The Right And The Left Hand
[Report to the King.]
SIRE--When we see these men of the Libre Echange audaciously
disseminating their doctrines, and maintaining that the right of buying
and selling is implied by that of ownership (a piece of insolence that
M. Billault has criticised like a true lawyer), we may be allowed to
entertain serious fears as to the destiny of national labor; for what
will Frenchmen do with their arms and intel
igences when they are free?
The Ministry which you have honored with your confidence has naturally
paid great attention to so serious a subject, and has sought in its
wisdom for a protection which might be substituted for that which
appears compromised. It proposes to you to forbid your faithful subjects
the use of the right hand.
Sire, do not wrong us so far as to think that we lightly adopted a
measure which, at the first glance, may appear odd. Deep study of the
protective system has revealed to us this syllogism, on which it
The more one labors, the richer one is.
The more difficulties one has to conquer, the more one labors.
Ergo, the more difficulties one has to conquer, the richer one is.
What is protection, really, but an ingenious application of this
formal reasoning, which is so compact that it would resist the subtlety
of M. Billault himself?
Let us personify the country. Let us look on it as a collective being,
with thirty million mouths, and, consequently, sixty million arms. This
being makes a clock, which he proposes to exchange in Belgium for ten
quintals of iron. But, we say to him, make the iron yourself. I
cannot, says he; it would take me too much time, and I could not make
five quintals while I can make one clock. Utopist! we reply; for
this very reason we forbid your making the clock, and order you to make
the iron. Do not you see that we create you labor?
Sire, it will not have escaped your sagacity, that it is just as if we
said to the country, Labor with the left hand, and not with the right.
The creation of obstacles to furnish labor an opportunity to develop
itself, is the principle of the restriction which is dying. It is also
the principle of the restriction which is about to be created. Sire,
to make such regulations is not to innovate, but to preserve.
The efficacy of the measure is incontestable. It is difficult--much more
difficult than one thinks--to do with the left hand what one was
accustomed to do with the right. You will convince yourself of it, Sire,
if you will condescend to try our system on something which is familiar
to you,--like shuffling cards, for instance. We can then flatter
ourselves that we have opened an illimitable career to labor.
When workmen of all kinds are reduced to their left hands, consider,
Sire, the immense number that will be required to meet the present
consumption, supposing it to be invariable, which we always do when we
compare differing systems of production. So prodigious a demand for
manual labor cannot fail to bring about a considerable increase in
wages; and pauperism will disappear from the country as if by
Sire, your paternal heart will rejoice at the thought that the benefits
of this regulation will extend over that interesting portion of the
great family whose fate excites your liveliest solicitude.
What is the destiny of women in France? That sex which is the boldest
and most hardened to fatigue, is, insensibly, driving them from all
fields of labor.
Formerly they found a refuge in the lottery offices. These have been
closed by a pitiless philanthropy; and under what pretext? To save,
said they, the money of the poor. Alas! has a poor man ever obtained
from a piece of money enjoyments as sweet and innocent as those which
the mysterious urn of fortune contained for him? Cut off from all the
sweets of life, how many delicious hours did he introduce into the bosom
of his family when, every two weeks, he put the value of a day's labor
on a quatern. Hope had always her place at the domestic hearth. The
garret was peopled with illusions; the wife promised herself that she
would eclipse her neighbors with the splendor of her attire; the son saw
himself drum-major, and the daughter felt herself carried toward the
altar in the arms of her betrothed. To have a beautiful dream is
The lottery was the poetry of the poor, and we have allowed it to escape
The lottery dead, what means have we of providing for our
proteges?--tobacco, and the postal service.
Tobacco, certainly; it progresses, thanks to Heaven, and the
distinguished habits which august examples have been enabled to
introduce among our elegant youth.
But the postal service! We will say nothing of that, but make it the
subject of a special report.
Then what is left to your female subjects except tobacco? Nothing,
except embroidery, knitting, and sewing, pitiful resources, which are
more and more restricted by that barbarous science, mechanics.
But as soon as your ordinance has appeared, as soon as the right hands
are cut off or tied up, everything will change face. Twenty, thirty
times more embroiderers, washers and ironers, seamstresses and
shirt-makers, would not meet the consumption (honi soit qui mal y
pense) of the kingdom; always assuming that it is invariable, according
to our way of reasoning.
It is true that this supposition might be denied by cold-blooded
theorists, for dresses and shirts would be dearer. But they say the
same thing of the iron which France gets from our mines, compared to the
vintage it could get on our hillsides. This argument can, therefore, be
no more entertained against left-handedness than against protection;
for this very dearness is the result and the sign of the excess of
efforts and of labors, which is precisely the basis on which, in one
case, as in the other, we claim to found the prosperity of the working
Yes, we make a touching picture of the prosperity of the sewing
business. What movement! What activity! What life! Each dress will busy
a hundred fingers instead of ten. No longer will there be an idle young
girl, and we need not, Sire, point out to your perspicacity the moral
results of this great revolution. Not only will there be more women
employed, but each one of them will earn more, for they cannot meet the
demand, and if competition still shows itself, it will no longer be
among the workingwomen who make the dresses, but the beautiful ladies
who wear them.
