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Selected Works

Georges Palante
Table of Contents
Esprit de Corps 2
Respect 13
Anarchism and Individualism 15
The Secular Priestly Spirit 27
Notes 38
Individualism 40
The Future of Pessimism and Individualism 42
The Relationship Between Pessimism and
Individualism 43
Misanthropic Pessimism 48
Historical Pessimism 52
Esprit de Corps
Source: Combat pour lindividu. Paris, Alcan, 1904;
originally appeared as an article in La Revue
Philosophique in 1899;
Translated: by Mitch Abidor for marxists.org;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike)
marxists.org 2006.
Esprit de corps is one of the most interesting of
phenomena for any observer of contemporary life. In the
midst of the disintegration of so many moral and social

influences it has maintained a certain hold on peoples

consciousness and manifests itself in important ways. We
thought it useful to study esprit de corps in some of its
principal manifestations. This small psychological inquiry
will then lead us to a few considerations on the moral
value of esprit de corps.
For greater precision it would be appropriate to
distinguish two meanings of this expression, esprit de
corps: a broad and a narrow sense. In a narrow sense
esprit de corps is a spirit of solidarity animating all
members of a same professional group. In a broader sense
the expression esprit de corps designates the spirit of
solidarity in general, not only in the professional group,
but in all those social circles, whatever they might be
(class, caste, sect, etc.), in which the individual feels
himself to be more or less subordinated to the interests of
the collectivity. It is in this sense that there exists a class
spirit; for example, the bourgeois spirit which though
difficult to precisely define nevertheless exists and shows
itself to be no less combative whenever its a matter of
defeating anti-bourgeois doctrines and tendencies. It is
also in this sense that Schopenhauer was able to speak of
womens esprit de corps or the esprit de corps of married
people, about which he made such interesting remarks in
his Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life. In this broad
sense we could also speak of the esprit de corps among
the inhabitants of a city, who in certain cases find

themselves more or less the associates in a same

commercial enterprise. Ibsen showed this esprit de corps
in a masterly way in the small city in which he placed the
scene in his An Enemy of the People where we see all
the inhabitants agreeing to remain silent about a secret (the
contamination of the waters) which if divulged would ruin
the citys bathing establishments. The broad sense of the
expression esprit de corps is manifestly nothing but the
extension of the narrow or purely professional sense.
Professional solidarity is one of the most powerful
social ties. But its action is most energetic in the so-called
liberal professions (clergy, army, magistracy, the bar,
various administrations). Workers belonging to the same
trade, for example mechanics, carpenters, or foundry
workers, do not manifest an esprit de corps as developed
as that of the officer, the priest, or the functionaries in the
various government offices. This is not to say that these
workers are lacking in all corporate solidarity, since we
know that in some countries the workers of a same craft
are capable of uniting in trade unions and joining together
to vigorously defend their interests against the bosses. But
among workers this solidarity remains purely economic. It
limits itself to defending the material interests of the trade
union. Once this goal is achieved its action ceases: it isnt
transformed into a coherent and systematic moral or social
discipline that dominates and invades individual
consciousnesses. Or if it acts in this sense it is solely in

order to develop in the worker his consciousness of his

rights as a proletarian in opposition to the antagonistic
class, the bourgeois or capitalist class. Properly speaking,
this is not esprit de corps in the narrow sense of that
expression; instead it is class spirit.
But in the liberal professions things are different.
Here esprit de corps arrogates to itself a moral sway over
individual consciousness. Here the corporation imposes
on and inculcates in its members, in a more or less
conscious fashion, an intellectual and moral conformism
and marks them with an indelible stamp. This stamp is
well defined and varies from one group to another. The
ways of thinking, feeling, and acting proper to a priest, an
officer, an administrator and a functionary are all different.
Here each body has its self-conscious interests, its defined
and precise slogans that are imposed on the members of
these groups. This energy particular to esprit de corps in
the liberal professions can perhaps be explained in part by
the fact that the priest, the magistrate, the soldier, and the
functionary are generally subject to a powerful
hierarchical organization whose effect is to singularly
strengthen esprit de corps. It is clear that the more
organized and hierarchical a social group the more narrow
and energetic is the moral and social discipline it imposes
on its members.
What are the principal characteristics of esprit de

A corps is a defined social group with its own

interests, its own will to life and which seeks to defend
itself against all exterior or interior causes of its
destruction or diminution.
If we were to ask ourselves what are the goods for
which a corps fights we would see that they are moral
advantages: the good name of the corps, influence,
consideration, credit. These moral advantages are
doubtless nothing but the means for ensuring the material
prosperity of the corps and its members. But the corps
treats them as ends in themselves and in order to conquer
and defend them deploys an energy, a fierceness, a
combativeness that individual passions can only give a
faint idea of.
A corps pursues these advantages by striving to
suggest to those who are not part of this corps a high idea
of its social utility and superiority. If need be it doesnt
fear to exaggerate this value and importance, and since it
isnt unaware of the power of the imagination over mans
credulity it willingly envelops itself in the decorum most
likely to increase its respectability in the spirit of the
crowd. Max Nordau, in his book The Conventional Lies
of our Civilization, studied the lies that the various
organized social groups knowingly and deliberately
maintain and that they consider among their conditions for
existence (religious lies, aristocratic, political, economic
lies, etc.). Mr. Nordau could have added to these

corporate lies, which are often nothing but a combination

and a synthesis of others. It is in this great general law of
social insincerity that one must enter the special tactic by
which a corps hides its defects, its weaknesses or its
faults and strives to remain, in the eyes of the vulgar, in an
attitude of uncontested superiority, of recognized
infallibility and impeccability.
In order to maintain this attitude the corps demands
that all its members conduct themselves properly. It
wants its members to be irreproachable externally and to
decently play their role in the social theatre.
Competition is the great law that dominates the
evolution of societies; it also dominates the life of
constituted corps. Each corps has its caste pride and its
special point of honor vis--vis the others. It wants to
maintain its respectability intact and not fall from its rank
in the greater organism that the various corps form in
uniting. We can observe a muted rivalry among the various
constituted corps, which is translated into public life and
even into private relations. M. Anatole France depicts this
rivalry humorously in the short story entitled Un
Substitut, which he attributes to M. Bergeret in LOrme
du Mail.
This rivalry forces the corps to jealously watch over
its caste honor and to exercise strict control over the
conduct of its members. Woe on he who, through word or
act, appears to compromise the honor of the corps. He

should expect neither pity not justice from his peers. He is

condemned without appeal.
When its possible, the scapegoat is sacrificed in an
official execution. In the contrary case he is silently
eliminated by more or less hypocritical proceedings that
denote a Machiavellianism in the corps that is more
conscious than is commonly believed. In this the corps
obeys the vital instinct of all societies. M. Maurice Barrs
said: In the same way that a barnyard falls upon a sick
chicken to kill or expel it, each group tends to reject its
weakest members. The weak, those incapable of pushing
themselves ahead in the world, the evil extras of the social
comedy constitute for the corps a dead weight that slows it
down and which it seeks to rid itself of: and so the corps
vilifies and humiliates them. It strives to create around
them what Guyau calls an atmosphere of intolerability.
The corps pursues this policy of elimination against
its weak members with a disdain of the individual and a
lack of scruples that often, it must be said, justifies
Daudets line that constituted corps are cowards.
In order to better ensure its policy of domination
esprit de corps tends as much as possible to expand its
sphere of influence. Essentially, it is an invader. It doesnt
limit itself to controlling the professional existence of its
members, but it often interferes in the domain of their
private life. A contemporary novelist, M. Verniolle, has
wittily described this characteristic of the esprit de corps

in a very suggestive story called Par la Voie

Hierarchique. In this story the author shows us a high
school teacher (the true type of a personality invaded by
the corps) who appeals to the administrative hierarchy and
corporate influences to resolve his domestic difficulties.
And in fact we see the esprit de corps, in the form of the
headmaster and his colleagues, intervene in a domestic
situation with a clumsiness only equalled by its
incompetence. M. Verniolle has also cleverly noted in
another story titled Pasteurs dAmes this other trait of
the esprit de corps: the hostility against the members of the
corps who in one way or another seem not to fit in with the
corporation. We should recall the hostility of the young
and dashing Professor Brissart the true type of what
Thackeray called the university snob against an old and
not very decorative colleague who, because of his
careless way of dressing, stands out from a corps of which
the young snob considers himself the most beautiful
In a general way, the corporation tends to take the life
of the individual under its control. Let us recall the narrow
moral discipline to which the corporations of the Middle
Ages submitted the private lives of their members.
This disposition brings to the entire corps a narrow
and petty curiosity applied to all that individuals do. A
corporation resembles in this a gossipy small town. Look
at our administration and its functionaries. In this regard

they are like so many small towns spread across space and
disseminated across the entire extent of the French
territory. If one of its even slightly well-known members
commits some clumsy act or if something of interest
occurs then immediately, from Nancy to Bayonne and from
Dunkirk to Nice, news is spread around the entire corps,
in the exact same way that the gossip of the day goes from
salon to salon among the good women of a small town.
These remarks on the actions of esprit de corps
permit us to see in it a particularly energetic manifestation
of what Schopenhauer calls the will to life. Like all
organized societies a corps is the human will to life
condensed and taken to a degree of intensity that
individual egoism can never reach. Let us add that this
collective will to life is very different from that which
acts on a crowd, which is an essentially unstable and
transitory group. The corps has all those things that are
lacking in a crowd: its hierarchy, its point of honor, its
defined prejudices, its accepted and imposed morality.
Thus the corps, in its judgments of things and men, has a
stubbornness which the crowd, unstable and varying, is
not susceptible to to the same degree. Look at the crowd:
led astray, momentarily criminal, it can change its mind a
minute later and change its decision. A corps considers
itself and wants to be seen as infallible. Another
difference between a crowd and a corps: in general a
crowd is more impartial than a corps in its appreciation of

the merit of individuals. In a corps of functionaries,

says Simmel, jealously often takes from talent the
influence it should have, while a crowd, renouncing all
personal judgment, easily follows a leader of genius.
From the fact that a corps is essentially a collective
will to life we can judge the qualities a corps demands of
its members: it is those that are useful to the corps, and
these alone. A corps doesnt ask its members for eminent
individual qualities. It could care less about those rare and
precious qualities that are subtlety of intelligence, strength
and suppleness of the imagination, delicacy and tenderness
of the soul. As we have said, what it demands of its
members is a certain conduct, a certain perseverance in
their docility towards the moral code of the corps. It is
this perseverance in docility which through I dont know
what misunderstanding is sometimes decorated with the
title of character. By this latter word a corps does not at
all mean initiative in decision making or daring in
execution, nor any of the qualities of spontaneity and
energy that make up a strong personality, but solely and
exclusively a certain constancy in obedience to the rule. A
corps has no particular esteem for what is called merit or
talent; rather it is suspicious of them. Esprit de corps is a
friend of that mediocrity favorable to perfect conformism.
We can say about all constituted bodies what Renan says
of the Seminary of Issy: The first rule of the company is
to abdicate all that can be called talent and originality in

order to bend before the discipline of a mediocre

community. Nowhere better than in a corps does the
celebrated antithesis between talent and character appear
which Heinrich Heine mocked with such exquisite irony in
the foreword to Atta Troll. We recall, and not without a
smile, that good Swabian school of poetry which
possessed the esprit de corps to a high degree -which
asked of its members not that they have talent, but that they
be characters. It is the same in our constituted corps. A
corps wants its members to be characters, that is, perfectly
disciplined beings, wan and mediocre actors who play
their social role in this social theatre which Schopenhauer
speaks of, where the police severely prohibit the actors to
And so in the corps the great lever for arriving is
not merit, but mediocrity backed by family ties and
camaraderie. But those individuals in those bodies that
dispense advancement and sought after places dont
always practice nepotism for interested reasons: they are
acting in good faith. They are sincerely persuaded, imbued
as they are with esprit de corps, that nepotism and
camaraderie are ties both respectable and useful to the
cohesion of the corps. In rewarding merit alone they
believe they are sacrificing to a dangerous individualism.
This disdain on the part of esprit de corps for
personal qualities (intellectual or moral of the individual)
are admirably explained in the final pages of a novel by

