Two Systems Of Morals
Arrived at the end of the preceding chapter, if he gets so far, I
imagine I hear the reader say:
Well, now, was I wrong in accusing political economists of being dry
and cold? What a picture of humanity! Spoliation is a fatal power,
almost normal, assuming every form, practiced under every pretext,
against law and according to law, abusing the most sacred things,
alternately playing upon the feebleness an
the credulity of the
masses, and ever growing by what it feeds on. Could a more mournful
picture of the world be imagined than this?
The problem is, not to find whether the picture is mournful, but whether
it is true. And for that we have the testimony of history.
It is singular that those who decry political economy, because it
investigates men and the world as it finds them, are more gloomy than
political economy itself, at least as regards the past and the present.
Look into their books and their journals. What do you find? Bitterness
and hatred of society. The very word civilization is for them a
synonym for injustice, disorder and anarchy. They have even come to
curse liberty, so little confidence have they in the development of
the human race, the result of its natural organization. Liberty,
according to them, is something which will bring humanity nearer and
nearer to destruction.
It is true that they are optimists as regards the future. For, although
humanity, in itself incapable, for six thousand years has gone astray, a
revelation has come, which has pointed out to men the way of safety,
and, if the flock are docile and obedient to the shepherd's call, will
lead them to the promised land, where well-being may be attained without
effort, where order, security and prosperity are the easy reward of
To this end humanity, as Rousseau said, has only to allow these
reformers to change the physical and moral constitution of man.
Political economy has not taken upon itself the mission of finding out
the probable condition of society had it pleased God to make men
different from what they are. It may be unfortunate that Providence, at
the beginning, neglected to call to his counsels a few of our modern
reformers. And, as the celestial mechanism would have been entirely
different had the Creator consulted Alphonso the Wise, society, also,
had He not neglected the advice of Fourier, would have been very
different from that in which we are compelled to live, and move, and
breathe. But, since we are here, our duty is to study and to understand
His laws, especially if the amelioration of our condition essentially
depends upon such knowledge.
We cannot prevent the existence of unsatisfied desires in the hearts of
We cannot satisfy these desires except by labor.
We cannot deny the fact that man has as much repugnance for labor as he
has satisfaction with its results.
Since man has such characteristics, we cannot prevent the existence of a
constant tendency among men to obtain their part of the enjoyments of
life while throwing upon others, by force or by trickery, the burdens of
labor. It is not for us to belie universal history, to silence the
voice of the past, which attests that this has been the condition of
things since the beginning of the world. We cannot deny that war,
slavery, superstition, the abuses of government, privileges, frauds of
every nature, and monopolies, have been the incontestable and terrible
manifestations of these two sentiments united in the heart of man:
desire for enjoyment; repugnance to labor.
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread! But every one wants as
much bread and as little sweat as possible. This is the conclusion of
Thank Heaven, history also teaches that the division of blessings and
burdens tends to a more exact equality among men. Unless one is prepared
to deny the light of the sun, it must be admitted that, in this respect
at least, society has made some progress.
If this be true, there exists in society a natural and providential
force, a law which causes iniquity gradually to cease, and makes justice
more and more a reality.
We say that this force exists in society, and that God has placed it
there. If it did not exist we should be compelled, with the socialists,
to search for it in those artificial means, in those arrangements which
require a fundamental change in the physical and moral constitution of
man, or rather we should consider that search idle and vain, for the
reason that we could not comprehend the action of a lever without a
place of support.
Let us, then, endeavor to indicate that beneficent force which tends
progressively to overcome the maleficent force to which we have given
the name spoliation, and the existence of which is only too well
explained by reason and proved by experience.
Every maleficent act necessarily has two terms--the point of beginning
and the point of ending; the man who performs the act and the man upon
whom it is performed; or, in the language of the schools, the active and
the passive agent. There are, then, two means by which the maleficent
act can be prevented: by the voluntary absence of the active, or by the
resistance of the passive agent. Whence two systems of morals arise, not
antagonistic but concurrent; religious or philosophical morality, and
the morality to which I permit myself to apply the name economical
Religious morality, to abolish and extirpate the maleficent act, appeals
to its author, to man in his capacity of active agent. It says to him:
Reform yourself; purify yourself; cease to do evil; learn to do well;
conquer your passions; sacrifice your interests; do not oppress your
neighbor, to succor and relieve whom is your duty; be first just, then
generous. This morality will always be the most beautiful, the most
touching, that which will exhibit the human race in all its majesty;
which will the best lend itself to the offices of eloquence, and will
most excite the sympathy and admiration of mankind.
Utilitarian morality works to the same end, but especially addresses
itself to man in his capacity of passive agent. It points out to him the
consequences of human actions, and, by this simple exhibition,
stimulates him to struggle against those which injure, and to honor
those which are useful to him. It aims to extend among the oppressed
masses enough good sense, enlightenment and just defiance, to render
oppression both difficult and dangerous.
It may also be remarked that utilitarian morality is not without its
influence upon the oppressor. An act of spoliation causes good and
evil--evil for him who suffers it, good for him in whose favor it is
exercised--else the act would not have been performed. But the good by
no means compensates the evil. The evil always, and necessarily,
predominates over the good, because the very fact of oppression
occasions a loss of force, creates dangers, provokes reprisals, and
requires costly precautions. The simple exhibition of these effects is
not then limited to retaliation of the oppressed; it places all, whose
hearts are not perverted, on the side of justice, and alarms the
security of the oppressors themselves.
