The Political Philosophy of Bakunin: Scientific Anarchism, compiled and edited by G. P. Maximoff, 1953.

CHAPTER 12: Law, Natural and Invented

Individual Freedom Is a Derivative of Society. Emerging from the condition of the gorilla, man arrives only with difficulty at awareness of his humanity and realization of his liberty. In the beginning he has neither liberty nor the awareness thereof; he comes into the world as a ferocious beast and as a slave, and becomes humanized and progressively emancipated onIy in the midst of a society which necessarily precedes the emergence of man's thought, speech, and will. Man can attain this only through the collective efforts of all the past and present members of that society, which therefore is the natural basis and starting point of his human existence.

Hence it follows that man realizes his individual freedom only by rounding out his personality with the aid of other individuals belonging to the same social environment. He can achieve that only by dint of work and the collective power of society, without which man would no doubt remain the most stupid and miserable of all the wild animals living upon the earth. According to the materialist system, which is the only natural and logical system, society, far from limiting and detracting from the freedom of individuals, creates, on the contrary, this freedom. Society is the root and the tree, and freedom is its fruit. Consequently, in every epoch man has to seek his liberty not at the beginning but at the end of history, and one may say the real and complete emancipation of every individual is the true and the great objective, and the supreme end of history.1

Origin of Ideas in General and of the Idea of Law in Particular. This is not the place to inquire into the origin of the first notions and ideas in primitive society. All we can say with full certainty is that those ideas, most of which were of course highly absurd, were not conceived spontaneously by the miraculously enlightened intelligence of isolated ind inspired individuals. They were the product of the collective, in many cases hardly perceptible, mental labor of all the individuals belonging to those societies. The contributions of outstanding men of genius has never consisted in anything but their ability to give the most faithful and felicitous expression to this collective mental labor, for all men of genius, according to Voltaire, "gathered everything that was good wherever they found it." Those ideas were at first only the most simple, and, of course, quite inadequate representations of natural and social phenomena, and the even less valid conclusions inferred from those phenomena.

Such was the beginning of all human notions, fancies, and thoughts. The subject matter of those thoughts was not the spontaneous creation of man's mind, but was at first given to him by the actual world -- whether external or internal. Man's mind, that is, the purely organic and consequently [238] material functioning of his brain, stimulated by external as well as internal sensations transmitted by the nerves -- introduced only the purely formal comparison of those impressions of facts and things into true or false systems. That was the origin of the first ideas. Through the medium of speech, those ideas, or rather those first products of the imagination, were given a more or less precise and invariable expression, in the process of being handed down from one generation to the next. And thus the products of individual imagination, mingling together, came to control, vary, and complete one another, merging more or less into a single and system ending by constituting the general consciousness, the collective thought, of society. This thought, handed down by tradition from one generation to another, and ever more developed by centuries of mental labor, constitutes the intellectual and moral heritage of society, class, and nation.

Every new generation receives in its cradle a whole world of ideas, mental impressions, and feelings bequeathed to it by all the past centuries. This world at first does not appear to the newly born man in its ideal form, as a system of notions and ideas, as a religion, nor as a doctrine. A child is not capable of apprehending and comprehending it in this form. Rather it is imposed upon the child as a world of facts embodied and realized in the people and things constituting the child's environment from the first day of his life, a world speaking to the child through everything he hears and sees. For man's ideas were at first nothing but the product of actual facts, natural as well as social, in the sense that they were their reflection or echo in man's brain, and, so to speak, their and more or less true reproduction by means of this positively material organ of human thought.

