V. THE COMMUNISTS

While the physiocrats were laying the theoretical basis of capitalism, Morelly, Mably, and Linguet were expounding socialism and communism. As the educated classes surrendered their hopes of heaven they consoled themselves with earthly substitutes: the well-to-do, ignoring religious prohibitions, indulged themselves with wealth and power, women and wine and art; the commoners found solace in visions of a utopia in which the goods of the earth would be equally shared between simple and clever, weak and strong.

There was no socialist movement in the eighteenth century, no such definite group as the Levellers in Cromwell’s England, or the communistic Jesuits of Paraguay; there were only individuals here and there adding their voices to a mounting cry that would become, in “Gracchus” Babeuf, a factor in the French Revolution. We recall that the priestly skeptic Jean Meslier, in his Testament of 1733, pleaded for a communistic society in which the national product would be equally shared, and men and women would mate and part as they pleased; meanwhile, he suggested, it would help if a few kings should be killed.55 Seven years before this proclamation came to print, Rousseau, in his second Discourse (1755), denounced private property as the source of all the evils of civilization; but even in that outburst he disclaimed any socialistic program, and by 1762 the heroes of his books were well equipped with property.

In the same year with Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality appeared the Code de la nature of an obscure radical of whom, aside from his books, we know hardly anything but his last name, Morelly. We must not confuse him with André Morellet, whom we have seen as a contributor to the Encyclopédie. Morelly first roused the wits with a Traitédes qualités d’un grand roi (1751), which pictured a communistic king. In 1753 he gave his dream poetic form as Naufrage des îles flottantes, ou La Basiliade;here the good king, perhaps after reading Rousseau’s first Discourse, leads his people back to a simple and natural life. The best and fullest exposition of the communistic ideal was Morelly’s Code de la nature (1755-60). Many ascribed it to Diderot, and the Marquis d’Argenson pronounced it superior to Montesquieu’s L’Esprit des lois (1748). Morelly thought, like Rousseau, that man is by nature good, that his social instincts incline him to good behavior, and that the laws corrupted him by establishing and protecting private property. He praised Christianity for inclining to communism, and mourned that the Church had sanctioned property. The institution of private property had generated “vanity, fatuity, pride, ambition, villainy, hypocrisy, viciousness … ; everything evil resolves itself into this subtle and pernicious element, the desire to possess.”56 Then sophists conclude that the nature of man makes communism impossible, whereas in real sequence it was the violation of communism that perverted the natural virtues of man. If it were not for the greed, egoism, rivalries, and hatreds engendered by private property, men would live together in peaceful and co-operative brotherhood.

The road to reconstruction must begin by clearing all obstacles to the free discussion of morals and politics, “allowing full liberty to wise men to attack the errors and prejudices that maintain the spirit of property.” Children should be taken from their parents at six years of age and brought up communally by the state until they are sixteen years old, when they should be returned to their parents; meanwhile the schools will have trained them to think in terms of the common good rather than personal acquisition. Private property should be permitted only in articles pertaining to the individual’s intimate needs. “All products will be collected in public storehouses to be distributed to all citizens for the needs of life.”57 Every able-bodied individual must work; from twenty-one to twenty-five he must help on the farms. There is to be no leisure class, but everyone will be free to retire at forty, and the state will see that he is well cared for in old age. The nation will be divided into garden cities with a shopping center and a public square. Each community is to be governed by a council of fathers over fifty years old; and these councils will elect a supreme senate to rule and co-ordinate all.

Perhaps Morelly underestimated the natural individualism of men, the strength of the acquisitive instinct, and the opposition that the hunger for freedom would offer to the tyranny required for the maintenance of an unnatural equality. Nevertheless his influence was considerable. Babeuf declared that he had imbibed his communism from Morelly’s Code de la nature, and Charles Fourier probably took from the same source his plan (1808) for co-operative “phalansteries,” which in turn led to such communist experiments as Brook Farm (1841). In Morelly’s Code occurs the famous principle that came down to inspire and plague the Russian Revolution: “chacun selon ses facultés, á chacun selon ses besoins”— from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.58

The philosophes generally rejected Morelly’s system as impracticable, and accepted private property as an unavoidable consequence of human nature. But in 1763 Morelly found a vigorous ally in Simon-Henri Linguet, a lawyer who attacked both law and property. Disbarred from practice, Linguet published (1777-92) Annales politiques, a journal in which he delivered a running fire upon social abuses. Law, he thought, had become an instrument for legalizing and maintaining possessions originally won by force or fraud.

