of the division of labor, have ended by [   ]. It is even more false that the dexterity acquired and the suppression of the losses of time, of which I do not deny the merits, are the causes of that great fecundity: as for machines, they form a separate category in science, they should not figure in a theory of the division of labor. The advantage that results from the machine is one thing; that which results from the division of labor is another: the duty of the two professors was not to confuse them.
  3. To believe A. Smith and J.-B. Say, who have only sought to imitate it, the division of labor will only exist where there again appear as many specialties of workers as the labor to exist can be subject to fractions. It is then from that opinion that the tell us, the one that a worker laboring in isolation could not manage to fabricate 20 pins, the other that this same worker could not make two cards in a day. And the others who have followed them have all taken the thing seriously: it is accepted as certain in political economy that the same individual who can produce 4800 pins in a day, when he labors [   ], in a workshop where the chore is distributed, could not produce 20 of them if he was alone.

It is, however, notorious, and known to the least of the workers, that in all industries the division of labor can receive its application, whether by a single worker or by a group. A. Smith himself [   ] when he reports that in the workshop visited by him only ten persons executed the 18 operations of the pin-making industry, which supposes that some of those persons executed several of them. And J.-B. Say confirms it, when he adds that at the card-making factory, 30 workers are sufficient to make 70 distinct manipulations.

  1. The division of labor, for the individual as for the group, [   ], for example, instead of executing, successively and without stopping, on one pin or one card, the 18 or 70 fragmented operations of which the fabrication is made up, executing them simultaneously on several.—Assuredly [   ] according to the [   ] of these methods, a worker [   ] not 20 pins per day; he would consume himself, at that ridiculous task, in powerless efforts. But if he distributed the manipulations intelligently, then, instead of a few units he would produce thousands; and if my intelligence counts for something alongside that of A. Smith, I would say that if he had one [   ] factory where 10 persons produced, by the division of labor, 48,000 pins per day, I knew myself a pin-maker who, thanks to the same division, working all alone, as at his profession.
  2. So what is the division of labor, so badly understood by the economists that this single rectification ruins their whole system?

It is the art for the laborer, individual or collective, of attacking a function, too difficult in it totality, or too complicated, or too meticulous, of attacking it, I say, in its elementary parts, in such a way that the mind and body of the laborer who, formerly, finding themselves overwhelmed by it, could now deliver themselves from it with a superior force. Thus, in the division of labor as in the collective force, the principle is the same: it is to always attack a lesser task with a greater force. While, in one case, the laborers, individually too weak, form into groups, in the other they break, as it were, the bundle of their operations, in order to take them up again, with more advantage, in detail. What is the group, with its immense power, in comparison to a mass inaccessible to the individual, that one becomes vis-à-vis some fragmented operations, the ensemble of which makes up its industry.

  1. Let A. Smith and J.-B. Say pretend then that the sometimes fantastic dexterity that the worker acquires then in a fragmented operation exclusively repeated; the economy of time obtained by that specialization of laborers, and the more advantageous use of machines in a large enterprise, should be counted for something in the results of the industrial organization, it is not in my thought to deny it. I would simply observe that these facts, in which they think to find the cause of the results of the division of labor, are themselves effects of the collective force.




  1. Whoever says organization says analysis and synthesis, indissolubly united. Whoever says organization of labor, then, says 1) decomposition of the labor into its elementary or constituent operations; 2) recomposition of those same operations into a single action.

The organization of labor exists from the beginning of humanity; I mean since the day when the human species becomes industrious. It would be strange that anyone who have the pretension, in this matter, of having discovered anything. But if socialism has fallen too often into the folly of fabrications, Economy, from its side, has been no less wrong in refusing to open its eyes and see the facts, in presenting its ignorance as dogma.

  1. Industrial organization consists of the combined use of two forces: the collective force and the division of labor. Let us again take up the example of A. Smith.

It is proven, although the conscientious and diligent investigator says the contrary, that the division of labor exists as much for the solitary laborer as for a large workshop: it is by that division that he manages to multiply his products in sufficient quantity to make a living. Without it, his efforts would come to naught; he would only produce trifles.

Now let us [   ], as A. Smith and J.-B. Say have so well explained it, a workshop arranged in such a manner that each of the individual operations in which the function of the worker is divided are performed by a special worker, and we will see a new fact produced, and, as a result of this fact, some superior results: this fact is a new application of the collective force.