M. Ferdinand Fabre, LAbbe Tigrane, in which Cardinal

Maffei explains to Abbe Ternisien the tactics of the Roman
It seems to us that these considerations sufficiently
confirm the definition we gave above of esprit de corps.
According to us esprit de corps is a collective egoism,
uniquely concerned with collective ends and disdainful of
the individual and individual qualities. Thus defined,
esprit de corps presents an excellent illustration of what
tends to be, according to the doctrine of Schopenhauer,
pure will to life, separated from the intellect.
The preceding remarks also permit us to present a
few considerations on the ethical value of the esprit de
Certain contemporary sociologists and moralists
have favorably judged the moral influence of esprit de
corps. Some have even thought of investing it with a
political mission by substituting for universal suffrage as it
is practiced in our country a system of vote by
corporations, each individual being obliged to vote for a
representative chosen from among his peers or
hierarchical chiefs from his corporation. We cite among
the moralists who have recently insisted upon the value of
esprit de corps MM. Dorner and Durkheim, who took the
moral point of view, and Messieurs Benoist and Walras,
who have taken the political point of view.
M. Dorner sees in corporations a remedy for moral

and social discontent. He finds in the subordination of the

individual to the corporate group the pacifying of all
internal and external troubles. Each person must
understand, says M. Dormer, that he can only occupy a
determined place in the whole and he cant surpass the
limits imposed by his salary and his own faculties. The
individual more easily acquires this conviction if he
belongs to a corporation that determines in advance the
general conditions of his economic and social life. The
corporation holds before his eyes that alone which is
possible, and keeps from his imagination the castles in the
air (Luftschlossern) that make him discontented with the
present. On the other hand, thanks to his application the
individual learns the measure of his possible progress,
and he participates in the collective intelligence of his
associates (Berufsgenossen). Consequently, there results
from all this a general tendency that aspires to establishing
on the basis of what we already possess those
improvements that are profitable to the individual as well
as the whole, while allowing for progress within the limits
of professional activity.
It is of the highest moral interest that the individual
be able to attach himself to a professional group, for this
tie permits him to properly judge his personal faculties;
and by its intermediary he can cultivate his intelligence,
obtain a wider viewpoint on things, and can be
encouraged by it to the great moral universal organism.

Corporations are nothing but organs of this organism, and

so they must for once and for all have their respective
rights specified so that each can independently accomplish
its tasks in its respective domains. Corporations must then
be inspired by the interests of the organism of which they
are the organ, they must forgo their rivalries in the pursuit
of privileges and advantages in keeping with the
consciousness their of their collaboration in a common
For his part M. Durkehim sees in a corps a useful
intermediary between the individual and the state. The
state, he says, is a social entity, too abstract and too distant
from the individual. The individual will attach himself
more easily to an ideal nearer at hand and more practical.
According to him this is the ideal that the professional
group presents. M. Durkheim sees in corporations the
great remedy to what he calls social anomy: The
principal role of corporations, he says, in the future as
in the past, will be to regulate social functions and
especially economic functions, and consequently to extract
them from the state of disorganization in which they are
currently found. Whenever envy will be excited to such an
extent that it knows no limits it will be up to the
corporation to fix the portion which should equitably
devolve to each of the cooperators. Superior to its
members, it will have all the authority needed to demand
from them those sacrifices and concessions that are

indispensable and to impose a rule on them. We dont see

in what other milieu this law of distributive justice, so
urgent, can be elaborated, nor by what organ it could be
MM. Benoist and Walras, for their part, develop the
advantages of a political organization by corporations. We
can thus see that the system is complete: corporate politics
is connected to a professional morality.
We will not discuss here the question of corporative
politics. We will content ourselves with presenting a few
observations on corporative morality as they result from
our analysis of esprit de corps.
According to us the individual cannot ask from the
corporate group his law and his moral criteria. In our eyes
the value of the individuals moral activity is in direct
relationship with the freedom of which he disposes. The
corporate group dominates the individual through interests
too immediate and too material for this liberty not to be
hindered. It can, in fact, suppress the means of existence
for an individual refractory to its moral discipline. It holds
him by what we can call, borrowing an expression from
the socialist vocabulary: the belly question.
Another question that is posed is that of knowing
whether or not affiliation with a corporate group would be
a real remedy to anomy and if it would bring an end to
social discontent. Yes, perhaps, we could say, if the
kind of distributive justice which M. Durkheim speaks or

were exactly applied. But this is a utopian desideratum, at

least in those corporations where the labor furnished
cannot be precisely measured, as is the case with manual
labor. Stuart Mill said that from the top to the bottom of
the social ladders remuneration is in inverse ratio to the
labor furnished. There is doubtless some exaggeration in
this way of seeing things, but it is confirmed in those
professional groups where the nature of the services
rendered prevents material measurement and permits
esprit de corps to deploy its oppressive influence on
individual merit.
This is not all. To seek the individuals moral
criterion in the corporation would mean going against the
march of evolution, which increasingly multiplies social
circles around the individual. This consequently permits
him to simultaneously take part in a greater number of
diverse and independent societies that offer to his
sensibility, his intelligence, and his activity an ever richer
and more various nourishment. History multiplies the
number of social religious, intellectual, and commercial
circles to which individuals belong and raises their
personality only through the increasing implication of
these circles. Consequently, their (the individuals)
obligation is no longer relatively simple, clear, and
unilateral, as was the case when the individual was one
with society. The increasing differentiation of social
elements, the corresponding differentiation of

psychological elements in the consciousness, all the laws

of the parallel development of societies and individuals,
seem to augment rather than to diminish the number and
importance of moral conflicts. At the same time that
history increases the number of the objects of morality, it
renders the subjects more appreciable. It results from this
law of progressive differentiation that the freedom of the
individual and consequently his value and moral
capacity are in direct ratio with the number and extent of
the social circles in which he participates. The moral
ideal is not to subordinate the individual to the moral
conformism of a group, but to remove him from the herd
spirit, to permit him to deploy himself in a multi-faceted
activity. The individual, while he is in a certain sense a
tissue of general properties, can be regarded as the point
of interference of a more or less considerable number of
social circles whose moral influences reverberate within
him. The individual is a harmonious and living monad
whose vital and harmonious law is to maintain himself in
a state of equilibrium in the midst of a system of
interfering social forces. It is in this free and progressive
flourishing of individuality that the true moral ideal
resides. There is no other. For, whatever we say or do, the
individual remains the living source of energy and the
measure of the ideal.
We have arrived at the conclusion that corporative
morality, the very form of the herd spirit, is a regressive

form of morality. Many complain, following in the

footsteps of M.Barrs, that we are rootless. MM. Dorner
and Durkheim invite us to take root in the soil of the
professional corporation. We ask if this isnt too narrow a
terrain for plants that want free air, light, and the broad
horizons of a human morality to take root.
Source: Chroniques Compltes, Tome II. Edited by
Stphane Beau. Paris, Coda, 2009;
Source: Revue Philosophique, year 32, Vol 64 JulyDecember 1907;
Translated: by Mitchell Abidor for marxists.org;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike)
marxists.org 2009.
Palante specialist Stphane Beau notes that this
piece, which appeared in the December 1903 issue of the
anarchist revue LEnnemi du people was signed only
GP. There is thus no guarantee that it is actually from the
pen of Georges Palante, but the ideas expressed in it, and
the form of their expression, are so clearly Palantian, that
there is no real question as to its attribution.
The contemptible sentiment par excellence. Mosaic
of crystallized fears; mixture of herd stupidity and secular
I mean the respect of collective beings; of the

maleficent and deceptive metaphors that populate our

social mythologies.
Stirner gives collective entities the characteristic
name of respectful personalities. Moral idols, political
idols, society idols, they float, like the specter of religion
in Lucretius heavens; ghostly, vain, formidable.
Stendhal had already pointed out the respectful
mania, the mother of all hypocrisies, guardian of all big
shots and oligarchs.
The beatific social optimism of the crowd is only a
form of that respectful mania. For the crowd, whatever
kind of collectivity we might be dealing with public
administration, government body, the family are always
right against the individual. It is right for the very reason
that it is a collectivity. The label collective suffices.
The dogma of infallibility is thus secularized and
Oligarchs know this. They bank on the crowds
capacity for respect, which gives an idea of the infinite, as
does its stupidity.
The citizen is a respectful and irremediably religious
animal; it now inclines to civic genuflection. It adores
social fetishes just as the little dog Riquet in Monsieur
Bergeret Paris venerated doors, the table, and the
kitchen chair.
Reproductive animal, the citizen venerates the fetish
marriage. An electoral animal, he venerates that other

fetish, the modern holy ampoule, the Civic Ballot Box.

With respect to crowds we oppose irony, pensive
irony, of a cold smile and a clear eye.
Anarchism and Individualism
Source: La Sensibilit individualiste. Paris, Alcan,
Translated: by Mitchell Abidor for marxists.org;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike)
marxists.org 2006.
The words anarchism and individualism are
frequently used as synonyms. Many thinkers vastly
different from each other are carelessly qualified
sometimes as anarchists, sometimes as individualists. It is
thus that we speak indifferently of Stirnerite anarchism or
individualism, of Nietzschean anarchism or individualism,
of Barrsian anarchism or individualism, etc. In other
cases, though, this identification of the two terms is not
looked upon as possible. We commonly say Proudhonian
anarchism, Marxist anarchism, anarchist syndicalism. But
we could not say Proudhonian, Marxist, or syndicalist
individualism. We can speak of a Christian or Tolstoyan
anarchism, but not of a Christian or Tolstoyan
At other times the two terms have been melted
together in one name: anarchist individualism. Under this

rubric M. Hasch designates a social philosophy that it

differentiates from anarchism properly so-called, and
whose great representative, according to him, are Goethe,
Byron, Humboldt, Schleiermacher, Carlyle, Emerson,
Kierkegaard, Renan, Ibsen, Stirner and Nietzsche. This
philosophy can be summed up as the cult of great men and
the apotheosis of genius. It would seem to us to be
arguable whether the expression individualist anarchism
can be used to designate such a doctrine. The qualification
of anarchist, in the etymological sense, can be applied
with difficulty to thinkers of the race of Goethe, Carlyle,
and Nietzsche, whose philosophy seems on the contrary to
be dominated by ideas of hierarchical organization and the
harmonious placing of values in a series. What is more,
the epithet of individualist cant be applied with equal
justice to all the thinkers we have just named. If it is
appropriate for designating the egotist, nihilist and antiidealist revolt of Stirner, it can with difficulty be applied
to the Hegelian, optimist and idealist philosophy of a
Carlyle, who clearly subordinates the individual to the
There thus reigns a certain confusion concerning the
use of the two terms anarchism and individualism, as well
as the systems of ideas and sentiments that these terms
designate. We would here like to attempt to clarify the
notion of individualism and determine its psychological
and sociological content by distinguishing it from

