All the Sophisms which I have so far combated, relate to the restrictive
policy; and some even on this subject, and those of the most remarkable,
I have, in pity to the reader, passed over: acquired rights;
unsuitableness; exhaustion of money, etc., etc.
But Social economy is not confined within this narrow circle.
Fourierism, Saint Simonism, Commonism, agrarianism, anti-rentism,
false philanthropy, affected aspirations for
a chimerical equality and fraternity; questions relative to luxury,
wages, machinery; to the pretended tyranny of capital; to colonies,
outlets, population; to emigration, association, imposts, and loans,
have encumbered the field of Science with a crowd of parasitical
arguments,--Sophisms, whose rank growth calls for the spade and the
I am perfectly sensible of the defect of my plan, or rather absence of
plan. By attacking as I do, one by one, so many incoherent Sophisms,
which clash, and then again often mingle with each other, I am conscious
that I condemn myself to a disorderly and capricious struggle, and am
exposed to perpetual repetitions.
I should certainly much prefer to state simply how things are, without
troubling myself to contemplate the thousand aspects under which
ignorance supposes them to be.... To lay down at once the laws under
which society prospers or perishes, would be virtually to destroy at
once all Sophisms. When Laplace described what, up to his time, was
known of the movements of celestial bodies, he dissipated, without even
naming them, all the astrological reveries of the Egyptians, Greeks, and
Hindoos, much more certainly than he could have done by attempting to
refute them directly, through innumerable volumes. Truth is one, and the
work which expounds it is an imposing and durable edifice. Error is
multiple, and of ephemereal nature. The work which combats it, cannot
bear in itself a principle of greatness or of durability.
But if power, and perhaps opportunity, have been wanting to me, to
enable me to proceed in the manner of Laplace and of Say, I still cannot
but believe that the mode adopted by me has also its modest usefulness.
It appears to me likewise to be well suited to the wants of the age, and
to the broken moments which it is now the habit to snatch for study.
A treatise has without doubt an incontestable superiority. But it
requires to be read, meditated, and understood. It addresses itself to
the select few. Its mission is first to fix attention, and then to
enlarge the circle of acquired knowledge.
A work which undertakes the refutation of vulgar prejudices, cannot have
so high an aim. It aspires only to clear the way for the steps of Truth;
to prepare the minds of men to receive her; to rectify public opinion,
and to snatch from unworthy hands dangerous weapons which they misuse.
It is above all, in social economy, that this hand-to-hand struggle,
this ever-reviving combat with popular errors, has a true practical
Sciences might be arranged in two categories. Those of the first class
whose application belongs only to particular professions, can be
understood only by the learned; but the most ignorant may profit by
their fruits. We may enjoy the comforts of a watch; we may be
transported by locomotives or steamboats, although knowing nothing of
mechanism and astronomy. We walk according to the laws of equilibrium,
while entirely ignorant of them.
But there are sciences whose influence upon the public is proportioned
only to the information of that public itself, and whose efficacy
consists not in the accumulated knowledge of some few learned heads, but
in that which has diffused itself into the reason of man in the
aggregate. Such are morals, hygiene, social economy, and (in countries
where men belong to themselves) political economy. Of these sciences
Bentham might above all have said: It is better to circulate, than to
advance them. What does it profit us that a great man, even a God,
should promulgate moral laws, if the minds of men, steeped in error,
will constantly mistake vice for virtue, and virtue for vice? What does
it benefit us that Smith, Say, and, according to Mr. de St. Chamans,
political economists of every school, should have proclaimed the
superiority in all commercial transactions, of liberty above
restraint, if those who make laws, and for whom laws are made, are
convinced of the contrary?
These sciences, which have very properly been named social, are again
peculiar in this, that they, being of common application, no one will
confess himself ignorant of them. If the object be to determine a
question in chemistry or geometry, nobody pretends to have an innate
knowledge of the science, or is ashamed to consult Mr. Thenard, or to
seek information from the pages of Legendre or Bezout. But in the social
sciences authorities are rarely acknowledged. As each individual daily
acts upon his own notions whether right or wrong, of morals, hygiene,
and economy; of politics, whether reasonable or absurd, each one thinks
he has a right to prose, comment, decide, and dictate in these matters.
