by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
Come, Satan, come. Slandered by priests and kings! Let me embrace you, let me clutch you to my breast! I have known you for a long time, and you know me as well. Your works, oh bless-ed of my heart, are not always beautiful or good; but you alone give sense to the universe and prevent it from being absurd. What would justice be without you? An instinct. Reason? A routine. Man? A beast. You alone prompt labor and render it fertile; you ennoble wealth, serve as an excuse for authority, put the seal on virtue. Hope still, proscript! I have at your service only a pen, but it is worth millions of ballots. And I wish only to ask when the days sung of by the poet will return:
You crossed gothic ruins, Our defenders pressed at your heels, Flowers rained down, and modest virgins Mingled their songs with the war hymn. All stirred and armed themselves for the defense, All were proud above all the poor. Ahh, Give back to me the days of my childhood, Goddess of Liberty!
Jews. Make laws against this race which poisons everything, by mingling into in all affairs without seeking unity with any people. Demand its expulsion from France. Abolish synagogues and do not admit them to any employment. Finally, pursue the abolition of this religion. The Jew is the enemy of humanity. They must be sent back to Asia or exterminated. By steel or by fire or by expulsion the Jew must disappear. What the people of the middle ages hated by instinct, I hate upon reflexion and irrecoverably. Hatred of the Jew must be an article of our political faith.
God is Evil
My friends beg me, in the interest of our common ideas, and to remove any pretext for slander, to make my opinion known on the divinity and Providence, and at the same time to explain certain passages from the System of [Economic] Contradictions, that the reactionary tartuffes have for a year constantly exploited against socialism with simple and credulous souls.
I surrender to their solicitations. I will even say that if I have for so long let the Constitutionnel and its consorts make of me a Vanini even more ferocious that the original, attacking at once God and the Devil, — the family and property, — I had my reasons for that. First I wanted to lead certain schools, up to then considered enemies, to confess themselves their perfect resemblance; I wanted, in a word, it to be demonstrated to the eyes of all that doctrinaire and Jesuit, it is all one. Also, as a metaphysician by profession, I was not unhappy to take advantage of the circumstances in order to judge, by a decisive test, where our century really is with regard to religion. It is not given to everyone to engage in such experiments in social psychology, and to examine, as I have for six months, public reason. Few men are in a position for that; and besides, it is too costly. Thus I was curious to know if, among a people such as our own, who, for two centuries, have banished religious disputes from among them; who have posited in principle the absolute liberty of conscience, that is to say the most determined skepticism; who, through the mouthpiece of the present head of the ministry, M. Odilon-Barrot, have put God and religion beyond the law; who salary all the faiths existing in their territory, while waiting for them to fade away; among a people where one no longer swears but by honor and conscience; where education, justice, power, literature and art, everything, finally, is religious indifference, if not atheism, the minds of the citizens were on a level with the institutions.
There is, I said to myself, a man who exactly fulfills his civic duties; who, above all things, respects the family of his fellow man; who keeps himself pure for the good of others; who makes a rule of never disguising his thoughts, even at the risk of his respect; who has sworn himself to the improvement of his fellows; well! What could it matter to the people to know if this man is or is not an atheist? How could that modify their opinion? Especially if one considers that the word atheist is as poorly defined, as obscure, as the word God, of which it is the negation.
For a mind enamored with philosophical and social trifles, the question deserves to be examined deeply.
Now, I have seen that, thank God! — if you’ll excuse the expression — the bulk of the people in France have been stirred very little by the transcendent interests of the supreme being, and that there remains hardly anyone but the Constitutionnel and the Jesuits, M. Thiers and M. de Montalembert, to take up the cause of the divinity. Here, in order to conceal nothing, is all that I gathered from my researches.
Four petitions have arrived at the National Assembly, holding thirty to forty signatures, and demanding my expulsion from the Assembly for cause of atheism. As if I did not have the right to be atheist. If the National Assembly ever occupies itself with these petitions, my honorable colleagues will laugh about it like the gods.
I have received two anonymous letters in which I have been warned, with plenty of biblical citations in support, that if I continue, as I have, to blaspheme, the heavens will strike me. — OK! I say, If the heavens intervene, I am a goner!
Finally, here is the Constitutionnel of May 3, which tells me to beware, that if I push Providence too far, she will chastise me, delivering me up to the delirium of my pride. — Indeed, merely to be occupied with her, that is good reason to become mad.
That is all that I have been able to gather of the indignation of the devout; the rest, the immense majority of the French people, jeer at the Providence of Constitutionnel and of the good God of the Jesuits, like an ass with a fistful of nettles.