Individualism is the sentiment of a profound,
irreducible antinomy between the individual and society.
The individualist is he who, by virtue of his temperament,
is predisposed to feel in a particularly acute fashion the
ineluctable disharmonies between his intimate being and
his social milieu. At the same time, he is a man for whom
life has reserved some decisive occasion to remark this
disharmony. Whether through brutality, or the continuity of
his experiences, for him it has become clear that for the
individual society is a perpetual creator of constraints,
humiliations and miseries, a kind of continuous generation
of human pain. In the name of his own experience and his
personal sensation of life the individualist feels he has the
right to relegate to the rank of utopia any ideal of a future
society where the hoped-for harmony between the
individual and society will be established. Far from the
development of society diminishing evil, it does nothing
but intensify it by rendering the life of the individual more
complicated, more laborious and more difficult in the
middle of the thousand gears of an increasingly tyrannical
social mechanism. Science itself, by intensifying within
the individual the consciousness of the vital conditions
made for him by society, arrives only at darkening his
intellectual and moral horizons. Qui auget scientiam
augel et dolorem.
We see that individualism is essentially a social

pessimism. Under its most moderate form it admits that if

life in society is not an absolute evil and completely
destructive of individuality, for the individualist is at the
very least a restrictive and oppressive condition, a
necessary evil and a last resort.
The individualists who respond to this description
form a small morose group whose rebellious, resigned or
hopeless words contrast with the fanfares for the future of
optimistic sociologists. It is Vigny saying: The social
order is always bad. From time to time it is bearable.
Between bad and bearable the dispute isnt worth a drop
of blood. Its Schopenhauer seeing social life as the
supreme flowering of human pain and evil. Its Stirner
with his intellectual and moral solipsism perpetually on
his guard against the duperies of social idealism and the
intellectual and moral crystallization with which every
organized society threatens the individual. It is, at certain
moments, an Amiel with his painful stoicism that
perceives society as a limitation and a restriction of his
free spiritual nature. Its a David Thoreau, the extremist
disciple of Emerson, that student of nature, deciding to
stray from the ordinary paths of human activity and to
become a wanderer, worshipping independence and
dreams. A wanderer whose every minute will be filled
with more work than the entire lives of many men with
occupations. Its a Challemel-Lacour with his pessimistic
conception of society and progress. It is perhaps, at

certain moments, a Tarde, with an individualism colored

with misanthropy that he somewhere expresses: It is
possible that the flux of imitation has its banks and that, by
the very effect of its excessive deployment, the need for
sociability diminishes or rather alters and transforms itself
into a kind of general misanthropy, very compatible,
incidentally, with a moderate commercial circulation and
a certain activity of industrial exchanges reduced to the
strict necessary, but above all appropriate to reinforcing in
each of us the distinctive traits of our inner individuality.
Even among those who, like M. Maurice Barrs, by
dilettantism and artistic posture, are averse to the accents
of sharp revolt or discouraged pessimism, individualism
remains a sentiment of the impossibility that exists of
harmonizing the private and the general I. Its a
determination to set free the first I, to cultivate it in what it
has of the most special, the most advanced, the most
rummaged through, both in detail and in depth. The
individualist, says M. Barrs, is he who, through pride
in his true I, which he isnt able to set free, ceaselessly
wounds, soils, and denies what he has in common with the
mass of menThe dignity of the men of our race is
exclusively attached to certain shivers that the world
doesnt know and cannot see and which we must multiply
in ourselves.
In all of them individualism is an attitude of
sensibility that goes from hostility and distrust to

indifference and disdain vis--vis the organized society in

which we are forced to live, vis--vis its uniformising
rules, its monotonous repetitions, and its enslaving
constraints. Its a desire to escape from it and to withdraw
into oneself. Above all, it is the profound sentiment of the
uniqueness of the I, of that which despite it all the I
maintains of unrepressible and impenetrable to social
influences. As M. Tarde says, it is the sentiment of the
profound and fleeting singularity of persons, of their
manner of being, or thinking, of feeling, which is only once
and of an instant.
Is there any need to demonstrate how much this
attitude differs from anarchism? There is no doubt that in
one sense anarchism proceeds from individualism. It is, in
fact, the anti-social revolt of a minority that feels itself
oppressed or disadvantaged by the current order of things.
But anarchism represents only the first moment of
individualism, the moment of faith and hope, of actions
courageous and confident of success. At its second
moment individualism converts, as we have seen, into
social pessimism.
The passage from confidence to despair, from
optimism to pessimism is here, in great part, an affair of
psychological temperament. There are delicate souls that
are easily wounded on contact with social realities and
consequently quick to be disillusioned, a Vigny or a
Heine, for example. We can say that these souls belong to

the psychological type that has been called sensitive.

They feel that social determinism, insofar as it is
repressive of the individual, is particularly tormenting and
oppressive. But there are other souls who resist multiple
failures, who disregard even experiences toughest
examples and remain unshakeable in their faith. These
souls belong to the active type. Such are the souls of the
anarchist apostles: Bakunin, Kropotkin, Reclus. Perhaps
their imperturbable confidence in their ideal depends on a
lesser intellectual and emotional acuity. Reasons for doubt
and discouragement dont strike them harshly enough to
tarnish the abstract ideal theyve forged and to lead them
to the final and logical step of individualism: social
Whatever the case, there can be no doubt concerning
the optimism of anarchist philosophy. That optimism is
spread, often simplistically and with naivety, in those
volumes with blood red covers that form the reading
matter of propagandists by the deed. The shadow of the
optimistic Rousseau floats over all this literature.
Anarchist optimism consists in believing that social
disharmonies, that the antinomies that the current state of
affairs present between the individual and society, are not
essential, but rather accidental and provisional; that they
will one day be resolved and will give place to an era of
Anarchism rests on two principles that seem to

complement each other, but actually contradict each other.

One is the principle that is properly individualist or
libertarian, formulated by Wilhelm von Humboldt and
chosen by Stuart Mill as the epigraph of his Essay on
Liberty: The great principle is the essential and absolute
importance of human development in its richest diversity.
The other is the humanist or altruist principle which is
translated on the economic plane by communist anarchism.
That the individualist and humanist principles negate each
other is proven by logic and fact. Either the individualist
principle means nothing, or it is a demand in favor of that
which differs and is unequal in individuals, in favor of
those traits that make them different, separates them and, if
need be, opposes them. On the contrary, humanism aims at
the assimilation of humanity. Following the expression of
M. Gide, its ideal is to make a reality of the expression
our like. In fact, at the current time we see the
antagonism of the two principles assert itself among the
most insightful theoreticians of anarchism, and that logical
and necessary antagonism cannot fail to bring about the
breakup of anarchism as a political and social doctrine.
Whatever the case and whatever difficulties might be
met by he who wants to reconcile the individualist and
humanist principles, these two rival and enemy principles
meet at least at this one point: they are both clearly
optimistic. Humboldts principle is optimistic insofar as it
implicitly affirms the original goodness of human nature

and the legitimacy of its free blossoming. It sets itself up

in opposition to the Christian condemnation of our natural
instincts, and we can understand the reservations of M.
Dupont-White, the translator of the Essay on Liberty,
had from the spiritualist and Christian point of view
(condemnation of the flesh) as concerns this principle.
The humanist principle is no less optimistic.
Humanism, in fact, is nothing but rendering divine of man
in what he has of the general, of humanity, and
consequently of human society. As we see, anarchism,
optimistic as concerns the individual, is even more so as
concerns society. Anarchism supposes that individual
freedoms, left to themselves, will naturally harmonize and
spontaneously realize the anarchist ideal of free society.
In regard to these two opposing points of view, the
Christian and anarchist, what is the attitude of
individualism? Individualism, a realist philosophy, all
lived life and immediate sensation, equally repudiates
these two metaphysics: one, Christian metaphysics, which
a priori affirms original evil, the other the rationalist and
Rosseauist metaphysic, that no less a priori affirms the
original and essential goodness of our nature.
Individualism places itself before the facts. And these
latter make visible in the human being a bundle of instincts
in struggle with each other and, in human society, a
grouping of individuals also necessarily in struggle with
each other. By the very fact of his conditions of existence

the human being is subject to the law of struggle: internal

struggle among his own instincts, external struggle with his
like. If recognizing the permanent and universal character
of egoism and struggle in human existence means being
pessimistic, then we must say that individualism is
pessimistic. But we must immediately add that the
pessimism of individualism, a pessimism of fact, an
experimental pessimism, if you will, pessimism a
posteriori, is totally different from the theological
pessimism that a priori pronounces, in the name of dogma,
the condemnation of human nature. What is more,
individualism separates itself every bit as much from
anarchism. If, with anarchism, it admits Humboldts
principle as the expression of a normal tendency necessary
to our nature for its full blossoming, at the same time it
recognizes that this tendency is condemned to never being
satisfied because of the internal and external disharmonies
of our nature. In other words, it considers the harmonious
development of the individual and society as a utopia.
Pessimistic as concerns the individual, individualism is
even more so as concerns society: man is by his very
nature disharmonious because of the internal struggle of
his instincts. But this disharmony is exacerbated by the
state of society which, through a painful paradox,
represses our instincts at the same time as it exasperates
them. In fact, from the rapprochement of individual willsto-life is formed a collective will-to-life which becomes

immediately oppressive for the individual will-to-life and

opposes its flourishing with all its force. The state of
society thus pushes to its ultimate degree the disharmonies
of our nature. It exaggerates them and puts them in the
poorest possible light. Following the idea of
Schopenhauer, society thus truly represents the human
will-to-life at its highest degree: struggle, lack of
fulfillment, and suffering.
From this opposition between anarchism and
individualism flow others. Anarchism believes in
progress. Individualism is an attitude of thought that we
can call non-historical. It denies becoming, progress. It
sees the human will-to-life in an eternal present. Like
Schopenhauer, with whom he has more than one similarity,
Stirner is a non-historical spirit. He too believes that it is
chimerical to expect something new and great from
tomorrow. Every social form, by the very fact that it
crystallizes, crushes the individual. For Stirner, there are
no utopian tomorrows, no paradise at the end of our
days. There is nothing but the egoist today. Stirners
attitude before society is the same as that of Schopenhauer
before nature and life. With Schopenhauer the negation of
life remains metaphysical and, we might say, spiritual (we
should remember that Schopenhauer condemns suicide
which, would be the material and tangible negation). in the
same way Stirners rebellion against society is an entirely
spiritual internal rebellion, all intention and inner will. It

is not, as is the case with Bakunin, an appeal to pandestruction. Regarding society, it is a simple act of distrust
and passive hostility, a mix of indifference and disdainful
resignation. It is not a question of the individual fighting
against society, for society will always be the stronger. It
must thus be obeyed, obeyed like a dog. But Stirner, while
obeying, as a form of consolation, maintains an immense
intellectual contempt. This is more or less the attitude of
Vigny vis-a-vis nature and society. A tranquil despair,
without convulsions of anger and without reproaches for
heaven, this is wisdom itself. And again: Silence would
be the best criticism of life.
Anarchism is an exaggerated and mad idealism.
Individualism is summed up in a trait common to
Schopenhauer and Stirner: a pitiless realism. It arrives at
what a German writer calls a complete dis-idealization
(Entidealisierung) of life and society.
An ideal is nothing but a pawn, Stirner said. From
this point of view Stirner is the most authentic
representative of individualism. His icy word seizes souls
with a shiver entirely different from that, fiery and radiant,
of a Nietzsche. Nietzsche remains an impenitent,
imperious, violent idealist. He idealizes superior
humanity. Stirner represents the most complete disidealization of nature and life, the most radical philosophy
of disenchantment that has appeared since Ecclesiastes.
Pessimist without measure or reservations, individualism

is absolutely anti-social, unlike anarchism, with which this

is only relatively the case (in relation to current society).
Anarchism admits an antinomy between the individual and
the state, an antinomy it resolves by the suppression of the
state, but it does not see any inherent, irreducible antinomy
between the individual and society. This is because in its
eyes society represents a spontaneous growth (Spencer),
while the state is an artificial and authoritarian
organization. In the eyes of an individualist society is as
tyrannical, if not more so, than the state. Society, in fact, is
nothing else but the mass of social ties of all kinds
(opinions, mores, usages, conventions, mutual
surveillance, more or less discreet espionage of the
conduct of others, moral approval and disapproval, etc.)
Society thus understood constitutes a closely- knit fabric
of petty and great tyrannies, exigent, inevitable, incessant,
harassing, and pitiless, which penetrates into the details of
individual life more profoundly and continuously than
statist constraints can. What is more, if we look closely at
this, statist tyranny and the tyranny of mores proceed from
the same root: the collective interest of a caste or class
that wishes to establish or to maintain its domination and
prestige. Opinion and mores are in part the residue of
ancient caste disciplines that are in the process of
disappearing, in part the seed of new social disciplines
brought with them by the new leading caste in the process
of formation. This is why between state constraint and that

of opinion and mores there is only a difference in degree.

