What is Property?/4

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
What is Property? Or, An Inquiry Into The Principle of Right and of Government by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
Chapter IV: That Property Is Impossible

The last resort of proprietors,--the overwhelming argument whose invincible potency reassures them,--is that, in their opinion, equality of conditions is impossible. "Equality of conditions is a chimera," they cry with a knowing air; "distribute wealth equally to-day--to-morrow this equality will have vanished."

To this hackneyed objection, which they repeat everywhere with the most marvellous assurance, they never fail to add the following comment, as a sort of GLORY BE TO THE FATHER: "If all men were equal, nobody would work." This anthem is sung with variations.

"If all were masters, nobody would obey."

"If nobody were rich, who would employ the poor?"

And, "If nobody were poor, who would labor for the rich?"

But let us have done with invective--we have better arguments at our command.

If I show that property itself is impossible--that it is property which is a contradiction, a chimera, a utopia; and if I show it no longer by metaphysics and jurisprudence, but by figures, equations, and calculations,--imagine the fright of the astounded proprietor! And you, reader; what do you think of the retort?

Numbers govern the world--mundum regunt numeri. This proverb applies as aptly to the moral and political, as to the sidereal and molecular, world. The elements of justice are identical with those of algebra; legislation and government are simply the arts of classifying and balancing powers; all jurisprudence falls within the rules of arithmetic. This chapter and the next will serve to lay the foundations of this extraordinary doctrine. Then will be unfolded to the reader's vision an immense and novel career; then shall we commence to see in numerical relations the synthetic unity of philosophy and the sciences; and, filled with admiration and enthusiasm for this profound and majestic simplicity of Nature, we shall shout with the apostle: "Yes, the Eternal has made all things by number, weight, and measure!" We shall understand not only that equality of conditions is possible, but that all else is impossible; that this seeming impossibility which we charge upon it arises from the fact that we always think of it in connection either with the proprietary or the communistic regime,--political systems equally irreconcilable with human nature. We shall see finally that equality is constantly being realized without our knowledge, even at the very moment when we are pronouncing it incapable of realization; that the time draws near when, without any effort or even wish of ours, we shall have it universally established; that with it, in it, and by it, the natural and true political order must make itself manifest.

It has been said, in speaking of the blindness and obstinacy of the passions, that, if man had any thing to gain by denying the truths of arithmetic, he would find some means of unsettling their certainty: here is an opportunity to try this curious experiment. I attack property, no longer with its own maxims, but with arithmetic. Let the proprietors prepare to verify my figures; for, if unfortunately for them the figures prove accurate, the proprietors are lost.

In proving the impossibility of property, I complete the proof of its injustice. In fact,--

That which is JUST must be USEFUL;

That which is useful must be TRUE;

That which is true must be POSSIBLE;

Therefore, every thing which is impossible is untrue, useless, unjust. Then,--a priori,--we may judge of the justice of any thing by its possibility; so that if the thing were absolutely impossible, it would be absolutely unjust.


PROPERTY IS PHYSICALLY AND MATHEMATICALLY IMPOSSIBLE.

DEMONSTRATION.

AXIOM: Property is the Right of Increase claimed by the Proprietor over any thing which he has stamped as his own[edit]

This proposition is purely an axiom, because,--

1. It is not a definition, since it does not express all that is included in the right of property--the right of sale, of exchange, of gift; the right to transform, to alter, to consume, to destroy, to use and abuse, &c. All these rights are so many different powers of property, which we may consider separately; but which we disregard here, that we may devote all our attention to this single one,--the right of increase.

2. It is universally admitted. No one can deny it without denying the facts, without being instantly belied by universal custom.

3. It is self-evident, since property is always accompanied (either actually or potentially) by the fact which this axiom expresses; and through this fact, mainly, property manifests, establishes, and asserts itself.

4. Finally, its negation involves a contradiction. The right of increase is really an inherent right, so essential a part of property, that, in its absence, property is null and void.

