The principle of federation
and the need to reconstitute the party of revolution

P.-J. Proudhon (1809-1867)

Published in 1863

Translated from French by Richard Vernon. Numbered notes are the translator's. Introduction by Richard Vernon.


Richard Vernon

This edition of Du Principe federatif et de la necessite de reconstituer le parti de la revolution springs from a long-standing interest in the political and social thought of Proudhon and a novice interest in federalism. In the latter regard, especially, I have relied extensively upon the generous help of many colleagues, among whom M.W. Westmacott provided invaluable bibliographical advice, and S.J.R. Noel and L.J. Sharpe offered some stimulating and far-reaching comments on a draft of my introduction, presented as a paper in a departmental seminar. In a department as congenial and expert as my own, an author has only himself to blame for the deficiencies of his work.

As far as the translation itself is concerned, I have tried to follow Proudhon's literal sense closely enough that for all but the most specialized purposes the translation may serve as a substitute for the French original, but where literalness would be distracting I have not hesitated to adopt an English idiom. The edition used is the first, Paris: E. Dentu 1863. I have translated here only the first part and the first chapter of the second part, these being the theoretical core of the work. This work has been published with the assistance of grants from the Social Science Federation of Canada, using funds provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and from the Publications Fund of the University of Toronto Press.



1 Political dualism -- authority and liberty: opposition and interconnection of the two ideas
2 A priori conceptions of political order: regime of authority, regime of liberty
3 Forms of government
4 Compromise between the principles: origins of political contradictions
5 De facto governments: social dissolution
6 The political problem posed: the principle of a solution
7 Isolation of the idea of federation
8 A progressive constitution
9 What has delayed federation: factors hindering the idea
10 Political idealism: efficacy of federal guarantees
11 Economic sanctions: the agro-industrial federation


1. The Jacobin tradition: federalist Gaul, monarchical France


Chapter I.


Before saying what is meant by federation, it is as well to devote a few pages to the origin and context of the idea. The theory of the federal system is quite new; I think I may even say that no one has ever presented it before. But it is intimately bound up with the theory of government in general -- to speak more precisely, it is its necessary conclusion.

Among the many constitutions proposed by philosophy and put to the test by history, one alone reconciles the demands of justice, order, liberty, and stability, without which neither society nor the individual can live. Truth, like nature, is one. It would be strange if it were otherwise for the mind and for its grandest work, society. All writers have recognized the unity of human legislation; and, without denying the diversity in application dictated by time and place and the special character of each nation, or neglecting the scope of discretion in every political system, all have been obliged to accommodate their doctrines to it. I shall undertake to show that this one constitution, which it will be the greatest triumph of human reason to have grasped, is nothing other than the federal system. Every form of government which departs from it must be considered an empirical creation, a preliminary sketch, more or less useful, under which society finds shelter for a moment, and which, like the Arab's tent, is folded up the morning after it has been erected. Rigorous analysis is therefore essential here, and the first truth which this account should impress upon the reader is that politics, though infinitely flexible as an applied art, is an exact science in its regulative principles, no more or less so than geometry or algebra.

Political order rests fundamentally on two contrary principles: authority and liberty. The one initiates, the other concludes; the one goes hand-in-hand with obedient faith, the other with free reason.

I doubt that a single voice will be raised against this first proposition. Authority and liberty are as old as the human race; they are born with us, and live on in each of us. Let us note but one thing, which few readers would notice otherwise: these two principles form a couple, so to speak, whose two terms, though indissolubly linked together, are nevertheless irreducible one to the other, and remain, despite all our efforts, perpetually at odds. Authority necessarily presupposes a liberty which recognizes or denies it; in turn liberty, in its political sense, likewise presupposes an authority which confronts it, repressing or tolerating it. Suppress one of the two, and the other has no sense: authority, without a Liberty to examine it, to resist or submit to it, is an empty word; liberty, without an authority as counterweight, is meaningless.

The principle of authority, familial, patriarchal, magisterial, monarchical, theocratic, tending to hierarchy, centralization, absorption, is given by nature, and is thus essentially predestined, divine, as you will. Its scope, resisted and impeded by the opposing principle, may expand or contract indefinitely, but can never be extinguished.

The principle of liberty, personal, individualist, critical, the instrument of dividing, choosing, arranging, is supplied by the mind. Essentially a principle of judgment, then, it is superior to the nature which it makes use of, and to the necessity which it masters. Its aspirations are unbounded; it is, like its contrary, subject to extension or restriction, but it likewise cannot be exhausted as it grows, nor can it be nullified by constraint.

It follows that in every society, even the most authoritarian, liberty necessarily plays some part; likewise in every society, even the most liberal, some portion is reserved for authority. This requirement is absolute; no political arrangement is exempt. Despite the efforts of the understanding to resolve diversity into unity, the two principles persist, always in opposition to each other. Political development arises from their inescapable logic and their mutual interaction.

All this, I confess, may contain little that is really new, and some readers will ask me if that is all I have to offer them. No one denies nature or mind, whatever the obscurity that may surround them; not one writer rejects either authority or liberty, even though their reconciliation, separation, or elimination seem equally impossible. What, then, is my purpose in reciting this commonplace?

What I have to say is this: that all political constitutions, all systems of government, including federations, fall within the scope of one formula, the balancing of authority by liberty, and vice versa; that in consequence the categories adopted by the great majority of writers, since Aristotle's time, in order to classify governments, differentiate states, and distinguish among the nations, monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, etc. -- the federation excepted here -- are reduced to hypothetical, empirical constructs, in which reason and justice find only imperfect satisfaction; that all established orders, founded upon these incomplete ideas, differ only from the standpoint of interest, prejudice, and habit, and are at bottom similar and equivalent; that were it not for the harm done by these false systems, in which ruffled passions, affronted interests, and vain self-deceptions are at odds with one another, we would be very close to agreement on fundamentals; that, finally, all those partisan divisions which we imagine to be so profound, all those conflicts of opinion which seem insoluble to us, all those random hostilities for which there appears to be no remedy, will instantly find a definitive solution in the theory of federal government.

Is there so much, you will ask, in a semantic opposition, authority-liberty? Indeed, yes! I have observed that the ordinary mind, even the child, can better grasp the truth cast in an abstract formula than when it is inflated with a mass of explanations and facts. I wished both to condense this study for those who cannot read books, and to make it more compelling by appealing to simple ideas. Authority and liberty: two concepts opposed to another, destined to live in struggle or to perish together; here, indeed, is something not very hard to grasp. Have the patience to continue, dear reader, and if you have understood this first and very short chapter, you will tell me your opinion afterwards.

Chapter II.


We know the two fundamental and antithetical principles of all governments: authority and liberty.

Because of the tendency of the human mind to bring all its ideas under a single principle, proceeding to eliminate those which seem to be incompatible with it, two different regimes are derived, a priori, from these two primordial ideas, according to the preference or partiality accorded one or the other: the regime of authority and the regime of liberty.

Moreover, since society is composed of individuals, and the relation of the individual to the group may be conceived, from a political standpoint, in four different ways, four forms of government result, two for each regime:

Regime of authority
A) Government of all by one -- monarchy or patriarchy;
a) Government of all by all -- panarchy or communism.

The essential feature of this regime, in both its varieties, is the non-division of power.

Regime of liberty
B) Government of all by each -- democracy;
b) Government of each by each -- an-archy or self-government.

The essential feature of this regime, in both its varieties, is the division of power.

Nothing more, nothing less. This classification, which derives a priori by deduction from the nature of things, is mathematical. In so far as politics is thought to rest upon a logical construct, as all the ancient legislators naturally assumed, it cannot stop short of this or go beyond it. Its simplistic character is striking; it shows us that from the very beginning, in each regime, the head of state strives to derive the constitution from a single premise. Logic and ingenuousness are primordial in politics: and that is exactly where the trap lies.


I. We know how monarchical government, the original expression of the principle of authority, arises. De Bonald has told us: by paternal authority.1

1 Louis de Bonald (1754-1840) was one of the leading theorists of 'counter-revolution' in France; his principal work was Theorie du pouvoir politique et religieux (1796). Drawing upon an image of the medieval polity, he held that a social order properly consisted of a hierarchy of authorities, all of which were fundamentally modelled upon the family. Bonald's picture of a nested series of associations doubtless contributed something to Proudhon's federalism; but although Proudhon retained a strongly traditional view of the family, he denied that it supplied an appropriate model for other groups. For a most interesting account of Proudhon's relation to Bonald, see Alan Ritter 'Proudhon and the Problem of Community' Review of Politics (1967) 457-77.
The family is the embryo of monarchy. The first states were generally families or tribes governed by their natural leader -- husband, father, patriarch, finally a king.

Under this regime, the state develops in two ways: 1. by generation, or the natural increase of the family, 2. by adoption, that is, the voluntary or forced incorporation of neighbouring families and tribes, but in such a way that the united tribes, together with the mother tribe, form but one family, a single domesticity. The monarchical state may develop thus to an enormous size, reaching a population of hundreds of millions, spread over hundreds of square leagues.

Panarchy, pantocracy, or communism, arises naturally through the death of the monarch or family head, and by the declared intention of the subjects, brothers, children, or members to remain together, without choosing a new leader. This political form is rare -- if indeed there are any examples of it at all -- authority here being more oppressive and individuality more crushed than in any other form. It has scarcely ever been adopted except by religious associations, which, of whatever country and whatever faith, have tended to extinguish liberty. But all the same the idea is given a priori, like the idea of monarchy; it will find its application in existing governments, and we must mention it if only for the record.

Thus monarchy, founded upon nature, justified, therefore, on its own terms, has its own legitimacy and morality; and the same goes for communism. But we shall soon see that these two varieties of the one regime, despite their concrete basis and logical derivation, cannot maintain themselves in the full rigour of their principles and their essential purity, that they are condemned as a result to a hypothetical status. In truth, despite their patriarchal origin, their complacent mood, their pretences to absolutism and divine right, monarchy and communism, as developed expressions of a type, exist nowhere.

II. How, in turn, does democratic government arise, that spontaneous expression of the principle of liberty? Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Revolution have taught us: by agreement. Here physiology counts for nothing; the state figures as the product, not of organic nature, of the flesh, but of intelligible nature, that is, the mind.

Under this regime, the state develops by free accession or adhesion. Just as all the citizens are held to have signed a contract, so the foreigner who joins the city is held to agree to it in his turn; it is on this condition that he acquires his rights and privileges as citizen. If the state goes to war and is victorious, its principle leads it to accord to the conquered peoples the same rights as its own nationals enjoy; this is called isonomy. Such, among the Romans, was the granting of civic right. Even children are held to have sworn to the pact on coming of age; it is not because they are sons of citizens that they become citizens in turn, as in monarchies a subject's children are subjects by birth, or, as in Lycurgus' or Plato's cities, because they belong to the state.2

2 Lycurgus' city was Sparta, which, together with the ideal city described in Plato's Republic, is employed here as a paradigm of 'communistic' solidarity.
To be a member of a democracy, one must, by right, quite apart from the qualification of birth, have chosen the liberal system.

The same goes for the accession of a family, a city, or a province; it is always liberty which constitutes its principles and supplies its motives.

Thus the development of the authoritarian state, patriarchal, monarchical, or communist, confronts the development of the liberal, contractual, democratic state. Just as there is no natural limit to the scale of a monarchy, so that throughout time and among all peoples the idea of a universal or messianic monarchy has arisen, so there is no natural limit to the scale of the democratic state, which has prompted the idea of a universal democracy or republic.

As a variety of the liberal regime I have mentioned anarchy -- the government of each by himself, self-government. Since the phrase anarchic government involves a kind of contradiction, the thing seems impossible and the idea absurd. However, there is nothing to find fault with here but language; politically, the idea of anarchy is quite as rational and concrete as any other. What it means is that political functions have been reduced to industrial functions, and that social order arises from nothing but transactions and exchanges. Each may then say that he is the absolute ruler of himself, the polar opposite of monarchical absolutism.

Just as monarchy and communism, founded in nature and reason, have their legitimacy and morality, though they can never be realized as absolutely pure types, so too democracy and anarchy, founded in liberty and justice, pursuing an ideal in accordance with their principle, have their legitimacy and morality. But we shall see that in their case too, despite their rational and juridical origin, they cannot remain strictly congruent with their pure concepts as their population and territory develop and grow, and that they are fated to remain perpetual desiderata. Despite the powerful appeal of liberty, neither democracy nor anarchy has arisen anywhere, in a complete and uncompromised form.

Chapter III.


Nevertheless, it is with the help of these metaphysical toys that governments have been established since the beginning of the world, and it is with their help that we shall come to resolve the enigma of politics, if we are willing to make the slightest effort to do so. I hope I will be forgiven, then, for labouring this point, as one does in teaching the rudiments of grammar to children.

In the above discussion, there is not a word that does not have perfect precision. One reasons no differently in pure mathematics. It is not in the use which we make of ideas that the source of our errors lies; it is in the omissions which we permit ourselves, under the pretext of being logical, in applying them.

a) Authority and liberty: here indeed are the two poles of politics. Their opposition -- antithetical, diametrical, contradictory -- is our certain guarantee that a third term is impossible, that it does not exist. Between yes and no, between being and non-being, logic permits nothing.*

* Becoming is not a middle term between being and non-being, whatever may have been said by certain philosophers who are mystical rather than profound; becoming is the movement of being; it is being as it lives and displays itself.

b) The interconnection of these two ideas, their irreducibility, their life, have also been displayed. One does not come without the other; one cannot suppress one or the other, or resolve the two into a single expression. As to their life, one has only to confront them together, and, tending to absorb one another, to develop at one another's expense, they at once spring into action.

c) From these two ideas society receives two different regimes which we have called the regime of authority and the regime of liberty; each of these may then adopt two different forms, no more, no less. Authority appears in all its splendour only in the collectivity; hence it cannot express itself or act except in the collectivity itself or through an agent which personifies it; likewise, liberty is perfect only when it is guaranteed to all, either by all men taking part in government, or else by their delegating the trust to no one. It is impossible to escape these alternatives: government of all by all or government of all by one, in the case of the regime of authority; participation of each in the government of all or government of each by himself, in the case of the regime of liberty. All this is as necessary as unity and plurality, heat and cold, light and shadow.

But, I will be asked, have we never seen government become the property of some part, large or small, of the nation, the rest being excluded: aristocracy, government by the upper classes, ochlocracy, government by the poor, oligarchy, government by a faction? A fair objection, granted. But such governments are de facto, the work of usurpation, violence, reaction, transition, empiricism, in which all the principles are simultaneously adopted, and then all violated, misunderstood, confused; and we are dealing here with a priori governments, conceived according to logic, and upon a single principle.

There is nothing arbitrary, to repeat, in the politics of reason, which sooner or later must cease to separate itself from practical politics. The arbitrary belongs neither to nature nor to the mind; it is generated neither by the necessity of things nor by the infallible logic of concepts. The arbitrary is the child -- of what? Its name will tell you: of free will, of liberty. How fine! The only enemy liberty has to fear is not, at bottom, authority, which all men adore as though it were justice; it is liberty itself, the liberty of the prince, of the great, of the mass, disguised under the mask of authority.

From the a priori definition of the various types of government, let us now turn to their forms.

What is called the form of government is the manner in which power is distributed and exercised. By nature and logic these forms are related to the principle, origin, and law of each regime.