Deep down they have the same goal: the maintenance of a
certain moral conformism useful to the group, and the
same procedures: the vexation and elimination of the
independent and the recalcitrant. The only difference is
that diffuse sanctions (opinions and mores) are more
hypocritical than the others. Proudhon was right to say that
the state is nothing but a mirror of society. It is only
tyrannical because society is tyrannical. The government,
following a remark of Tolstoys, is a gathering of men who
exploit others and that favors the wicked and the cheaters
If this is the practice of government, this is also that of
society. There is a conformity between the two terms: state
and society. The one is the same as the other. The
gregarious spirit, or the spirit of society, is no less
oppressive for the individual than the statist or priestly
spirit, which only maintain themselves thanks to and
through it.
How strange! Stirner himself, on the question of the
relations between society and the state, seems to share the
error of Spencer and Bakunin. He protests against the
intervention of the state in the acts of the individual, but
not against that of society. Before the individual the state
girds itself with an aureole of sanctity. For example, it
makes laws concerning duels. Two men who agree to risk
their lives in order to settle an affair (whatever it might
be) cannot execute their agreement because the state

doesnt want it. They would expose themselves to judicial

pursuit and punishment. What becomes of the freedom of
self-determination? Things are completely different in
those places, like North America, where society decides
to make the duelists suffer certain disagreeable
consequences of their act and takes form them, for
example, the credit they had previously enjoyed. The
refusing of credit is everyones affair, and if it pleases a
society to deprive someone of it for one reason or another,
he who is struck by it cannot complain of an attack on his
liberty: society has done nothing but exercise its own. The
society of which we spoke leaves the individual perfectly
free to expose himself to the harmful or disagreeable
consequences that result from his way of acting, and
leaves full and entire his freedom of will. The state does
exactly the contrary: it denies all legitimacy to the will of
the individual and only recognizes as legitimate its own
will, the will of the state. Strange reasoning. The law
doesnt attack me. In what way am I freer if society
boycotts me? Such reasoning would legitimize all the
attacks of a public opinion infected by moral bigotry
against the individual. The legend of individual liberty in
Anglo-Saxon countries is built on this reasoning. Stirner
himself feels the vice of his reasoning, and a little further
along he arrives at his celebrated distinction between
society and association. In the one (society) the individual
is taken as a means; in the other (association), he takes

himself as an end and treats the association as a means of

personal power and enjoyment: You bring to the
association all your might, all your riches and make your
presence felt In society you and your activity are utilized.
In the first you live as an egoist; in the second you live as
a man, i.e., religiously; you work in the Lords vineyard.
You owe society everything you have; you are its debtor
and you are tormented with social obligations. You owe
nothing to the association. She serves you and you leave it
without scruples as soon as you no longer have any
advantages to draw from it If society is more than you
then you will have it pass ahead of you and you will make
yourself its servant. The association is your tool, your
weapon; it sharpens and multiplies your natural strength.
The association only exists for you and by you. Society, on
the contrary, claims you as its good and can exist without
you. In short, society is sacred and the association is your
property; society uses you and you use the association.
A vain distinction if ever there was one! Where
should we fix the boundary between society and
association? As Stirner himself admitted, doesnt an
association tend to crystallize into a society?
However we approach it, anarchism cannot reconcile
the two antinomic terms, society and individual liberty.
The free society that it dreams of is a contradiction in
terms. Its a piece of steel made of wood, a stick without
an end. Speaking of anarchists Nietzsche wrote: We can

already read on all the walls and all the tables their word
for the future: Free society. Free society? To be sure. But I
think you know, my dear sirs, what we will build it with:
Wood made of iron Individualism is clearer and more
honest than anarchism. It places the state, society, and
association on the same plane. It rejects them both and as
far as this is possible tosses them overboard. All
associations have the defects of convents, Vigny said.
Antisocial, individualism is openly immoralist. This
is not true in an absolute fashion. In a Vigny pessimistic
individualism is reconciled with a morally haughty
stoicism, severe and pure. Even so, even in Vigny an
immoralist element remains: a tendency to dis-idealize
society, to separate and oppose the two terms society and
morality, and to regard society as a fatal generator of
cowardice, unintelligence, and hypocrisy. Cinq mars,
Stello, and Servitude et Grandeur militaires are the songs
of a kind of epic poem on disillusionment. But it is only
social and false things that I will destroy and illusions I
will trample on. I will raise on these ruins, on this dust,
the sacred beauty of enthusiasm, of love, and of honor. It
goes without saying that in a Stirner or a Stendhal
individualism is immoralist without scruples or
reservations. Anarchism is imbued with a crude moralism.
Anarchist morality, even without obligations or sanctions,
is no less a morality. At heart it is Christian morality,
except for the pessimist element contained in the latter.

The anarchist supposes that those virtues necessary to

harmony will flourish on their own. Enemy of coercion,
the doctrine accords the faculty to take from the general
stores even to the lazy. But the anarchist is persuaded that
in the future city the lazy will be rare, or will not exist at
Optimistic and idealistic, imbued with humanism and
moralism, anarchism is a social dogmatism. It is a cause
in the sense that Stirner gave this word. A cause is one
thing, the simple attitude of an individual soul is
another. A cause implies a common adherence to an idea,
a shared belief and a devotion to that belief. Such is not
individualism. Individualism is anti-dogmatic and little
inclined to proselytism. It would gladly take as its motto
Stirners phrase: I have set my affair on nothing. The
true individualist doesnt seek to communicate to others
his own sensation of life and society. What would be the
good of this? Omne individuum inefabile. Convinced of
the diversity of temperaments and the uselessness of a
single rule, he would gladly say with David Thoreau: I
would not have any one adopt my mode of living on any
account; for, beside that before he has fairly learned it I
may have found out another for myself, I desire that there
may be as many different persons in the world as possible;
but I would have each one be very careful to find out and
pursue his own way, and not his fathers or his mothers or
his neighbors instead. The individualist knows that there

are temperaments that are refractory to individualism and

that it would be ridiculous to want to convince them. In the
eyes of a thinker in love with solitude and independence, a
contemplative, a pure adept of the inner life, like Vigny,
social life and its agitations seem to be something
artificial, rigged, excluding any true and strongly felt
sentiments. And conversely, those who by their
temperament feel an imperious need for life and social
action, those who throw themselves into the melee, those
who have political and social enthusiasm, those who
believe in the virtues of leagues and groups, those who
have forever on their lips the words The Idea, The
Cause, those who believe that tomorrow will bring
something new and great, these people necessarily
misunderstand and disdain the contemplative, who lowers
before the crowd the harrow of which Vigny spoke. Inner
life and social action are two things that are mutually
exclusive. The two kinds of souls are not made to
understand each other. As antitheses, we should read
alongside each other Schopenhauers Aphorisms on the
Wisdom of Life, that bible of a reserved, mistrustful, and
sad individualism, or the Journal Intime of Amiel. Or the
Journal dun Pote by Vigny. On the other side, we
should read a Benoit Malon, an Elise Reclus or a
Kropotkin, and we will see the abyss that separates the
two kinds of souls
The Secular Priestly Spirit

Source: Mercure de France, September 1, 1909;

Translated: by Mitch Abidor for marxists.org;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike)
marxists.org 2006.
This is what I call the remnants of the priestly spirit
within our modern spirit, which thinks itself a- or antireligious. But is remnants really the proper word? This
word implies the idea of a sentiment in retreat, when in
fact the priestly spirit is advancing. We would at least
think this if we were to consider the expansion of the
surface occupied by the priestly spirit. The priestly spirit
was once the privilege of a caste; today it has spread,
diffused, been diluted in our ruling classes, in those
intellectual, political, administrative elites that form our
democratic aristocracy.
Examples of this spirit are easy to find in our
language and mores. We can cite the rage to confer a
sacred character on ones profession, to turn it into a
priesthood. Whenever you hear a gentleman apply this
word to his profession or that of others you have before
you a man more or less imbued with the priestly spirit. It
is especially in regard to careers in education or the
magistracy that priesthood is spoken of, but we can extend
this word to all of civil service, to all hierarchies, in
conformity with the etymology of this last word [1]. In this

sense any functionary would be a priest or a semi-priest.

We also speak of the priesthood of the lawyer or the
doctor. When its a question of a lawyer or doctor who is
also a politician the priesthood is doubled, and is carried
in a way to the second power.
Another remnant of the priestly spirit is the
qualification of renegade that is used to insult the man who
changes his opinion. The epithet of renegade has a
religious origin, which doesnt prevent anti-clericals from
using it like everyone else. We all know a gentleman who
calls himself a free-thinker, who loudly proclaims the right
for all to change, to evolve, etc. If need be hell quote you
the well-known verse: The absurd man is he who never
But if he were to learn of the about-face of one of his
political friends, then he gets indignant and calls his
former fellow-believer the harsh and feared epithet of
renegade. Why feared? Because we are imbued with the
priestly spirit, because we all tremble before anathema
and excommunication. And yet, if we admit freedom of
thought, we must admit it in its entirety. There is no such
thing as a renegade. Everyone is free at every instant to
shake off yesterdays belief. But most people dont see
things in this way. A party is a church, and it claims to
hold its people under its power; it wants to prevent
defections and schisms, and terrifies the potential
renegade with the gesture of anathema.