Innate Ideas. Later, having become solidly established in a well-ordered system in the intellectual consciousness of a given society, they become the causal agents of new phenomena: phenomena of a social and not of a purely natural order. They end by modifying and transforming, very slowly to be sure, human customs and institutions -- in a word, the whole field of human interrelationships in society, and, by their embodiment in common objects, they become tangible and perceptible, even to children. This process is so thorough that every new generation becomes permeated with it from a tender age; and when it reaches the age of maturity, when the work of its own thought begins to assert itself, -- a work accompanied by new criticism -- it finds within itself, as well as in the surrounding society, a whole world of established thoughts and ideas which serve as the starting point, the raw material, the texture, for its own intellectual and moral labor. Those ideas comprise the traditional and everyday notions created by imagination which the metaphysicians, -- deceived by the wholly unsensory and unnoticeable way in which those notions, coming from the outside, penetrate and impress themselves upon [239] the child's brain, even before they reach his consciousness, -- erroneously call innate ideas.

Such are the general or abstract ideas or godhead and soul, ideas altogether absurd, but inevitable and necessary in the historical development of the human mind, which through the ages, only slowly arriving at a rational and critical awareness of itself and its own manifestations, has always started with absurdity in order to arrive at truth, and with slavery in order to win freedom. Such are the ideas consecrated in the course of centuries by general ignorance and stupidity, and likewise, of course, by the interests of the privileged classes -- consecrated to such an extent that even now it is difficult to declare oneself against them in plain language without arousing against oneself considerable sections of the people and without running the hazard of being pilloried by bourgeois hypocrisy.

Along with these purely abstract ideas, and always closely connected with them, the youth finds in society -- and because of the all-powerful influence exerted upon him by society in his childhood, he also discovers within himself -- many other notions or ideas which are much more determined and nearer to man's real life and to his daily existence. Such are the notions of Nature, man, justice, the duties and rights of individuals and classes, social conventions, family, property, the State, and many other ideas regulating the relations of man to man.2

Authority and Natural Laws. What is authority? Is it the inevitable power of natural laws manifestating themselves in the concatenation and necessary sequences of phenomena in the physical and social worlds? Indeed, revolt against these laws is not only nonpermissible, but even impossible. We may ignore them or even not know them at all, but we cannot disobey them, for they constitute the basis and the very conditions of our existence; they envelop us, penetrate us, and govern all our movements, thoughts, and acts to such an extent that even when we believe we disobey them we in reality only manifest their omnipotence.

Yes, we are unconditionally the slaves of these laws. But in such slavery there is no humiliation, or rather it is not slavery at all. For slavery presupposes the existence of an external master, a legislator standing above those whom he commands, while those laws are not extrinsic in relation to us: they are inherent in us, they constitute our nature, our whole being, physically, intellectually, and morally. And it is only through those laws that we live, breathe, act, think, and will. Without them we would be nothing, we simply would not exist.3

It is a great misfortune that a large number of natural laws, already establihed as such by science, remain unknown to the masses, thanks to the vigilance of the tutelary governments which, as we know, exist only for the good of the people. And another difficulty consists in the fact that the major portion of natural laws inherent in the development of human society and just as necessary, invariable, and inevitable as the laws [240] governing the physical world, have not been recognized and duly established by science itself.

Universal Knowledge of Natural Laws Spells Abolition of Juridical Right. Once they have been recognized by science, and then from science, by means of a broad system of popular education, have entered iuro the general consciousness, the question of freedom will be solved. The most obdurate protagonists of the State must admit that when that takes place there will be no need of political organization, administration, or legislation -- those three institutions which, whether they emanate from the will of the sovereign or from the vote of a Parliament elected by universal suffrage, and even if they should conform to the system of natural (which never has been the case and never will be) -- are ever hostile and fatal to the liberty of the masses, for they impose upon a system of external and therefore despotic laws.4

Political Legislation Is Inimical to Freedom of the People and Contrary to Natural Laws. A scientific body entrusted with the government of society would soon end by devoting itself no longer to science at all, but to quite another affair. And that affair, as in the case of all established powers, would be its own perpetuation by rendering the society entrusted to its care ever more stupid and consequently ever more in need of its government and direction.5

Legislative Institutions Breed Oligarchies. And that which is true of scientific academies also is true of all constituent and legislative assemblies, even those issuing from universal suffrage. In the latter case, to be sure, they may renew their composition, but this does not prevent the formation in a few years' time of a body of politicians, privileged in fact though not in law, who, devoting themselves exclusively to the administration of a nation's public affairs, end by forming a sort of political aristocracy or oligarchy, as can be seen by the example of Switzerland and of the United States of America.

