Chapter 8, Section 8.0 : Responsibility Of Man And Of God, Under The Law Of Contradiction, Or A Solution Of The Problem Of Providence
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Chapter 8, Section 8.0
THE ancients blamed human nature for the presence of evil in the world.
Christian theology has only embroidered this theme in its own fashion; and, as that theology sums up the whole religious period extending from the origin of society to our own time, it may be said that the dogma of original sin, having in its favor the assent of the human race, acquires by that very fact the highest degree of probability.
So, according to all the testimony of ancient wisdom, each people defending its own institutions as excellent and glorifying them, it is not to religions, or to governments, or to traditional customs accredited by the respect of generations, that the cause of evil must be traced, but rather to a primitive perversion, to a sort of congenital malice in the will of man. As to the question how a being could have perverted and corrupted itself originally, the ancients avoided that difficulty by fables: Eve's apple and Pandora's box have remained celebrated among their symbolic solutions.
Not only, then, had antiquity posited in its myths the question of the origin of evil; it had solved it by another myth, in unhesitatingly affirming the criminality ab ovo of our race.
Modern philosophers have erected against the Christian dogma a dogma no less obscure, -- that of the depravity of society. Man is born good, cries Rousseau, in his peremptory style; but society -- that is, the forms and institutions of society -- depraves him. In such terms was formulated the paradox, or, better, the protest, of the philosopher of Geneva.
Now, it is evident that this idea is only the ancient hypothesis turned about. The ancients accused the individual man; Rousseau accuses the collective man: at bottom, it is always the same proposition, an absurd proposition.
Nevertheless, in spite of the fundamental identity of the principle, Rousseau's formula, precisely because it was an opposition, was a step forward; consequently it was welcomed with enthusiasm, and it became the signal of a reaction full of contradictions and absurdities. Singular thing! it is to the anathema launched by the author of "Emile" against society that modern socialism is to be traced.
For the last seventy or eighty years the principle of social perversion has been exploited and popularized by various sectarians, who, while copying Rousseau, reject with all their might the anti-social philosophy of that writer, without perceiving that, by the very fact that they aspire to reform society, they are as unsocial or unsociable as he. It is a curious spectacle to see these pseudo-innovators, condemning after Jean Jacques monarchy, democracy, property, communism, thine and mine, monopoly, wages, police, taxation, luxury, commerce, money, in a word, all that constitutes society and without which society is inconceivable, and then accusing this same Jean Jacques of misanthropy and paralogism, because, after having seen the emptiness of all utopias, at the same time that he pointed out the antagonism of civilization, he sternly concluded against society, though recognizing that without society there is no humanity.
I advise those who, on the strength of what slanderers and plagiarists say, imagine that Rousseau embraced his theory only from a vain love of eccentricity, to read "Emile" and the "Social Contract" once more. That admirable dialectician was led to deny society from the standpoint of justice, although he was forced to admit it as necessary; just as we, who believe in an indefinite progress, do not cease to deny, as normal and definitive, the existing state of society. Only, whereas Rousseau, by a political combination and an educational system of his own, tried to bring man nearer to what he called nature, and what seemed to him the ideal society, we, instructed in a profounder school, say that the task of society is to continually solve its antinomies, -- a matter of which Rousseau could have had no idea. Thus, apart from the now abandoned system of the "Social Contract," and so far as criticism alone is concerned, socialism, whatever it may say, is still in the same position as Rousseau, forced to reform society incessantly, -- that is, to perpetually deny it.
Rousseau, in short, simply declared in a summary and definitive manner what the socialists repeat in detail and at every moment of progress, -- namely, that social order is imperfect, always lacking something. Rousseau's error does not, can not lie in this negation of society: it consists, as we shall show, in his failure to follow his argument to the end and deny at once society, man, and God.
However that may be, the theory of man's innocence, corresponding to that of the depravity of society, has at last got the upper hand. The immense majority of socialists -- Saint-Simon, Owen, Fourier, and their disciples; communists, democrats, progressives of all sorts -- have solemnly repudiated the Christian myth of the fall to substitute there for the system of an aberration on the part of society. And, as most of these sectarians, in spite of their flagrant impiety, were still too religious, too pious, to finish the work of Jean Jacques and trace back to God the responsibility for evil, they have found a way of deducing from the hypothesis of God the dogma of the native goodness of man, and have begun to fulminate against society in the finest fashion.