Just as the father of the primitive family and the patriarch of the tribe are at once master of the household, of the chariot, or the tent, herus, dominus, owner of the land, and beasts, and the crops, farmer, craftsman, manager, trader, performer of sacrifices, warrior; so too, in a monarchy, the prince is at once legislator, administrator, judge, general, high priest. He has the eminent domain in land and rent; he rules over the arts and professions, commerce, agriculture, navigation, public education, and is invested with every right and all authority. In short, the king is representative of the society, its incarnation; he is the state. The union or non-division of powers is characteristic of royalty. To the principle of authority which distinguishes the father and the king, there is added as corollary the principle of unlimited attribution. A military chieftain, like Joshua; a judge, like Samuel; a priest, like Aaron; a king, like David; a legislator, like Moses, Solon, Lycurgus, Numa -- all these titles are united in the same bearer. That is the spirit of monarchy, those are its forms.

Soon, due to the growth of the state, the exercise of authority surpasses the capacity of one man. The prince thus equips himself with the aid of counsellors, officers, or ministers, chosen by him, who act in his place as his delegates, or attorneys, in relation to the people. As much as the prince whom they represent, these envoys, satraps, proconsuls, or prefects acquire through their mandate all the attributes of authority. But it is understood that they must give account of their conduct to the king their master, in whose interest and name they govern, who directs them, and who makes them watch over one another in such a way as to ensure that he retains the highest authority, the honour of commanding, and the profits of the state, and that he is secure from any usurpation or sedition. As for the nation, it has no right to demand an account, nor do the agents of the prince have to give it one. In this system, the subjects' only security is the interest of the sovereign, who, however, knows no law but his own good pleasure.

In the communist regime, the forms of government are the same, that is, power is exercised in an undivided fashion by the collectivity just as it was before by the king alone. Thus it was that among the Germans, in May, the whole people, without distinction of age and sex, deliberated and judged; thus the Cimbri and Teutons, accompanied by their women, fought against Marius.3"

3 The Cimbri and Teutons were two Germanic tribes who invaded Italy towards the end of the second century B.C. and were defeated by a Roman army under Marius. Proudhon's view of the Germanic peoples appears to be based largely upon Tacitus: see especially the Germania, sections 7,8, and 11, where Tacitus describes the practice of having women accompany the warriors in battle and the institution of popular assemblies.
Knowing nothing about strategy or tactics, what need had they of generals? There was a vestige of this communism in Athens, where criminal judgments were rendered by the whole mass of citizens; and it was through an inspiration of the same kind that in 1848 the Republic gave itself nine hundred legislators, regretting that it could not bring together into one assembly the ten million electors, who had to content themselves with casting votes. Projects today for direct legislation, by yes and no, spring from the same source.

The forms of the liberal or democratic state likewise correspond to the generative principle and developmental law of this system; as a result, they differ radically from that of monarchy. They consist in the fact that power, instead of being collectively and indivisibly exercised as in the primitive community, is dispersed among the citizens, in one of two ways. In the case of a task which is physically divisible, such as the construction of a road, the commanding of a fleet, the policing of a town, or the education of the young, one divides the work into segments, the fleet into squadrons or even single ships, the town into districts, the teaching into classes, to each of which one assigns a contractor, manager, admiral, captain, or master. The Athenians were in the habit of appointing ten or twelve generals in wartime, each of whom in turn commanded for a day -- a practice which now seems distinctly odd, but the Athenian democracy would stand for nothing more. If the function is not divisible, it is left intact. Several officials may be appointed to deal with it (despite Homer's precept that more than one commander is a bad thing) -- thus, where we send but one ambassador, the ancients sent a whole company of them; or else one may assign each function to a single official who makes it his profession, his skill -- which tends to introduce into the body politic a special class of citizens, public functionaries. From that moment, democracy is in danger: the state separates itself from the nation; its personnel almost become what they were under the monarchy, more loyal to the prince than to nation or state. In reaction, a great idea is born, one of the greatest ideas of science: that of the division or separation of powers. Thanks to this idea, society takes a strongly organic form; revolutions may come and go like the seasons, but there is something which will never perish, this fine organization of the public power by categories: justice, administration, war, finance, religion, education, commerce, etc.

The organization of liberal or democratic government is more complicated and more sophisticated, its practice more laborious and less dramatic than that of monarchical government; consequently, it is less popular. Almost always the masses have regarded forms of free government as aristocratic, and they have preferred absolute monarchy. Hence that vicious circle in which progressives are trapped, and which will trap them still for many years to come. Naturally, it is in order to improve the lot of the masses that republicans demand liberties and securities; it is, therefore, upon the people that they must rely. But is is always the people who, through their distrust of or indifference to democratic forms, stand in the way of liberty.*

* What should be firmly grasped is that governments are distinguished by their essence, and not by the names given to their officers. Thus the essence of monarchy is in the unity of government and administration, the absolutism of the prince, or of the ruling body, and its irresponsibility. The essence of democracy, on the other hand, is in the separation of powers, the division of tasks, control and responsibility. The crown and even the hereditary principle are merely symbolic accessories. It is indeed through the father-king, heredity and sacredness, that monarchy makes itself visible: hence the vulgar belief that if the symbol is absent, the thing no longer exists. In 1793 the founders of democracy thought they had performed a miracle in cutting off the king's head, while pursuing a centralizing policy -- an illusion which should no longer deceive anyone. The Council of Ten at Venice was a true tyrant, and the republic a dreadful despotism.4
4 The Council of Ten was an institution established by the Republic of Venice in the fourteenth century for dealing with matters of internal security; it had unlimited powers, proceeded in secrecy, and was responsible to no one. Proudhon here follows Montesquieu in taking Venice as the prime example of a republic with despotic elements: see De l'Esprit des lois XI 6.

On the other hand, provide a republic like Switzerland with a prince, with the title of king: if the constitution does not change, it will be like putting a felt hat on the statue of Henri IV.

The forms of anarchy depend upon the will of each individual, within the limits of his rights, and are indifferently monarchical or democratic.

Such are, in principle and form, the four fundamental governments, supplied a priori by the human understanding as a basis for all the political establishments of the future. But, to repeat, these four types, though suggested by the nature of things as well as by the sense of liberty and justice, are not in themselves, strictly conceived, ever to be realized. They are ideal conceptions, abstract formulas, in the light of which real governments will emerge empirically and by intuition, but they themselves can never become real. Reality is inherently complex; the simple never leaves the realm of the ideal, never arrives at the concrete. In these antithetic formulas we have the foundation for a correct constitution, the future constitution of man; but centuries must have passed, a series of revolutions must have unfolded, before the definitive formula can spring from the mind which must conceive it, the mind of humanity.

Chapter IV.


Since the two principles which form the basis of all social order, authority and liberty, on the one hand are contradictory and always at odds and on the other can neither exclude one another nor find a resolution, a compromise between them is unavoidable. Whatever system one prefers, monarchical or democratic, communist or anarchic, it cannot last for long unless it is able to make use, in varying degrees, of the premises of its contrary.

For example, it would be wide of the mark to suppose that the authoritarian regime, with its paternalist character, its familial ties, and its absolutism, could satisfy its own needs unaided. Let the state expand but slightly, and its revered paternalism soon declines into impotence, confusion, folly, and tyranny. The prince cannot attend to everything; he must rely upon servants who deceive him, steal from him, discredit him, dishonour him, supplant him, and finally dethrone him. The disorder inherent in absolute power, the demoralization which it causes, the disasters which threaten it perpetually, are the bane of society and state. So one may take it as axiomatic that monarchy is more kindly, moral, just, tolerable, and stable -- setting aside for the moment the question of external affairs -- the more modest its dimensions are and the closer it is to a family; and, vice versa, that this government is more inadequate, oppressive, disliked by its subjects and consequently unstable, the larger the state becomes. History informs us, and modern times furnish examples, of such dreadful monarchies, shapeless monsters, true political mastodons, which civilization must gradually render extinct. In all such states, absolutism is a direct function of scale; it persists through its own prestige. In a small state, on the contrary, tyranny may survive for a while only through the use of mercenary troops; seen close up, it vanishes.

To compensate for this inherent vice, monarchical governments have been led in varying degrees to make use of the forms of liberty, notably the separation of powers or the division of sovereignty.

The reason for this reform is easy to see. If one man can scarcely manage an estate of a few hundred acres, or an industry employing a few hundred workers, or administer a town with five or six thousand inhabitants, how can he shoulder the burden of an empire of forty million men? Here, therefore, monarchy has been obliged to adapt itself to two principles, borrowed from political economy: 1. that the greatest volume of work is done and the greatest value produced where the worker is free and works on his own account as businessman or farmer; 2. that the quality of products or services is improved where the producer knows his work and devotes himself to it exclusively. There is yet another reason for these borrowings by monarchies from democracy, namely, that the wealth of society increases proportionately with the division and interdependence of industries; which means, in a political context, that government will be better and involve less danger to the prince where functions are better divided and balanced -- something which is impossible in an absolutist regime. That is how princes have been led to republicanize themselves, so to speak, in order to avoid certain ruin: recent years have provided striking examples, in Piedmont, Austria, and Russia. In the dreadful condition in which Tsar Nicholas left his empire, the introduction of the division of powers in government was among the major reforms introduced by his son, Alexander.*

* In part it was the need to separate powers and divide authority that gave birth to feudalism after Charlemagne's time. It was this too that gave the system its false appearance of federalism, to the distress of the nations and of the empire. Germany preserves its absurd constitution, and still suffers its long torments. The empire has collapsed, while nationality has been compromised.

Parallel but inverse phenomena may be seen in democratic governments.

It is no easy task to settle with due wisdom and precision the rights and duties of citizens and the tasks of officials, to foresee circumstances, exceptions, and anomalies. The unforeseeable far surpasses in its richness the prudence of the statesman, and the more one legislates the more ligitation one provokes. All this requires that office-holders must have initiative and discretion, which, in order to be effective, must be authoritatively sanctioned. Take away from the democratic principle and from liberty the supreme sanction of authority, and the state will be ruined on the spot. It is clear, moreover, that we are no longer in the domain of free contract, unless we assume that the citizens specifically consent, in matters of litigation, to submit to the decision of one man, a magistrate designated in advance -- which is precisely to renounce the principle of democracy for that of monarchy.

Let a democracy multiply indefinitely its legal guarantees and means of controlling its civil servants, let it surround its agents with formalities and call its citizens incessantly to elections, debates, and votes: willy-nilly its officials are men of authority, expressly so; and if among its personnel one or several have general responsibility for affairs, this head of government, individual or collective, is what Rousseau himself called a prince; he is but a hair's-breadth away from a king.

Similar considerations apply to communism and anarchy. There has never been an example of perfect communism; and it is scarcely likely, however far the human race may progress in civilization, morality, and wisdom, that all traces of government and authority will vanish. And yet, while communism remains the dream of the majority of socialists, anarchy is the ideal of the economists, who attempt strenuously to put an end to all governmental institutions and to rest society upon the foundations of property and free labour alone.

I shall not multiply examples any further. What I have just said is enough to prove the truth of my proposition: that monarchy and democracy, communism and anarchy, all of them unable to realize themselves in the purity of their concepts, are obliged to complement one another by mutual borrowings.

There is surely something here to dampen the intolerance of fanatics who cannot listen to a contrary opinion to their own without exasperation. They should learn, then, poor wretches, that they are themselves necessarily disloyal to their principles, that their political creeds are tissues of inconsistencies; and may those in power, for their part, learn not to see seditious sentiments in the discussion of alternative modes of government! In grasping once and for all that terms such as monarchy, democracy, and so on express merely theoretical conceptions, the royalist will remain calm when faced with words such as social contract, popular sovereignty, universal suffrage, and so on; the democrat, in hearing of dynasties, absolute power, divine right, will smilingly preserve his sang-froid. There is no true monarchy; there is no true democracy. Monarchy is the primitive, physiological, and so to speak patronymic form of the state; it lives in the people's hearts, and attests visibly and forcibly to the general tendency to unity. Democracy in turn is in ferment all around us; it entrances generous souls, and everywhere seizes hold of the elite of society. But the dignity of our time requires us to break once and for all with these illusions, which all too often degenerate into lies. Contradiction lies at the root of all programs. The tribunes of the people swear unwittingly by monarchy; the kings, by democracy and anarchy. After the coronation of Napoleon I, the words French Republic were long to be seen on one face of our coins, while the other bore, with Napoleon's picture, the title Emperor of the French. In 1830 Lafayette termed Louis-Phillippe's reign the best of republics; was he not also termed the king of the landlords? Garibaldi honoured Victor Emmanuel as Lafayette had Louis-Phillipe. Later, indeed, Lafayette and Garibaldi seemed to regret this; but their first views are to be remembered, especially as any retraction would be deceptive. No democrat can claim to be innocent of all monarchism; no partisan of monarchy can pride himself on his freedom from all republicanism. It is the case that since democracy has not been able to reject the dynastic position, any more than the unitary idea, the partisans of the two systems have no right to excommunicate one another, and tolerance is appropriate to them both.

What, then, is politics, if it is impossible for a society to found itself exclusively upon the principle which it favours; if, whatever the legislator may do, any government, whether it is called monarchical or democratic, must always covertly be a mixed form, in which contrary elements mingle in arbitrary proportions according to caprice and interest; in which the most precise definitions lead inescapably to confusion and laxness; in which, as a result, all changes of heart and all defections are permissible, and versatility figures as honourable? The way is open for charlatanism, intrigue, treachery! What state can survive in the midst of such corrosion? No sooner is the state born than its internal contradictions condemn it to mortality. A strange creation, in which logic remains powerless, while inconsistency alone seems practical and rational!*

* There is an interesting book yet to be written on political contradictions, as a sequel to Economic Contradictions. I have thought more than once of writing it; but, discouraged by the critics' hostility and distracted by other work, I abandoned the idea. The reviewers' insolence would once again have been provoked by notions of antinomy, thesis, and antithesis. The French mind, sometimes so penetrating and exact, would show itself, through the medium of its journalists, to be utterly vain, ridiculous, foolish, and stupid. Idle ignorance would have enjoyed another triumph, and that would have been that. I will have spared my compatriots from such mystification by proceeding directly to the solution which I owe them, having set out all the difficulties for them to see.

Chapter V.


Since monarchy and democracy, to confine myself henceforth to these two alone, are ideals deriving from theory, unrealizable in accordance with their strict definitions, we are obliged to come to terms, as I have explained, with practical compromises of various kinds. From these enforced compromises arise all existing governments. Such governments, the work of empiricism, infinitely variable, are therefore essentially and without exception composite or mixed.

I may point out here that writers have mistakenly introduced a political assumption as false as it is dangerous, in failing to distinguish practice from theory, the real from the ideal; they have put on one plane pure concepts of government that are unrealistically simple, such as monarchy and democracy, and de facto or mixed governments. The truth, to repeat, is that governments of the first type do not and cannot exist except in theory; every real government is necessarily mixed, whether it is called a monarchy or a democracy. This is an important consideration; it alone permits us to trace the countless frauds, corruptions, and revolutions of politics to a logical error.

All varieties of existing government, in other words, all the political compromises attempted or proposed from the most ancient times to our own day, may be reduced to two principal types, which I shall call, using their current names, empire and constitutional monarchy. This calls for an explanation.