Thus it follows that no external legislation and no authority are necessary; for that matter, one is inseparable from the other, while both tend toward the enslavement of society and the degradation of the legislators themselves.6

Political Rights and Democratic State Are Contradictions in Terms. And finally, the terms themselves, equality of political rights, and democratic State, imply a flagrant contradiction. The State, raison d'Etat, and political law denote power, authority, domination; they presuppose inequality in fact. Where all govern, no one is governed, and the State as such does not exist. Where all equally enjoy human rights, all political rights automatically are dissolved. Political law denotes privilege, but where all are equally privileged, there privilege vanishes, and with that political law is reduced to naught. Therefore the terms the democratic States and [241] equality of political rights connote nothing less nor more than destruction of the State and abolition of all political rights.7

The Negation of Juridical Law. In a word, we reject all legislation- privileged, licensed, official, and legal -- and all authority, and influence, even though they may emanate from universal suffrage, for we are convinced that it can turn only to the advantage of a dominant minority of exploiters against the interests of the vast majority in subjection to them, It is in this sense that we are really Anarchists.8

We recognize all natural authority, and all influence of fact upon us, but none of right; for all authority and all influence of right, officially imposed upon us, immediately becomes a falsehood and an oppression, and because of this inevitably brings us to absurdity and slavery.9

The Various Kinds of Rights. It is necessary to distinguish clearly between historic, political, or juridical right and rational or simply human right. The first has ruled the world up to this very hour, making it a receptacle for bloody injustices and oppressions. The second right shall be the means of our emancipation.10

The Essence of Right. The predominance and the abiding triumph of force, that is the real core of the matter, and all that is called right in the language of politics is nothing but the consecration of fact created by force.11

Rationalization of Their Right by the Aristocracy and the Bourgeoisie. The aristocracy of nobility did not need science to prove its right. Its power rested upon two irrefutable arguments based upon violence, upon brutal physical force and its consecration by God's will. The aristocracy committed violence, and the Church bestowed its benediction upon this violence. Such was the nature of its right. It was this intimate bond between the triumphing fist and divine sanction that gave the aristocracy its great prestige, inspiring it with knightly valor which took all hearts by storm.

The bourgeoisie, lacking any valor or grace whatsoever, can base its right upon only one argument: the very prosaic but very substantial power of money. It is the cynical denial of any virtue whatever: with money every fool and brute, every scoundrel, can possess all sorts of rights, without money all individual virtues do not amount to anything -- this is the basic principle of the bourgeoisie in its brutal reality. It stands to reason that this argument, valid as it might be in itself, is not sufficient to justify and consolidate the power of the bourgeoisie. Human society is so constituted that the more evil things can be established in it only under the cloak of apparent respectability. Hence the adage: Hypocrisy is the respect vice pays to virtue. Even the mightiest violence needs consecration.

The nobility disguised its violence with divine grace. The bourgeoisie could not obtain that high patronage, . . . and therefore it had to seek sanctions outside of God and the Church. And it did find such sanctions among the licensed intellectuals.12 [242]

The Basis of the Past and Present Social Organization. All the political and civil organizations existing in the past and the present rest upon the following foundations: upon the historic fact of violence, upon the right to inherit property, upon the family rights of the father and the husband, and the consecration of all these foundations by religion. And all that taken together constitutes the essence of the State.13

Convinced that the existence of the State, in any form whatever, is incompatible with the freedom of the proletariat, and that it will not permit the fraternal international union of peoples, we want the abolition of all States.

With the State there must go also all that is called juridical right, and all organization of social life from the top downward, via legislation and government -- organization which never had any other aim but the establishment and systematization of the exploitation of the labor of the people for the benefit of the ruling classes.