The theoretical and practical consequences of this reaction were that, evil -- that is, the effect of internal and external struggle -- being abnormal and transitory, penal and repressive institutions are likewise transitory; that in man there is no native vise, but that his environment has depraved his inclinations; that civilization has been mistaken as to its own tendencies; that constraint is immoral, that our passions are holy; that enjoyment is holy and should be sought after like virtue itself, because God, who caused us to desire it, is holy. And, the women coming to the aid of the eloquence of the philosophers, a deluge of anti-restrictive protests has fallen, quasi de vulva erumpens, to make use of a comparison from the Holy Scriptures, upon the wonder-stricken public.
The writings of this school are recognizable by their evangelical style, their melancholy theism, and, above all, their enigmatical dialectics.
"They blame human nature," says M. Louis Blanc, "for almost all our evils; the blame should be laid upon the vicious character of social institutions. Look around you: how many talents misplaced, and CONSEQUENTLY depraved! How many activities have become turbulent for want of having found their legitimate and natural object! They force our passions to traverse an impure medium; is it at all surprising that they become altered? Place a healthy man in a pestilent atmosphere, and he will inhale death. . . . Civilization has taken a wrong road, . . . and to say that it could not have been otherwise is to lose the right to talk of equity, of morality, of progress; it is to lose the right to talk of God. Providence disappears to give place to the grossest fatalism."
The name of God recurs forty times, and always to no purpose, in M. Blanc's "Organization of Labor," which I quote from preference, because in my view it represents advanced democratic opinion better than any other work, and because I like to do it honor by refuting it.
Thus, while socialism, aided by extreme democracy, deifies man by denying the dogma of the fall, and consequently dethrones God, henceforth useless to the perfection of his creature, this same socialism, through mental cowardice, falls back upon the affirmation of Providence, and that at the very moment when it denies the providential authority of history.
And as nothing stands such chance of success among men as contradiction, the idea of a religion of pleasure, renewed from Epicurus during an eclipse of public reason, has been taken as an inspiration of the national genius; it is this that distinguishes the new theists from the Catholics, against whom the former have inveighed so loudly during the last two years only out of rivalry in fanaticism. It is the fashion today to speak of God on all occasions and to declaim against the pope; to invoke Providence and to scoff at the Church. Thank God! we are not atheists, said "La Reforme" one day; all the more, it might have added by way of increasing its absurdity, we are not Christians. The word has gone forth to every one who holds a pen to bamboozle the people, and the first article of the new faith is that an infinitely good God has created man as good as himself; which does not prevent man, under the eye of God, from becoming wicked in a detestable society.
Nevertheless it is plain, in spite of these semblances of religion, we might even say these desires for it, that the quarrel between socialism and Christian tradition, between man and society, must end by a denial of Divinity. Social reason is not distinguishable by us from absolute Reason, which is no other than God himself, and to deny society in its past phases is to deny Providence, is to deny God.
Thus, then, we are placed between two negations, two contradictory affirmations: one which, by the voice of entire antiquity, setting aside as out of the question society and God which it represents, finds in man alone the principle of evil; another which, protesting in the name of free, intelligent, and progressive man, throws back upon social infirmity and, by a necessary consequence, upon the creative and inspiring genius of society all the disturbances of the universe.
Now, as the anomalies of social order and the oppression of individual liberties arise principally from the play of economic contradictions, we have to inquire, in view of the data which we have brought to light:
1. Whether fate, whose circle surrounds us, exercises a control over our liberty so imperious and compulsory that infractions of the law, committed under the dominion of antinomies, cease to be imputable to us? And, if not, whence arises this culpability peculiar to man?
2. Whether the hypothetical being, utterly good, omnipotent, omniscient, to whom faith attributes the supreme direction of human agitations, has not himself failed society at the moment of danger? And, if so, to explain this insufficiency of Divinity.
In short, we are to find out whether man is God, whether God himself is God, or whether, to attain the fullness of intelligence and liberty, we must search for a superior cause.
From : University of Virginia Library
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