Since men have lived from the very beginning with war and inequality of wealth, society divides naturally into a certain number of classes: warriors or nobles, priests, landlords, merchants, mariners, industrialists, peasants. Where royalty exists, it forms a class of its own, the highest of all -- a dynasty.

The struggle of classes among one another, the opposition of their interests, the manner in which these interests coalesce, determine the political regime, and consequently the choice of government in its numerous varieties and yet more numerous variations. Step by step all these classes are resolved into two: an upper class, aristocracy, bourgeoisie, or patrician class; and a lower, plebs or proletariat, between which is suspended royalty, the organ of power, the expression of authority. If the aristocracy unites with royalty, the resulting government will be a moderated monarchy, currently called constitutional; if it is the people who unite with authority, the government will be an empire or autocratic democracy. Medieval theocracy was a pact between the priesthood and the emperor; the Caliphate, a religious and military monarchy. In Tyre, Sidon, Carthage, royalty allied itself with the merchant caste when this rose to power. It seems that in Rome royalty at first respected patricians and plebeians alike; then, when the two classes united against the crown, royalty was abolished, and the state took the name of a republic. The patrician class retained its dominance; but this aristocratic constitution was as nebulous as that of Athenian democracy. Government rested upon expediency, and, while the Athenian democracy collapsed under the impact of the Peloponnesian war, world conquest was the outcome of the senate's need to keep the people occupied. When the world had been pacified, civil war raged bitterly; to end it the plebs gave itself a leader, destroyed the patricians and the republic, and created the empire.

Surprise is occasioned by the fact that a government founded by bourgeois or patricians in alliance with a dynasty should generally be more liberal than one founded by the masses under the leadership of a dictator or a tribune. The phenomenon may indeed seem all the more surprising in that the people are at bottom more interested in and more genuinely attached to liberty than the bourgeoisie. But this paradox, the great stumbling-block of politics, is explained by the situation of the parties: in the case of a popular victory, the people must think and act autocratically, but when the bourgeois enjoy supremacy they think and act as republicans. Let us return to the fundamental dualism of authority and liberty, and we shall understand the matter.

From the divergence of these two principles, and under the influence of contrary passions and interests, two opposite tendencies, two currents of opinion, emerge. The partisans of authority tend to reduce the scope of liberty -- individual, corporative, or local -- as much as possible, and by this means to exploit to their own profit and at the expense of the mass the power with which they ally themselves. The partisans of the liberal regime, on the other hand, tend to restrain authority and to conquer the aristocracy by relentlessly limiting public functions and the acts and forms of power. Because of their position, because of the modesty of their wealth, the people seek equality and liberty from governments; for the opposite reason, the land-owning, financial, and industrial patricians favour a monarchy which will protect the great interests and secure order for their own profit, and as a result stress authority at the expense of liberty.

Thus all existing governments, whatever their motives and however circumspect they may be, fall under one or other of these two headings: the subordination of authority to liberty, or the subordination of liberty to authority.

But the same cause which sets the bourgeoisie and the people against each other soon leads both of them full circle. In order to ensure victory, democracy, since it is ignorant of the requirements of power and incapable of exercising it, equips itself with an absolute leader, before whom all privileges of caste disappear; the bourgeoisie, fearing despotism as much as it does anarchy, prefers to consolidate its position by establishing a constitutional monarchy. At the end of the day, indeed, it is the party with the strongest need for liberty and legality that creates absolutism, and the party of privilege which institutes liberal government, which it preserves by restricting political rights.

It is clear from this that if one abstracts away the economic considerations which bear upon the matter, there is no difference between bourgeoisie and democracy, imperialism and constitutionalism, or however these opposing governments may be styled; and that questions such as whether the regime of 1814 was better than the regime of 1804; whether the nation would do well to abandon the 1852 constitution for that of 1830; whether the republican party will merge with the Orleanists or ally itself with the empire -- all such questions, I say, from the point of view of law and principle, are puerile. A government, from the perspective given here, is to be measured by the considerations which sway it and the men who represent it, and all theoretical disputes on this topic are futile and can lead only to absurdity.

The contradictions of politics, the changes of front by the parties, the perpetual inversion of positions, are so frequent in history and play so large a part in human affairs that I cannot resist labouring the point. The dualism of authority and liberty supplies the key to all enigmas; without the aid of this primordial explanation, the history of states would be the despair of the mind and the scandal of philosophy.

The aristocracy of England produced Magna Carta; the Puritans produced Cromwell. In France, it is the bourgeoisie which forms the permanent base for all our liberal constitutions. In Rome, the patriarchate organized the republic; the plebs gave birth to the caesars and the praetorians. In the sixteenth century the Reformation was at first aristocratic; the people remained Catholic or adopted masses in the style of John of Leyden: it was the opposite of what had happened four hundred years before, when the nobles burned the Albigensians. In the middle ages, as Ferrari notes, how often Ghibellines became Guelfs, and Guelfs became Ghibellines! In 1813, France fought on the side of despotism, the allies for liberty, the precise opposite of what had happened in 1792. Today the Legitimists and the clerical interests support federation; the democrats believe in unity. Such examples cannot be conclusive; but the fact remains that ideas, men, and things cannot always be placed in terms of their natural tendencies and their origins, that the blues will not always be blues, nor the whites always whites.

Because of their inferiority and their distress, the people will always form the army of liberty and progress. Work is republican by nature; to deny this involves contradiction. But because of their ignorance, the crudeness of their instincts, the violence of their needs, and the impatience of their desires, the people favour forms of summary authority. What they seek is not at all legal guarantees, of which they have no idea, nor understand the power; it is not at all a mechanical contrivance or a balance of forces, which they see as of little account: it is a leader whose word they can trust, whose intentions are known, and who is devoted to their own interests. This leader will enjoy unlimited authority and irresistible power. By their nature the people accept as just everything they deem to be useful, laugh at formalities, and impose no conditions on those who hold power. Quick to suspect and to slander, but incapable of methodical discussion, they believe fundamentally in nothing but human will; they pin their hopes to man, they trust only in their own creatures, 'in princes, in the sons of men.' They expect nothing from principles, which alone can save them; they do not worship ideas.

Thus the people of Rome, after seven centuries of a progressively liberal regime and a series of victories over the patricians, thought they could solve all their problems by abolishing the party of authority and, enlarging the tribune's function, they made Caesar permanent dictator, silenced the senate, closed down the comitia, and for a bushel of corn, annona, founded imperial autocracy. What is remarkable is that this popular movement was genuinely convinced of its own liberalism, supposing that it represented the cause of justice, equality, and progress. Caesar's soldiers, worshipping their emperor, were full of hate and mistrust of kings; if those who murdered the tyrant were not slaughtered on the spot, it was only because the night before Caesar had been seen setting a royal wreath upon his bald brow. Thus Napoleon's entourage, sometime Jacobins, enemies of the nobles, priests, and kings, calmly took the title of baron or duke or prince and played courtier to the emperor, but they could not forgive him for marrying a Habsburg princess.

Left to themselves or led by their tribunes, the masses will never create anything. They set their face towards the past; no tradition forms among them, there is no sense of continuity, no idea which acquires the force of law. They understand nothing of politics but intrigue, nothing of government but waste and force, nothing of justice but revenge, nothing of liberty but the ability to set up idols whom they destroy the next day. The advent of democracy would begin an era of decadence which would lead nation and state to their graves, if they did not resist the fate which threatens them by means of a contrary revolution, a topic to which we shall turn.

Just as the people, living from day to day, without property, business, or public employment, have nothing to lose under tyranny and scarcely worry about the prospect, so the bourgeoisie, owning property, trading and manufacturing, hungry for land and patronage, has an interest in forestalling disasters and keeping power under its own control. Its need for order leads it to liberal ideas; hence the constitutions which it imposes upon its kings. While surrounding its preferred government with legal restraints and subjecting it to parliamentary control, it confines political rights to property-owners and abolishes universal suffrage; but it keeps its hands off centralized administration, the bastion of industrial order. If the separation of powers is useful to it in balancing the power of the crown and restraining the personal will of the prince, and if a restricted electorate is a useful defence against popular aspirations, centralization is no less precious -- firstly, for the employment which it provides, giving the bourgeoisie its share of power and tax revenues, secondly, for making possible the peaceful exploitation of the masses. Under a system of centralized administration and restricted suffrage, as long as the bourgeoisie retains control of government through its votes, the life of the locality is suppressed and any agitation easily contained; under such a system, the working class, penned up in its factories, is inevitably condemned to wage-slavery. Liberty exists, but only within the realm of bourgeois society, cosmopolitan like its capital cities; as for the masses, they are resigned to their fate, not only politically, but economically too.

Need I add that the suppression or maintenance of a dynasty does not change the system at all? A unitary republic and a constitutional monarchy are one and the same thing; a mere change of name, and one official more or less, distinguish the two.

But if democratic absolutism is unstable, bourgeois constitutionalism is no less so. The former is retrogressive, without restraint, without principles, contemptuous of law, hostile to liberty, destructive of all security and trust. The constitutional system, with its legal forms, its juridical spirit, its moderate temperament, its parliamentary rituals, is in the last analysis nothing but a vast system of exploitation and intrigue, in which politics is at the service of speculation, tax revenues nothing but the civil list of a caste, and monopolistic power the servant of monopoly. The people have a dim sense of this immense plunder; constitutional guarantees mean little to them, and we have seen, especially in 1815, that they prefer their emperor, despite his bad faith, to their legitimate kings, despite their liberalism.

The repeated failures of democratic empire and bourgeois constitutionalism in turn have led to the creation of a third party, which, mustering under the flag of scepticism, holding no principle sacred, fundamentally and systematically immoral, tends to rule (as has been said) like a see-saw, by ruining all authority and all liberty, in a word by corruption. This is what is called the doctrinaire system.5

5 The oddly-named 'Doctrinaires' were a group of moderates in France who, drawing principally upon the English model of government, favoured constitutionalism while resisting democracy. Proudhon's remarks apply most obviously to Francois Guizot, premier during the 1840s.
Brought into being by hate and contempt for the old parties, this system gained considerable momentum, sustained by growing disappointment, and justified after a fashion by the spectacle of universal contradictions. It soon became the secret faith of power, restrained by modesty and decorum from professing scepticism publicly; but it is the avowed faith of the bourgeoisie and of people who are no longer inhibited from displaying their indifference and who are proud of it. Authority and liberty having been lost to view, justice and reason being taken for empty words, society is dissolved, the nation collapses. All that remains is matter and brute force; on pain of moral death, revolution becomes imminent. What will it lead to? History tells us the answer; examples may be counted by the thousand. The doomed system will give way, thanks to the succession of forgetful but endlessly renewed generations, to a new compromise, which will follow the same course, and, exhausted in turn and discredited by its own contradictions, will come to the same end. And this will continue until reason has found the means of harmonizing the two principles and of bringing society into equilibrium by coming to terms with the antagonism between them.

Chapter VI.


If the reader has followed the above account with some care, human society should appear to him as a fantastic creation, full of surprises and mysteries. Let us briefly recall the steps of the argument.

a) Political order rests upon two complementary, opposed, and irreducible principles: authority and liberty.

b) From these two principles are derived two correspondingly opposed regimes: the absolutist or authoritarian regime, and the liberal regime.

c) The forms of these two regimes are no less different, incompatible, and irreconcilable than their principles; we have defined them in terms of two words, indivisibility and separation.

d) Now, reason tells us that every theory must unfold in accordance with its principle, that everything that exists must correspond with its law. Logic is a necessity of life as it is of thought. But precisely the contrary occurs in politics: neither authority nor liberty can be realized alone or give rise to a system founded exclusively upon itself; indeed, the two are condemned, in their respective institutions, to make endless mutual borrowings.

e) The result is that in politics fidelity to principle belongs to the realm of the ideal; that since practice must accept compromises of every kind, government is reduced in the last resort, with all the good will and virtue imaginable, to a hybrid, equivocal thing, a promiscuity of rule which strict logic condemns and innocence shrinks from. No government escapes this contradiction.

f) Conclusion: since arbitrariness enters necessarily into politics, corruption soon becomes the soul of power, and society is led without rest or reprieve along the path of incessant revolution.

Everything is there. It is not the result of an evil will, or of some weakness of our nature, or of a providential curse, or of a whim of fortune or a decree of fate. Things are thus, that is all. It is up to us to make the best of this strange situation.

Let us bear in mind that for eight thousand years -- historical records reach back no further -- all the varieties of government, all social and political arrangements, have been successively tried, abandoned, taken up again, modified, travestied, exhausted, and that failure has rewarded the zeal of reformers and disappointed the hopes of nations. Always the flag of liberty has served to disguise despotism; always the privileged classes have surrounded themselves with liberal and egalitarian institutions in order to protect their privileges; always parties have been unfaithful to their programs, and always faith has given way to indifference and civic spirit to corruption, and states have been ruined by the logic of the ideas upon which they have been founded. The most vigorous and intelligent peoples have been exhausted in this work; history amply records their struggles. Now and then a run of successes has lent states the illusion of strength, and men have seen in them constitutional excellence and political wisdom which was not really theirs. But when peace returned, the vices of their systems emerged for all to see, and their subjects took rest from the fatigue of foreign war in civil war. Humanity has thus gone from revolution to revolution: even the most notable and long-lived nations have maintained themselves in this way. Among all the governments ever known and tried, there is not one that would live out the span of man's life if it relied upon its own resources. What is odd is that heads of state and their ministers, of all people, are least convinced of the stability of the system which they stand for; until science takes over, it is the faith of the masses that government rests upon. The Greeks and Romans, who left us their institutions and their example, relapsed into despair when the most interesting point of their development arrived; and modern society seems to have arrived in turn at its hour of anguish. Do not heed the agitators who call for liberty, equality, nationality. They know nothing; they are dead men who claim the power to make the dead live. The people listen to them for a while, as they do to clowns and quacks; then they pass on, with empty minds and despairing spirits.

A sure sign that collapse is near and that a new era is soon to dawn is that the confusion of language and thought has reached such a point that anyone may describe himself at will as a republican, monarchist, democrat, bourgeois, conservative, distributivist, liberal -- and as all these at once, without fear of being accused of deception or error. The princes and barons of the First Empire had revolutionary credentials. The bourgeoisie of 1814, bloated with the nation's wealth -- the one thing they had really understood in 1789 -- was liberal, even revolutionary; 1830 made them conservative again; 1848 made them reactionary, Catholic, and above all monarchist. Currently they are republicans of February who support the royal cause of Victor Emmanuel, while the socialists of June are adherents of unity.6

6 'February' (1848), the month in which the 1848 revolution broke out in France, stands here for the republican and liberal trends in contemporary French political thought, while 'June' (1848), a month of left- wing insurrection against the revolution's republican leadership, is a symbol for militant socialism. Support for Victor Emmanuel's campaign to liberate and unify Italy is employed here by Proudhon simply as a touchstone of liberal opinion.
Some of Ledru-Rollin's old comrades rallied to the empire as the true vehicle of revolution and the most paternal form of government; others, it is true, regard them as traitors, but furiously attack federalism.7
7 Ledru-Rollin, a left-wing republican leader during 1848 and the Second Republic, remained an intransigent opponent of Napoleon III, but other republican leaders accommodated themselves to the Second Empire, seeing it as a vehicle of moderate social reform.
It is systematic muddle, organized confusion, permanent apostasy, universal treachery.