Another clerical expression is the very word of

secular that is used on all occasions. Secular morality!
Secular consciousness! Secular beliefs! These expressions
take us back to the times of the papal bull Clericis
Laicos, where clerics were opposed to the laity. This is a
pure distillation of the Middle Ages. In a society where
clerics no longer exist or count at least intellectually it
can no longer be a question of secular ideas. A spirit
indifferent to theological controversies will not attach an
intellectually meaningful significance to this expression.
One would have to be pontiff, to want to oppose one
church to another.
Secular holidays are also spoken of. Recently
festivals of Love, Youth, Spring, Labor have been
instituted, along with the appropriate program: reading of
apposite verses by gentlemen in black suits, processions
of young couples celebrating love, workers carrying their
tools and celebrating labor, etc. At the heart of these
secular ceremonies can easily be found a religious, a
clerical concern: that of having men commune with the
same idea, in a same faith. For anyone with a religious
spirit a sentiment, joy, memory, or hope only have value
on condition of being held in common, of being
solemnized and consecrated by the group.
Another religious and evangelical expression is that
of going to the people, so fashionable a few years ago
among young Tolstoyans and adepts of PUs.[2]

Of the same order is the expression social obligation,

especially when its pronounced in a certain way and with
a certain showy compunction. The group spirit in all its
forms, esprit de corps, esprit de chapelle all easily take
on a religious nuance. We heard a young engineer, freshly
graduated from the Ecole Polytechqnique speak with
devotion of the Polytechnicians esprit de corps as if it
were a religion of initiates, unintelligible to the profane.
This same sentiment was often expressed by soldiers at
the time of the Dreyfus Affair.
If you will, none of this is either very serious or very
profound. At the very most its capable of annoying those
horrified by the religious nuance, as Stendhal called it.
The priestly spirit is only skin deep; it has lost in depth
what it has gained in extent. It no longer has the depth of
psychology, the shadowy will to power, the implacable
perseverance in ressentiment that conferred a somber
majesty on the sacerdotal soul of the past and that
Nietzsche so potently describes in his Genealogy of
Morals. We are witnessing a bourgeoisification and a
democratization of the priestly spirit: we see nothing but
priests around us. But what humble, what modest pontiffs
compared to those great ascetic figures who dedicated
themselves to what Nietzsche called the sacerdotal
medication of humanity, and who pursued a centuries old
labor of total spiritual and temporal domination. The
secular priestly spirit is the heir and the pale imitator of

the other. It borrows from Catholicism its mise en scene,

its impressive dcor and even its sacred music, which
have been widely used for Pantheonizations and other
religio-secular ceremonies, such as the statufying of
secular pontiffs, civil marriages decorated with secular
and worldly pomp, etc. Let us see what it has retained of
its psychology.
It should first be noted that the priestly spirit must be
distinguished from the religious spirit. This is so true that
at all times there has been a flourishing of the religious
spirit that has nothing in common with the priestly spirit.
This is mysticism, which is a kind of religious
The priestly spirit is the religious spirit socialized,
clericalized. Its the religious spirit in the hands of a
clergy charged with officially representing it.
Consequently, the priestly sprit is a caste spirit, or at the
very least an esprit de corps with all the sentiments that
are attached to it; a spirit of spiritual and temporal
domination, or at the very least pride and vanity of caste
or corps, a sentiment of moral and social superiority, of an
authority to be exercised, of a certain decorum to be
maintained, of certain rites to be observed. These
sentiments, which are at their height in a clergy, can exist
in a more or less diffused and attenuated state in the
diverse corporations and social categories which, with
whatever right, aspire to represent a moral idea, to fulfill

an apostolate or a social mission, to posit themselves as

models (honest men), to set the tone and the example, to
imprint a moral direction on the rest of society: in short, to
exercise a priesthood.
It should be added that the priestly spirit can be tied
to the religious sentiment or be separate from it. In its
superior forms it is vivified by a religious, or at least
philosophical or moral belief. But at its lowest and
poorest degree it tends to be emptied of all intellectual or
ideal content, to be reduced to a simple external
formalism, a pure phariseeism. The secular priestly spirit,
like the other, in this regard presents many degrees and
At its highest degree, as it is encountered among our
intellectuals philosophers, moralists, sociologists,
professors of the spiritual life and of moral action the
secular priestly spirit can be found tied to a certain
concept of philosophy understood as the servant of an
ethical finalism and a secular moral faith.
Believe and make people believe, says M. Jules de
Gaultier. This is the goal of the greatest number of
philosophers, after and before The Critique of Pure
Reason. Bacon stated that in his time they were taught in
universities to believe, and this is still true in our time.
But its not only in universities that these teachings
are dispensed, its in any book able to find a public. What
men demand of philosophy is that it give them something

to believe in, to give them a first principle to which they

can affix their conduct, a goal which they can have the
illusion of heading towards, since the number of spirits for
whom the joy of understanding on its own suffices can
only ever be insignificant and negligible. [3]
In this the secular priestly spirit makes itself the
servant of an idea. Like the Catholic priestly spirit it
presupposes a doctrinal credo, an ideology of which it is
the guardian. The difference is that in one case the credo is
revealed by God, while in the other it is revealed by
reason. But the resemblances between the two ideologies
are many. As was perfectly demonstrated by M. Jules de
Gaultier the rationalist ideology is nothing but the
prolongation of Christian ideology: it is a veritable
secular religion. A Marxist writer, M. Edouard Berth
brings the two ideologies together under the same sign of
intellectual laziness and authoritarian routine, and opposes
to them the fever of labor and innovation that agitates
industrial circles. Most men do not feel this need for the
new that is felt by the industrialist; they prefer a nice
routine where you can live peacefully, without cares,
worries or effort. Intellectualist systems are appropriate
for the mass of the lazy that are man. They form a kind of
bureaucracy of the intellect where one is comfortably
installed for the rest of ones life, where you are
comfortably seated so as to watch the immutable spectacle
of things. The church is horrified by the thought of the new,

and thus of freedom. This is the case as well, I repeat, for

all forms of intellectualism, and in the modern world there
are many varieties of this. Many people remain foreign to
the practices of industry: the world, bureaucracy, the
university, the so-called liberal professions constitute the
social circles that industrial thought has as little penetrated
as the Church [4]. The countless varieties of
intellectualism more or less imbued with the secular
priestly spirit hold the factories where the ideal is
produced. They monopolize the individuals of respect;
they produce ideological and phraseological values whose
prices are established according to completely different
laws than those of manufactured goods. It is thus not
without reason that M. Berth compares the Catholic church
and the modern secular churches, and he opposes to the
dogmatic and routine priestly spirit the living, active, and
ever new industrial spirit.
It is only fair to recognize that the secular priestly
spirit has evolved a bit in France in the last fifty years. We
can distinguish two forms corresponding to two periods of
official philosophy on France. The secular church of
Victor Cousin, dominated by the Greco-Latin literary
tradition and by the Roman Catholic religious tradition, is
very close to the Catholicism it wants to supplant. Like it,
it is authoritarian and narrowly conservative concerning
traditional institutions: religion, family, and property,
imbued like it with that ecclesiastical prudence that makes

social usefulness the criterion for all beliefs, that divides

doctrines into harmful and healthy, and that refutes a
philosophy based on its moral and social consequences, a
type of refutation that Taine ridiculed in so amusing a
fashion in his Philosophes Classiques en France. The
new secular church, dominated by the Kantian Protestant
and rationalist tradition, rejects the Catholic pragmatism
of a Brunetire, extends its social ideal in the direction of
socialism and humanitarianism, and tends towards a
religion ever more intellectual, ever more abstract, and
finally universal and human; a religion of reason, of
science, of justice and of universal consciousness. Among
its highest representatives it recalls the generous dreams
that Renan symbolized in his Pretre de Nmi.
Another transformation: the ancient Catholic and
ascetic ideal has evolved into a progressive ideal,
optimistic, eudemonistic, and humanitarian, aspiring to
universal happiness and secular paradise (humanitys
salvation through science, through reason.)
The two currents we find in all religions, the
rationalist and the mystical, can be found in this modern
secular religion: a Renan represents scientistic
intellectualism; a Quinet, a Michelet, a Guyau, apostles of
love, represent democratic and revolutionary mysticism.
We should add that the rationalist, scientistic, and
humanitarian faith can be more or less dogmatic. It is at its
height of dogmatism in Renan in his LAvenir de la

Science, and in Guyau in his LIrreligion de lAvenir.

In Renans latest books the rationalist and scientistic faith
is diminished by uncertainties, is attenuated with question
marks: will humanity succeed? Will it fail in its voyage
towards the divine? Whatever the case, despite all
nuances in thought, it can be said that Renan has remained
faithful to the end to his scientistic faith. In LEau de
Jouvence the old Prospero, dying like Faust, weighed
down with years and labor, symbolizes the ideal of
science and strength that remain the culminating point of
Renanian thought.
Whatever the school or nuances in thought, there is a
second trait common to all the representatives of the
modern secular religion: faith in the power of ideas. Every
religious spirit is disposed to accord an enormous
influence to transmitted faith, to a taught morality. All
priests believe in the effectiveness of their preaching. The
famous: You are a goldsmith, Monsieur Josse, finds here
its application here. A comic example of this nave faith
can be found in Shaws play Candida in the person of
Pastor Morrell. Unbeknownst to him, this pastor, a
handsome and well-spoken man, inspires passion among
many of his listeners. All of them, even the young woman
who works as his typist, are in love with him. Because he
is innocence itself Pastor Morell attributes to the virtue of
the holy word the number of young women at his sermons
and is struck dumb when his wife reveals to him the ill

that has his fervent listeners in its grip:

CANDIDA: Theyre all in love with you. And
you are in love with preaching because you do it so
beautifully. And you think its all enthusiasm for the
kingdom of Heaven on earth; and so do they. You
dear silly!
MORELL: Candida, what dreadful, what souldestroying cynicism!
Our pseudo-priests, philosophers, professors of the
spiritual life, moralists, sociologists, preachers of all
kinds fall into the same illusion as Pastor Morel without,
incidentally, always obtaining so flattering a success. All
are flagrantly Platonists, believers in the idea and in love
with their preaching. For them it is blasphemy to place in
doubt the virtue of the idea, as several hardly priestly
great spirits have done, like Bayle or the Comte de
Gobineau. Their teacher Renan himself scandalized more
than one when he put in the mouth of his Prospero these
slightly skeptical words:
When I say these things I feel that none of my
listeners will be so struck by my proofs that it will
lead him to deprive himself of any sweet sensation.
Without this I would have scruples about having
been the cause that brave men would have
diminished the total of joys they could have tasted
because they took my reasoning too seriously.[5]
This cult of the word is easily explained. As is

proved by the example of Shaws pastor, the priestly spirit

is generally associated with the oratory spirit, I mean the
faculty to mouth philosophical commonplaces. The
representative types: Victor Cousin and today M. Jaurs.
M. Jaurs is the Victor Cousin of the socialist church. We
can apply to him the ingenious comparison of Taine
propos of the Grand Pontiff of the eclectic school: Like a
colored powerful beacon which receives five or six lights
and transmits its splendor. It makes shine on the
philosophical horizon their slightly deviated rays. [6]
The secular priestly spirit, like the Catholic priestly
spirit, hates doubters, skeptics, and dilettantes. Victor
Cousin cast his sacerdotal thunder against skepticism.
Michelet doesnt like Montaigne, casting him aside as
unhealthy and debilitating. As for me, he says, my
profound literary admiration for that exquisite writer
doesnt prevent me from saying that I find in him, at every
moment, a certain nauseating taste, as in a sick room,
where the stale air is heavy with the sad perfumes of the
pharmacy. The delicate, the disgusted, the tired (and all
were) hold to Pindars phrase translated and commented
on by Montaigne: Totus mundus exercet histrionem: the
world is performing a play, the world is an actor. [7]
The secular priestly spirit also hates precise spirits,
like Stendhal, who arent fooled by the noble style and the
eloquence of the pulpit.
Another trait common to the Catholic priestly spirit