You see, Sire, that our proposition is not only conformable to the
economic traditions of the government, but it is also essentially moral
To appreciate its effect, let us suppose it realized; let us transport
ourselves in thought into the future; let us imagine the system in
action for twenty years. Idleness is banished from the country; ease
and concord, contentment and morality, have entered all families
together with labor; there is no more misery and no more prostitution.
The left hand being very clumsy at its work, there is a superabundance
of labor, and the pay is satisfactory. Everything is based on this, and,
as a consequence, the workshops are filled. Is it not true, Sire, that
if Utopians were to suddenly demand the freedom of the right hand, they
would spread alarm throughout the country? Is it not true that this
pretended reform would overthrow all existences? Then our system is
good, since it cannot be overthrown without causing great distress.
However, we have a sad presentiment that some day (so great is the
perversity of man) an association will be organized to secure the
liberty of right hands.
It seems to us that we already hear these free-right-handers speak as
follows in the Salle Montesquieu:
People, you believe yourselves richer because they have taken from you
one hand; you see but the increase of labor which results to you from
it. But look also at the dearness it causes, and the forced decrease in
the consumption of all articles. This measure has not made capital,
which is the source of wages, more abundant. The waters which flow from
this great reservoir are directed into other channels; the quantity is
not increased, and the definite result is, for the nation, as a whole, a
loss of comfort equal to the excess of the production of several
millions of right hands, over several millions of left hands. Then let
us form a league, and, at the expense of some inevitable disturbances,
let us conquer the right of working with both hands.
Happily, Sire, there will be organized an association for the defense
of left-handed labor, and the Sinistrists will have no trouble in
reducing to nothing all these generalities and realities, suppositions
and abstractions, reveries and Utopias. They need only to exhume the
Moniteur Industriel of 1846, and they will find, ready-made, arguments
against free trade, which destroy so admirably this liberty of the
right hand, that all that is required is to substitute one word for
The Parisian Free Trade League never doubted but that it would have
the assistance of the workingmen. But the workingmen can no longer be
led by the nose. They have their eyes open, and they know political
economy better than our diplomaed professors. Free trade, they
replied, will take from us our labor, and labor is our real, great,
sovereign property; with labor, with much labor, the price of articles
of merchandise is never beyond reach. But without labor, even if bread
should cost but a penny a pound, the workingman is compelled to die of
hunger. Now, your doctrines, instead of increasing the amount of labor
in France, diminish it; that is to say, you reduce us to misery.
(Number of October 13, 1846.)
It is true, that when there are too many manufactured articles to sell,
their price falls; but as wages decrease when these articles sink in
value, the result is, that, instead of being able to buy them, we can
buy nothing. Thus, when they are cheapest, the workingman is most
unhappy. (Gauthier de Rumilly, Moniteur Industriel of November 17.)
It would not be ill for the Sinistrists to mingle some threats with
their beautiful theories. This is a sample:
What! to desire to substitute the labor of the right hand for that of
the left, and thus to cause a forced reduction, if not an annihilation
of wages, the sole resource of almost the entire nation!
And this at the moment when poor harvests already impose painful
sacrifices on the workingman, disquiet him as to his future, and make
him more accessible to bad counsels and ready to abandon the wise course
of conduct he had hitherto adhered to!
We are confident, Sire, that thanks to such wise reasonings, if a
struggle takes place, the left hand will come out of it victorious.
Perhaps, also, an association will be formed in order to ascertain
whether the right and the left hand are not both wrong, and if there is
not a third hand between them, in order to conciliate all.
After having described the Dexterists as seduced by the apparent
liberality of a principle, the correctness of which has not yet been
verified by experience, and the Sinistrists as encamping in the
positions they have gained, it will say:
And yet they deny that there is a third course to pursue in the
midst of the conflict; and they do not see that the working classes
have to defend themselves, at the same moment, against those who wish
to change nothing in the present situation, because they find their
advantage in it, and against those who dream of an economic
revolution of which they have calculated neither the extent nor the
significance. (National of October 16.)
We do not desire, however, to hide from your Majesty the fact that our
plan has a vulnerable side. They may say to us: In twenty years all left
hands will be as skilled as right ones are now, and you can no longer
count on left-handedness to increase the national labor.
We reply to this, that, according to learned physicians, the left side
of the body has a natural weakness, which is very reassuring for the
future of labor.
Finally, Sire, consent to sign the law, and a great principle will have
prevailed: All wealth comes from the intensity of labor. It will be
easy for us to extend it, and vary its application. We will declare,
for instance, that it shall be allowable to work only with the feet.
This is no more impossible (for there have been instances) than to
extract iron from the mud of the Seine. There have even been men who
wrote with their backs. You see, Sire, that we do not lack means of
increasing national labor. If they do begin to fail us, there remains
the boundless resource of amputation.
If this report, Sire, was not intended for publication, we would call
your attention to the great influence which systems analogous to the one
we submit to you, are capable of giving to men in power. But this is a
subject which we reserve for consideration in private counsel.