However, it is time that the comedy finishes; and, since my friends wish it and our colleagues in socialism desire it, I will address to them my profession of faith. God and the people pardon me! What I am going to say is a serious thing; but such is the sacrilegious hypocrisy of my adversaries, that I am almost ashamed of my action, as if I had just taken the holy water.
Man is Free
There is my first proposition. Liberty is thought; I only translate the Cogito, ergo sum, of Descartes. I am free, therefore I am. All the propositions that will follow, follow from that one, with the rigor of a geometric demonstration.
By virtue of his liberty, man adheres to or resists the divine order, which is nothing but the order of nature delivered to itself.
By his adhesion to the divine order, as by the modifications that it imposes on him, man enters into a share of government of the universe. He becomes himself, like God, of whom he is the eternal reflection, creator and revealer; he is a form of the divinity.
All that which does not come to modify the free action of man falls exclusively under the law of God.
Reciprocally, all that which surpasses the force of nature is the proper work of the will of man.
God is eternal reason; man is progressive reason.
These two reasons are necessary to one another; they complete one another.
Their agreement constitutes what I call the government of Providence.
Providence is not, then, like God and man, whose convergence it represents, a simple idea; it is a complex idea. — It is the harmony between the order of nature and the order of liberty, a thing that the popular proverb expresses by saying: Help yourself, heaven will aid you!
All that man does on encountering the divine law is arbitrary; all that happens without man’s knowledge, or despite it, is a matter of fatality.
Depending on whether Humanity is more or less autonomous, that is to say mistress and legislator of itself; whether its share of initiative is more or less great and reasoned, and the course of events more or less freed from the unconscious laws of nature, the amount of good increased or diminished in the world. So that order, in its highest expression, or, as the ancient philosophers said, the Sovereign Good, results from the perfect accord between the two sovereign powers, God and man, and the extreme wretchedness of their complete scission.
The progress in Humanity can then be defined, the incessant struggle of man with nature, eternal opposition, producing and eternal conciliation.
Everywhere where man misunderstood the law of nature where it is lacking, it is inevitable that nature and society fall into dissolution. The perfection of the physical world is linked to the perfection of the social world, and vice versa. A God, a world, without humanity, is impossible; a Humanity-God is a contradiction. Confusion, exclusion, there is (the) evil.
God, eternal and infinite, is everywhere, Humanity, immortal and progressive, is somewhere.
Neither can the divine order be fully absorbed in human law, nor can free will resolve itself entirely in fatalism. These two orders should develop in parallel, sustain one another, harmonize, not blend: the antinomy between man and God is unsolvable.
The absolute is a conception necessary for the reason, not without reality. In other terms, God, considered as the synthesis of the faculties of the finite and infinite, does not exist. From yet another point of view, man is not the weakened image, but the reversed image of God.
The equality of relations between God and man; the distinction and the antagonism of their natures; the obligatory convergence of their wills; the progress of their agreement, are the fundamental dogmas of the democratic and social philosophy.
Christianity has been the prophecy, and socialism is the realization.
Atheism is the negation of Providence, as it results from the agreement between the inflexible laws of nature and the incessant aspirations of liberty, and as I have attempted to define it.
Atheism is, in general, the doctrine that, in an infinite variety of forms, materialism and spiritualism, Catholicism and paganism, deism, pantheism, idealism, skepticism and mysticism, etc., denies by turns equality, la contemporaneity, the necessity of the two powers, God and man, their distinction, their solidarity, tends continually either to subordinate one to the other, or to isolate them, or to resolve them.
God, eternal and inevitable reason, not being conceivable without man; and man, progressive and free reason, not being conceivable without God; and that duality being inconvertible and insoluble, every theory that detracts from it is atheism.
Thus, atheism is the opposite of anti-theism, which is nothing other than socialism itself, which is to say the theory of Providence, or, as St. Augustine would have said, the organization of the City of God.
After that, the vulgar who relate everything to a superior will, to a Supreme Being, of which man will only be the creature and plaything, profoundly religious as to consciousness, is atheist in beliefs. The supremacy of God is a mutilation of Humanity: it is atheism.
It is as true today to say that the world does not know God, as it was at the birth of Jesus Christ.
Bossuet, in his Discours sur l’histoire universelle, where he glorifies the creator to the detriment of humanity, attributing everything to God, and making man the passive instrument of his designs, Bossuet, without wanting or knowing it, is an atheist.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau is an atheist, when, after having misanthropically denied civilization, that is, the participation of humanity in the government of the universe, he prostrates himself before nature and returns civilized society to the savage state. The philosopher of Geneva has not seen that the knowledge of God is progressive like society, that it is really because of the progress of that society.