and the secular priestly spirit is the hatred and contempt of

the individual as such. The most insightful analyst of the
sacerdotal soul, Stirner, noted this. In the eyes of the priest
the individual means egoism, means evil. The individual
is that which is the most contemptible. It only becomes a
little clean, a little presentable and a little interesting from
the moment it becomes the servant of the moral, i.e., the
priestly, idea. All our official and moralizing sociologists
are at this point. All are tiny Brunetires, for whom
individualism is the enemy. For them as well religion and
sociology are synonymous. What sociology offers is, like
religion, to unite souls (religare) to compose a great
spiritual whole.
The secular priest considers himself a laborer in a
disinterested task. Nothing selfish must be mixed in with
his mission. He works for the pure idea; at least he claims
so, and sometimes even believes it. Nietzsche noted
devotion to truth among our free-thinkers and atheists, the
final incarnation of the ascetic ideal.
Modern secular faith is not a dead faith, its a faith in
action. Charles Pguy said: The enrolling of young
people is the oldest, the dearest ambition, the most secret
ecclesiastical envy. [8] Its that of the secular priest. He
aspires to govern over consciences, to moral unity and
works to realize this through the dual paths of pedagogy
and politics.
Its a well known law that all spiritual powers tend

to be backed up by a temporal power, and that inversely

all temporal powers fell the need to crown themselves
with the halo of a moral idea, to set themselves up as the
rulers of reason and truth. This dual aspiration is
incarnated in the pedantocratic party that Charles Pguy
called the modern intellectual party, and which he so
vigorously and subtly described.
It is still incarnated (and in truth its all the same
thing) in the modern religion of the state.
This religion is not new. It is a legacy of the Ancien
Rgime transmitted by the men of 1789, many of whom, as
was said by M. Georges Sorel, were former men of the
law, who had remained fanatics for legality and the state.
Today, the idea of the state maintains all its prestige in
intellectual circles where the secular priestly spirit reigns,
notably among adepts of parliamentary socialism a la
Jaurs. A few years ago the parliamentary debate on the
monopoly over education set against each other
professorial politicians, pure adepts of the statist
pedantocracy, like MM. Jaurs and Lintilhac and the less
sacerdotal politicians, more liberated from the
pedantocratic ideology, like M. Clmenceau. [9]
The idea of the state is a demanding, jealous, and
fearsome idol. Its high priests of 1793, Robespierre and
Saint Just, believed themselves to be the executors of a
metaphysical and moral mandate in service to which they
deployed a terrible zeal. Their example verifies Stirners

phrase: Moral faith is as fanatical as religious faith. The

statist priestly spirit is naturally inclined to cruelty. When
circumstances demand it it takes satisfaction in a cold,
theoretical, implacable violence.
M. Georges Sorel believes that proletarian violence
will not be as vindictive or cruel as Jacobin violence
because it will be neither statist nor sacerdotal. The more
syndicalism develops by abandoning the old superstitions
that come from the Ancien Regime and the church
through the channel of men of letters, philosophy
professors, and historians of the revolution the more
social conflicts will take on a character of pure struggle
resembling that of armies on campaign. We cannot
execrate enough those men who teach the people that they
must execute I dont know what superlatively idealist
mandate of a justice on the march towards the future.
These men work at maintaining ideas on the state that
provoked all the bloody scenes of 1793, while the notion
of class struggle tends to purify the notion of violence.
[10] This is not so certain. We fear that on this point M.
Sorel is deluding himself. He takes examples from war
stories to show that the morality of war exclude coldly
cruel violence. This means forgetting that was has also
had its fanatics and mystics. We should remember Moltke
saluting the fall of Paris in 1793, receptacle of all the
vices of the universe. The proletarian movement will
obviously have, like all the others, its prophets and its

It remains for us to say a word about the most vulgar,
the worst, the crudest forms in which the secular priestly
sprit garbs itself. These are those it wears among those
people whose social situation or whose own stupidity
give them the illusion of a superior dignity, respectability,
and morality. We find here the tribe of honest men
infatuated with the oral pose, pontificating philistines,
functionaries crystallized in their vocation. Here of
course, the secular priestly spirit is emptied of all its
intellectual or ideal content. It is reduced to a flat
phariseeism, an idiotic fetishism and a tabooism. Here too
examples abound. We know a functionary, a likable young
man and not given to posing when we meet him in a caf
or at a club. But he visibly changes when he goes out to
visit in company with his wife and his daughters. He puts
on a special look, which he wears like a holy sacrament.
We feel as if he were going to officiate as a priest of the
religion of the family and the religion of high society,
those two religions sacrosanct in the eyes of certain
These two religions are tabooist. They render taboo
certain things, certain rites, certain persons, certain ideas.
Thus, in a civil service office marriage renders you taboo.
A married functionary, if he is caught doing wrong, is less
severely penalized than another; for example, he wont be
transferred. The observance of the rites of high society

also renders one taboo. The most important grade for a

functionary is a grade given by society. A functionary
whose dossier bears this note: Excellent relations in
town, (which means he visits in the world of the civil
servant) is taboo.
The follower of the religion of high society, like that
of the religion of the state, is generally intolerant and
vindictive. Dont lay a finger on his idols. Dont attack
him, for through him you attack morality, society, and other
respectable things. In all social categories we find these
pillars of society, as Ibsen said, these moral Tartuffes:
All the more dangerous, in their anger
Because they take up against you the arms we
And their passion, for which we are grateful,
Assassinate you with sacred steel.
The secular priestly spirit, in its different forms,
spreads across our era that seriousness and boredom
predicted by Stendhal and pointed out by him as the
characteristic of the future bourgeoisocracy. Usually the
secular priest has this Geneva character which Stendhal
spoke of and which calculates, and never laughs.
Stendhal consoled himself with the thought that if he had
arrived fifty years later he would have had to live in the
company of secular priests, of churchwardens of the
puritan church.
In summary, we see that the secular priestly spirit has

occupied a large place over the course of the nineteenth

century, and that it still has great influence at the beginning
of ours. Lammenais deplored the indifference of his
contemporaries on questions of religion. He was wrong.
The nineteenth century was a century of faith: scientific
faith, social faith, moral faith. There were cults for all
kinds of things: cult of the people (Michelet, Quinet), cult
of the hero (Carlyle), cult of the woman, cult of the family,
cult of science, of progress, humanity, great principles,
etc above all cult of the word, which remains the
master of the world.
Its not that the spirit that it is antithesis of the priestly
spirit the spirit of disbelief, of irony and disrespect, the
sprit of skepticism and immoralism has lacked for
representatives. It has given life to vigorous, profound,
and subtle works. It was incarnated in the anti-sacerdotal
verve of a Stirner, in the diatribes of a Nietzsche against
the traffickers of the ideal, in the lucid and disdainful
immoralism of a Stendhal, in the smiling irony of an
Anatole France. But this spirit has no hold on the
credulous mass; it hasnt penetrated the bourgeois soul or
the popular soul, over which the might of the respectful
and pontifical spirit have maintained all their power. What
makes for the force of the secular priestly spirit is that it
escapes from ridicule. It escapes ridicule because it is
generalized. What is more, it isnt very apparent; the
secular priest goes unnoticed, having no special costume.

The raillery of Voltaire, so fearful to the priests of his time

would be disarmed against those of ours. The secular
priest is legion: this is what renders him intangible.
Perhaps this shouldnt be regretted. Perhaps the
priestly spirit is tied to the most essential conditions of
human society. Perhaps man is a religious animal, just as
he is a social animal. In any event, the secular priestly
spirit gives no appearance of disappearing. It doesnt lack
for believers to honor it, nor pontiffs to cultivate it.
Stirner remarks that the word hierarchy mans
sacerdotal or sacred organization.
Popular Universities
Jules de Gaultier, De Kant Nietzsche, p.178
Edouard berth, Anarchisme individualiste et
Marxisme orthodoxe. Mouvement Socialiste. May Day
LEau de Jouvence, act III.
Hyppolite Taine, Les Philosophes Classiques en
France au XIXme sicle.
Michelet, Historie de France.
Charles Pguy, De La Situation faite au Parti
intellectual dans le Monde moderne, p. 48.
See Clemenceau, Discours pour la Libert, Cahiers
de la Quinzaine.
Georges Sorel, Rflexions sur la Violence, p. 81.

Source: LAnarchie no. 323, June 15, 1911;
Translated: by Mitch Abidor for marxists.org;
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As is the case elsewhere, the tendency to
underestimate the individual has made itself felt in the
intellectual field. Solitary thought invention has been
depreciated to the profit of collective thought imitation
preached under the eternal word of solidarity. The horror
of the previously untried, of intellectual and esthetic
originality, is a characteristic trait of Latin races. We love
regimented thought, conformist and decent meditations. A
German writer, Laura Marholm, accurately analyzed this
contemporary tendency: Intellectual cowardice is a
universal trait. No one dares makes a decisive statement
concerning his milieu. No one any longer allows himself
an original thought. Original thought only dares present
itself when it is supported by a group: it has to have
gathered together several adherents in order to dare show
itself. You must be one of many before daring to speak.
This is an indication of universal democratization, a
democratization that is still at its beginnings, and is
characterized by a reaction against international capital,
which until now has had at its disposal all the means of

military and legislative defense. No one dares to rely on

himself alone. An idea that contravenes received ideas
almost never manages to make itself known. The
propagation of an antipathetic idea is circumscribed and
hindered by a thousand anonymous censors, among which
the official censorship of he state has only a minor role.
The result of this tendency is that we no longer exist
and think for ourselves. We think according to hearsay and
It is especially from the moral point of view that the
crushing of personal egoism by group egoism is
intolerable. We too well know the pettiness of the group
spirit, the gregarious coalitions engaged, more than
anything, in fighting against superior individualities, the
solidarity in irresponsibility, all these forms of diminished
It is the same with perfect solidarity as it is with
absolute justice, absolute altruism, absolute monism.
These are abstract principles untranslatable in real terms.
Each man has his special conception of solidarity, justice,
his way to interpret the fas and the nefas in keeping with
his coterie, class, etc. interests.
As soon as an idea is set loose, said Remy de
Gourmont, if we thus set it nakedly in circulation in its
trip across the world it joins all kinds of parasitic
vegetation. Sometimes the original organism disappears,
entirely devoured by the egoistic colonies that develop

there. An amusing example of these deviations in thought

was given by the corporation of house painters at the
ceremony called The Triumph of the Republic. The
workers carried around a banner where their demands for
justice were summed up in this cry: Down with ripolin!
You must know that ripolin is a prepared paint that anyone
can spread across woodwork. We can thus understand the
sincerity of this wish and its ingenuity. Ripolin here
represents injustice and oppression; its the enemy, the
devil. We all have our own ripolin and we color
according to our needs the abstract ideas that, without this,
would be of no personal use to us.
The ideal is soiled in contact with reality:
Pearl before falling, and mire after.
The Future of Pessimism and Individualism
Source: Pessimisme et Individualisme. 1914, Alcan,
Translated: by Mitchell Abidor for marxists.org;
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Everything in current social evolution indicates an
increased reinforcement of societys powers, an
increasingly marked tendency towards the encroachment
of the collective on the individual.
Everything equally indicates that on the part of most

individuals this encroachment will be less and less felt,

and will provoke less and less resistance and rebellion.
Social conformism and optimism will thus clearly have
the last word. Society will emerge victorious over the
individual. There will come a moment when social chains
will wound almost no one, lacking people sufficiently in
love with independence and sufficiently individualized to
feel these chains and suffer from them. Lacking
combatants, the combat will come to an end. The small
independent minority will become increasingly small.
But however small it might be, it will suffer from the
increased social pressure. It will represent, in this time of
almost perfect conformism and generalized social
contentment, pessimism and individualism.
The Relationship Between Pessimism and
Source: Pessimisme et Invidualisme. Paris, Alcan,
Translated: by Mitchell Abidor for marxists.org;
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The century that just passed is without a doubt that in
which pessimism found its most numerous, its most varied,
its most vigorous and its most systematic interpreters. In
addition, individualism was expressed in that century with

exceptional intensity by representatives of high quality.