What we need to know is whether society can arrive at some settled, equitable, and stable state of things, acceptable to our reason and our conscience, or whether we are condemned for all eternity to this Ixion's wheel. Is the problem insoluble? A little more patience, dear reader; and if I cannot soon rescue you from this imbroglio, then you have the right to say that logic is false, progress an illusion, liberty a Utopia. Consent to follow my argument for a few minutes more, even though to think about such a thing is to risk deceiving oneself and wasting one's time as well as one's reason.

1. You will notice first of all that these two principles, authority and liberty, which are at the root of all the trouble, appear in history in logical and temporal sequence. Authority, like the family, the father, genitor, appears first; it has the initiative, it is affirmation. Liberty is reflective and comes later: it criticizes, protests, concludes. This sequence arises from the definition of terms and from the nature of things, and all history bears witness to it. It cannot be inverted, there is nothing arbitrary about it.

2. No less worthy of note is that the authoritarian, paternal, monarchic regime is more distant from its ideal to the extent that the family, tribe, or city expands in population and territory: the more extensive authority is, the more intolerable it becomes. Hence the concessions which it is obliged to make to liberty. Conversely, the libertarian system approaches its ideal more closely and has a greater chance of success to the extent that the state expands in population and scale, to the extent that relations among men multiply and the realm of science develops. At first the demand for a constitution is heard from all sides; later the demand will be for decentralization. Follow this a little further, and you will see the idea of federation emerge; one may say of liberty and authority what John the Baptist said of himself and Jesus: 'Illam oportet crescere, hanc autem minui.'

This double movement, of regress on the one hand and progress on the other, both converging upon a single outcome, results likewise from the definition of principles, from their relative position and their roles. Here again there is no uncertainty, not the least room for arbitrariness. The fact is empirically proved and of mathematical certainty; it is what we shall call a law.

3. The result of this law, which may be called a necessary one, is that the principle of authority, which appears first and serves as material to be worked upon by liberty, reason, and law, gives way step by step to the juridical, rationalist, and liberal principle. The head of state, at first inviolable, irresponsible and absolute like the head of a family, becomes responsible to reason, the first subject of law, and eventually a mere agent, instrument, or servant of liberty itself.

This third proposition is as certain as the first two, beyond all doubt or denial, and fully demonstrated by history. In the eternal struggle between these two principles the French Revolution, like the Reformation, is a turning point. It marks the point in political development where liberty took precedence over authority, just as in religious development the Reformation marks the point where freedom took precedence over faith. Since Luther's time belief has everywhere become reflective; orthodoxy no less than heresy claims to justify faith by reason; Saint Paul's maxim, 'rationabile sit obsequium vestrum' (Let your obedience be reasoned), has been interpreted broadly and put into practice; Rome enters into debate with Geneva; religion tends to turn itself into a science; submission to the church becomes subject to so many conditions and reservations that only the acceptance of articles of faith marks off the Christian from the atheist. They are not of the same opinion, that is all; as for the rest, they rely equally upon thought, reason, and conscience. Likewise, respect for authority has become weaker since the French Revolution; deference to the prince's orders has become conditional; the sovereign has been required to make agreements, to give guarantees; the political mood has changed; the most fervent royalists have demanded charters like John Lackland's barons, and Messrs Berryer, de Falloux, de Montalembert, and so on can claim to be as liberal as the democrats.8

8 Berryer, de Falloux, and de Montalembert were three distinguished Catholic political leaders, prominent in the opposition to Napoleon III.
Chateaubriand, the bard of the Restoration, regards himself as a philosopher and a republican; it was by an act of his own free will that he chose to defend altar and throne.9
9 Here Proudhon appears to be commenting upon Chateaubriand's much-quoted remark 'Je suis bourbonnien par honneur, monarchiste par raison, republicain par gout et par caractere.' [I am a Bourbon by honor, a monarchist by reason, a republican by taste and character.]
We know what became of the militant Catholicism of Lamennais.10
10 Felicite de Lamennais (1782-1854), initially an extreme theocrat, then the most eminent exponent of liberal Catholicism, was excommunicated in 1834 and subsequently travelled to the far left of the political spectrum, to radical democracy and communism. His extraordinary career indeed provides the best possible example of Proudhon's thesis that there is no stable middle ground between theocracy and revolution. Harold Laski devoted a long chapter to Lamennais in Authority in the Modern State (New Haven 1919).
While authority crumbles and becomes more precarious day by day, law becomes more determinate, and liberty, though still suspect, gains in reality and power. Absolutism struggles as best it can but is on its way out; it seems that the republic, always resisted, slandered, betrayed, proscribed, comes closer with each day. What conclusions are we to draw from this fact which is so crucial for political constitutions?

Chapter VII.


Since in theory and in history authority and liberty succeed one another in a polar movement; since the former declines imperceptibly and withdraws, while the latter expands and becomes prominent; since this dual movement leads to a subordination such that authority becomes progressively the instrument of liberty; since, in other words, the liberal or contractual system gains the upper hand day by day over the authoritarian system, it is the idea of contract that we must take to be the principal idea in politics.

What is meant, first of all, by contract?

A contract [Civil Code, article 1101] is an agreement by which one or more persons oblige themselves to one or more others to perform or to refrain from some action.
Article 1102: It is synallagmatic or bilateral when the contracting parties undertake reciprocal obligations.
Article 1103: It is unilateral, when one or more persons have an obligation to one or more others, without the latter having any obligation.
Article 1104: It is commutative when each of the parties undertakes to give something which is regarded as equal in value to what the other party gives or does in return. When the benefits consist in an opportunity for each party to gain, or to lose, the outcome being uncertain, the contract is aleatory.
Article 1105: A contract of goodwill is that in which one of the parties provides the other with a purely gratuitous benefit.
Article 1106: An onerous contract is one which obliges both parties to give or to do something.
Article 1371: Quasi-contracts are those voluntary acts of men which give rise to an obligation to a third party, and sometimes to reciprocal obligations between two parties.

To these distinctions and definitions in the Code, which bear upon the forms and conditions of contracts, I shall add a further distinction regarding their objects: according to the nature of the things which are bargained for or to the object which one has in view, contracts are domestic, civil, commercial, or political. It is with the last of these, political contracts, that we shall be concerned.

The idea of contract is not entirely unknown in monarchies, or in families. But in terms of what we have said about the principles of authority and liberty and their role in the formation of governments, it will be clear that these principles relate in different ways to the political contract; the obligation uniting the monarch to his subjects, which is spontaneous and unwritten, arising from family feeling and personal qualities, is a unilateral obligation, for by virtue of the principle of obedience the subject is obliged to do more for his prince than the prince for him. The theory of divine right states expressly that the monarch is responsible only to God. It may even happen that the prince's contract with the subject degenerates into a contract of pure good will, when his subjects' incapacity or their idolatry leads the prince to treat his people, unable to govern or to defend themselves, as a shepherd treats his sheep. It is even worse when the hereditary principle is adopted. A conspirator like the Duke of Orleans, later Louis XII, a parricide like Louis XI, and an adulteress like Mary Stuart maintain their right to the throne despite their crimes. Birth renders them inviolable, and one may say that a quasi-contract exists between them and the loyal subjects of the prince whom they succeed. In a word, simply because authority is preponderant in the monarchical system, the contract is not equal.

The political contract does not attain its full dignity and morality except where (1) it is synallagmatic and commutative, (2) it is confined, in its object, within definite limits -- two conditions which are held to exist in the democratic system, but which, even there, are generally only a fiction. Can one say that in a representative and centralized democracy, or in a constitutional monarchy with restricted franchise, or even more in a communist republic such as Plato's the political contract binding the citizen to the state can be equal and reciprocal? Can one say that these contracts, which remove from the citizens a half or two-thirds of their sovereignty and a quarter of their product, are confined within just limits? It would be closer to the truth to say that, as experience shows only too often, contracts in such systems are excessive, onerous, for they provide no compensation for a good many of those who are parties to them; and aleatory, for the promised advantage, inadequate as it is, is not even guaranteed.

In order for the political contract to become synallagmatic and commutative as the idea of democracy requires, in order for it to remain within reasonable limits and to become profitable and convenient for all, the citizen who enters the association must (1) have as much to gain from the state as he sacrifices to it, (2) retain all his liberty, sovereignty, and initiative, except that which he must abandon in order to attain that special object for which the contract is made, and which the state must guarantee. So confined and understood, the political contract is what I shall call a federation.

Federation, from the Latin foedus, genitive foederis, which means pact, contract, treaty, agreement, alliance, and so on, is an agreement by which one or more heads of family, one or more towns, one or more groups of towns or states, assume reciprocal and equal commitments to perform one or more specific tasks, the responsibility for which rests exclusively with the officers of the federation.*

* In J.-J. Rousseau's theory, which was also that of Robespierre and the Jacobins, the social contract is a legal fiction, imagined as an alternative to divine right, paternal authority, or social necessity, in explaining the origins of the state and the relations between government and individual. This theory, borrowed for the Calvinists, represented a step forward in 1764, for its purpose was to explain by a law of reason what had formerly been seen as belonging to the law of nature and to religion. In the federal system, the social contract is more than a fiction; it is a positive and effective compact, which has actually been proposed, discussed, voted upon, and adopted, and which can properly be amended at the contracting parties' will. Between the federal contract and that of Rousseau and 1793 there is all the difference between a reality and a hypothesis.

Let us consider this definition more closely. What is essential to and characteristic of the federal contract, and what I most wish the reader to notice, is that in this system the contracting parties, whether heads of family, towns, cantons, provinces, or states, not only undertake bilateral and commutative obligations, but in making the pact reserve for themselves more rights, more liberty, more authority, more property than they abandon.

It is not so, for example, in the society of common property, or communism, authorized under the Civil Code, the replica in miniature of all absolute states. He who enters into such an association, especially if it is a permanent one, is loaded with chains and subjected to burdens which quite overwhelm his personal freedom. It is this that makes such contracts so rare, and monastic life always so intolerable. Any obligation, even a bilateral and commutative one, which requires those whom it binds to contribute all their efforts, to give up their independence, and to devote themselves totally to an association is an excessive obligation unworthy of man or citizen.

According to these principles the contract of federation has the purpose, in general terms, of guaranteeing to the federated states their sovereignty, their territory, the liberty of their subjects; of settling their disputes; of providing by common means for all matters of security and mutual prosperity; thus, despite the scale of the interests involved, it is essentially limited. The authority responsible for its execution can never overwhelm the constituent members; that is, the federal powers can never exceed in number and significance those of local or provincial authorities, just as the latter can never outweigh the rights and prerogatives of man and citizen. If it were otherwise, the community would become communistic; the federation would revert to centralized monarchy; the federal authority, instead of being a mere delegate and subordinate function as it should be, will be seen as dominant; instead of being confined to a specific task, it will tend to absorb all activity and all initiative; the confederated states will be reduced to administrative districts, branches, or local offices. Thus transformed, the body politic may be termed republican, democratic, or what you will; it will no longer be a state constituted by a plenitude of autonomies, it will no longer be a confederation. The same will hold, with even greater force, if for reasons of false economy, as a result of deference, or for any other reason the federated towns, cantons or states charge one among their number with the administration and government of the rest. The republic will become unitary, not federal, and will be on the road to despotism.*

* The Helvetian Confederation consists of twenty-five sovereign states (nineteen cantons and six half-cantons), containing a population of two million, four hundred thousand inhabitants. It is therefore governed by twenty-five constitutions, comparable to our charters or constitutions of 1791, 1793, 1795, 1799, 1814, 1830, 1848, 1852, together with a federal constitution to which of course there is no parallel in France. The spirit of this constitution, which conforms to the principles outlined above, is contained in the following articles:

'Article 2. The purpose of confederation is to secure the independence of the nation against foreign powers, to maintain internal peace and order, to protect the rights and liberties of its members, and to increase their common prosperity.

'Article 3. The cantons are sovereign within the limits of federal sovereignty, and as such they exercise all rights which have not been delegated to the federal power.

'Article 5. The confederation guarantees to the cantons their territory, their sovereignty within the limits established by Article 3, their constitutions, the liberty and rights of their inhabitants, the constitutional rights of their citizens, as well as the rights and powers which the people have conferred upon the authorities.'

Thus a confederation is not exactly a state; it is a group of sovereign and independent states, associated by a pact of mutual guarantees. Nor is a federal constitution the same as what is understood in France by a charter or constitution, an abridged statement of public law; the pact contains the conditions of association, that is, the rights and reciprocal obligations of the states. What is called federal authority, finally, is no longer a government; it is an agency created by the states for the joint execution of certain functions which the states abandon, and which thus become federal powers.

In Switzerland the federal authority resides in a deliberative assembly elected by the citizens of the twenty-five cantons, and an executive council composed of seven members appointed by the assembly. The members of the assembly and the federal council are elected for three-year terms; since the federal constitution can be revised at any time, the powers of office, no less than its occupants, may be altered. Thus the federal power is in the full sense of the word an agent, under the strict control of his principals, whose power varies at their pleasure.

In summary, the federal system is the contrary of hierarchy or administrative and governmental centralization which characterizes, to an equal extent, democratic empires, constitutional monarchies, and unitary republics. Its basic and essential law is this: in a federation, the powers of central authority are specialized and limited and diminish in number, in directness, and in what I may call intensity as the confederation grows by the adhesion of new states. In centralized governments, on the contrary, the powers of the supreme authority multiply, extend, and become more direct, bringing the business of provinces, towns, corporations, and individuals under the jurisdiction of the prince, as a direct function of territorial scale and the size of the population. Hence arises that suppression of all liberties, communal and provincial, and even individual and national.

One result of this, to conclude this chapter, is that since the unitary system is the contrary of the federal system, a confederation of great monarchies, or even more of democratic empires, is impossible. States such as France, Austria, England, Russia, or Prussia may make treaties of alliance or trade among themselves; but they resist federalization because their principles are contrary to it and will set them against any federal compact, and because they would have to abandon some part of their sovereignty and recognize an arbiter set above them, at least for certain matters. Their nature is to command, not to compromise or to obey. The princes who in 1813, supported by mass uprisings, fought for the freedom of Europe against Napoleon and later formed the Holy Alliance did not form a federation; their absolutism prevented them from accepting such a title. They formed, as in 1792, a coalition; history gives them no other name.11

11 'Coalition': the term applied to successive military alliances formed against France by Russia, Austria, Great Britain, and other powers in the course of the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.
It is otherwise with the German confederation, currently on the road to reform, and whose characteristics of freedom and nationality promise eventually to destroy the dynasties who impede it.*
* The public law of federation raises several difficult questions. For example, can a state containing slaves join a confederation? It seems that it cannot, any more than an absolute state can; the enslavement of part of a nation denies the federal principle itself. In this respect, the Southern states of the United States have an even better right to demand secession in that they do not follow the Northerners in proposing to extend political rights to freed slaves, at present at least. But Washington, Madison, and the other founders of the Union did not take this view; they admitted slave-owning states to the federal pact. This unnatural pact, moreover, is now crumbling before our eyes, as the Southern states, to preserve their economy, lean towards a unitary constitution, while those of the North, in order to maintain the Union, decree the deportation of slaves.

