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The democratic idea, the new bridge of civilisation, undergoes at this moment the formidable trial of overweight. Every other idea would certainly give way under the load that it is made to bear. Democracy proves its solidity by the absurdities that are heaped on, without shaking it. It must resist everything that people choose to place on it. At this moment they try to make it carry despotism.
The people have no need of liberty, -- such was the password of a certain innocent and duped school, the had of which has been dead some years. That poor honest dreamer believed in good faith that men can keep progress with them when they turn out liberty. We have heard him put forth, probably without meaning it, this aphorism: Liberty is good for the rich. These kinds of maxims have the disadvantage of not being prejudicial to the establishment of empires.
No, no, no! Nothing out of liberty.
Servitude is the blind soul. Can you figure to yourself a man blind voluntarily? This terrible thing exists. There are willing slaves. A smile in irons! Can anything be more hideous? He who is not free is not a man; he who is not free has no sight, no knowledge, no discernment, no growth, no comprehension, no will, no faith, no love; he has no wife, he has no children: he has a female and young ones; he lives not, -- ab luce principium. Liberty is the apple of the eye. Liberty is the visual organ of progress.
Because liberty has inconveniences, and even perils, to wish to create civilisation without it is just the same as to try cultivation without the sun; the sun is also a censurable heavenly body. One day, in the too beautiful sumer of 1829, a critic, now forgotten,--and wrongly, for he was not without some talent,--M.P., suffering from the heat, sharpened his pen, saying, "I am going to excoriate the sun!"
Certain social theories, very distinct from socialism such as we understand and want it, have gone astray. Let us discard all that resembles the convent, the barrack, the cell and the straightline system. Paraguay, minus the Jesuits, is Paraguay just the same. To give a new fashion to evil is not a useful task. To recommence the old slavery is idiotic. Let the nations of Europe beware of a despotism made anew from materials they have to some extent themselves supplied. Such a thing, cemented with a special philosophy, might well last. We have just mentioned the theorists, some of whom otherwise right and sincere, who, by dint of fearing the dispersion of activities and energies, and of what they call 'anarchy' have arrived at an almost Chinese acceptation of absolute social concentration. They turn their resignation into a doctrine. Provided man eats and drinks, all is right. The happiness of the beast is the solution. But this is a happiness which some other men would call by a different name.
We dream for nations something else besides a felicity solely made up of obedience. The bastinado procures that sort of felicity for the Turkish fellah, the knout for the Russian serf, and the cat-o-nine-tails for the English soldier. These socialists by the side of socialism come from Joseph de Maistre, and from Ancillon, without suspecting it p erhaps; for the ingenuousness of these theorists rallied to the Fait accompli has -- or fancies it has -- democratic intentions, and speaks energetically of the "principles of '89." Let these involuntary philosophers of a possible despotism think a moment. To teach the masses a doctrine against liberty; to cram intellects with appetites and fatalism, a certain situation being given; to saturate it with materialism; and to run the risk of the construction which might proceed from it,-- that would be to understand progress in the fashion of a worthy man who applauded a new gibbet, and who exclaimed, "This is all right!" We have had til now but the old wooden gallows. Today the age advances; and here we are with a good stone gibbet, which will do for our children and grandchildren!"
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