In the examples above, No. 3, the use of the collective force is simple, all of the individuals form the group identically executing the same task. In the work where the divided work is also [   ]. That use is complex: each of the laborers who make up the group executes a distinct operation.

The result of that combination is known: A. Smith and J.-B. Say analyzed it very well. The worker who, instead of successively [   ] all the parts of his industry, always performed one, will become proportionally more skillful in that one;–there is for all less loss of time; finally, the machines, which one can consider as automatic workers, working in a more continuous manner, which increases the revenue from the capital [   ]. For all these causes, production is noticeable increased, and while the worker, laboring outside that combination, could produce, with the same division of labor, the use of the same machines, and the same diligence, only 3000 pins a day, in the organized workshop he will produce 4800. The profit is thus more than a third [   ]: this third, true work of the [   ], it is not, as I have said, to the division of labor that we must attribute it, but to the collective force.

  1. All human labor tends to be organized more and more on that principle of the collective force and divisional force combined. It is this tendency that constitutes the economic movement of our century, a movement so formidable that it absorbs and converts all the others. It is for this reason that modern society separates itself definitively from ancient, catholic, feudal and barbaric society, where the industrial production, being unproductive, generally followed the example of agricultural production, given over from time immemorial to simple, individual labor.

Today, everything is subject to the law of organization. Already, in England, agriculture is industrialized, managed, not only by the division of labor, as with all the peasants, which the succession of the seasons is sufficient to command, but by the use of machines and collective force. Sooner or later, the English system will extend everywhere: then large-scale cultivation could unite with parcellaire possession, and the revolution foreseen by socialism, the revolution of property that draws along with it all the others, will be accomplished.

17.—But the most serious consequence, in the eyes of the philosopher, of the combined use of the divisional and collective forces, is the de facto solidarity that this use gives rise to among the workers, and as a result the guarantee of rights that it calls for.

It is obvious, setting aside some interests of capital, which must not concern us here, and some privilege of the businessmen [entrepreneurs], whose initiative desires a remuneration, that the worker enmeshed in this organism, which reduces them to the role of a simple cog, barred from their liberty by their admission into the workshop, enchained, if we can put it that way, by their own cooperation, cannot be left without compensation. The freedom of movement that they lose of the one hand must be found again elsewhere; the intellectual inertia to which their specialty condemns them must be recovered in a higher combination. It is in vain that Economism opposes to the degradation of the hardworking masses the wealth of a progressive society; it is in vain that it invokes against these damned souls of civilization the necessity of its alleged principles, and that is offers them the consolations suggested by a hypocritical religion. There is no right against rights, no necessity that stands against justice, no religion that demands the mass to die of starvation in order to fatten a handful of the elect.

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Principles of the Philosophy of Progress (II and III)


1.—There exists between men a tendency or attraction that pushes them to group and act, for their own great interest and the most complete development of their individuality, collectively and as a mass.

What is the principle of that tendency? The same as that of the attraction between all beings: It is a property and a condition of their existence (p. 2); it is impossible to know more of it, and consequently senseless to ask more. Let us limit ourselves to reasoning from the point of view of the aim.

The tendency in the group, fatal in some species, free and reflective only in our own, of all our most precious faculties, is a fact. The philosophers and naturalists, considering it in its mystical and superficial expression, have called it attraction or instinct of sociability, sympathy, devotion, patriotism, charity, fraternity, humanity, etc. They have seen in it one of the hallmarks of our destiny, the basis of justice, morals and religion itself. They have not gone further. The useful side, the economic and productive power of the human group, independent of the work of the individuals, has completely escaped them. For all of them, as for the economists, the social instinct has remained a sort of platonic love, a budding idea that has never been expressed and realized. There, in fact, the evangelical work has stopped, and there moral philosophy has broken, both powerless to resolve the complicated problem of human relations, and on the highest questions of public and private right, reduced to appeal to divine authority and the reason of State.

2.—It is up to our century, to the positive and precise genius of modern societies, to study the social instinct in its practical development, and follow it in its speculative, moral and industrial manifestations.

From the formation of individuals into a group there results a force, numerically equal to the sum of the individual forces that make it up, but which is, by virtue of its unity, very superior in its application, and which must for this reason must be considered as the soul of the group, its own essential energy, its life, its mind. So that the individual, sensitive, intelligent, active and free, being taken for an elementary unity, the various groups in which it can enter form so many unities of a more and more elevated order, endowed, like the individual, with sensitivity, will, intelligence and action.