And as in every state of civilization the political form has for point of departure the theological or metaphysical idea, — as in society government is produced according to the example of religion, — we constantly see the varieties of atheism become so many varieties of despotism.
Thus Bossuet, after having made the theory of divine absolutism in his Discours sur l’histoire universelle, has been carried by the force of his principle to make the theory of monarchical absolutism in his Politique tirée de l’Écriture sainte. Thus Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the theoretician of deism, a kind of compromise between reason and faith, can be considered as the father of constitutionalism, an arbitrary transaction between monarchy and democracy. Rousseau is the predecessor of M. Guizot: besides, the Social Contract is only a contradiction on the part of the philosopher of Geneva. And as deism is the worst of hypocrisies, constitutionalism is the worst of governments.
The present society, finally, a society without energy, without philosophy, without an idea of God or of itself, living from day to day on some extinct traditions, rejecting every intervention of free will in its industrial economy, awaiting its salvation only from the fatality of nature, as it awaits the sun and rain, is profoundly atheist.
And the most detestable of atheists, although they do not cease to claim to follow God and Church, are those who envy the people liberty and knowledge; who make them march at the points of their bayonets, who preach resignation and renunciation to them, the respect of parasitism and submission to the foreigner. — It is those who say to them: Make love but do not make children, because you cannot feed them; labor, but save, because you are not certain that you can always work.
It is time that we knew them, these detractors of divine and human Providence, who pose as defenders of religion, and who always deny one of the faces of the infinite; who award themselves the title of party of order, but who have never organized anything but conspiracies…
The readers of the Peuple understand at present why, in a recent article, where I brought out the deep and incurable powerlessness of these men, I called their tyrannical domination the reign of God! Aren’t they fatalists, indeed? Don’t they oppose every effort of liberty! Don’t they want us to relate it exclusively to the force of things? Don’t they have, as maxims, these simple phrases:
Laissez faire, laissez passer!
Chacun chez soi, chacun pour soi! [Every one for his home, every one for himself]
Qui vivra verra! [Time will tell!]
and a thousand others, which are so many acts of despair, so many professions of atheism?
Similarly, the readers of the Peuple will understand how, in a work where I analyzed the contradictions of the socialist dogma, I have successively been able to make the critique of God and Humanity, and to show that, either by one, or by the other, the order in society, or what I today call Providence, was impossible: the convergence of both is required. I showed on that occasion that the God of the deists and of the Catholics, the God of the Constitutionnel and the Univers, is as impossible, as contradictory and immoral as the man of Rousseau or Lamettrie; that such a God would be the negation of God himself, and would deserve to be called…evil. In what sense have I failed my principles? How have I offended the intimate belief of Humanity?
One has so often cited, in horror of socialism, that passage of the Economic Contradictions, that the readers of the Peuple will be grateful to have me explain it. The true ideas could not be spread about too much or too early: it is the remedy against atheism, against superstition, oppression and exploitation in all its forms.
The author of the Economic Contradictions begins by positioning himself in the catholic hypothesis, namely that God’s reason is like that of man, although infinitely superior, and he addresses this question to his adversaries:
Would God be guilty if, after having created the world according to the laws of geometry, he had put it into our minds, or even allowed us to believe without fault of our own, that a circle may be square or a square circular, though, in consequence of this false opinion, we should have to suffer an incalculable series of evils? Again, undoubtedly.
Well! that is exactly what God, the God of Providence, has done in the government of humanity; it is of that that I accuse him. He knew from all eternity — inasmuch as we mortals have discovered it after six thousand years of painful experience — that order in society — that is, liberty, wealth, science — is realized by the reconciliation of opposite ideas which, were each to be taken as absolute in itself, would precipitate us into an abyss of misery: why did he not warn us? Why did he not correct our judgment at the start? Why did he abandon us to our imperfect logic, especially when our egoism must find a pretext in his acts of injustice and perfidy? He knew, this jealous God, that, if he exposed us to the hazards of experience, we should not find until very late that security of life which constitutes our entire happiness: why did he not abridge this long apprenticeship by a revelation of our own laws? Why, instead of fascinating us with contradictory opinions, did he not reverse experience by causing us to reach the antinomies by the path of analysis of synthetic ideas, instead of leaving us to painfully clamber up the steeps of antinomy to synthesis?
The reasoning is this: If God is such as the theists claim, sovereignly good, fair and provident, how has he not prevented evil? That is the standard argument of the materialists. Now what would the conclusion of the author be? It is here that he completely separates himself from his precursors.