It could be interesting to bring together these two
forms of thought, dominant in our era; to ask what is the
logical or sentimental connection that exists between them,
and to what degree pessimism engenders individualism
and individualism engenders pessimism.
But the question thus posed is too general. There are
many kinds of pessimism and many kinds of individualism.
Among the latter there is one that in no way implies
pessimism, and that is the doctrinaire individualism that
issues from the French Revolution and to which so many
moralists, jurists, and politicians of our century are
attached. This individualism could take as its motto the
phrase of Wilhelm von Humboldt that Stuart Mill chose as
the epigraph of his Essay on Liberty: The grand,
leading principle, towards which every argument unfolded
in these pages directly converges, is the absolute and
essential importance of human development in its richest
diversity. Individualists of this kind believe that all
human individuals can harmonically develop in society,
that their very diversity is a guarantee of the richness and
beauty of human civilization.
These individualists are rationalists. They have faith
in reason, the principle of order, of unity, and of harmony.
They are idealists: they have faith in an ideal of social
justice. unitarian and egalitarian, they believe, despite
individual differences and inequalities, in the profound

and real unity of human kind. These individualists are

humanists in the sense that Stirner gives to this word:
solidarists, socialists, if we take this latter term in its
largest sense. Their individualism is turned outwards,
towards society. Its a social individualism, in the sense
that it doesnt separate the individual from society, which
they dont place in opposition to each other. On the
contrary, they always consider the individual as a social
element that harmonizes with the all and that only exists in
function of the all. We will not insist upon this
individualism, which obviously implies a more or less
firm social optimism.
The individualism we have in mind here is
completely different. This individualism is not a political,
juridical and moral doctrine, but a psychological and
moral attitude, a form of sensibility, a personal sensation
of life and a personal will to life.
It is impossible to fix in a definition all the traits, all
the degrees, all the nuances of this psychological
disposition. It affects a special tone in every soul in which
it makes itself known.
We can say that as a personal sensation of life,
individualism is the sentiment of uniqueness, of
individuality in what it has of the differential, the private,
and the un-revealable. Individualism is an appeal to the
interiority of sentiment, to individual inspiration in the
face of social conventions and ready-made ideas.

Individualism implies a sentiment of personal infallibility,

an idea of intellectual and sentimental superiority, of inner
artistocratism. Of irreducible difference between an ego
and an other, the idea of uniqueness. Individualism is a
return to the self and a gravitation to the self.
As personal will to life individualism is a desire to
be oneself, according to the wish of a character from
Ibsen (Peer Gynt), a desire for independence and
originality. The individualist wants to be his own maker,
his own furnisher of truth and illusion; his own builder of
truth and illusion; his own builder of dreams; his own
builder and demolisher of ideals. This wish for originality
can, incidentally, be more or less energetic, more or less
demanding, more or less ambitious. More or less happy,
too, according to the quality and the value of the
individuality in cause, according to the amplitude of the
thought and according to the intensity of, the will to,
individual might.
Be it as personal sensation of life or as personal will
to life, individualism is or tends to be anti-social: if it is
not so from the start, it later and inevitably becomes so.
Sentiment of the profound uniqueness of the ego, desire for
originality and independence, individualism cannot help
but provoke the sentiment of a silent struggle between the
individual self and society. In fact, the tendency of every
society is to reduce the sentiment of individuality as much
as possible: to reduce uniqueness through conformism,

spontaneity through discipline, instantaneousness of the

self through caution, sincerity of sentiment through the lack
of sincerity inherent in any socially defined function,
confidence and pride in the self through the humiliation
inseparable from any kind of social training. This is why
individualism necessarily has the sentiment of a conflict
between its ego and the general ego. Individualism
becomes here a principle of passive or active inner
resistance, of silent or declared opposition to society, a
refusal to submit oneself to it; a distrust of it. In its
essence, individualism holds in contempt and negates the
social bond. We can define it as a will to isolation, a
sentimental and intellectual, theoretical and practical
commitment to withdraw from society, if not in fact following the examples of the solitaries of the Thebeiad
and the more modern one of Thoreau - at least in sprit and
intention, by a kind of interior and voluntary retreat. This
distancing from society, this voluntary moral isolation that
we can practice in the very heart of society can take on the
form of indifference and resignation as well as that of
revolt. It can also assume the attitude of the spectator, the
contemplative attitude of the thinker in an Ivory Tower.
But there is always in this acquired indifference, in this
resignation or this spectatorial isolation, a remnant of
interior revolt.
Sentiment of uniqueness and more or less energetic
expression of the will to personal power; will to

originality, will to independence, will to insubordination

and revolt, will to isolation and to withdrawal into the
self. Sometimes also will to supremacy, to the deployment
of force on and against others, but always with a return to
the self, with a sentiment of personal infallibility, with an
indestructible confidence in oneself, even in defeat, even
in the failure of hopes and ideals. Intransigence,
inaccessibility of internal conviction, fidelity to oneself up
to the bitter end. Fidelity to ones misunderstood ideas, to
ones impregnable and unassailable will: individualism is
all this, either globally or in detail, this element or that,
this nuance or that predominating according to the
circumstances and the case.
Individualism, understood as we just expressed it,
that is, as an internal disposition of the soul, individualism
as sensation and will is no longer, like the individualism
of which we spoke above, like political and juridical
individualism, turned outwards and subordinated to social
life, to its constraints, its demands and obligations. It is
turned inwards. It places itself at the beginning or seeks
refuge in the end in the unbreakable and intangible interior
To say that there is a close psychological relationship
between the individualist and pessimist sensibilities
means almost stating the obvious. Pessimism supposes a
basic individualism. It supposes that interiority of
sentiment, that return to the self (almost always painful)

that is the essence of individualism. While optimism is

nothing but an abstract metaphysical thesis, the echo of
doctrinal hearsay, pessimism is a sensation of lived life; it
comes from the inner, from an individual psychology. It
proceeds from what is most intimate in us: the ability to
suffer. It predominates among those of a solitary nature
who live withdrawn into themselves and see social life as
pain. Thoroughbred pessimists, the great artists and
theoreticians of suffering, lived solitary and as strangers in
the midst of men, retrenched in their ego as if in a fortress
from which they let fall an ironic and haughty gaze on the
society of their kind. And so it is not by accident, but by
virtue of an intimate psychological correlation that
pessimism is accompanied by a tendency towards
egotistic isolation.
Inversely, the individualist spirit is almost fatedly
accompanied by pessimism. Does not experience as old as
the world teach us that in nature the individual is
sacrificed to the species? That in society it is sacrificed to
the group? Individualism arrives at a resigned or hopeless
noting of the antinomies that arise between the individual
and the species on one hand, and between the individual
and society on the other.
Life doubtless perpetually triumphs over this
antinomy, and the fact that despite it all humanity continues
to live can appear to be an unarguable reply that refutes
both pessimism and individualism. But this is not certain.

For if humanity as a species and as a society pursues its

destiny without worrying about individuals complaints or
revolts, individualism does not die for all that. Always
defeated, never tamed, it is incarnated in souls of a special
caliber, imbued with the sentiment of their uniqueness and
strong in their will to independence. Individualism suffers
a defeat in every individual who dies after having served
ends and surrendered to forces that are beyond him. But he
survives himself through the generations, gaining in force
and clarity as the human will to life intensifies, diversifies
and becomes refined in individual consciousness. It is thus
that is affirmed the dual consistency of pessimism and
individualism, indissolubly united and interconnected.
Nevertheless, it is possible that this psychological tie
that we believe we have discovered between pessimism
and individualism is nothing but an a priori view. If
instead of reasoning about psychological likelihoods we
consult the history of ideas of the 19th century we will
perhaps see that the relationship of ideas that we have just
indicated is neither as simple nor as consistent as at first
appears. We must penetrate in detail the different forms of
pessimism and individualism and more closely analyze
their relationship if we want to arrive at precise ideas.
Misanthropic Pessimism
Source: Pessimisme et Individualisme. Paris, Alcan,

Translated: by Mitch Abidor for marxists.org;

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The pessimism we want to study now is that which
we have called misanthropic pessimism. This pessimism
doesnt proceed from an exasperated and suffering
sensibility, but from a lucid intelligence exercising its
critical clear-sightedness on the evil side of our species.
Misanthropic pessimism appears in its grand lines as a
theory of universal fraud and universal imbecility; of
universal nanality and universal turpitude. As the pitiless
painting of a world peopled with cretins and swindlers, of
ninnies and fools.
The character of this pessimism appears as a
universal coldness, a willed impassibility, an absence of
sentimentalism that distinguishes it from romantic
pessimism, ever inclined to despair or revolt. The mute
despair of Vigny is more pathetic than a cry of pain. In
Stirner we find frantic accents of revolt, while in
Schopenhauer we find a tragic sentiment of the worlds
pain and a despairing appeal to the void. As for the
misanthropic pessimist, he makes no complaints. He
doesnt take the human condition as tragic, he doesnt rise
up against destiny. He observes his contemporaries with
curiosity, pitilessly analyzes their sentiments and thoughts
and is amused by their presumption, their vanity, their

hypocrisy, or their unconscious villainy, by their

intellectual and moral weakness. It is no longer human
pain, it is no longer the sickness of living that forms the
theme of this pessimism, but rather human villainy and
stupidity. One of the preferred leitmotivs of this pessimism
could be this well-known verse: The most foolish animal
is man.
The foolishness that this pessimism particularly takes
aim at is that presumptuous and pretentious foolishness
that we can call dogmatic foolishness, that solemn and
despotic foolishness that spreads itself across social
dogmas and rites, across public opinion and mores, which
makes itself divine and reveals in its views on eternity a
hundred petty and ridiculous prejudices. While romantic
pessimism proceeds from the ability to suffer and curse,
misanthropic pessimism proceeds from the faculty to
understand and to scorn. It is a pessimism of the
intellectual, ironic, and disdainful observer. He prefers the
tone of persiflage to the minor and tragic tone. A Swift
symbolizing the vanity of human quarrels in the crusade of
the Big-endians and the Little-endians, a Voltaire mocking
the metaphysical foolishness of Pangloss and the silly
naivet of Candide; a Benjamin Constant consigning to the
Red Notebook and the Journal Intime his epigrammatic
remarks on humanity and society; a Stendhal, whose
Journal and Vie de Henri Brulard contain so many
misanthropic observations on his family, his relations, his

chiefs, his entourage; a Merime, friend and emulator of

Stendhal in the ironic observation of human nature; a
Flaubert attacking the imbecility of his puppets Frederic
Moureau and Bouvard and of Pcuchet; a Taine in
Thomas Graindorge; a Challemel-Lacour in his
Reflexions dun pessimiste can all be taken as the
representative types of this haughty, smiling, and
contemptuous pessimistic wisdom.
In truth, this pessimism isnt foreign to a few of the
thinkers we have classed under the rubric of romantic
pessimism, for the different types of pessimism have
points of contact and penetration. A Schopenhauer, a
Stirner have also exercised their ironic verve on human
foolishness, presumption and credulity. But in them
misanthropic pessimism cant be found in its pure state. It
remains subordinated to the pessimism of suffering, of
despair or of revolt, to the sentimental pathos that is the
characteristic trait of romantic pessimism. Misanthropic
pessimism could perhaps be called realistic pessimism: in
fact, in more than one of its representatives (Stendhal,
Flaubert) it proceeds from that spirit of exact, detailed and
pitiless observation, from the concern for objectivity and
impassivity that figure among the characteristic traits of
the realist esthetic. Does misanthropic pessimism confirm
the thesis according to which pessimism tends to engender
individualism? This is not certain. Among the thinkers we
just cited there are certainly some who neither conceived,