OBSERVATIONS.--Increase receives different names according to the thing by which it is yielded: if by land, FARM-RENT; if by houses and furniture, RENT; if by life-investments, REVENUE; if by money, INTEREST; if by exchange, ADVANTAGE, GAIN, PROFIT (three things which must not be confounded with the wages or legitimate price of labor).

Increase--a sort of royal prerogative, of tangible and consumable homage--is due to the proprietor on account of his nominal and metaphysical occupancy. His seal is set upon the thing; that is enough to prevent any one else from occupying it without HIS permission.

This permission to use his things the proprietor may, if he chooses, freely grant. Commonly he sells it. This sale is really a stellionate and an extortion; but by the legal fiction of the right of property, this same sale, severely punished, we know not why, in other cases, is a source of profit and value to the proprietor.

The amount demanded by the proprietor, in payment for this permission, is expressed in monetary terms by the dividend which the supposed product yields in nature. So that, by the right of increase, the proprietor reaps and does not plough; gleans and does not till; consumes and does not produce; enjoys and does not labor. Very different from the idols of the Psalmist are the gods of property: the former had hands and felt not; the latter, on the contrary, _manus habent et palpabunt_. _ _The right of increase is conferred in a very mysterious and supernatural manner. The inauguration of a proprietor is accompanied by the awful ceremonies of an ancient initiation. First, comes the CONSECRATION of the article; a consecration which makes known to all that they must offer up a suitable sacrifice to the proprietor, whenever they wish, by his permission obtained and signed, to use his article.

Second, comes the ANATHEMA, which prohibits--except on the conditions aforesaid--all persons from touching the article, even in the proprietor's absence; and pronounces every violator of property sacrilegious, infamous, amenable to the secular power, and deserving of being handed over to it.

Finally, the DEDICATION, which enables the proprietor or patron saint--the god chosen to watch over the article--to inhabit it mentally, like a divinity in his sanctuary. By means of this dedication, the substance of the article--so to speak--becomes converted into the person of the proprietor, who is regarded as ever present in its form.

This is exactly the doctrine of the writers on jurisprudence. "Property," says Toullier, "is a MORAL QUALITY inherent in a thing; AN ACTUAL BOND which fastens it to the proprietor, and which cannot be broken save by his act." Locke humbly doubted whether God could make matter INTELLIGENT. Toullier asserts that the proprietor renders it MORAL. How much does he lack of being a God? These are by no means exaggerations.

PROPERTY IS THE RIGHT OF INCREASE; that is, the power to produce without labor. Now, to produce without labor is to make something from nothing; in short, to create. Surely it is no more difficult to do this than to moralize matter. The jurists are right, then, in applying to proprietors this passage from the Scriptures,--_Ego dixi: Dii estis et filii Excelsi omnes_,--"I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the Most High."

PROPERTY IS THE RIGHT OF INCREASE. To us this axiom shall be like the name of the beast in the Apocalypse,--a name in which is hidden the complete explanation of the whole mystery of this beast. It was known that he who should solve the mystery of this name would obtain a knowledge of the whole prophecy, and would succeed in mastering the beast. Well! by the most careful interpretation of our axiom we shall kill the sphinx of property.

Starting from this eminently characteristic fact--the RIGHT OF INCREASE--we shall pursue the old serpent through his coils; we shall count the murderous entwinings of this frightful taenia, whose head, with its thousand suckers, is always hidden from the sword of its most violent enemies, though abandoning to them immense fragments of its body. It requires something more than courage to subdue this monster. It was written that it should not die until a proletaire, armed with a magic wand, had fought with it.