If, as was formerly thought, the evil from which humanity suffers arose solely from the imperfection inevitable in every creature, or better, if this evil were caused only by the antagonism of the potentialities and inclinations which constitute our being, and which reason should teach us to master and guide, we should have no right to complain. Our condition being all that it could be, God would be justified.
But, in view of this willful delusion of our minds, a delusion which it was so easy to dissipate and the effects of which must be so terrible, where is the excuse of Providence? Is it not true that grace failed man here? God, whom faith represents as a tender father and a prudent master, abandons us to the fatality of our incomplete conceptions; he digs the ditch under our feet; he causes us to move blindly: and then, at every fall, he punishes us as rascals. What do I say? It seems as if it were in spite of him that at last, covered with bruises from our journey, we recognize our road; as if we offended his glory in becoming more intelligent and free through the trials which he imposes upon us. What need, then, have we to continually invoke Divinity, and what have we to do with those satellites of a Providence which for sixty centuries, by the aid of a thousand religions, has deceived and misled us?
What does that argument mean? Nothing but this: Reason, in God, is constructed otherwise than it becomes each day in man; apart from that, God would be inexcusable. — Note that the author guards himself well from concluding after the manner of the atheist materialists: Providence is unjustifiable; thus there is no God. He says on the contrary: If God and Providence are not justified, it is because we do not understand them; it is because God and Providence are different than the priests and philosophers say that they are.
The discussion continues on this terrain, and soon we see that not only does reason, in God, not resemble that of man, but that it is precisely the inverse of man’s intelligence.
When the theists, in order to establish their dogma of Providence, cite the order of nature as a proof, although this argument is only a begging of the question, at least it cannot be said that it involves a contradiction, and that the fact cited bears witness against the hypothesis. In the system of the world, for instance, nothing betrays the smallest anomaly, the slightest lack of foresight, from which any prejudice whatever can be drawn against the idea of a supreme, intelligent, personal motor. In short, though the order of nature does not prove the reality of a Providence, it does not contradict it.
It is a very different thing with the government of humanity. Here order does not appear at the same time as matter; it was not created, as in the system of the world, once and for eternity. It is gradually developed according to an inevitable series of principles and consequences which the human being himself, the being to be ordered, must disengage spontaneously, by his own energy and at the solicitation of experience. No revelation regarding this is given him. Man is submitted at his origin to a pre-established necessity, to an absolute and irresistible order. That this order may be realized, man must discover it; that it may exist, he must have divined it. This labor of invention might be abridged; no one, either in heaven or on earth, will come to man’s aid; no one will instruct him. Humanity, for hundreds of centuries, will devour its generations; it will exhaust itself in blood and mire, without the God whom it worships coming once to illuminate its reason and abridge its time of trial. Where is divine action here? Where is Providence?
What, then, is the progression of this discussion?
It is: 1, that before an error, invincible and that it was so easy to dissipate, the inaction of Providence (as the catholic atheists understand it) is not justified; 2, that from this it is necessary to conclude, not that God does not exist, but that we do not understand God; 3, that in fact, the reason that has presided over the order of nature is obviously otherwise, the reason that presides over the development of human destinies is otherwise. Soon we will see, and that will be the conclusion of the chapter, that reason in God is different from that in man, not in its extent, but it is quality; from which this consequence, that God and man, necessary to one another, contemporary with one another, at once inseparable and irreducible, are in a state of perpetual antagonism, so that the supreme perfection in the one is adequate to the supreme infirmity in the other, and that the destiny of man is, by unceasingly studying Divinity, to resemble it as little as possible.
Here is the passage where that consequence is found developed, and which has so scandalized the devout:
And for my part I say: The first duty of man, on becoming intelligent and free, is to continually hunt the idea of God out of his mind and conscience. For God, if he exists, is essentially hostile to our nature, and we do not depend at all upon his authority. We arrive at knowledge in spite of him, at comfort in spite of him, at society in spite of him; every step we take in advance is a victory in which we crush Divinity.
Let it no longer be said that the ways of God are impenetrable. We have penetrated these ways, and there we have read in letters of blood the proofs of God’s impotence, if not of his malevolence. My reason, long humiliated, is gradually rising to a level with the infinite; with time it will discover all that its inexperience hides from it; with time I shall be less and less a worker of misfortune, and by the light that I shall have acquired, by the perfection of my liberty, I shall purify myself, idealize my being, and become the chief of creation, the equal of God.
It is impossible to better bring to light, on the one hand, the progressivity of human reason, and, on the other, the immobility of divine reason. How have some serious men been able to see, in all that, only an atheistic declamation, in the style of those by Diderot or the Baron d’Holbach?
