[excerpts from System of Economical Contradictions or The Philosophy of Misery by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, 1847]
Some socialists, very unhappily inspired–I say it with all the force of my conscience–by Evangelical abstractions, believe that “Inequality of capacities proves the inequality of duties”; “You have received more from nature, give more to your brothers,” and other high-sounding and touching phrases, which never fail of their effect on empty heads, but which nevertheless are as simple as anything that it is possible to imagine. The practical formula deduced from these marvelous adages is that each laborer owes all of his time to society.
May my communistic friends forgive me! I should be less severe upon their ideas if I were not irreversibly convinced, in my reason and in my heart, that communism, republicanism, and all the social, political, and religious utopias which disdain facts and criticism, are the greatest obstacle which progress has now to conquer.
Why do writers familiar with economic language forget that superiority of talents is synonymous with superiority of wants, and that, instead of expecting more from the vigorous than from ordinary personalities, society should constantly look out that they do not receive more than they render, when it is already so hard for the mass of mankind to render all that it receives?
That is why charity, the prime virtue of the Christian, the legitimate hope of the socialist, the object of all the efforts of the economist, is a social vice the moment it is made a principle of constitution and a law; that is why certain economists have been able to say that legal charity had caused more evil in society than proprietary usurpation. After this beautiful declaration nothing will be left but to draw its consequences; and soon, thanks to fraternity, aristocracy will be restored.
Communism, as I have often complained, is the very denial of society in its foundation. The communists, toward whom all socialism tends, do not believe in equality by nature and education; they supply it by sovereign decrees which they cannot carry out, whatever they may do. Instead of seeking justice in the harmony of facts, they take it from their feelings, calling justice everything that seems to them to be love of one’s neighbor, and incessantly confounding matters of reason with those of sentiment.
Why then continually interject fraternity, charity, sacrifice, and God into the discussion of economic questions? May it not be that the utopists find it easier to expatiate upon these grand words than to seriously study social manifestations?
Fraternity! Brothers as much as you please, provided I am the big brother and you the little; provided society, our common mother, honors my primogeniture and my services by doubling my portion. You will provide for my wants, you say, in proportion to your resources. I intend, on the contrary, that such provision shall be in proportion to my labor; if not, I cease to labor.
Charity! I deny charity; it is mysticism. In vain do you talk to me of fraternity and love: I remain convinced that you love me but little, and I feel very sure that I do not love you. Your friendship is but a feint, and, if you love me, it is from self-interest.
Sacrifice! I deny sacrifice; it is mysticism. To each according to his works, first; and if, on occasion, I am impelled to aid you, I will do it with a good grace; but I will not be constrained. To constrain me to sacrifice is to assassinate me.
Christian theology has allegorized and personified under the name of Devil or Satan — that is, contradictor, enemy of God and humankind – the fundamental antinomy which I find that modern critics have not taken into account, and which sooner or later will end in the negation of this whole philosophical exegesis and re-open the door to religion and fanaticism. God, according to the humanists, is nothing but humanity itself, the collective me to which the individual me is subjected as to an invisible master. But why this singular vision, if the portrait is a faithful copy of the original? Where is the necessity of this hallucination?