Pierre Leroux, inventeur du 'socialisme'

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Charles Bell

Jun 17, 2012, 8:19:46 PM6/17/12

From "Individualism and Socialism" by Pierre Leroux 1834

[translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]

One can paint a portrait equally hideous and true of man in the state
of absolute individuality and of man in the state of absolute
obedience. The principle of authority, even disguised under the good
name of devotion, is no better than the principle of egoism, hiding
itself under the good name of liberty.

[. . . ]

Liberty and Society are the two equal poles of social science. Do not
say that society is only the result, the ensemble, the aggregation of
individuals; for we will arrive at what we have today, a dreadful pell-
mell with poverty for the greatest number. [CB: What Leroux calls
"individualism."] Theoretically you would have still worse; for,
society no longer existing, the individuality of each has no limits,
and the reason of each has no rule: you would arrive at moral
skepticism, at general, absolute doubt, and in politics at the
exploitation of the good by the malicious, and of the people by some
rascals and some tyrants.

But do not say any more that society is everything and that the
individual is nothing, or that society comes before the individuals,
or that the citizens are not anything but some devoted subjects of
society, functionaries of society who must find, for good or ill,
their satisfaction in all that which contributes to the social aim; do
not make of society a sort of large animal of which we would be the
molecules, the parts, or the members, of which some would be the head,
the others the stomach, the others the feet, the hands, the nails or
the hair. [[CB: What Leroux later refers to as "absolute socialism."]
Instead of society being the result of a free and spontaneous life for
all those who compose it, will not want the life of each man to be a
function of the social life that you would have imagined: for you will
arrive by that path only at brutalization and despotism; you would
arrest, you would immobilize the human spirit, all while pretending to
lead it.

[. . . ]

Yes, society is a body, but it is a mystical body, and we are not its
members, but we live in it. Yes, each man is a fruit on the tree of
Humanity; but the fruit, in order to be the product of the tree, is no
less complete and perfect in itself; he contains in germ the tree
which has engendered him; he becomes himself the tree, when the other
will fall from old age under the shock of the winds, and it will be
him who will bring new blood to nature. Thus each man reflects in his
breast all of society; each man is in a certain manner the
manifestation of his century, of his people and of his generation;
each man is Humanity; each man is a sovereignty; each man is a law,
for whom the law is made, and against which no law can prevail.

[. . . ]

We are all responsible to one another. We are united by an invisible
link, it is true, but that link is more clear and more evident to the
intelligence than matter is to the eyes of the body.

From which it follows that mutual charity is a duty.

From which it follows that the intervention of man for man is a duty.

From which follows finally a condemnation of individualism.

But from that follows as well, and with an equal force, the
condemnation of absolute socialism

[. . .]

It is clear that, in all of this writing, it is necessary to
understand by socialism, socialism as we define it in this work
itself, which is as the exaggeration of the idea of association, or of
society. For a number of years, we have been accustomed to call
socialists all the thinkers who who occupy themselves with social
reforms, all those who critique and reprove individualism, all those
who speak, in different terms, of social providence, and of the
solidarity which units together not only the members of a State, but
the entire Human Species; and, by this title, ourselves, who have
always battled absolute socialism, we are today designated as
socialist. We are undoubtedly socialist, but in this sense: we are
socialist, if you mean by socialism the Doctrine which will sacrifice
none of the terms of the formula: Liberty, Fraternity, Equality,
Unity, but which reconciles them all. -- I can only repeat here, with
regard to the use of the word Socialism in all of this extract, what I
said previously. When I invented the term Socialism in order to oppose
it to the term Individualism, I did not expect that, ten years later,
that term would be used to express, in a general fashion, religious
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