Thus, alongside the individual man arises the Collective Man, which is certainly something other than the sum or addition of the individual energies that form it, but, which, converting all these energies into a higher energy, sui generis, has the right to be treated from now on not as a being of the mind, but as a reason and veritable person. Such is the immense fact, principle of supernaturalism that must in the end rest on its certain base, the economic science, which I will attempt to summarize.


3.—The collective force is generally recognized in every action that surpasses the scope of an individual force, working as long, and with the aid of all the tools and instruments that you might want.

One man, with a plow and some oxen, can turn over one acre in a day: ten men, with ten plows and ten pair, would work ten acres in the same amount of time. There would be time saved relative to the surface works: but as each plow can be considered as working for a simple individual, as each plow can, in ten days, accomplish the work of the ten, while there may be concert, community or exchange of services, there is not collectivity.

Just so, one businessman, disposing of material that he has purchased and workers that he has hired, can, in three months, build a fine looking country house. There again, there is time to be saved by the promptness of the construction: nevertheless, we can conceive that, in a pinch, the same individual could exercise in turn all the functions of stonecutter, mason, carpenter, etc.; and in time build his house by himself alone. We would see in the first operation rather an effect of exchange than of collective force. There again, we do not recognize the group.

Economy consider considers separately, as distinct principles and special forces, exchange and community, observation, etc. It does not confuse them with collective force. (See The General Idea of the Revolution in the 19th Century, Ch. III and VI.)

But here is where we will see it appear: let us begin with the simplest cases.

A man, of middling strength, can easily carry, for 60 feet, a burden of 125 kilograms. Let that man repeat that operation a thousand times in a row and he will have transported on his shoulders a whole boatload.

This is how the dockhands proceed in the ports. But let it be a question of a block of 2000 kilograms: individual strength becomes powerless and if it is reduced to its own means the block runs the risk of remaining in place forever. For such a great effort, a group is required.

One worker has been able, in the past, over time, to cut and sculpt the obelisk of Luxor in the quarries of the Thebaid. In order to accomplish the loading, the transport to Paris, the unloading and the erection of the monolith, required a squadron commanded by an engineer, obeying his words like a single man.

A gravedigger can dig a hole in the sand, erect a beam there and then, after filling the hollow and stuffing the empty space by reversing the excavating, begin the same work again until he has moved around a surface as great as Notre Dame. The same individual, if it were a question of a piling in a river, sinking there by hammer blows some oak stakes, six meters in length and 0.80 centimeters around, would never come to the end of the task. Here, the action of the group is indispensible.

A boater could, by multiplying his voyages, transport a cargo of 1000 tons from Paris to the Havre. He could never, with his little boat, transport the same mass from Calais to Dover, although the distance is much less. To contend with the ocean requires nothing less than a large ship, and consequently the effect of a group.

We can multiply infinitely these examples that modern industry presents at every step.

4.—Collective force is thus something other than the sum of the individual forces of which it is made up: I add that in the application it is, by virtue of its unity, greater than that sum.

A man, whose muscular strength, in all parts of his body, is equal to six times that of an individual of average vigor, would not only render as much effective labor as six men, but in a struggle he would lay them low. The reason is that, being able to deploy on each side a superior power, or to oppose a superior resistance, he crushes his divided adversaries in a mass.

This is the image of the group: its strength or force, numerically equal to that of its components, is more than equal in its unity to all together specifically. The military men know it well, their whole science consists, through progressions of attacks and retreats combined, in breaking up the enemy mass so that they can oppose everywhere a greater force to lesser forces.

A warship with 100 cannons will chase off 500 fishing boats; a steamer with a force of 100 horsepower, giving the same service as a crew of 100 horses, will be much superior to them with regard to general costs and risks; a large agricultural operation will give, for the same amount of land cultivated, finer and more abundant products, and at lower cost, than would a dozen little farms. The mechanical arts abound with facts of this nature: the Creusot steam hammer, which represents in weight two or three hundred times the big hammer of a blacksmith, produces more effect in a single fall than two hundred blows struck by a worker; the work of a mechanical saw offers more precisions that if it is used by a half-dozen arms; the sound created by one hundred singers in unison is truer than each of the individual voices.

These facts, which each can multiply as they please, suffice to establish the reality of the collective force, of that force that the economists have forgotten even to mention in their books, and that still, by its innumerable applications, its transformation, its political, morel, religious and intellectual consequences, dominates science and governs civilization.