But it is easy to understand that this morality which is simply a
scientific demonstration, and would even lose its efficiency if it
changed its character; which addresses itself not to the heart but to
the intelligence; which seeks not to persuade but to convince; which
gives proofs not counsels; whose mission is not to move but to
enlighten, and which obtains over vice no other victory than to deprive
it of its booty--it is easy to understand, I say, how this morality has
been accused of being dry and prosaic. The reproach is true without
being just. It is equivalent to saying that political economy is not
everything, does not comprehend everything, is not the universal
solvent. But who has ever made such an exorbitant pretension in its
name? The accusation would not be well founded unless political economy
presented its processes as final, and denied to philosophy and religion
the use of their direct and proper means of elevating humanity. Look at
the concurrent action of morality, properly so called, and of political
economy--the one inveighing against spoliation by an exposure of its
moral ugliness, the other bringing it into discredit in our judgment, by
showing its evil consequences. Concede that the triumph of the religious
moralist, when realized, is more beautiful, more consoling and more
radical; at the same time it is not easy to deny that the triumph of
economical science is more facile and more certain.
In a few lines, more valuable than many volumes, J.B. Say has already
remarked that there are two ways of removing the disorder introduced by
hypocrisy into an honorable family; to reform Tartuffe, or sharpen the
wits of Orgon. Moliere, that great painter of human life, seems
constantly to have had in view the second process as the more efficient.
Such is the case on the world's stage. Tell me what Caesar did, and I
will tell you what were the Romans of his day.
Tell me what modern diplomacy has accomplished, and I will describe the
moral condition of the nations.
We should not pay two milliards of taxes if we did not appoint those who
consume them to vote them.
We should not have so much trouble, difficulty and expense with the
African question if we were as well convinced that two and two make four
in political economy as in arithmetic.
M. Guizot would never have had occasion to say: France is rich enough
to pay for her glory, if France had never conceived a false idea of
The same statesman never would have said: Liberty is too precious for
France to traffic in it, if France had well understood that liberty
and a large budget are incompatible.
Let religious morality then, if it can, touch the heart of the
Tartuffes, the Caesars, the conquerors of Algeria, the sinecurists, the
monopolists, etc. The mission of political economy is to enlighten their
dupes. Of these two processes, which is the more efficient aid to social
progress? I believe it is the second. I believe that humanity cannot
escape the necessity of first learning a defensive morality. I have
read, observed, and made diligent inquiry, and have been unable to find
any abuse, practiced to any considerable extent, that has perished by
voluntary renunciation on the part of those who profited by it. On the
contrary, I have seen many that have yielded to the manly resistance of
those who suffered by them.
To describe the consequences of abuses, is the most efficient way of
destroying the abuses themselves. And this is true particularly in
regard to abuses which, like the protective system, while inflicting
real evil upon the masses, are to those who seem to profit by them only
an illusion and a deception.
Well, then, does this species of morality realize all the social
perfection which the sympathetic nature of the human heart and its
noblest faculties cause us to hope for? This I by no means pretend.
Admit the general diffusion of this defensive morality--which, after
all, is only a knowledge that the best understood interests are in
accord with general utility and justice. A society, although very well
regulated, might not be very attractive, where there were no knaves,
only because there were no fools; where vice, always latent, and, so to
speak, overcome by famine, would only stand in need of available plunder
in order to be restored to vigor; where the prudence of the individual
would be guarded by the vigilance of the mass, and, finally, where
reforms, regulating external acts, would not have penetrated to the
consciences of men. Such a state of society we sometimes see typified in
one of those exact, rigorous and just men who is ever ready to resent
the slightest infringement of his rights, and shrewd in avoiding
impositions. You esteem him--possibly you admire him. You may make him
your deputy, but you would not necessarily choose him for a friend.
Let, then, the two moral systems, instead of criminating each other, act
in concert, and attack vice at its opposite poles. While the economists
perform their task in uprooting prejudice, stimulating just and
necessary opposition, studying and exposing the real nature of actions
and things, let the religious moralist, on his part, perform his more
attractive, but more difficult, labor; let him attack the very body of
iniquity, follow it to its most vital parts, paint the charms of
beneficence, self-denial and devotion, open the fountains of virtue
where we can only choke the sources of vice--this is his duty. It is
noble and beautiful. But why does he dispute the utility of that which
belongs to us?
In a society which, though not superlatively virtuous, should
nevertheless be regulated by the influences of economical morality
(which is the knowledge of the economy of society), would there not be a
field for the progress of religious morality?
Habit, it has been said, is a second nature. A country where the
individual had become unaccustomed to injustice, simply by the force of
an enlightened public opinion, might, indeed, be pitiable; but it seems
to me it would be well prepared to receive an education more elevated
and more pure. To be disaccustomed to evil is a great step towards
becoming good. Men cannot remain stationary. Turned aside from the paths
of vice which would lead only to infamy, they appreciate better the
attractions of virtue. Possibly it may be necessary for society to pass
through this prosaic state, where men practice virtue by calculation, to
be thence elevated to that more poetic region where they will no longer
have need of such an exercise.