Abolition of the State and juridical right will have for its sequel the abolition of personal inheritable property and of the juridical family, which is based upon this property, since both preclude human justice.14

Abolition of the Right of Inheritance. This question [of abolishing the right of inheriting property] falls into two parts -- the first comprising the principle, and the second the practical application of the principle.

And the question of the principle itself should be considered from two points of view: that of expediency and that of justice.

From the point of view of the emancipation of labor, is it expedient, is it it necessary, that the right of inheritance should be abolished?

To pose this question is, in our opinion, to solve it. Can the emancipation of labor signify any other thing but its deliverance from the yoke of private property and capital? But how can those two be prevented from dominating and exploiting labor if, divorced from labor as they are, they are the exclusive monopoly of a class which, freed from the necessity of working for a living, will continue to exist and crush labor by extracting from it land rent and interest on capital -- a class which, made strong by this position, seizes, as it has done up to now, the profits of industry and commerce, leaving to the workers, who are crushed by the competition into which they are driven, only that which is strictly necessary in order to keep them from starving to death.

No political or juridical law, drastic though it may be, will be able to put a stop to this domination and exploitation, no law can prevail against the power of facts, no one can prevent a given situation from producing its natural results. From which it follows clearly that so long as property and capital remain on one side and labor on the other -- one constituting the class of the bourgeoisie and the other that of the proletariat, the worker will be the slave and the bourgeoisie the master.

But what is it that separates property and capital from labor? What [243] constitutes, economically and politically, the distinction between classes? What is it that destroys equality and perpetuates inequality, the privileged status of a small number of people and the slavery of the great majority? It is the right of inheritance.

Are any proofs necessary to show that the right of inheritance begets all the economic, political, and social privileges? It is evident that class differences maintain themselves only by virtue of this right. Natural differences among individuals, as well as the fleeting differences which are a matter of luck or fortune and which do not outlive the individuals, perpetuate themselves -- or become petrified, so to speak -- as a result of the right of inheritance, and becoming traditional differences, they create privileges of birth, give rise to classes, and become a permanent source of exploitation of millions of workers by mere thousands of "noble birth."

So long as the right of inheritance is in force, there can be no economic, social, or political equality in the world; and so long as inequality exists there will be oppression and exploitation.

In principle then, from the point of view of the integral emancipation of work and workers, we should want abolition of the right of inheritance.

Biological Heredity Not Dented. It stands to reason that we do not intend to abolish physiological heredity, or the natural transmission of bodily and intellectual faculties; or to be more precise, the transmission of the muscular and mental faculties of parents to their children. This transmission is very often a misfortune, for it frequently passes on the physical and moral maladies of the past to the present generations. But the baneful effects if that transmission can be combated only by the application of science to social hygiene, individual as well as collective, and by a rational and equalitarian organization of society.

What we want to and should abolish is the right of inheritance, founded by jurisprudence and constituting the very basis of the juridical family and of the State.

The Right of Inheritance With Respect to Objects Having Sentimental Value. But it should be understood that we do not intend to abolish the right of inheritance with respect to objects that have a sentimental value attached to them. By that we mean the passing on to children or friends of objects of small [money] value belonging to deceased parents or friends and which because of long usage have retained a personal imprint. The real heritage is that which assures to the heirs, whether in full or only in part, the possibility of living without working by assessing collective labor for land rent or interest on capital. We are of the opinion that capital as well as land, in a word, all the implements and the raw materials necessary for labor, should no longer be transmitted through the right of inheritance, and should forever become the collective property of all the productive associations.

Equality, and consequently the emancipation of labor and of the workers, [244] can be obtained only at this price. Few indeed are the workers who do not realize that in the future abolition of the right of inheritance shall be the supreme condition of equality. But there are workers who fear that if this right should be abolished at present, before a new social organization has made secure the lot of all children, whatever the conditions under which they were born, their own children may find themselves in distress after the death of their parents.