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The Conditions of Existence (from “Economy”)

[Ms. 2867 contains a section on the “Principles of the Philosophy of Progress,” which focuses on the character of collective beings and collective reason. It opens with the following notes on the “conditions of existence:”]


Man is made up of parts called members or organs. What makes his reality is the animistic gathering of these organs in a whole that, as long as it lives, is called a person.

In the same way, a society is made up of parts that are persons or aggregations of persons. What established the social reality is the intellectual consent of these persons and aggregations in an ultimate whole that we call, as long as it endures, company, association, municipality, city, people, etc.

It is thus with all the existences that we can observe: it is always conglomerations of organisms or societies, formed of simpler parts, according to some unifying law.

1.—I generalize from this observation and I say: Every perceptible existence, from the grain of sand or drop of water to the man and the society, invariably and necessarily possesses the double character of unity and collectivity. So I have a right to consider the two terms as correlative and inseparable, as much in nature as in logic, and I define the being as a group.

The idea of a simple being is contradictory. Atomism is a fiction. For the same reason, substance in itself, prior to all phenomenality, is only a metaphysical notion: it does not exist.

2.—Every being, which is to say every group, or to remain within the terms of the definition, every unity-collectivity, by the very fact that it is a plurality of elements assembled according to a law, manifests an internal, radiant energy, capable at least of maintaining the unities that make up the group.

I generalize further, and I say: Existence implies force. These two ideas, like those of unity and collectivity, are correlative and inseparable, in nature as in the understanding. An existence without force is a contradiction. A force, without a group that sustains, represents and produces it, is, like substance in itself, a chimera: it does not exist.

3.—All beings, by virtue of the personal, radiant energy that constitutes them, attract and repel one another reciprocally, tend to unite to form other groups or to be absorbed and dissolved, by the centralization and dispersion of their forces. That is an empirical fact sufficiently demonstrated by molecular attraction, the phenomena of vegetation and life, and History…

I generalize once again and I say: Creation is the ascending movement of existences; the chain of beings has no end: the universe, always changing, is eternal.

4.—There is then, for every being, two manners of manifesting its existence, and it could only have two: its composition, and its action.—Action, in certain beings becomes thought and speech.

Let us apply these principles to the study of economic phenomena.

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DILEMMA: Red or White (from “Economy”)

Ms. 2863 (Economy)

Paris, March 16

DILEMMA: Red or White

A captain of the line assure me—the papers friendly to the government will say tomorrow if the information is exact—that on the occasion of the next elections, the order has been given to prevent, by all possible means, the gentlemen of the military from attending the electoral gatherings. Any disobedience in this regard will be punished by eight days in jail.

The government is right. It is consistent with itself. It follows, imperturbably, like Mr. Cabet, its straight line. For sixty years, the French people, leading the rest of the world behind it, has descended the path of the Revolution; Mr. Louis Bonaparte has sworn to make us turn back up the path of the Revolution. That is why Mr. Louis Bonaparte has been made President of the Republic:—ask the legitimists; ask the doctrinaires or the Jesuits.

Now, whoever desires the ends desires the means; to make the army vote as a municipal guard and forbid it from political discussions: such is, with regard to the army, the means that the government proposes to use. And I repeat that the government, from its own point of view, has it right. Follow this reasoning, I beg you: it is as demonstrative as the history.

The Revolution of 89, by abolishing the old despotism and feudalism, led us to the Constitutional Monarchy.

The Constitutional Monarchy, after thirty years of parliamentary evolutions, led to the Republic.

The Republic established universal suffrage.

Universal suffrage make the soldiers eligible voters, make them, in fact, with the other citizens, arbiters of peace and war, judges of the politics of the government, inspector of the acts and opinions of their leaders—all things incompatible with the spirit of hierarchy and the feudal discipline of the army.

So there is an incompatibility between the current regime of the army, which costs us 400 million per year, and the exercise of political rights. And to conclude, either no republic or no army: that is the dilemma.

But what is true today of the army is true of all the rest. It is everywhere the same antagonism, the same incompatibilities. The government has seen it very well; by its propositions, its nominations, its communications, each day it reproduces the same alternative; and if we do not understand it, it is because we do not wish to hear it.

Red or White, it says to us,

Republican or Cossack,

Socialist or Jesuit,

Voltaire or de Maistre,

The Revolution or the Holy Alliance,

Labor or Capital,

Association or Statute Labor,

Free Credit or Usury,

The Bank of the People or Malthus,

The citizen army or the praetorian army.