Laws are destined above all to safeguard property. Now, as one can take away much more from the man who has than from him who has not, they are obviously a guarantee accorded to the rich against the poor. It is difficult to believe, and yet it is clearly demonstrable, that the laws are in some respects a conspiracy against the majority of the human race.59

Consequently there is an inevitable class war between the owners of property or capital and the workers who, in competition with one another, must sell their labor to propertied employers. Linguet scorned the claims of the physiocrats that the liberation of the economy from state controls would automatically bring prosperity; on the contrary, it would accelerate the concentration of wealth; prices would rise, and wages would lag behind. The control of prices by the rich perpetuates the slavery of the wage earner even after slavery has been “abolished” by law; “all that they [the former slaves] have gained is to be constantly tormented by the fear of starvation, a misfortune from which their predecessors in this lowest rank of humanity were at least exempt”;60 slaves were lodged and fed all the year round; but in an uncontrolled economy the employer is free to throw his employees into beggary whenever he can make no profit from them; then he makes begging a crime. There is no remedy against all this, Linguet thought, but a communist revolution. He did not recommend it for his time, since it would lead more likely to anarchy than to justice, but he felt that the conditions for such a revolt were rapidly taking form.

Never has want been more universal, more murderous for the class which is condemned to it; never, perhaps, amidst apparent prosperity, has Europe been nearer to a complete upheaval. … We have reached, by a directly opposite route, precisely the point which Italy had reached when the slave war [led by Spartacus] inundated it with blood and carried fire and slaughter to the very gates of the mistress of the world.61

The Revolution came in his time despite his advice, and sent him to the guillotine (1794).

The Abbé Gabriel Bonnot de Mably kept his head by dying four years before the Revolution. He came of a prominent family in Grenoble; one of his brothers was the Jean Bonnot de Mably with whom Rousseau stayed in 1740; another was the Condillac who made a sensation of psychology. Still another famous relative, Cardinal de Tencin, tried to make a priest out of him, but Gabriel stopped short at minor orders, attended the salon of Mme. de Tencin in Paris, and succumbed to philosophy. In 1748 he quarreled withthe Cardinal and withdrew into scholarly retirement; thereafter the only events in his life were his books, all of them once renowned.*

His seven years in Paris and Versailles gave him a knowledge of politics, of international relations, and of human nature. The result was a unique mixture of socialistic aspirations with pessimistic doubts. Mably insisted (contrary to Machiavelli) that the same moral standards that are applied to individuals should be applied to the conduct of states, but he recognized that this would require an enforceable system of international law. Like Voltaire and Morelly he was a theist without Christianity, but he believed that morality cannot be maintained without a religion of supernatural punishments and rewards, for most persons “are condemned to the permanent infancy of their reason.”62 He preferred the Stoic ethics to those of Christ, and the Greek republics to modern monarchies. He agreed with Morelly in deriving the vices of man not from nature but from property; this is “the fountainhead of all the ills that afflict society.”63 “The passion for enriching oneself has taken a growing place in the human heart, stifling all justice”;64 and that passion is intensified as inequality of fortunes increases. Envy, covetousness, and class divisions poison the natural amity of mankind. The rich multiply their luxuries, the poor sink into humiliation and degradation. Of what good is political liberty if economic slavery persists? “The freedom which every European thinks he enjoys is only the freedom to leave one master and give himself to another.”65

How much happier and finer would men be if there were no mine and thine! Mably thought that the Indians were happier under Jesuit communism in Paraguay than the Frenchmen of his time; that the Swedes and the Swiss of that age, who had given up the quest for glory and money and were content with a moderate prosperity, were happier than the English who were conquering colonies and trade. In Sweden, he contended, character was held in greater honor than fame, and a modest contentment was valued above great wealth.66 Real freedom is possessed only by those who are not anxious to be rich. In the kind of society advocated by the physiocrats there would be no happiness, for men would always be agitated by the desire to equal, in possessions, those more affluent than themselves.

So Mably concluded that communism is the only social order that will promote virtue and happiness. “Establish community of goods, and nothing is thence easier than to establish equality of conditions, and to affirm on this double foundation the well-being of man.”67 But how can such communism be established with men so corrupted as they now are? Here the skeptic in Mably raises his head, and despondently admits that “no human force today could re-establish equality without causing greater disorders than those one wished to avoid.”68 Democracy is theoretically splendid, but in practice it fails through the ignorance and acquisitiveness of the masses.69 All that we can do is to hold up communism as an ideal toward which civilization should gradually and cautiously move, slowly changing the habits of modern man from competition to co-operation. Our goal should be not the increase of wealth, nor even the increase of happiness, but rather the growth of virtue, for only virtue brings happiness. The first step toward a better government would be the summoning of a States-General, which should draw up a constitution giving supreme power to a legislative assembly (this was done in 1789-91). The acreage possessed by any one person should be limited; large estates should be broken up to spread peasant proprietorship; there should be strict curbs on the inheritance of wealth; and “useless arts” like painting and sculpture should be banned.

Many of these proposals were adopted in the French Revolution. Mably’s collected works were published in 1789, again in 1792, again in 1793; and a book published soon after the Revolution listed Helvétius, Mably, Rousseau, Voltaire, and Franklin, in that order, as the principal inspirers of that event, and the true saints of the new dispensation.”70

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