"What!" they say. "We scraped up, by hard work and great privations, three or four hundred francs, and our children shall be deprived those savings!" Yes, they shall be deprived of them, but in exchange will receive from society, without prejudice to the natural rights of father and mother, maintenance and education and an upbringing that you would not be able to provide for them even with thirty or forty thousand francs. For it is evident that as soon as the right of inheritance is abolished, society will have to take upon itself the costs of the physical, moral, and intellectual development of all the children of both sexes who are born in its midst. It will become the supreme guardian of all those children.

Right of Inheritance and Work Stimulus. Many persons maintain that by the abolition of the right of inheritance there will be destroyed the greatest stimulus impelling man to work. Those who so believe still consider work a necessary evil, or, in theological parlance, as the effect of Jehovah's curse which he hurled in his wrath against the unfortunate human species, and in which, by a singular caprice, he has included the whole of creation.

Without entering into a serious theological discussion, but taking as our base the simple study of human nature, we shall answer the detractors of labor by stating that the latter, far from being an evil or a harsh necessity, is a vital need for every person who is in full possession of his faculties. One can convince himself of this by submitting himself to the following experiment: Let him condemn himself for a few days to absolute inaction, or to sterile, unproductive, stupid work, and toward the end of it he will come to feel that he is a most unfortunate and degraded human being. Man, by his very nature, is compelled to work, just as he is compelled to eat, to drink, to think, to talk.

If work is an accursed thing nowadays, it is because it is excessive, brutalizing, and forced in character, because it leaves no room for leisure and deprives men of the possibility of enjoying life in a humane way, and because everyone, or nearly everyone, is compelled to apply his productive power to a kind of work which is the least suitable for his natural aptitudes. And finally, it is because, in a society based upon theology and jurisprudence, the possibility of living without working is deemed an honor and a privilege, while the necessity of working for a living is regarded as a sign of degradation, as a punishment, and as a shame.

The day when work of mind and body, intellectual and physical, is [245] regarded as the greatest honor among men, as the sign of their manhood and humanity, society will be saved. But that day will never arrive so long as inequality reigns, and so long as the right of inheritance has not been abolished.

Will such an abolition be just?

But how could it be unjust if it is effected in the interests of everyone, in the interests of humanity as a whole?

Origin of the Right of Inheritance. Let us examine the right of inheritance from the point of view of human justice.

A man, we are told, acquires by his labor ten thousand or a hundred thousand, or perhaps a million francs -- should he not have the right to bequeath this sum to his children? Would not [forbidding such a legacy] be a violation of the natural right of parents, an unjust spoliation?

To begin with, it already has been proven many times that an isolated worker cannot produce very much over and above what he consumes. We challenge anyone to produce a real worker, that is, one who does not enjoy any privileges, who earns tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions of francs. That would be a sheer impossibility. Therefore, if in existing society there are individuals who earn such big sums, this comes not as a result of their labor but is due to their privileged position; that is, to a juridically legalized injustice. And since anything that is not derived from one's own labor is necessarily taken from the labor of someone else, we have a right to say that all such gains are nothing but a form of theft committed by persons in privileged positions with regard to collective labor, and committed with the sanction of, and under the protection of, the State.

Let us proceed with this analysis.

The Dead Hand of the Past. The law-protected thief dies. He passes on, with or without a testamentary will, his lands or his capital to his children or other relatives. This, we are told, is the necessary corollary of his personal freedom and his individual right; his will is to be respected.

But a dead man is dead for good. Outside of the altogether moral and sentimental existence built up by the pious memories of his children, relatives, and friends (if he deserved such memories), or by public recogniton (if he rendered some real service to the public) -- outside of that he does not exist at all. Therefore he can have neither liberty, nor right, nor personal will. Phantoms should not rule and oppress the world which belongs only to living persons.

In order that he continue willing and acting after his death, it is necessary to have a juridical fiction or a political lie, and as this dead person is incapable of acting for himself, it is necessary that some power, the State, undertake to act in his name and for his sake, the State must execute the will of a man who, being no longer alive, cannot have any will whatever.