COROLLARIES.--1. THE AMOUNT OF INCREASE IS PROPORTIONAL TO THE THING INCREASED. Whatever be the rate of interest,--whether it rise to three, five, or ten per cent., or fall to one-half, one- fourth, one-tenth,--it does not matter; the law of increase remains the same. The law is as follows:--

All capital--the cash value of which can be estimated--may be considered as a term in an arithmetical series which progresses in the ratio of one hundred, and the revenue yielded by this capital as the corresponding term of another arithmetical series which progresses in a ratio equal to the rate of interest. Thus, a capital of five hundred francs being the fifth term of the arithmetical progression whose ratio is one hundred, its revenue at three per cent. will be indicated by the fifth term of the arithmetical progression whose ratio is three:--

100 . 200 . 300 . 400 . 500.

3   .   6   .   9   .   12  .   15.


An acquaintance with this sort of LOGARITHMS--tables of which, calculated to a very high degree, are possessed by proprietors-- will give us the key to the most puzzling problems, and cause us to experience a series of surprises.

By this LOGARITHMIC theory of the right of increase, a piece of property, together with its income, may be defined as A NUMBER WHOSE LOGARITHM IS EQUAL TO THE SUM OF ITS UNITS DIVIDED BY ONE HUNDRED, AND MULTIPLIED BY THE RATE OF INTEREST. For instance; a house valued at one hundred thousand francs, and leased at five per cent., yields a revenue of five thousand francs, according to the formula 100,000 x 5 / 100 = five thousand. Vice versa, a piece of land which yields, at two and a half per cent., a revenue of three thousand francs is worth one hundred and twenty thousand francs, according to this other formula; 3,000 x 100 / 2 1/2 = one hundred and twenty thousand.

In the first case, the ratio of the progression which marks the increase of interest is five; in the second, it is two and a half.

OBSERVATION.--The forms of increase known as farm-rent, income, and interest are paid annually; rent is paid by the week, the month, or the year; profits and gains are paid at the time of exchange. Thus, the amount of increase is proportional both to the thing increased, and the time during which it increases; in other words, usury grows like a cancer--_foenus serpit sicut cancer_.

2. THE INCREASE PAID TO THE PROPRIETOR BY THE OCCUPANT IS A DEAD LOSS TO THE LATTER. For if the proprietor owed, in exchange for the increase which he receives, some thing more than the permission which he grants, his right of property would not be perfect--he would not possess _jure optimo, jure perfecto;_ that is, he would not be in reality a proprietor. Then, all which passes from the hands of the occupant into those of the proprietor in the name of increase, and as the price of the permission to occupy, is a permanent gain for the latter, and a dead loss and annihilation for the former; to whom none of it will return, save in the forms of gift, alms, wages paid for his services, or the price of merchandise which he has delivered. In a word, increase perishes so far as the borrower is concerned; or to use the more energetic Latin phrase,--_res perit solventi_.

3. THE RIGHT OF INCREASE OPPRESSES THE PROPRIETOR AS WELL AS THE STRANGER. The master of a thing, as its proprietor, levies a tax for the use of his property upon himself as its possessor, equal to that which he would receive from a third party; so that capital bears interest in the hands of the capitalist, as well as in those of the borrower and the commandite. If, indeed, rather than accept a rent of five hundred francs for my apartment, I prefer to occupy and enjoy it, it is clear that I shall become my own debtor for a rent equal to that which I deny myself. This principle is universally practised in business, and is regarded as an axiom by the economists. Manufacturers, also, who have the advantage of being proprietors of their floating capital, although they owe no interest to any one, in calculating their profits subtract from them, not only their running expenses and the wages of their employees, but also the interest on their capital. For the same reason, money-lenders retain in their own possession as little money as possible; for, since all capital necessarily bears interest, if this interest is supplied by no one, it comes out of the capital, which is to that extent diminished. Thus, by the right of increase, capital eats itself up. This is, doubtless, the idea that Papinius intended to convey in the phrase, as elegant as it is forcible--_Foenus mordet solidam_. I beg pardon for using Latin so frequently in discussing this subject; it is an homage which I pay to the most usurious nation that ever existed.