Third Letter


The bad conscience of the bourgeois paralyzed, as I have said, the whole intellectual and moral movement of the bourgeoisie at the beginning of this century. Let me correct myself -- I shall replace the word paralyzed with another: perverted. For it would be incorrect to say that there was any paralysis in a spirit which, passing from theory to the application of the positive sciences, created all the miracles of modem industry, and which, by discovering a new science -- statistics -- and by pursuing political economy and historical criticism of the development of wealth and civilization to the point where their fullest possibilities could be realized, established the basis for a new philosophy -- socialism-which from the standpoint of the exclusive interests of the bourgeoisie is nothing but a sublime suicide, the very negation of the bourgeois world.

The paralysis did not arrive until later, after 1848, when the bourgeoisie, terrified by the results of its earlier efforts, consciously placed itself behind the times, and when, to preserve its possessions, it renounced all thought and will, submitted itself to the protection of the military, and gave itself over, body and soul, to the most complete reaction. Since that time it has done no more inventing, but rather has lost, along with its courage, the very power of creation. It no longer retains even the power or spirit of self-preservation, for everything that it has done and continues to do for its salvation pushes it inexorably toward the abyss.

Until 1848, the bourgeoisie was still full of spirit. To be sure, this spirit no longer coursed with that vigorous sap that had enabled it, between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, to create a new world. This was no longer the heroic spirit of a class that was highly audacious because it had to conquer everything: it was the prudent and reflective spirit of a new property owner who, after having acquired an ardently coveted possession, was determined to make it prosper and increase in value. The spirit of the bourgeoisie in the first half of this century call be characterized in particular by its almost exclusively utilitarian tendency.

The bourgeoisie has been reproached for this, and wrongly. I believe, on the contrary, that it has rendered a last great service to humanity by preaching, much more through example than through its theories, the cult of, or rather the respect for, material interests. Basically, such interests have always prevailed in the world, hut until now they always manifested themselves under the cloak of a hypocritical or unhealthy idealism, which is precisely what always transformed them into malicious and iniquitous interests.

No one at all interested in the study of history could have failed to see that there was always some great material interest at the bottom of even the most abstract, the most sublime and idealistic theological and religious struggles. No war of races, nations, States or classes has ever been waged with any purpose other than domination, which is the rendition and necessary guarantee of the possession and free use of goods. Human history, considered from this point of view, is nothing but the continuation of that great struggle for existence that, according to Darwin, constitutes the fundamental law of organic nature.

In the animal world, this battle takes place without ideas and without phases, and is furthermore without a solution; as long as the earth exists, the animal world will devour itself. This is the natural condition of its life. Human beings, omnivorous animals par excellence, began their history with this cannibalism. Today they tend towards universal association, and the collective production and use of goods.

But between these two points, what bloody and horrible tragedy! And we are not yet finished with this tragedy. After cannibalism came slavery, after slavery serfdom, after serfdom wage-labor, after which the terrible day of justice is to come, and only then, much later, the era of fraternity. These are the phases through which the animal struggle for life is transformed gradually, in history, into the human organization of life.

And, in the middle of this fratricidal combat of man against man, amidst this mutual destruction, amidst this reduction of men to servitude by a few who have maintained themselves, under different names and forms, throughout the centuries, what role did religion play? Religion has always sanctified violence, and transformed it into right. It has whisked away humanity, justice and fraternity into a fictitious heaven, so as to leave room on earth for the reign of iniquity and brutality. It has blessed successful brigands, and, in order to increase their fortune even further, has preached obedience and resignation to their innumerable victims, the people. And, the more sublime the ideal adored in heaven appeared to be, the more horrible became the reality on earth. For it is in the nature of all idealism, whether religious or metaphysical, to despise the real world, and, in despising it, to exploit it; with the result that all idealism necessarily engenders hypocrisy.

Man is matter, and cannot despise matter with impunity. He is an animal, and he cannot destroy his own animality. But he can and must transform and humanize it through freedom, that is, through the combined action of justice and reason, which in their turn have a grip upon because they are its products and highest highest expression. On the other hand, every time that man has tried to abstract himself from his animality, he has become its slave and its toy: witness the priesthood of the most absurd and most idealistic religion in the world, Catholicism.

Compare their well-known obscenity with their vow of chastity; compare their insatiable covetousness with their doctrine of the renunciation of the things of this world; and you will agree that there exist no other beings so materialistic as these preachers of Christian idealism. At this very moment, what is the question that is troubling the whole Church most of all? The preservation of its possessions, which everywhere today stand in danger of being confiscated by that other Church, that expression of political idealism, the State.

Political idealism is no less absurd, pernicious or hypocritical than the idealism of religion, and is, besides, only a different form of it, being its worldly and terrestrial expression and application. The State is the younger brother of the Church, and patriotism, that virtue and cult of the State, is only a reflection of the cult of the divine.

According to the precepts of the idealistic school, which is religious and political at the same time, the virtuous man must serve God and devote himself to the State. And it is this doctrine that bourgeois utilitarianism began to combat, using justice as a weapon, at the beginning of this century.