The Swiss federal constitution, as reformed in 1848, comes down on the side of equality; according to Article 4, 'All Swiss are equal before the law. In Switzerland there are neither subjects nor privileges of place, birth, person, or family.' The adoption of this article, which purges Switzerland of any trace of aristocracy, inaugurates a truly federal constitution.

If a conflict of interests arises, can a federal majority faced by a separatist minority claim that the pact is irrevocable? In 1846 the Sonderbund, opposed by a majority of cantons, claimed that it could not; the same is maintained by the Confederacy of the American South in opposition to the Northern Unionists. As for me, I believe that separation is fully legitimate, on a matter of cantonal sovereignty not embraced by the federal pact. Thus it is not clear to me that the Swiss majority derived its right against the Sonderbund from the pact; the proof is that in 1848 the federal constitution was amended precisely in order to settle the problem that had led to the formation of the Sonderbund. But it may happen that, in terms of utility, minority claims conflict with majority needs, that divisiveness imperils the liberty of the states. In such a case the question is resolved by the right of war, which means that the larger party, whose ruin would involve the greater loss, must triumph over the weaker. This is what took place in Switzerland and could also occur in the United States, if what was in question was simply a matter of the interpretation or better application of the principles of the pact, such as improving the lot of the blacks to the level enjoyed by the whites. Unfortunately, Mr Lincoln's message leaves no room for doubt: the North does not have in mind true emancipation any more than the South, which makes the problem insoluble even by means of war, and threatens to dissolve confederation.

In a monarchy all justice is the king's; in a confederation it arises in each state exclusively from its own citizens. Establishing a supreme federal court would in principle be a violation of the compact. The same goes for a court of appeal, for, each state being sovereign and legislating for itself, laws will not be uniform. However, as there are federal interests and federal business, and as offences and crimes may be committed against the federation, there are federal courts and federal justice bearing upon such specific cases.

Chapter VIII.


History and analysis, theory and observation have led us through the struggles of liberty and power to the idea of a political contract.

In at once applying this idea and trying to come to terms with it we have seen that the social contract par excellence is a federal contract, which we define as follows: a bilateral and commutative contract concerning one or more specific objects, having as its necessary condition that the contracting parties retain more sovereignty and a greater scope of action than they give up.

This is just the opposite of what takes place in the old monarchical, democratic, or constitutional systems, where, thanks to the logic of situation and principle, individuals and groups are held to have given up all their sovereignty to an imposed or elected authority, the rights which they gain and the security and independence which they retain being outweighed by their new burdens and duties.

This definition of the contract of federation is an immense step forward and will give us the solution which we have sought for so long.

As we said in chapter 1, the political problem, reduced to its simplest expression, is that of finding an equilibrium between two contrary elements, authority and liberty. Any error in balancing the two leads at once to the disorder and ruin of the state and the oppression and distress of the people. In other words the anomalies and disturbances of society arise from contradictions between its principles and will vanish when its principles are harmonized in such a manner that they can damage one another no longer.

To balance two forces is to submit them to a law which, obliging each to respect the other brings them into agreement. What will supply us with this new element, superior to both authority and liberty, and acquiring pre-eminence with the consent of both? -- the contract, whose terms establish right, and bear equally upon two contending forces.*

* There are three ways of conceiving of law, depending upon the point of view adopted by a moral being and the capacity which he assumes: believer, philosopher, or citizen.

Law is a command transmitted to man in God's name by a competent authority: this is the definition of theology and divine right.

Law is an expression of the relations of things: this is the philosopher's definition, supplied by Montesquieu.

Law is a statute of arbitration willed by man (see De la Justice dans la Revolution et dans l'Eglise, 8th study): this is the theory of contract and of federation.

Since truth is one, though its aspect varies, these three definitions converge with one-another and must be regarded as at bottom identical. But the social orders which they generate are not the same; in the first, man declares himself the subject of the law and of its author or representative; in the second he regards himself as an integral part of a great organism; in the third, he makes law his own and frees himself from all authority, from fate and domination. The first is that of the religious man, the second that of the pantheist, the third that of the republican. The last of these alone is compatible with liberty.

But in a concrete and living reality such as society, right cannot be only an abstract notion, a nebulous aspiration, something which would plunge us into fiction and myth. To found a society requires not merely an idea but a juridical act, the making of a real contract. The men of 1789 grasped this, in undertaking to give France a constitution, and all the regimes which have succeeded them have taken the same view. Unfortunately, though the intention was good, their understanding was inadequate; until now, there has been no notary to witness the contract. We know what the spirit of the contract must be; let us now examine the letter of it in detail.

All the articles of a contract may be reduced to one, that which concerns the role and jurisdiction of that great functionary called the state. Our national assemblies have vied with one another in distinguishing and separating powers or the state's faculties of action; as for the jurisdiction of the state as such, its scope, its object, no one seems to have worried much about the matter. Men have dreamed of sharing, as a minister naively said in 1848; as for the thing to be shared, the bigger, it seems, the better. And yet the limitation of the role of the state is a question of life and death for liberty, whether collective or individual.

The contract of federation, whose essence is always to reserve more powers for the citizen than for the state, and for municipal and provincial authorities than for the central power, is the only thing that can set us on the right path.

In a free society, the role of the state or government is essentially that of legislating, instituting, creating, beginning, establishing; as little as possible should it be executive. In this respect, the term executive power, which is used to designate one of the aspects of sovereignty, has made a notable contribution to error. The state is not an entrepreneur in the public sector, to be confused with the contractors who perform public works. Whether it commands, acts, or supervises, the state is the initiator and ultimate director of change; if from time to time it involves itself in tasks directly, it does so by way of demonstration, to make a start and to set an example. Once a beginning has been made, the machinery established, the state withdraws, leaving the execution of the new task to local authorities and citizens.

The state establishes weights and measures, prescribes the units, value, and divisions of currency. Once the model has been provided, the first issue completed, the manufacture of gold and silver and copper coins ceases to be a public function, a task of the state, a ministerial power; it is an industry left to the towns, and there is nothing that requires it to be any less free than the manufacture of scales, weighing-machines, barrels, or bottles. That it should be done cheaply is all that matters. What is required, in France, for gold and silver currency to maintain its standing? Simply that coins should contain no more that one-tenth alloy. That there should be an inspector to supervise its manufacture, I admit; but the role of the state extends no further than that.

What I have said of currency I would repeat of a whole host of services which have quite wrongly been placed in the hands of government: roads, canals, tobacco licensing, the postal service, telegraphs, railways, and so on. I understand, I admit, I insist that the state must intervene in all such major public utilities; but I cannot see any need to leave them in the hands of the state once they have been initiated. Such a concentration, as far as I can see, amounts to truly excessive power. In 1848 I called for the state to intervene in establishing national banks, credit, savings, and insurance institutions, as it had done in the case of railways. It never entered my head that once the state had completed its task of creation it would stay in the banking, insurance, and transportation business. True, the organization of public education calls for a major effort by central authority, but nevertheless I believe in the cause of freedom in education, as of all freedoms.*

* According to the Swiss federal constitution of 1848, the Confederation has the right to found a University of Switzerland. This idea was vigorously opposed as an affront to the sovereignty of cantons, which seems to me to have been a good policy. I do not know what finally become of the project.
I wish the school to be no less strictly separated from the state than the church. That there should be an accounting office, even a bureau of statistics, to assemble, check, and classify the financial data of the whole republic, all well and good. But why should all expenses and revenues pass through the hands of a treasurer, a single collector and paymaster, a minister of the state, when by the nature of its function the state should have little or no service to perform, therefore little or no expense?*
* In Switzerland there is a federal budget, administered by the federal council; but it provides only for the expenses of the Confederation and is quite separate from the budgets of cantons and towns.

Is it really necessary, furthermore, that the courts should be subordinate to central authority? Administering justice has been since the beginning of time the highest power of the prince, indeed; but this power is a vestige of divine right and cannot be claimed by a constitutional monarch, still less by an emperor elected by universal suffrage. Thus from the moment that the idea of right becomes human once more and acquires pre-eminence in the political order, the independence of the judiciary will necessarily be implied. Justice will no longer be seen as a power of central or federal authority; it can be no more than a delegation by the citizens to municipal authority, or provincial at most. Justice is a human power which no reason of state can cancel. Nor do I except even military service from this argument; militias, armouries, and forts pass into the hands of federal authorities only in time of war, and only for the purposes of war; otherwise, soldiers and arms remain under the control of local authorities.**

** Article 13 of the federal constitution of Switzerland: 'The Confederation does not have the right to maintain a standing army.' Our unitary republicans might reflect upon this article.

In a properly organized society, everything must be in continuous growth -- science, industry, work, wealth, public health; liberty and morality must follow the same path. Their movement, their life, does not cease for a moment. As the principal organ of this movement, the state is always active; for new needs to be satisfied, new problems to solve, never cease to emerge. If its function as prime mover and general director is continuous, its work, however, is not repetitive. It is the highest expression of progress. What happens if, as is almost everywhere the case, the state continues to provide the services it has created and succumbs to the temptations of monopoly? It exchanges the founder's role for that of a mechanic; it is no longer the spirit of the community, giving it life, directing and enriching it, without impeding it; it becomes a vast limited company, with six hundred thousand employees and six hundred thousand soldiers, ready for every task, and instead of coming to the nation's aid, instead of serving its citizens and communities, it expropriates and crushes them. Soon corruption, embezzlement, and laxness enter into the system; absorbed in maintaining itself, extending its prerogatives, multiplying its tasks, and swelling its budget, power loses sight of its true role and collapses into autocracy and immobility; society is the victim, and the nation, contrary to its historic law, begins to decline.

Have we not seen, in Chapter VI, that authority and liberty follow in logical and temporal succession in the evolution of states; that, moreover, the first is in continuous decline, the second in the ascendant; that government, the organ of authority, is imperceptibly subordinated to the representatives or organs of liberty -- that is, the central power to the representatives of departments or provinces, provincial authority to the delegates of townships, and municipal authority to its inhabitants; that liberty thus aspires to make itself paramount, authority to make itself the servant of liberty, and that the contractual principle tends to substitute itself everywhere for the authoritarian principle in public affairs?

If this is true, the consequence cannot be in doubt. Since, according to the nature of things and the play of principles, authority retreats and liberty advances, in such a way that conflict between them is avoided, society's constitution is essentially progressive, or increasingly liberal, and its goal cannot be realized except in a society whose governing hierarchy is no longer imposed from the top down but rests securely on its base -- that is, a federal system.

The whole science of constitutions is here. I shall summarize it in three propositions.

1. Form groups of a modest size, individually sovereign, and unite them by a federal pact.

2. Within each federated state organize government on the principle of organic separation; that is, separate all powers that can be separated, define everything that can be defined, distribute what has been separated and defined among distinct organs and functionaries; leave nothing undivided; subject public administration to all the constraints of publicity and control.

3. Instead of absorbing the federated states and provincial and municipal authorities within a central authority, reduce the role of the centre to that of general initiation, of providing guarantees and supervising, and make the execution of its orders subject to the approval of the federated governments and their responsible agents -- just as, in a constitutional monarchy, every order by the king must be countersigned by a minister in order to become effective.

Certainly, the separation of powers as practised under the 1830 Charter was a fine and very significant institution, but it is childish to confine the principle to the members of a cabinet. The government of a nation is not to be shared among seven or eight elected officials drawn from a parliamentary majority and criticized by the opposition, but among the provinces and townships; otherwise political life abandons the periphery for the centre, and collapse overcomes a hydrocephalous nation.

The federal system is applicable to all nations and all ages, for humanity is progressive in each of its generations and peoples; the policy of federation, essentially the policy of progress, consists in ruling every people, at any given moment, by decreasing the sway of authority and central power to the point permitted by the level of consciousness and morality.

Chapter IX.


The idea of federation appears to be as ancient as the ideas of monarchy and democracy, as old as authority and liberty themselves. How could it be otherwise? Everything produced in society over time by the law of progress has its roots in nature itself. Civilization advances enveloped by its principles, its ideas in procession before and after, and encircling it ceaselessly. Founded upon contract, the solemn expression of liberty, federation could never fail to appeal to man. More than twelve centuries before Christ, it appeared among the Hebrew tribes, separate from one another in their own valleys, but, like the tribes of Ishmael, united by a sort of contract of kinship. Only a little later it emerged in the Amphictyonic league,12

12 'Amphictyonies' were leagues formed among the city-states of ancient Greece; initially religious in character, they also tended to acquire a political and military role. Here Proudhon evidently refers to the league centred on the city of Delphi, which from the seventh century B.C. on played an important though often destructive part in the inter-state politics of Greece. For a brief account of the failure of 'federalist' experiments in Greece, see Sheldon Wolin Politics and Vision (Boston 1960) 73-6.
which, it is true, was powerless to suppress internal discord or to stave off conquest, or, eventually, imperial absorption but was all the same vivid testimony to the future right of men and to universal liberty. We remember still the great leagues of the Slav and German peoples, continued in modern times by the federal constitutions of Switzerland and Germany, and even by the Austrian Empire, formed of nations which are so heterogeneous and yet, despite all efforts, inseparable. It is the federal contract which will become step by step the basis of true government, will everywhere put an end to the contradictions of empiricism, eliminate arbitrariness, and establish justice and peace upon an unshakeable equilibrium.

For centuries, the idea of federation seems to have been hidden and held in reserve; the reason for this eclipse is to be found in the initial incapacity of nations and the need to form them by means of stern discipline. Such is the role which seems to have been assigned, by a sort of sovereign design, to the unitary system.

It was necessary to tame and settle the fickle, rough, undisciplined multitude; to form isolated and hostile cities into groups; to found by authority, step by step, a common law, and to promulgate the general laws of humanity in the form of imperial decrees. This alone must have been the significance of those vast political structures of antiquity, succeeded, in this role, by the Greek, Roman, and Frankish empires, the Christian church, Luther's rebellion, and finally the French Revolution.

Federation cannot fulfil this initial educational mission because it is liberty; because it excludes the idea of constraint, resting upon the notion of bilateral, commutative, and limited contracts; and because its object is to guarantee the sovereignty and autonomy of the peoples whom it unites, peoples who must suffer domination until they become capable of governing themselves by reason. Since civilization is, in a word, progressive, it would be contradictory to suppose that a federal government could have arisen at the beginning.

Another reason for the temporary eclipse of the federal principle is supplied by the weak expansive tendency of states gathered under federal constitutions.

The natural limits of federal states. -- We have seen in Chapter II that monarchy, by its own nature and that of its principle, knows no limits to its own expansion, and that the same goes for democracy. This expansive power has been transmitted from the simple a priori governments to the mixed or de facto types, such as democracies and aristocracies, democratic empires and constitutional monarchies, which have all remained faithful in this respect to their ideal. From this arise messianic visions and many attempts to form universal monarchies or republics.

In these systems there is no end to the process of assimilation; one may say that here the idea of a natural frontier is a fiction, or, better, a political fraud; rivers, mountains, and seas are no longer considered as territorial limits but as obstacles which the liberty of king and nation must overcome. The logic of their principles, moreover, requires this; the power to possess, accumulate, command, and exploit is indefinite, it knows no bounds but the universe. The most noted example of the assimilation of regions and peoples, despite the mountains, rivers, forests, seas, and deserts, is that of the Roman Empire, with its centre and capital in a peninsula surrounded by a large sea, and its provinces as far-flung as its armies and tax-collectors could reach.