And what is the power of the State, if not the power of the people [256] as a whole, organized to the detriment of the people and in favor of the privileged classes? And above all, it is the production and the collective force of the workers. Is it therefore necessary that the working classes guarantee to the privileged classes the right of inheritance, that is, the principal source of [the workers'] misery and slavery? Must they forge with their own hands the irons which keep them fettered?

Sequence of Abolition of Rights of Inheritance. We conclude. It is sufficient that the proletariat declare the withdrawal of its support from the State, which sanctions its slavery, to have the right of inheritance, which is exclusively political and juridical -- and consequently contrary to human right -- collapse all by itself. It is enough to abolish the right of inheritance in order to abolish the juridical family and the State.

All social progress, for that matter, has proceeded by way of successive abolitions of rights of inheritance.

The first to be abolished was the divine right of inheritance, the traditional privileges and chastisements which for a long time were considered the consequence of the divine blessings or the divine curse.

Then the political right of inheritance was abolished, which had for its consequence recognition of the sovereignty of the people and equality of citizens before the law.

And now we must abolish the economic right of inheritance in order to emancipate the worker, the man, and in order to establish the reign of justice upon the ruins of all political and theological iniquities. . . .

Means of Abolishing the Right of Inheritance. The last question to be solved is the question of practical measures for the abolition of the right of inheritance. This abolition could be effected in two ways: througfc successive reforms or by means of a social revolution.

It could be effected through reforms in those fortunate countries (the very rare, or if not altogether unknown countries) where the class of property owners and capitalists, the bourgeoisie, imbued with a spirit of wisdom which it now totally lacks, and realizing that the Social Revolution finally is imminent, would try to come to a settlement with the world of labor. In this case, but only in this case, the way of peaceful reforms presents itself as a possibility. By a series of successive modifications, cleverly combined and amiably agreed upon by the worker and the bourgeoisie, it would become possible to abolish the right of inheritance completely in twenty or thirty years, and to replace the present form of property ownership, and of existing work and education, by collective property and collective labor, and by integral education or instruction.

It is impossible for us to determine the precise character of those reforms, for they will have to conform to the particular situation in each country. But in all the countries the goal remains the same: the establishment of collective property and labor, and the freedom of everyone with equality for all. [247]

The method of revolution will naturally be the shortest and simplest one. Revolutions are never made by individuals or associations. They are brought about by the force of circumstances. It should be definitely understood among us that on the first day of the Revolution the right of inheritance shall simply be abolished, and along with that, the State and juridical right, so that upon the ruins of all these iniquities, cutting athwart all political and national frontiers, there may arise a new international world, the world of labor, of science, of freedom, and of equality, a world organized from below upward, by the free association of all producers' associations.15

Rational or Human Right. Aiming at the actual and final emancipation of the people, we hold out the following program:

Abolition of the right of property inheritance.

Equalization of the rights of women -- political as well as socio-economic rights -- with those of men. Consequently, we want abolition of the family right and of marriage -- ecclesiastical as well as civil marriage -- [which are] inseparably bound up with the right of inheritance.

Basic economic truth rests upon two fundamental premises:

The land belongs only to those who cultivate it with their own hands: to the agricultural communes. The capital and all the tools of production belong to the workers: to the workers' associations.

The future political organization should be a free federation of workers, a federation of producers' associations of agricultural and factory workers.

And therefore, in the name of political emancipation, we want in the first place abolition of the State, and the uprooting of the State principle, with all the ecclesiastical, political, military, bureaucratic, juridical, academic, financial, and economic institutions.

National Right. We want full freedom for all nations, with the right of full self-determination for every people in conformity with their own instincts, needs, and will.16 Every people, like every person, can be only what it is, and unquestionably it has the right to be itself.

This sums up the so-called national right. But if a people or a person exists in a certain form and cannot exist in any other, it does not follow that they have the right (nor that it would be of any benefit to them) to raise nationality in the one case or individuality in the other into specific principles, or that they should make much ado about such alleged principles.17