There is no middle ground: it is necessary to choose. The question is precisely the same for the bourgeois, the peasant, the soldier, the philosopher and the statesman, for France and for Europe. Every other party is committed to the happy medium, to hypocrisy. Now, the experiment of the happy medium has been made, and the world does not want it. So it is a question of knowing if the people will be red or white, if the army will be for Christ or for Belial. We are happy to agree with the government, if not with regard to the goal, at least regarding the logic; and we support its dilemma with all our strength.

The government is white; we are red. It no longer wants the tricolor; neither do we. That is clear.

The Revolution of February was made by the red flag, which become from then on the symbol of the right to work and the beacon of Humanity. The tricolored flag has only ever been, despite all its glory, the flag of the happy medium, the flag of the doctrinaires. In 1804, not daring to restore the monarchy, it created an emperor. Forced in 1815 to hide itself, it returned in 1830 to give us Louis-Philippe; after February, Mr. de Lamartine took it for the lightning-rod of socialism; and it is thanks to this that we had had, in a democratic Republic, along with the exclusion of the right to work, the presidency of a Bonaparte. Since then, the tricolored flag has no longer been anything but the flag of reaction and calumny. Moreover, it showed this very well in June when it bathed with so much delight in the blood of the workers. And we wrote from the mouth of March 1848, as if we could have foreseen those odious days.

“Red is the color of justice and sovereignty. And since all men love and seek the red, is not red the symbol of human fraternity?… Deny the red flag, dye the purple, but that is to eliminate the social question, the right to work. Every time that the people, defeated by suffering, has wanted to express, outside of that juridical legality that murders it, its wishes and complaints, it has marched under a red banner. The red flag, it is true, has still not made the tour of the world, like its fortunate rival, the tricolor. Justice has spoken very well; Mr. de Lamartine has not gone farther than the camp of Mars. It is so terrible, Justice, that one could not hide it too much. Poor red flag! Everyone abandons you! Well! I embrace you. I clutch you to my breast. Cheers to fraternity! The red flag is the sign of a revolution that will be the last. The red flag! It is the shroud of Christ, the federal standard of the human race.”

Honest souls, who only see in the red flag the sign of vengeance, and for whom a bunch of peasants will suffice to make you afraid: do you want to abolish the scaffold once and for all? Plant a red flag atop it.

The red flag is the sign of the democratic reality, just as the white flag is the sign of the sign of feudal suzerainty. The tricolor is that of the politics of the seesaw and the presidency. Napoleon and Louise-Philippe, illegitimate monarchs, would adopt it. The reactionaries no longer want to, and you know why. No truck, they say, with the republican principle. And we respond, we socialists, no truck with the feudal principle!

As at all the times that the throne and altar have been united against liberty, the white flag is the banner of Catholicism in France as well as the monarchy: the red flag, on the contrary, is the symbol of the democratic and social philosophy. The Jansenists and Gallicans, false royalists and false Christians, ground around the tricolored flag.

That is why, from one side, the whites demand that the Church be richly endowed, and work with all their strength to render it its goods and its tithes; from the other, the reds want the clergy, like the laborers, subject to the law of free commerce and, as a consequence, only those who have need of the priest’s services will pay him. The tricolors, who neither want to render the goods of the clergy nor abolish the parasitism of the Church, resist both; they have invented the budget of the cults and the salary of the priests, in order to declaim at once against the Socialist and against the Pope.

We do not want the Church to be salaried, say the whites. We do not want it to be endowed, respond the reds. And all shout at the same time: Down with the tricolors!

In the past, the magistracy was like property, hereditary and venal. Justice was given at a price in cash: that was the white justice. The judge lived on his spices, as the bailiff lives on his exploits. Under the general designation of Parliaments, the people of the courts and tribunals formed one caste. What we call the ministerial offices are a remnant of that old institution.

After 89, the venality of the offices should have been entirely abolished, and justice elective and free. This was the generalization of the just, the red justice. Instead of that, we have the salaried, tenured magistracy, a judicial order marching in connivance with the executive power. Part of the officers have, in addition, preserved their venal privileges. That is the system of the Héberts, the Dupins, the Lehons; the tricolored justice.

It is with the army as with justice, as with the Church, and with the government.

In the past, the grades higher than noncommissioned officer were reserved for the nobles, inaccessible to the commoners. Discipline by baton blows…

[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

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