Every state is annexationist by nature. Nothing stops its aggressive march, unless it confronts another state, likewise an aggressor and capable of defending itself. The most ardent apostles of nationality fall into contradictions when the interest or, even more, the security of their country so dictates: who, among the French democrats, would have dared denounce the union of Savoy and Nice?13

13 Savoy and Nice were annexed to France as Napoleon Ill's price for supporting Victor Emmanuel against Austria in 1859.
It is not even unknown that annexations should be favoured by those who are annexed, who barter away their independence and autonomy.

It is otherwise in the federal system. Though capable indeed of defending themselves when attacked, the Swiss have shown several times that a confederation is incapable of conquest. Apart from the very rare case of a neighbouring state requesting admission to the pact, one may say that the very existence of federations forbids all expansion. By virtue of the principle which limits the federal pact to the provision of mutual defence and certain purposes of common benefit, guarantees to each state its territory, its sovereignty, its constitution, and the liberty of its citizens, and reserves to each party more authority, independence, and power than it abandons, the confederation restrains its own growth all the more surely to the extent that the regions which form it are distant from one another; and thus one soon arrives at a point at which the pact loses its purpose. Let us suppose that one among the confederated states proposes a certain conquest, the annexation of a neighbouring town or nearby province, or that it wishes to meddle in the affairs of another state. Not only will it not be able to count upon the support of the confederation, which will object that the pact was formed exclusively for the defence of the whole, not the aggrandizement of one part; it would find itself actually constrained by the solidarity of the others, who would not wish that all should go to war for the advantage of one. In this way the confederation provides a guarantee to its neighbours as well as to its own members.

Contrary to what takes place in other systems, then, the idea of a universal confederation is contradictory. Here once more we see the moral superiority of the federal over the unitary system, which is subject to all the shortcomings and vices of the undefined, the unlimited, the absolute, the ideal. Even Europe would be too large to form a single confederation; it could form only a confederation of confederations. That is why, in my last book, I laid down as the first step towards the reform of public law in Europe the restoration of the confederations of Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, and the Danube, as a prelude to the decentralization of the large states and hence to general disarmament.14

14 The book referred to here is La Federation et I'unite en Italie (Paris 1862), in which the Italian nationalist movements were sharply attacked for their centralist tendencies.
Thus each nationality would recover its liberty, and a European balance of power would be achieved -- an idea foreseen by all the political theorists and statesmen, but impossible to realize among great powers with unitary constitutions.*
* Among French democrats there has been much talk of a European confederation, or a United States of Europe. By this they seem to understand nothing but an alliance of all the states which presently exist in Europe, great and small, presided over by a permanent congress. It is taken for granted that each state will retain the form of government that suits it best. Now since each state will have votes in the congress in proportion to its population and territory, the small states in the this so-called confederation will soon be incorporated into the large ones; moreover, if this new Holy Alliance could have such a thing as a collective development, one would soon see it collapse, after internal strife, into a single power or great European monarchy. Such a federation would thus be a trap or else devoid of meaning.

Condemned in this way to a peaceful and modest existence, playing a self-effacing role upon the political stage, federation has naturally been overshadowed, until our own time, by the magnificence of the great states. Until our own time, too, federations, no less than feudal or unitary monarchies, have seethed with prejudices and abuses of every kind, aristocratic prejudices, bourgeois privilege, ecclesiastical authority, and the people have been oppressed, the mind enslaved; liberty thus remained in a strait-jacket, and civilization stagnated hopelessly. The federalist idea survived, invisible, incomprehensible, impenetrable, sometimes through the force of ritual, as in Germany, where the confederation -- a synonym for Empire -- was a coalition of absolute princes, some secular, some ecclesiastical, under the aegis of the Roman Church; sometimes through the force of circumstances, as in Switzerland, where confederation was secured by the valleys which divide the country and the mountain chains which protect it from invasion, the conquest of which would not repay renewing Hannibal's enterprise. Political vegetation arrested in its growth, offering nothing of value to philosophic thought, no principles to the statesman, no hopes to the masses -- far from promoting the Revolution in the slightest, it required to be given movement and life itself.

What is of permanent historical significance is that the French Revolution exercised its impact upon all the existing federal constitutions, reforming them, infusing them with its spirit, supplying them with their best qualities, and, in brief, permitting them to evolve, without as yet receiving anything from them.

The Americans had been defeated in twenty battles, and their cause seemed lost, until the French intervention changed the course of things and obliged the English general Cornwallis to surrender on 19 October 1781. It was as a result of this blow that the English agreed to recognize the independence of the colonies, which were then able to provide themselves with a constitution. And what were the Americans' political ideas? What were the principles of their government? Truly a jumble of principles, a monument to intolerance, to exclusiveness and arbitrariness, in which there shone like a star of ill omen the spirit of aristocracy, regulation, sect, and caste; it provoked the rebukes of French political writers and won for the American cause some humiliating reproaches. The little true liberalism which penetrated into America at this time was, one may say, the work of the French Revolution, which seemed on that distant shore a prelude to the renewal of the old world. Liberty in America has been until now an effect of Anglo-Saxon individualism, projected into an immense territory, rather than of its own institutions and customs; the present war demonstrates this only too well.*15

* 'The principles of the American constitution, according to far-sighted observers, contained the seeds of premature collapse. Turgot, a zealous ally of the American cause, objected as follows:

"1. -- That English practices were imitated uselessly;
2. -- That the clergy, excluded from the right to office, had become a foreign body within the state, even though the anomaly was not in this case dangerous;
3. -- That Pennsylvania required a religious oath of members of the legislature.
4. -- That New Jersey required a belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ.
5. -- That the Puritans of New England were intolerant, and that the Quakers of Pennsylvania considered military service illegal.
6. -- That in the Southern colonies there was great inequality of wealth, and that the blacks, even when freed, formed a distinct body from the whites within the same state.
7. -- That the social condition in Connecticut was half way between the primitive and civilized states, and that in Massachusetts and New Jersey a small faction could exclude candidates from elective office.
8. -- That many difficulties resulted from the emancipation of the negroes.
9. -- That no title of nobility should be conferred.
10. -- That the right of primogeniture should be abolished, and freedom of trade established.
11. -- That the scope of a jurisdiction should be based upon distance from place of residence.
12. -- That no adequate distinction was made between land and other forms of property.
13. -- That the right to regulate and even forbid commerce was implied in all the state constitutions.
14. -- That there was no agreed principle of taxation, and that as a result each state had the right to invent taxes at will.
15. -- That America might dispense with any European alliance, and that a wise people should never let the means of its defence out of its own hands."

"The famous Mirabeau detected in the Society of Cincinnatus, made up of officers of the revolutionary army, the basis for hereditary distinction. Other objections were made by Price, Mably, and other foreign writers. The American legislators have been able to profit from them, by modifying certain details, but preserving the structure of the republican edifice which, instead of declining as had been predicted, has improved with the passage of time and promises to be long-lived." (Description des Etats-Unis [A statistical, political, and historical account of the United States of North America: from the period of their first colonization to the present day (1819)] by [David Bailie] Warden, translated from the English [Paris 1820] vol. 5, 255).

The following passage by the same writer is no less revealing: "Jefferson and those who acted together with him believed that efforts made to increase human happiness, without regard to existing opinions and prejudices, were rarely effective, and that the most concrete improvements could never be introduced into society by force. Therefore they never proposed any new measure until opinion was ready to appreciate it."

This policy of Jefferson and his friends is certainly worthy of admiration. It is the glory of man and citizen that he should make truth and justice his own before submitting to their laws. 'We are all kings,' as the citizen of Athens said. And does the Bible not tell us that we are likewise all gods? As kings and gods, we must obey only ourselves. But it is nevertheless true that under Jefferson's presidency, between 1801 and 1805, the American people were perhaps the least liberal in the world, and that if it had not been for that negative liberty which resulted from a small population and land of amazing fertility, it would have been better to live under the despotism of Louis XIV or Napoleon than in the American republic.

15 'The present war' is the American Civil War, which, in Proudhon's eyes, displayed the latent centralism behind the facade of federalism in the United States. Proudhon's view is put forward succinctly in De la Capacite politique des classes ouvrieres (208-9): 'Either the term "confederation" has some meaning, by virtue of which the founders of the Union sought to distinguish it strictly from all other political systems -- in which case, leaving aside the question of slavery, the North's war against the South is unjust; or else, under the guise of confederation, the secret intention has been to found a great empire when the time was ripe -- in which case, the Americans should remove from their platforms all reference to political liberty, the republic, democracy, confederation, even Union.'

It was the Revolution, too, which wrested Switzerland away from its old aristocratic and bourgeois prejudices and founded its confederation anew. In 1801, the constitution of the Helvetian Republic was revised for the first time; in the following year the intervention of the First Consul put an end to the agitation. It would have put an end to Swiss nationhood, too, if Napoleon had had any thought of adding Switzerland to his empire. But no: 'I do not want you,' he told them. From 1814 to 1848 the Swiss were plagued by reaction, so deeply was the idea of federation confused with aristocracy and privilege. It was not until 1848, in the Constitution of 12 September, that the true principles of the federal system were at last set out. Yet these principles were so dimly understood that a unitary trend appeared as well, with its representatives even in the federal assembly.

As for the German Confederation, everyone knows that the old structure was destroyed thanks to the same emperor, who was not so successful, however, in his plans for reconstruction. Now the federal system in Germany is once more in the mind of its peoples. May Germany emerge from these troubles, free and strong, as from a salutary crisis.

In 1789 the test of federalism had not been made. The idea was not understood at all; the revolutionary legislators could draw nothing from it. It was necessary that the confederations, such as they were, clinging on to life in scattered portions of the old and new worlds, should be animated by a new spirit, should learn to move and to define themselves, that their newly fertile principle should grow and bring to light the value of their institutions; it was necessary too that a final experiment should be made with the unitary system under the new regime of equality. Only under these conditions could philosophy make its case, could the Revolution reach fruition, and, with the diffusion of the idea, could the universal republic leave the realm of mysticism and take the concrete form of a federation of federations.

Today conditions themselves seem to give wings to thought; and we may, it seems, without presumption or pride, rescue the masses from their fateful symbols and at the same time display to political leaders the source of their mistakes.

Chapter X.


In the moral and political sciences generally, we may observe, problems arise above all from the figurative manner in which the mind originally presents their elements. In the popular imagination politics, no less than morality, is a mythology. Everything becomes a fiction, a symbol, a mystery, an idol. And it is this idealism which philosophers confidently take to express reality, and which later causes them all sorts of problems.

The people imagine themselves, in their obscure manner, as a huge and mysterious entity, and their language serves to reinforce this notion of indivisible unity. They call themselves the People, the Nation, the Multitude, the Mass; they are the true Sovereign, the Legislator, the Power, the Ruler, the Country, the State; they have their Assemblies, their Votes, their Assizes, their Demonstrations, their Edicts, their Plebiscites, their Direct Legislation, sometimes their Judgments and Executions, their Oracles, their Voice, like thunder or the voice of God. The more they imagine themselves to be infinite, irresistible, immense, the more horrified they are by divisions, splits, minorities. Their ideal, their fondest dream, is of unity, identity, uniformity, concentration; they condemn, as affronts to their own majesty, everything that may divide their will, break up their mass, create diversity, plurality, divergence within themselves.

Every mythology requires idols, and the people never lack them. Like Israel in the desert, they improvise gods when no one has taken the trouble to provide them; they have their incarnations, their Messiahs, their divine emissaries. It may be the military leader in triumph, the glorious king, all-conquering and magnificent like the sun, or there again it may be a revolutionary tribune: Clovis, Charlemagne, Louis XIV, Lafayette, Mirabeau, Danton, Marat, Robespierre, Napoleon, Victor Emmanuel, Garibaldi. How many are there who would be swept into power by the slightest shift of opinion, a trick of fortune! These idols, without ideas for the most part, as devoid of conscience as those who admire them, inspire the zeal and jealousy of the people, who will not permit them to be analysed or contradicted and who above all will give them power unstintingly. Do not touch their anointed, or they will treat you as sacrilegious.

Full of these myths, and imagining themselves as an essentially undivided mass, how can the people grasp all at once the relation of citizen to society? How, inspired by them, can the statesman who represents them supply the formula for true government? Where universal suffrage reigns in all its naivety, we may predict that everything will tend towards unity. Since the people embody all authority and all right, universal suffrage, in order to express their will truly, must also be as undivided as possible, which means that in elections one must vote from a single list (in 1848 there were even champions of unity who called for one list alone for all eighty-six Departments). This undivided vote thus gives rise to an undivided assembly, deliberating and legislating as a single individual. In the case of a division, the majority is held to be fully representative of national identity. From this majority in turn arises an undivided government which, bearing the powers of an undivided nation, is called upon to govern and administer collectively and indivisibly, free from local sentiment and parochial interest. In this way the system of centralization, imperialism, communism, absolutism -- all these are synonymous -- springs from popular idealism; it is thus that in the social contract as imagined by Rousseau and the Jacobins the citizen divests himself of sovereignty, and the town and the Department and province above it, absorbed by central authority, are no longer anything but agencies under direct ministerial control.

The consequences soon make themselves felt: the citizen and the town are deprived of all dignity, the state's depredations multiply, and the burden on the taxpayer increases in proportion. It is no longer the government that is made for the people; it is the people who are made for the government. Power invades everything, dominates everything, absorbs everything, for ever, for always, without end: war and shipping, administration, justice, police, education, public works and repairs; banks, stock-exchanges, credit, insurance, relief, savings, charity; forests, canals, rivers; religion, finance, customs, commerce, agriculture, industry, transportation. On top of this, huge taxes, which take away from the nation a quarter of its gross product. The citizen has nothing to do but perform his little task in his little corner, drawing his little salary, raising his little family, and relying for the rest on the providence of government.

In the face of such a frame of mind, and surrounded by counter-revolutionary forces, what conclusion must the founders of 1789 have reached, loving liberty as sincerely as they did? Not daring to dissolve the unity of the state, they were obliged above all to undertake two things: 1/ to contain power, always ready to overstep its bounds; 2/ to contain the people, always prone to be carried away by their tribunes and to replace the practices of law with those of omnipotent power.

Until today the authors of constitutions -- Sieyes, Mirabeau, the 1814 Senate, the 1830 Chamber, the 1848 Assembly - have all believed, not without reason, that the essential task of a political system is to restrain the central power, while leaving it as much freedom of action and force as may be possible. What is done in order to achieve this end? First of all one divides power, as the phrase is, by ministerial categories; then one distributes legislative authority between the king and the chambers, a majority of which is also to determine the king's choice of ministers. Finally taxes must be voted once a year by the chambers, which take the opportunity to examine the government's performance.

But while one sets parliamentary power against the ministers, balancing the royal prerogative by the independence of representatives, the authority of the crown by the sovereignty of the nation; while one sets word against word, fiction against fiction, at the same time one assigns to government, unconditionally, with no control but an empty right of criticism, the prerogative of an immense administration; one places in its hands all the strength of the country; one suppresses local liberties in order to confirm its power; one zealously abolishes parochial spirit; finally, one creates an immense and overwhelming power, against which one may then launch a war of words, as though its reality could be changed by personal will. And so what happens? The opposition comes to control the personnel of government; ministries fall one after another; one dynasty, and then another, is expelled; republic is replaced by empire; and still the centralized and anonymous despotism grows, while liberty shrinks. This has been our history since the Jacobins defeated the Gironde. It is the inevitable result of an artificial system that sets metaphysical sovereignty and the right of criticism on one side and the reality of the nation-state, the active powers of a great people, on the other.