Are you sick? There is not a good old woman in the country who is not
ready to tell you the cause and the remedy of your sufferings. It is
from humors in the blood, says she, you must be purged. But what are
these humors, or are there any humors at all? On this subject she
troubles herself but little. This good old woman comes into my mind,
whenever I hear an attempt made to account for all the maladies of the
social body, by some trivial form of words. It is superabundance of
produce, tyranny of capital, industrial plethora, or other such
nonsense, of which, it would be fortunate if we could say: Verba et
voces praetereaque nihil, for these are errors from which fatal
From what precedes, the two following results may be deduced: 1st. That
the social sciences, more than others, necessarily abound in Sophisms,
because in their application, each individual consults only his own
judgment and his own instincts. 2d. That in these sciences Sophisms
are especially injurious, because they mislead opinion on a subject in
which opinion is power--is law.
Two kinds of books then are necessary in these sciences, those which
teach, and those which circulate; those which expound the truth, and
those which combat error.
I believe that the inherent defect of this little work, repetition, is
what is likely to be the cause of its principal utility. Among the
Sophisms which it has discussed, each has undoubtedly its own formula
and tendency, but all have a common root; and this is, the
forgetfulness of the interests of men, considered as consumers. By
showing that a thousand mistaken roads all lead to this great
generative Sophism, I may perhaps teach the public to recognize, to
know, and to mistrust it, under all circumstances.
After all, I am less at forcing convictions, than at waking doubts.
I have no hope that the reader as he lays down my book will exclaim, I
know. My aspirations will be fully satisfied, if he can but sincerely
say, I doubt.
I doubt, for I begin to fear that there may be something illusory in
the supposed blessings of scarcity. (Sophism I.)
I am not so certain of the beneficial effect of obstacles. (Sophism
Effort without result, no longer appears to me so desirable as
result without effort. (Sophism III.)
I understand that the more an article has been labored upon, the more
is its value. But in trade, do two equal values cease to be equal,
because one comes from the plough, and the other from the workshop?
I confess that I begin to think it singular that mankind should be the
better of hindrances and obstacles, or should grow rich upon taxes; and
truly I would be relieved from some anxiety, would be really happy to
see the proof of the fact, as stated by the author of the Sophisms,
that there is no incompatibility between prosperity and justice, between
peace and liberty, between the extension of labor and the advance of
intelligence. (Sophisms XIV and XX.)
Without, then, giving up entirely to arguments, which I am yet in doubt
whether to look upon as fairly reasoned, or as paradoxical, I will at
least seek enlightenment from the masters of the science.
* * * * *
I will now terminate this sketch by a last and important recapitulation.
The world is not sufficiently conscious of the influence exercised over
it by Sophistry.
When might ceases to be right, and the government of mere strength
is dethroned, Sophistry transfers the empire to cunning and
subtilty. It would be difficult to determine which of the two tyrannies
is most injurious to mankind.
Men have an immoderate love for pleasure, influence, consideration,
power--in a word, for riches; and they are, by an almost unconquerable
inclination, pushed to procure these, at the expense of others.
But these others, who form the public, have a no less strong
inclination to keep what they have acquired; and this they will do, if
they have the strength and the knowledge to effect it.
Spoliation, which plays so important a part in the affairs of this
world, has then two agents; Force and Cunning. She has also two
checks; Courage and Knowledge.
Force applied to spoliation, furnishes the great material for the annals
of men. To retrace its history would be to present almost the entire
history of every nation: Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes, Persians,
Greeks, Romans, Goths, Franks, Huns, Turks, Arabs, Tartars, without
counting the more recent expeditions of the English in India, the French
in Africa, the Russians in Asia, etc., etc.
But among civilized nations surely the producers of riches are now
become sufficiently numerous and strong to defend themselves.
Does this mean that they are no longer robbed? They are as much so as
ever, and moreover they rob one another.
The only difference is that Spoliation has changed her agent. She acts
no longer by Force, but by Cunning.
To rob the public, it is necessary to deceive them. To deceive them, it
is necessary to persuade them that they are robbed for their own
advantage, and to induce them to accept in exchange for their property,
imaginary services, and often worse. Hence spring Sophisms in all
their varieties. Then, since Force is held in check, Sophistry is no
longer only an evil; it is the genius of evil, and requires a check in
its turn. This check must be the enlightenment of the public, which
must be rendered more subtle than the subtle, as it is already
stronger than the strong.
* * * * *
GOOD PUBLIC! I now dedicate to you this first essay; though it must be
confessed that the Preface is strangely transposed, and the Dedication a