A single moment of disorder which the Omnipotent might have prevented and did not prevent accuses his Providence and shows him lacking in wisdom; the slightest progress which man, ignorant, abandoned, and betrayed, makes towards good honors him immeasurably. By what right should God still say to me: Be holy, for I am holy? Lying spirit, I will answer him, imbecile God, your reign is over; look to the beasts for other victims. I know that I am not holy and never can become so; and how could you be holy, if I resemble you? Eternal father, Jupiter or Jehovah, we have learned to know you; you are, you were, you ever will be, the jealous rival of Adam, the tyrant of Prometheus.
So I do not fall into the sophism refuted by St. Paul, when he forbids the vase to say to the potter: Why hast thou made me thus? I do not blame the author of things for having made me an inharmonious creature, an incoherent assemblage; I could exist only in such a condition. I content myself with crying out to him: Why do you deceive me? Why, by your silence, have you unchained egoism within me? Why have you submitted me to the torture of universal doubt by the bitter illusion of the antagonistic ideas which you have put in my mind? Doubt of truth, doubt of justice, doubt of my conscience and my liberty, doubt of yourself, O God! and, as a result of this doubt, necessity of war with myself and with my neighbor!
Is there need at present to warn the reader that this does not really fall on God and Providence? — How, if the author was atheist, would he reproach God for having made him doubt him, and then to have made him fall into sin! That would not make sense. Under the names of God and Providence, it is Catholicism and deism, principles of Malthusian economy and of the constitutional theory, that the writer attacks. The catholic papers are not mistaken. The lines that follow, and which are the paraphrase of the Sunday oration, could not in that regard leave them in doubt.
That, supreme Father, is what you have done for our happiness and your glory (Ad majorent Dei gloriam!); such, from the beginning, have been your will and your government; such the bread, kneaded in blood and tears, upon which you have fed us. The sins which we ask you to forgive, you caused us to commit; the traps from which we implore you to deliver us, you set for us; and the devil who besets us is yourself.
On the one hand, capital, authority, wealth, science; on the other, poverty, obedience, ignorance: that is the fatal antagonism that it is a question of bringing to an end; that is Malthusian fatalism, that is Catholicism! That is all that socialism has sworn to lay waste. Listen to his oath:
You triumphed, and no one dared to contradict you, when, after having tormented in his body and in his soul the righteous Job, a type of our humanity, you insulted his candid piety, his prudent and respectful ignorance. We were as naught before your invisible majesty, to whom we gave the sky for a canopy and the earth for a footstool. And now here you are dethroned and broken. Your name, so long the last word of the savant, the sanction of the judge, the force of the prince, the hope of the poor, the refuge of the repentant sinner, — this incommunicable name, I say, henceforth an object of contempt and curses, shall be a hissing among men. For God is stupidity and cowardice; God is hypocrisy and falsehood; God is tyranny and misery; God is evil.
As long as humanity shall bend before an altar, humanity, the slave of kings and priests, will be condemned; as long as one man, in the name of God, shall receive the oath of another man, society will be founded on perjury; peace and love will be banished from among mortals. God, take yourself away! for, from this day forth, cured of your fear and become wise, I swear, with hand extended to heaven, that you are only the tormentor of my reason, the specter of my conscience.
It is useless to prolong this citation, the sense of which can no longer be in doubt.
A few weeks ago, at the news of the liquidation of the Bank of the People, the Constitutionnel let out a cry of joy and nearly presented me as a huckster. — I responded by producing my resources and my accounts: the Constitutionnel was silent.
Some time after, I published in the Peuple a plan for a Code de la résistance; and Constitutionnel cried out that this was the organization of social disorganization. I then demonstrated that the organization of the resistance, the right of insurrection and conspiracy was the pure spirit of the constitutional system: the Constitutionnel was silent.
The other day, I proved, by a review of the year 1848, that all the evil that has been produced from February 22 until May 1, 1849, was due to the providential theory, current in the world of the Catholics and doctrinaires. The Constitutionnel accused me on that occasion of atheism, and found nothing better, to justify its dire, than to cite a passage were I had intended precisely to establish that the true atheism is Catholicism, the religion of the Univers and the Constitutionnel.
Will the Constitutionnel deign just once, instead of always slandering, to seriously discuss the Bank of the People, doctrinaire theory, and the Catholic faith?
(1) Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, Section XLVII. Paris, P. Proudhon; 1858
(2) Carnets de P.J. Proudhon. Paris, M. Rivière; 1847