A Sophism will sometimes expand and extend itself through the whole
tissue of a long and tedious theory. Oftener it contracts into a
principle, and hides itself in one word.
Heaven preserve us, said Paul Louis, from the Devil and from the
spirit of metaphor! And, truly, it might be difficult to determine
which of the two sheds the most noxious influence over our planet. The
Devil, you will say, because it
is he who implants in our hearts the
spirit of spoliation. Aye; but he leaves the capacity for checking
abuses, by the resistance of those who suffer. It is the genius of
Sophism which paralyzes this resistance. The sword which the spirit of
evil places in the hands of the aggressor, would fall powerless, if the
shield of him who is attacked were not shattered in his grasp by the
spirit of Sophism. Malbranche has, with great truth, inscribed upon the
frontispiece of his book this sentence: Error is the cause of human
Let us notice what passes in the world. Ambitious hypocrites may take a
sinister interest in spreading, for instance, the germ of national
enmities. The noxious seed may, in its developments, lead to a general
conflagration, check civilization, spill torrents of blood, and draw
upon the country that most terrible of scourges, invasion. Such
hateful sentiments cannot fail to degrade, in the opinion of other
nations, the people among whom they prevail, and force those who retain
some love of justice to blush for their country. These are fearful
evils, and it would be enough that the public should have a clear view
of them, to induce them to secure themselves against the plotting of
those who would expose them to such heavy chances. How, then, are they
kept in darkness? How, but by metaphors? The meaning of three or four
words is forced, changed, and depraved--and all is said.
Such is the use made, for instance, of the word invasion.
A master of French iron-works, exclaims: Save us from the invasion of
English iron. An English landholder cries; Let us oppose the invasion
of French corn. And forthwith all their efforts are bent upon raising
barriers between these two nations. Thence follows isolation; isolation
leads to hatred; hatred to war; and war to invasion. What matters it?
say the two Sophists; is it not better to expose ourselves to a
possible invasion, than to meet a certain one? And the people believe;
and the barriers are kept up.
And yet what analogy can exist between an exchange and an invasion? What
resemblance can possibly be discovered between a man-of-war, vomiting
fire, death, and desolation over our cities--and a merchant vessel,
which comes to offer in free and peaceable exchange, produce for
Much in the same way has the word inundation been abused. This word is
generally taken in a bad sense; and it is certainly of frequent
occurrence for inundations to ruin fields and sweep away harvests. But
if, as is the case in the inundations of the Nile, they were to leave
upon the soil a superior value to that which they carried away, we
ought, like the Egyptians, to bless and deify them. Would it not be
well, before declaiming against the inundations of foreign produce,
and checking them with expensive and embarrassing obstacles, to certify
ourselves whether these inundations are of the number which desolate, or
of those which fertilize a country? What would we think of Mehemet Ali,
if, instead of constructing, at great expense, dams across the Nile to
increase the extent of its inundations, he were to scatter his piasters
in attempts to deepen its bed, that he might rescue Egypt from the
defilement of the foreign mud which is swept down upon it from the
mountains of the Moon? Exactly such a degree of wisdom do we exhibit,
when at the expense of millions, we strive to preserve our country....
From what? From the blessings with which Nature has gifted other
Among the metaphors which sometimes conceal, each in itself, a whole
theory of evil, there is none more common than that which is presented
under the words tribute and tributary.
These words are so frequently employed as synonyms of purchase and
purchaser, that the terms are now used almost indifferently. And yet
there is as distinct a difference between a tribute, and a purchase,
as between a robbery and an exchange. It appears to me that it would
be quite as correct to say, Cartouche has broken open my strong-box,
and, has bought a thousand crowns from me, as to state, as I have
heard done to our honorable deputies, We have paid in tribute to
Germany the value of a thousand horses which she has sold us.
The action of Cartouche was not a purchase, because he did not put,
and with my consent, into my strong box an equivalent value to that
which he took out. Neither could the purchase-money paid to Germany be
tribute, because it was not on our part a forced payment, gratuitously
received on hers, but a willing compensation from us for a thousand
horses, which we ourselves judged to be worth 500,000 francs.
Is it necessary then seriously to criticise such abuses of language?
Yes, for very seriously are they put forth in our books and journals.
Nor can we flatter ourselves that they are the careless expressions of
uneducated writers, ignorant even of the terms of their own language.
They are current with a vast majority, and among the most distinguished
of our writers. We find them in the mouths of our d'Argouts, Dupins,
Villeles; of peers, deputies and ministers; men whose words become laws,
and whose influence might establish the most revolting Sophisms, as the
basis of the administration of their country.
A celebrated modern Philosopher has added to the categories of Aristotle
the Sophism which consists in expressing in one word a petitio
principii. He cites several examples, and might have added the word
tributary to his nomenclature. For instance, the question is to
determine whether foreign purchases are useful or hurtful. You answer,
hurtful. And why? Because they render us tributary to foreigners.
Truly here is a word, which begs the question at once.
How has this delusive figure of speech introduced itself into the
rhetoric of monopolists?
Money is withdrawn from the country to satisfy the rapacity of a
victorious enemy: money is also withdrawn from the country to pay for
merchandise. The analogy is established between the two cases,
calculating only the point of resemblance and abstracting that by which
And yet it is certainly true, that the non-reimbursement in the first
case, and the reimbursement freely agreed upon in the second,
establishes between them so decided a difference, as to render it
impossible to class them under the same category. To be obliged, with a
dagger at your throat, to give a hundred francs, or to give them
willingly in order to obtain a desired object,--truly these are cases in
which we can perceive little similarity. It might just as correctly be
said, that it is a matter of indifference whether we eat our bread, or
have it thrown into the water, because in both cases it is destroyed. We
here draw a false conclusion, as in the case of the word tribute, by a
vicious manner of reasoning, which supposes an entire similitude between
two cases, their resemblance only being noticed and their difference