In the federal system there is no such cause for concern. Central authority, which initiates things rather than executing them, controls only a modest share of public administration, that of federal services; it is subordinate to the states, which are absolute masters of themselves, enjoying complete authority -- legislative, executive, judicial -- in their own concerns. The central power is subordinated still more effectively if it is entrusted to an assembly of delegates from the states, delegates who are themselves often members of their respective governments, and who therefore keep an especially sharp and jealous eye upon the acts of the federal assembly.

The problem of restraining the masses has also embarrassed the theorists; the means employed here are no less illusory, and the outcome no less unfortunate.

The people, too, form one of the powers of the state, one whose eruptions are the most terrifying. This power needs a counterweight; even democracy is obliged to recognize this, for in the absence of a counterweight the people are prone to dangerous enthusiasms, which expose the state to fearful insurrections and have twice destroyed the republic in France.

A counterweight to the masses has been sought in two institutions, one very onerous to the country and fraught with dangers, the other no less dangerous, and, above all, offensive to public spirit: 1/ a permanent army, 2/ restriction of the franchise. Since 1848 universal suffrage has become the law of the land; but since the dangers of democratic agitation have increased accordingly, it has been necessary also to enlarge the army and intensify military force. Thus in taking precautions against popular risings one is obliged, in the system founded in 1789, to augment the strength of government at the same time as one is trying to limit it for other reasons. The moment that the people and government join hands, the whole structure collapses. What an odd system, in which the people cannot exercise their sovereignty without risking the destruction of government and the government cannot exercise its power without becoming despotic!

The federal system puts a stop to mass agitation, to the ambitions and tumults of the demagogues; it is the end of rule by the public square, of the triumphs of tribunes, and of domination by the capital city. Let Paris make revolution within its own walls. What is the use, if Lyon, Marseilles, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Nantes, Rouen, Lille, Strasbourg, Dijon, and so on, if the Departments, masters of themselves, do not follow? Paris will have wasted its time. Federation is thus the salvation of the people, for by dividing them it saves them at once from the tyranny of their leaders and from their own folly.

The 1848 constitution, by taking away military power from the president of the Republic and by declaring itself to be progressive and open to reform, attempted to spirit away the twin dangers of usurpation by the central power and insurrection by the people. But the 1848 constitution did not define the meaning of progress or the conditions under which it could take place. Class division between the bourgeoisie and the people still remained in the system which it founded; it was apparent when the right to work and the law of 31 May restricting the franchise were discussed.16

16 31 May (1850): the date of a law passed by the conservative majority of the French National Assembly sharply curtailing the electoral franchise.
The unitary prejudice was stronger than ever; Paris supplied the Departments with their mood, their ideas, their will, and it was easy to see that if conflict emerged between the president and the assembly the people would sooner follow their elected leader than their representatives. The outcome made this clear. December 2 showed how little purely legal guarantees are worth against a power which unites popular support with administrative control and which also has its rights.17
17 2 December (1851): the date on which Louis Napoleon, then president of the Second Republic, brought off a coup d'etat and inaugurated the Second Empire.
But if the republican constitution of 1848, for example, had been accompanied by a strengthening of municipal and Departmental organization; if the provinces had learned to live their own lives once more; if they had enjoyed a large share in executive power, and if the inert masses of 2 December had been something more than mere voters, then the coup d'etat could certainly not have taken place. The struggle would have been confined to the Elysee and the Palais-Bourbon, and the troops of executive power would at best have swept away the Paris garrison and the ministerial personnel.*
* There are some who believe that without the vote of 24 November 1851, which decided in favour of the presidency, against the conservatives, and ensured that the coup d'etat would be successful, the republic would have been saved.18

18 24 November (1851): the date on which the French National Assembly approved the direct popular election of the president -- as opposed to election by the assembly -- over the objections of some conservative members, who thought this measure would strengthen presidential power unduly.
For this reason the democrats who voted against the conservatives have been loudly denounced. But in accordance with the law of political contradictions (see chapters 6 and 7 above) and with the facts of the matter, it is clear that if the presidency had been beaten the bourgeois system would have triumphed, as long as the people did not intervene, and the unitary republic would have been transformed with no difficulty into a constitutional monarchy; the country would not have returned to the status quo of 1848, but to a regime perhaps even more oppressive than that of 2 December; for to equal or greater governmental powers there would have been added the decisive preponderance of the middle classes and a further restriction of the franchise, and hence the well-merited disgrace of the people.

I must not conclude this chapter without quoting the words of a writer whose moderation and penetration may be known to readers of the Courrier du Dimanche: M. Gustave Chaudey, a lawyer of the Paris bar. They will help to show that what is at issue here is no empty Utopia, but a system currently practised, the idea of which lives and grows from day to day:

An ideal confederation would be a pact of alliance which may be said to impose upon the individual sovereignties of the federated states only such restrictions as become, in the hands of the federal authority, extended guarantees for the citizens' liberty, the better to protect their individual or collective action.

This is sufficient to show the enormous difference that there is between a federal authority and a unitary government, or a government representing but a single sovereignty.

M. Chaudey's definition is perfectly precise; and what he calls the ideal is simply the formula supplied by the most strict theory. In a federation, centralization is limited to certain specific objects which have been detached from the jurisdiction of the cantons but are still regarded as theirs; it is partial. In unitary government, on the other hand, centralization embraces everything and never relents; it is universal. The consequence is easy to foresee:

In unitary governments [M. Chaudey continues] centralization is an immense force at the disposal of power, and the various uses to which it is put depend exclusively upon the personal will of all those who hold power. Change the situation of power, and you will change the nature of centralization too. Liberal in the hands of a liberal government today, overnight it can become a powerful weapon in the hands of a usurper, and, after his usurpation, a powerful weapon of despotism. Besides, for that reason it is a standing temptation for those who hold power, and a standing menace to the liberty of the citizen. Confronted with such a force, there is not one individual or collective right whose future can be counted on. In such conditions, centralization may be called the disarming of the nation to the advantage of its government, and liberty is doomed to struggle ceaselessly against force.

The case of federal centralization is precisely opposite. Instead of arming power with the force of the whole at the expense of the parts, it arms the part with the force of the whole so that it may withstand the abuse of power. A Swiss canton whose liberties are threatened may rely not merely upon its own force but upon that of twenty-eight others; does this not amply justify their abandoning the right of revolution in the new 1848 constitution?

This author recognizes no less fully the necessity of progress which is so essential to federal constitutions and impossible to achieve in unitary systems:

The 1848 federal constitution recognizes the cantons' right to revise and amend their own constitutions, but imposes two conditions: that changes be made in accordance with rules set out by the cantons' constitutions, and that in addition changes must be progressive, not regressive. It provides that a people may change its constitution in order to advance, but not in order to retreat ... It says to the Swiss peoples: if it is not with the purpose of increasing your liberties that you desire to make changes, that is because you are unworthy of the liberty which you have already: hold fast to what you have. But if it is for the sake of extending your liberty, then you are worthy to go forward": advance, under the protection of the whole of Switzerland.

The idea of guaranteeing and assuring a political constitution, in much the same way as one insures a house against fire or a field against hailstorms, is in fact the central and certainly the most original idea of this system. Our own legislators of 1791, 1793, 1795', 1799, 1814, 1830, and 1848 invoked nothing in support of their constitutions but the patriotism of their citizens and the loyalty of the national guard; the 1793 constitution even sanctioned the resort to armed force and the right of insurrection. Experience has shown how illusory such guarantees are. The 1852 constitution, almost like those of the Consulate and the First Empire, is guaranteed by nothing; not that I would want to complain about that. What security could be provided, in the absence of a federal contract? The whole secret is to divide the nation into independent provinces which are sovereign, or which at least administer themselves, enjoy sufficient force, independence, and influence, and provide one another with mutual guarantees.*

* Article 6 of the federal constitution of Switzerland: 'The confederation guarantees the cantonal constitutions, provided that: a/ these constitutions contain nothing contrary to the provisions of the federal constitution; b/ they secure the exercise of political rights according to republican, representative, or democratic forms; c/ they have been accepted by the people and can be amended when an absolute majority of the citizens so demands.'

An excellent application of these principles is provided by the provisions for the Swiss army:

Increased protection is found everywhere [says M. Chaudey] and the danger of oppression nowhere. In passing under national control, the cantons' contingents do not forget their native soil: far from it, it is because their canton commands them to serve the confederation that they obey it. How could the cantons fear that their soldiers may become weapons of a conspiracy of the centre? It is otherwise in the other European states, where the soldier is separated from the people on entering the service, and becomes body and soul a government official.*
* Le Republicain Neuchatelois 19 and 31 August and 1 September 1852
The same applies to the American constitution, which may be criticized, moreover, for having multiplied the powers of federal authority beyond their proper bounds. The powers in the hands of the American president are almost as extensive as those of Louis-Napoleon in the constititution of 1848: these excessive powers have been favoured by the spirit of unitary absorption, evident first in the Southern states and now in those of the North.

The idea of federation is beyond doubt the highest to which in our time political genius has attained. It far surpasses the various constitutions promulgated in France over the last seventy years in the face of revolution, whose short duration reflects so poorly upon our country. It resolves all the problems posed by the need to reconcile liberty and authority. Thanks to this idea we need no longer fear being overwhelmed by the antinomies of rule; that the people will emancipate themselves by proclaiming a perpetual dictatorship, that the bourgeoisie will display its liberalism by pushing centralization to the limit, that public spirit will be corrupted by the obscene liaison of licence and despotism, that power will return endlessly to the intriguers, as Robespierre called them, or that the Revolution will -- in Danton's words -- 'remain in the hands of the most villainous.' Eternal reason is justified at last, and scepticism vanquished. One will no longer trace human misfortune to fallen Nature, the irony of Providence, or the contradictions of Spirit; the opposition of principles will be seen at last as the condition for universal equilibrium.

Chapter XI.


But there is more to be said. However impeccable in its logic the federal constitution may be, and whatever practical guarantees it may supply, it will not survive if economic factors tend persisently to dissolve it. In other words, political right requires to be buttressed by economic right. If the production and distribution of wealth are given over to chance; if the federal order serves merely to preserve the anarchy of capital and commerce; if, as a result of this misguided anarchy, society comes to be divided into two classes -- one of landlords, capitalists, and entrepreneurs, the other of wage-earning proletarians, one rich, the other poor -- then the political order will still be unstable. The working class, the most numerous and poorest of the classes, will eventually regard it as nothing but a trick; the workers will unite against the bourgeois, who in turn will unite against the workers; and federation will degenerate into unitary democracy, if the people are stronger, or, if the bourgeoisie is victorious, into a constitutional monarchy.

The anticipation of such a social war had led, as we saw in the chapter above, to the establishment of strong governments, so admired by theorists, who have seen confederations as frail things incapable of defending power from mass aggression, that is, of preserving government policy in defiance of the rights of the nation. For, to repeat the point lest it be overlooked, all power is established, every fortress built, every army organized, against internal at least as much as against external threats. If the mission of the state is to make itself absolute master of the people, and the destiny of the people to serve as instruments of its policy, then it must indeed be confessed that the federal system is incomparably inferior to the unitary system. Thanks to the dependent position of central power and the division of the masses, neither one nor the other can damage public liberty. After their victories over Charles the Bold, the Swiss were for a long time the leading military power in Europe;19

19 Charles the Bold was Duke of Burgundy in the fifteenth century; his invasion of Switzerland met with three major defeats, culminating in the battle of Nancy in 1477.
but since they formed a confederation, capable, as they had shown, of defending themselves but unfit for conquest or for conducting coups d'etat, they remained a peaceful republic, the most inoffensive and least adventurous of states. The German confederation, under the title of empire, also had its days of glory; but because the imperial power lacked both stability and a central base, the confederation was cut to pieces and dislocated, and nationality was compromised. The confederation of the Low Countries in turn vanished when confronted by centralized powers; there is no need to mention the Italian confederation. Yes indeed, if the civilization and economy of societies requires the preservation of the status quo, imperial unity is of more value to the people than federation.

But everything tells us that things have changed, and that the revolution of ideas has as its due consequence a revolution of interests. The twentieth century will open the age of federations,*

* As I have written elsewhere (De la Justice dans la Revolution et dans l'Eglise, 4th study, Belgian edition, note), 1814 inaugurated the era of constitutions in Europe. A spirit of perversity has led some people to heap scorn upon this proposition: failing to separate matters of substance from mere intrigue in their daily ramblings upon historical and political subjects, they are ignorant of the chronology of their own century. But it is not that which interests me at the moment. The age of constitutions, which is very real and accurately named, has a parallel in the Actian age announced by Augustus after his victory over Antony at Actium, in the year 30 B.C. These two eras, the Actian age and the age of constitutions, both inaugurate a general renaissance in politics, political economy, public law, freedom and society generally. Both inaugurate a period of peace, both bear witness to a contemporary sense of general revolution and to the willingness of heads of states to aid in this process. However, the Actian age, discredited by the imperial orgies, has been forgotten; it was totally effaced by the Christian age, which continued the process of renewal in a grander, more moral, and more popular fashion. It will be the same with the constitutional age; it in turn will be displaced by the social and federal age, whose profound and popular idea will triumph over the bourgeois and moderate ideas of 1814.
or else humanity will undergo another purgatory of a thousand years. The real problem to be resolved is not political but economic. It was the latter approach by which my friends and I undertook, in 1848, to develop further the revolutionary work of February. Democracy was in power; the provisional government had only to act in order to succeed; if the revolution had been made in the realm of work and wealth, it would have been no trouble to bring about a subsequent revolution in government. Though centralization would have had to be broken at a later point, it would at that time have provided a powerful lever. In that period no one, with the possible exception of the present writer, who had since 1840 ,declared himself an anarchist, dreamed of attacking unity and calling for a federation.

Democratic prejudices decided differently. Politicians of the old school maintained and still maintain today that the correct path to follow, in matters of social revolution, is to begin with government and only later to attend at one's leisure to the realm of work and property. When democracy abdicated after defeating the bourgeoisie and expelling the prince, the inevitable occurred. The empire came to silence all those men who talked without knowing what to do; the economic revolution which took place was the opposite of that which had been wished for in 1848, and liberty was endangered.

The reader may expect me to present a scheme of economic science as applied to federations, and to show in detail all that has to be done from this perspective. I shall simply say that after reforming the political order the federal government must necessarily proceed to a series of reforms in the economic realm. Here, in a few words, is what these reforms must be.

Just as, in a political context, two or more independent states may federate in order to guarantee mutually their territorial integrity or to protect their liberty, so too, in an economic context, confederation may be intended to provide reciprocal security in commerce and industry, or a customs union; or the object may be to construct and maintain means of transportation, such as roads, canals, and railways, or to organize credit, insurance, and so on. The purpose of such specific federal arrangements is to protect the citizens of the federated states from capitalist and financial exploitation, both within them and from the outside; in their aggregate they form, as opposed to the financial feudalism in the ascendant today, what I will call an agro-industrial federation.

