The Sects and the Revolution (19 October 1866)

What impudence and presumptuousness on the part of those theorists who treat revolutionaries with contempt, on the pretext that they do not have a definite model or formula for rebuilding and replacing what is in the process of collapsing.1

Why should these revolutionaries not simply adopt a formula, [they ask,] and follow the imposing example set by today’s organic chemists? All they need to do is choose between the various panaceas that are already on offer, and pick one of the structures proposed by a great many architects. Are they then so ignorant as to be unfamiliar with the palaces dreamed up by all these amateur builders? This is indeed what the founders of these new worlds seem to believe. The moment you refuse to adopt any one of their doctrines, they assume that you are not familiar with any of them. Surely your ignorance alone can explain why you might remain indifferent when faced with a choice between so many model prisons in which their scientific advocates propose to lock up the future.

Fourierism, Saint-Simonianism, communism, and positivism all hasten to erect a new series of penal colonies, in which humanity will enjoy the happiness of being fettered in perfected chains.

Everyone demands that you provide a formula, a form of administration, a system, a set of regulations – the anarchists and the anti-government groups just as much as the others. One side calls for a new centralised order, the other wants to decentralise it, yet all agree on the need for regulation.

What remarkable monomania! Revolutionaries in no way claim to be able to invent a whole new world on the basis of their knowledge and intelligence [lumières] alone. They can clearly see the shortcomings and evils of the old order. They have put on trial the guilty parties who are currently blocking humanity’s path. They have judged and convicted them. They will execute them.

First in the dock is Christianity, or rather monotheism. It is the poisonous force par excellence, the deadly ingredient that must be expelled from the social body. All the evidence has been seen and heard, the case is closed and the verdict is not subject to appeal. All forms of theism – Judaism, Christianity and Islamism – must be annihilated. This is our guiding principle, the fixed point of our compass.

Next comes capital, which presents an infinitely more complex and difficult problem. In principle, as far as the laws of morality are concerned, it too has been tried and found guilty. In practice, this opens up an unknown abyss that must negotiated with great care, one step at a time. Could we immediately build a structure from which capital was proscribed? Do we have the plan, the materials and all the elements that would together make up this precious house? The sectarians say yes, the revolutionaries say no, and the revolutionaries are the only true socialists, for they are far better at safeguarding the future that belongs to socialism. […]

The government must crush the revealed religions as natural born murderers of the human race. This is the first duty of the police [police]. Without this [spiritual] cleansing, nothing is possible. Then the material oppressors, civil servants and capitalists, must either be swept aside or placed under constant surveillance – this is the second duty. Up until that point the course is simple. But that a government might take it upon itself to create an imaginary social organism, a priori or in the abstract, and to try to impose it from above on the basis of its authority and its indisputable science – no! A thousand times no! This is where madness begins, if not crime. It would lead to disaster.

The new social organism cannot be the work of one single person, nor of a few people, nor simply of good faith, nor of devotion, nor even of genius. It cannot be a mere improvisation. It is the work of everyone, a project that proceeds over time, through trial and error, through gradual and progressive experience, through an unknown, spontaneous current. The river thus slowly takes shape from the confluence of a thousand springs, of billions of drops of water. We can remove the obstacles in its path, and help to carve out a downward slope, but we should never pretend that we can create the river itself.

Saint-Simonianism and Fourierism condemned themselves by their usurping presumptuousness, and by the inanity and futility of their creations. Positivism, which was initially a revolutionary doctrine, has run aground on the same rocks, by its insistence on fantastical and authoritarian forms of organisation. Every social dogmatism will perish in the same way.

After having first brought them into the world, the revolutionaries have now buried all these would-be founders of societies, who have only insulted and cursed them. The parricidal sons have perished as a result of their crime. They are now nothing more than a remote, fading memory, while the capacity and achievements of their jeered and heckled fathers continue to grow.

No! No-one knows or holds the secrets of the future. Even the most clear-sighted among us have only hazy premonitions at best, passing and vague glimpses. Only the revolution, in clearing the terrain, will reveal the horizon, slowly lift the veil, and open up the routes, or rather the multiple paths, that lead to the new order. Those who claim to have a complete map of this unknown land in their pocket – they are crazed. Those who seek to maintain the wild moors of our present moment until we have first drawn up the desired map – they are enemies of the human race.

Besides, let us make no mistake: if everything must be done in the interest of the collective, nevertheless everything must be done by the individual. The individual is the element of humanity, like the stitch in a piece of knitting. As a result, nothing counts if it does not involve individual education. Administration, centralisation, the combining or balancing of powers as far ahead as the eye can see – this is all foolishness or roguery. With individual education, everything. Without it, nothing. Sunlight or darkness, life or death.

  1.  Source: CS2, 112-116, following the manuscript in MSS 9591(2), ff. 519-21.