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.