I shall not go into this topic in any depth. Those of my readers who have followed my work to any extent for the last fifteen years will understand well enough what I mean. The purpose of industrial and financial feudalism is to confirm, by means of the monopoly of public services, educational privilege, the division of labour, interest on capital, inequitable taxation, and so on, the political neutralization of the masses, wage-labour or economic servitude, in short inequality of condition and wealth. The agro-industrial federation, on the other hand, will tend to foster increasing equality, by organizing all public services in an economical fashion and in hands other than the state's, through mutualism in credit and insurance, the equalization of the tax burden, guaranteeing the right to work and to education, and an organization of work which allows each labourer to become a skilled worker and an artist, each wage-earner to become his own master.

Such a revolution, it is clear, cannot be the work of a bourgeois monarchy or a unitary democracy; it will be accomplished by federation. It does not spring from the unilateral contract or the contract of goodwill, nor from the institutions of charity, but from bilateral and commutative contract.*

* A simple calculation makes this clear. The average period of schooling for both sexes, in a free society, cannot be less than ten or twelve years; hence almost one fifth of the population will be of school age -- in France, seven and a half million individuals, boys and girls, out of a total population of thirty-eight million. In countries such "as America, where families are larger, the proportion would be even higher. There are then seven and a half million individuals of both sexes who must be given a fair measure, certainly with nothing aristocratic about it, of literary, scientific, moral, and vocational education. How many people attend secondary and higher schools in France? One hundred and twenty-seven thousand, four hundred and seventy-four, according to M. Guillard's figures. The rest, seven million, three hundred and seventy thousand, five hundred and twenty-five of them, are condemned never to go beyond primary school. But they must all be educated: every year admissions committees report an increasing number of illiterates. What would our government do, I wonder, if they were obliged to resolve the problem of giving a modest education to seven million, three hundred and seventy thousand, five hundred and twenty five individuals, on top of the one hundred and twenty-seven thousand, four hundred and seventy-four currently enrolled in the schools? Of what use here are the unilateral contract of bourgeois monarchy, the contract of goodwill of the paternalist empire, the charitable foundations of the church, Malthusian policies, and the promises of free trade? Even Committees of Public Safety, for all their revolutionary energy, would fail in the task. Such a goal can be achieved only by a combination of apprenticeship and schooling which will make each pupil into a worker -- which presupposes a universal federation. I know of no consideration more devastating to the old policies than that.

Considered in itself, the idea of an industrial federation which serves to complement and support political federation is most strikingly justified by the principles of economics. It is the application on the largest possible scale of the principles of mutualism, division of labour, and economic solidarity, principles which the will of the people will have transformed into positive laws.

That work should remain free, that power -- more fatal to work than communism itself -- should refrain from interfering with it, all well and good. But industries are sisters; they are parts of the same body; one cannot suffer without the others sharing in its suffering. They should therefore federate, not in order to be absorbed and confused together, but in order to guarantee mutually the conditions of common prosperity, upon which no one has an exclusive claim. Making such an agreement will not detract from their liberty; it will simply give their liberty more security and force. Here, as in the case of the powers of the state or the organs of an animal, it is precisely separation which produces power and harmony.

Thus there is an admirable coincidence between zoology, political economy, and politics. The first tells us that the most perfect animal, best served by its organs, and consequently the most active and intelligent and best fitted for domination, is that whose faculties and members are highly specialized, harmonized, co-ordinated. The second tells us that the most productive and wealthy society, the best able to avoid poverty and excess, is that in which labour is divided, competition more complete, trade more honest, currency more orderly, wages more just, property-owning more equal, all industries guaranteeing one another mutually. The third, finally, tells us that the freest and most moral government is that in which powers are best divided, administrative functions best separated, the independence of groups most respected, provincial, cantonal, and municipal authorities best served by the central authority -- in a word, federal government.

Thus the principle of monarchy or authority has as its first corollary the assimilation or absorption of groups, or administrative centralization; it is what one may call the regime of the political household; its second corollary is undivided power, otherwise called absolutism; its third, feudalism in landowning and industry. Inversely, the federal principle, liberal par excellence, has as its first corollary the administrative independence of the localities composing the federation; as its second, the separation of powers within each of the sovereign states; as its third, the agro-industrial federation.

In a republic constructed on these foundations, one may say that liberty is raised to its third power, authority reduced to its cube root. The former actually extends as the state does, multiplies with the growth of federation; the latter, its successive tiers subordinated to one another, exists whole only in the family, where it is tempered by both conjugal and paternal love.

No doubt knowledge of these great laws can be gained only by long and painful experience; perhaps, too, our species must pass through the trials of slavery before achieving liberty. Each age has its idea, each epoch its institutions.

Now the time has come. The whole of Europe clamours for peace and disarmament. As though the glory of so great a contribution had been reserved to us, all hopes are pinned on France, and it is to our nation that men look to inaugurate universal happiness.

Princes and kings, in the strict sense, are of the past: already we have constitutionalized them; the day is coming when they will be no more than presidents of federations. The same fate awaits aristocracies, democracies, and all the -cracies, the gangrene of the nations, the bugbears of liberty. Is it only democracy -- which thinks itself liberal and hurls curses at federalism and socialism, as its ancestors did in 1793 -- that grasps the idea of liberty? We cannot wait for an answer indefinitely. Already we are beginning to turn our attention to the federal contract. We do not rely too much upon the stupidity of the present generation, surely, in expecting the return of justice from the cataclysm which will sweep it away.

As for me, whose views certain journalists have tried to suppress, either by calculated silence or else by travesty or slander, I throw down this challenge to my enemies.

All my economic ideas, developed over the last twenty-five years, can be defined in three words: agro-industrial federation; all my political views may be reduced to a parallel formula: political federation or decentralization; and since I do not make my ideas the instruments of a party or of personal ambition, all my hopes for the present and future are contained in a third term, a corollary of the first two: progressive federation.

I challenge anyone to make a clearer profession of faith, or one of such great significance and of such moderation at the same time. I will go further, and challenge any friend of liberty and justice to reject it.


First Chapter


Gaul, inhabited by four different races -- Gauls, Cimbri, Gascons, Ligurians -- and further divided into more than forty peoples, formed a confederation like its neighbour Germany. Nature had given it its first constitution, a constitution for free peoples; unity was the result of conquest, the work of the Caesars.

The boundaries of Gaul are generally taken to be the North Sea and Channel in the north, the Atlantic Ocean in the west, the Pyrenees and Mediterranean in the south, the Alps and Jura in the east, the Rhine in the north-east. Here I do not wish to question these so-called natural frontiers at all, even though the basins of the Rhine, Moselle, Meuse, and Scheldt lie in Germany rather than in Gaul. All I wish to point out is that the territory contained in this huge pentagon, though easily unified, as Romans and Franks demonstrated in turn, is no less happily suited .to confederation. One might compare it to a truncated pyramid, whose sides, joined at their edges and pouring their waters into different seas, provide for the independence of the peoples who live upon them. Roman policy, which had already done violence to nature in unifying and centralizing Italy, did the same to Gaul, so that our wretched country, suffering in succession Roman conquest, imperial unity, and shortly afterwards conversion to Christianity, lost its language, its religion, its liberty, and its character for ever.

After the fall of the Western Empire, Gaul, conquered by the Franks, recovered under Germanic influence something like a federal form which, being rapidly corrupted, became the feudal system. The growth of towns could have revived the federal spirit, especially if they had drawn their inspiration from the Flemish commune rather than the Roman municipality: but they were absorbed by the monarchy.

But the idea of federation, native to ancient Gaul, still lived as a memory in the hearts of the provinces, when the revolution broke out. One may say that federation was the first thought in 1789. With absolute monarchy and feudal rights abolished, and provincial boundaries recognized, everyone felt that France would return to confederation, presided over by a hereditary king. The battalions sent to Paris from all the provinces of the realm were called federal troops. The grievances submitted by the Estates who hastened to reclaim their sovereignty contained the basis for a new social pact.20

20 A reference to the cahiers, summaries of grievances submitted by local communities at the time of the summoning of the States-General shortly before the Revolution.

But sadly, in 1789, despite our revolutionary frenzy, we were as always more ready to imitate than to initiate. There was no example of federation of any note available to us. Neither the German confederation, based upon the Holy Apostolic Empire, nor the Swiss confederation, so imbued with aristocracy, offered suitable models. The American confederation had just come into being on 3 March 1789, the eve of the meeting of the States-General -- and we have seen, in part 1, how defective an effort this was. Since we had renounced a return to our own ancient principles, it was not unreasonable to expect more liberty, and above all more order, from a constitutional monarchy based on the Declaration of Rights than from the constitution of the United States.

The National Assembly, arrogating all powers to itself and calling itself Constituent, signalled the anti-federalist reaction. After the oath of the Jeu de paume, the assembly was no longer one of quasi-federal deputies making contracts in the name of their respective estates;21

21 The oath of the Jeu de paume -- usually referred to in English as the 'tennis-court oath' -- was a resolution adopted by the representatives of the third estate (commoners) on 20 June 1789, declaring that they constituted an assembly of the nation with a mandate for constitutional reform.
its members were representatives of an undivided collectivity, who set about reforming the society of France from top to bottom, condescending, as its leaders, to grant it a charter. To make the transition irreversible, the provinces were carved up and made unrecognizable, and every trace of provincial independence extinguished by the new territorial division into Departments. It was Sieyes who made this proposal, which later was to serve as the model for all those consistently unitary constitutions by which this country has been governed; Sieyes, imbued with the spirit of Church and Empire, was the true author of our present unity; it was he who stifled at birth national confederation, which is ready to be reborn if but one man is able to define it. The needs of the moment, the safety of the revolution, were Sieyes' excuse. Mirabeau, who aided him in all his projects for the creation of departments, embraced Sieyes' idea with such enthusiasm that he feared provincial liberties would give birth to a counter-revolution; and just as he approved of territorial division by Department as the basis for the new monarchy, so too he saw it as an excellent tactical device against the old regime.

After the disaster of 10 August, the abolition of the monarchy led once more to a revival of federalist ideas.22

22 10 August (1792): the date of a battle at the Tuileries place between the royal household troops and revolutionary columns, which marked the effective end of the attempt at constitutional monarchy embodied in the 1791 constitution.
There was some dissatisfaction with the constitution of 1791, which had become unworkable. There were complaints about the dictatorship of the two last assemblies, and about the absorption of departmental power by the capital. A new assembly of representatives of the nation was convened: it bore the significant title of Convention. This marked the formal repudiation of the unitary ideas of Sieyes; but it was to undergo fearful divisions and to bring about bloody proscriptions. As at Versailles after the opening of the States-General, federalism was to be vanquished once more, during the events of 31 May 1793 in Paris.23
23 31 May (1793): the date of a rising in Paris which led to the complete supremacy of the Jacobin faction under Robespierre.
From that day of ill omen every vestige of federalism has vanished from the public law of the French; the very idea has become suspect, a synonym for counter-revolution, one might almost say for treason. The idea has been erased from our minds; no one in France knows any longer what is meant by the word federation, which might as well be a word borrowed from the Sanskrit.

Were the Girondins wrong in trying to appeal -- on the strength of the Convention's mandate -- to the Departments of the single and indivisible republic of the Jacobins?24

24 During the early 1790s the representatives from the Gironde served as the nucleus for the moderate oppositon to the Jacobins. It is doubtful that any of the 'Girondins' were in any real sense federalists, but their constituency was provincial rather than Parisian. The provincial revolts which they fomented against the Jacobins in May and June 1793 were termed insurrections federalistes.
Admitting that they were right in principle, was their policy opportune? The omnipotence of the new assembly, elected in a fundamentally anti-unitary mood, the dictatorship of the committee of public safety, the triumvirate of Robespierre, Saint-Just, and Couthon, the tribunicial power of Marat and Hebert, the judicial power of the revolutionary tribunal -- no doubt all this was scarcely tolerable, and, moreover, justified the revolt of the seventy-two Departments against Paris. But the Girondins could not define their own thoughts or formulate an alternative system, they carried insufficient political weight and could not tackle the national danger that they had denounced so well; were they not guilty of a clumsy provocation, and of great imprudence? On the other hand, if the Jacobins, who retained exclusive power, could with some justification take credit for saving the Revolution and defeating the allies at Fleurus, could one not quite as justly reproach them, up to a point, for having themselves created the danger which they later averted;25
25 The battle of Fleurus (26 June 1794) was a striking victory of the French revolutionary army over an invading force under the Austrian general Coburg.
and, through their fanaticism, through their terror of fourteen months and the reaction which it provoked, did they not exhaust the nation, crush public spirit, and trample upon liberty?

History will impartially judge this case, in the light of more fully understood principles, of contemporary records, and of the facts.

As for me, if I may offer a personal opinion while awaiting this definitive judgment -- and how are historical judgments arrived at, if not by summing up opinions? -- I will say that the French nation, constituted for fourteen centuries as a monarchy by divine right, could not have transformed itself overnight into a republic of any kind; that the Gironde, reproached for its federalism, represented the thought of the revolution better than the Jacobins did, but was foolish if it believed in the possibility of an immediate transformation; that prudence, or the law of progress, as we would say today, dictated compromise, and that the misfortune of the Girondins was to have damaged their principles by opposing at once the" monarchy of Sieyes and Mirabeau and the democracy of the sans-culottes,'m temporary alliance. As for the Jacobins, I will say with equal frankness that in seizing power and using it with all its monarchical potential, they displayed more shrewdness, under the circumstances, than the statesmen of the Gironde;but that in re-establishing the monarchical system, with its absolutism intensified, under the name of 'the single and indivisible republic,' they sacrificed the very principle of revolution and displayed a Machiavellianism of sinister portent. A temporary dictatorship could have been justifiable; but a dogma, which inevitably led to the consecration of all the excesses of power and the destruction of national sovereignty, was nothing less than a crime. The Jacobins' single and indivisible republic did more than ruin the ancient federalism of the provinces: it made liberty impossible in France, and made revolution illusory . In 1830 one might still have reserved judgment about the fatal consequences of the Jacobins' triumph: today, doubt is no longer possible.

The debate between federalism and unity has recently re-emerged in the Italian context, under circumstances not wholly unlike those of 1793. In 1793 the idea of federalism, confused by some with democracy, condemned by others for its royalism, ran up against the wretchedness of the times, partisan fury, and the forgetfulness and weakness of the nation. In 1859, its enemies were ministerial intrigue, sectarian fantasy, and the mistrust which is easily aroused among peoples.26

26 In 1859 the idea of an Italian confederation had been briefly mooted, but it was rapidly overshadowed by the ideal of national unity pursued by Cavour, prime minister of Piedmont, and Mazzini, nationalist theoretician and leader -- who are, presumably, the minister and the sectarian alluded to here.
We must discover whether the prejudice which since 1789 has consistently led us from revolutionary to absolutist paths is still to survive in the face of the truth, which has at last emerged, and of the facts.

In the first part of this work I tried to establish the philosophical and historical foundations of the principle of federation, and to show the superiority of this conception, which we may say is that of our century, over all those which have preceded it. I have just described the sequence of events and the conjunction of circumstances through which the opposite theory has come to dominate our minds. I will now show how the democrats have conducted themselves in recent years under this dreadful influence. In reducing itself to absurdity, the policy of unity confesses its own demise and cedes its place to federation.