nor practiced, nor recommended the attitude of voluntary

isolation that is individualism. Though they had no
illusions about men they did not flee their society. They
didnt hold them at a disdainful distance. They accepted to
mix with them, to live their lives in their midst. Voltaire
was sociability incarnate. Swift, a harsh man of ambition
had nothing of the solitary nature of Obermann and Vigny.
But there are several among the misanthropic pessimists
we just cited, particularly Flaubert and Taine, who
practiced, theorized, and recommended intellectual
isolation, the retreat of thought into itself as the sole
possible attitude for a man having any kind of refinement
of thought and nobility of soul in this world of mediocrity
and banality
Flaubert, haunted by the specter of stupidity with a
thousand faces finds it wherever he looks. He seeks
refuge against it in the pure joys of art and contemplation.
He said: I understood one great thing: its that for the men
of our race happiness is in the idea and nowhere else.
Where does your weakness come form? he wrote to a
friend. Is it because you know man? What difference
does it make? Cant you, in thought, establish that superb
line of interior defense that keeps you an oceans width
from your neighbor?
To a correspondent who complains of worry and
disgust with all things: There is a sentiment, he writes,
or rather a habit that you seem to be lacking, to wit, the

love of contemplation. Take life, the passions, and

yourself as subjects for intellectual exercises. And again:
Skepticism will have nothing of the bitter, for it will
seem that you are at humanitys comedy and it will seem to
you that history crosses the world for you alone.
Taine was led by his misanthropic vision of humanity
to a stoic and ascetic conception of life, to looking on the
intelligence as the supreme asylum in which to isolate
himself, to defend himself from universal wickedness,
universal stupidity, and universal banality. A singular
analogy unites Taine to Flaubert. Taine asks of scientific
analysis what Flaubert asks of art and contemplation: an
intellectual alibi, a means of escape from the realities of
the social milieu.
This deduction is logical. Misanthropic pessimism
supposes or engenders contemplative isolation. In order to
intellectually despise men one must separate oneself from
them, see them from a distance. One must have left the
herd, have arrived at Descartes attitude which lives in
the midst of men like amidst the trees in a forest. Whether
we wish it or not, there is here a theoretical isolation, a
kind of intellectual solipsism, the indifference of an
aristocrat and a dilettante who detaches himself from all
in order to roam everywhere. (Taine)
Let us add that the clear-sightedness of the
misanthropic intellectual has, in and of itself, something
antisocial about it. To take as the theme for ones irony the

common and average human stupidity means treating

without respect a social value of the first order. Stupidity
is the stuff of the prejudices without which no social life is
possible. It is the cement of the social edifice. Stupidity,
said Dr. Anatole Frances Trublet, is the first good of an
ordered society. Social conventions only survive thanks
to a general stupidity that envelops, supports, guarantees,
protects, and consecrates the stupidity of individuals. This
is why critical, ironic, and pessimistic intelligence is a
social dissolvent. It is irreverent towards that which is
socially respectable: mediocrity and stupidity. It attacks
respect and credulity, the conservative elements of society.
Historical Pessimism
Source: Pessimisme et Individualisme. Paris, Alcan,
Translated: by Mitch Abidor for marxists.org;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike)
marxists.org 2006.
Historical pessimism is inspired by a retrospective
ideal, an historic or even prehistoric ideal whose
nostalgia haunts the thinker disgusted with the present.
Two names can be put forward in this regard: de Gobineau
and Nietzsche.
Count de Gobineau judges current civilization in the
light of an ethnic type that is distant, almost prehistoric, or

at least so little historical that it would be disappointing to

write its history: the Aryan type. Nevertheless, Count de
Gobineau thinks he can follow it throughout its evolution,
its transformations and its deviations. I compared, he
says, races among themselves. I chose one from among
them that I saw as the best and I wrote The History of the
Persians in order to show, by the example of the Aryan
nation the most isolated from its relatives, how powerless
differences in climate, environment and circumstances are
in changing or inhibiting the genius of a race. His
Discourse on the Inequality of Races traces the long
vicissitudes and the irremediable degeneration of this type
of superior humanity as a result of the mixing of bloods
that adulterated it. Ottar Jarl tells of the ancestry of a
Scandinavian hero of the ancient Nordic race from which
Gobineau claimed to descend. The novel The Pleiades
presents a few survivors of the noble Aryan race lost in
the midst of unworthy contemporaries, but who dont
renounce the fight in this degraded milieu, succeeding in
making their presence felt.
What are the moral and intellectual traits that
constitute the Gobinien superman? These traits can be
found in The History of the Persians, the Discourse on
the Inequality of Races, in Ottar Jarl and The
Pleaides. Gobineau places judgment in the first rank of
the qualities that constitute the superior man. What he
values in intelligence is not imagination, but judgment.

Judgment is the superior characteristic of the Aryan. The

Aryan is above all a man of judgment and action. For de
Gobineau the true role of intelligence can only be that of a
guide to action. The goal of intelligence is not to meditate,
to build poems in the air, to withdraw into itself and to
think for thinkings sake. The role of intelligence is to see
clearly and dictate actions. It should not be forgotten that
de Gobineau is the descendant of a line of warriors, of
politicians, of diplomats and a diplomat himself. His
heredity, his traditions, his experience, his trade all led
him to esteem above all else the qualities that constitute a
man of action, a leader of men.
According to him the superior man is not the artist or
the speculative writer: the superior man is he who is
capable of commanding a people or an army, or the
skillful diplomat. The qualities that constitute the Gobinien
superman find themselves summed up in the portrait of the
Viking. In the personality of Ottar we find three clearly
pronounced traits, and it is essential to engrave them from
the start, for we will recognize one or another, if not all of
them, in most of his descendants. The activity of
intelligence, the Vestfolding, carries it to all the points it
can reach and that circumstances place within its sight. He
is avid for knowledge, for he wants to know just how far
his country extends, but he also doesnt want occasions for
gain and profit to be neglected. He is also sensible, for he
doesnt believe the speeches of the Bjarmes (priests)

without reservation Along with the activity of the

intelligence he has the passion for independence, and on
the day he has to submit to Eriks domination he says no
and goes into exile. He appreciates the advantages of
wealth, but he appreciates even more not having to yield,
and yields little. In the third place he is stubborn in his
viewsUnderstanding, independent, patient, these are
three qualities from which as much good as evil result and
are susceptible of diverse applications. In Ottar, issued
from a pure race, we find its essence in all sincerity, with
the maximum of energy, and exactly as the heros ancestors
possessed it, receiving it from their blood. It is the purity
of blood that makes for strong individuality. His race was
pure and so his individuality was very strong. In him
individuality was everything, agglomeration little or
nothing. On the contrary, among more southern populations
the blood had been noticeably altered: in the Franc
become half-Roman, in the Roman rotted by Semitic
mixtures. Everyone counted on everyone else, and while
the Scandinavian, jealous of his liberty, only accepted
temporary associations, those they vanquished found it
good to hold a master or guide responsible for their will.
It is this obedience, which then becomes a servility, that in
truth constitutes not human culture always ennobling
but civilization, vehicle of a contrary effect. Another
portrait of the Gobinien superman is that of the Englishman
Nore in The Pleaides. I am fantastic? Why? Am I less a

man because I seem to you different from the model from

which my contemporaries are carved? What do they and I
have in common? Fantastic? Because I dont care about
their grandeur, their baseness, their distinctions, their
humiliations, their elections, their means of making a
fortune; not their fortunes or their problems! I would be a
fantastic creature if, conceiving my desires in accordance
with puerile imitation, I mixed in with them the things of
common life, ever ready to abandon what are only dreams
for banal reality from which I neither knew how to or
wanted to detach myself. But thank god nothing like this
existsIt is possible that creation, which randomly casts
about disparate seeds, erred in my regard and having
prepared me for another milieu inadvertently let me fall
into this one. But for whatever reason, here I am! I am
myself and no other, feeling in my way, understanding
things with my own intelligence, and as incapable of
renouncing what I once wanted, of abandoning the pursuit
of what I desired, as incapable of demonstrating to myself
that I was wrong as I am to renounce breathing for an
hour! Energy, independence, strong individualism, an
intense sentiment of the personality: such are the traits of
the Gobinien superman.
The humanity of today has badly degenerated from
this superior type. Good brains and strong wills are rare,
for they are in proportion with the excellence of the race.
A character in The Pleaides says that there are still

perhaps 3,000 sons of kings, superior men of Aryan

race, three thousand well made brains and strongly beating
hearts. The rest is a vile mass that makes up the triple
tribe of imbeciles, brutes and scoundrels, the current form
of European barbarism. Not youthful, brave, daring,
picturesque, happy barbarism, but a suspicious, glum,
bitter, ugly one that will kill all and create nothing. What
is horrible to think about is that these few superior brains,
these few strongly beating hearts, lost in the mass, can do
nothing to raise up the ruins and bring decadence to a halt.
This was seen once before, at the end of the Roman
It can be argued of the work of these great men that,
despite the universal decomposition, there were yet firm
and honest hearts in the Empire. Who denies this? I am
speaking of multitudes and not of individuals. Could these
noble intelligences stop for one minute the rotting of the
social body? No. The most noble intelligences didnt
convert the crowd, didnt give it heart. The presence of a
few of the Just couldnt save Sodom. It is the same today.
The few survivors of the ancient virtues of the race cannot
today stop European decomposition. When the mixing of
blood has degraded a race to a certain degree there is
nothing to be done. All that is left is to dispassionately
witness the death of the race. Such is Gobinen pessimism.
A complete, definitive, and hopeless ethnic and social
pessimism. We find a strong expression of it in the pages

where de Gobineau combats the thesis of humanitys

indefinite progress, as well as in the final pages of the
Essay. The prediction that makes us sad is not death,
its the certitude of arriving there degraded. And perhaps
that shame reserved to our descendants would leave us
indifferent if we didnt feel, by a secret horror, that
destinys rapacious hands are already posed upon us.
By virtue of the law we seek to establish, Gobinen
pessimism turns into individualism. Stoic individualism,
isolatedly ferocious, haughty and despairing. The Aryan is
always recognized by his indomitable individuality. In the
presence of a civilization he hates and holds in contempt
he doesnt resign himself. He stiffens in the haughty
attitude of a wounded aristocrat. I dont care what will
result from your changes, a character of The Pleaides
says, in whom it is believed Gobineau incarnated himself,
I dont know future morals so that I can approve of them,
future costumes so I can admire them, future institutions so
that I can respect them, and I maintain that what I approve,
what I admire, what I love is gone! I have nothing to do
with what will succeed them. Consequently, you dont
console me by announcing the triumph of parvenus who I
dont care to know. The same character says elsewhere:
It doesnt please me to see a once great people now laid
low, impotent, paralyzed, half-rotted, decomposing,
surrendered to stupidities, miseries, evil, ferocity,
cowardice, the weaknesses of a senile childhood, and

good for nothing except death, which I sincerely hope for

so that it escape from the dishonor in which it wallows,
laughing like imbeciles. Someone asks of this despairing
character: No religion, no fatherland, no skill, no love.
The void has been installed. The tables have been swept
clean. Absolutely nothing is left. What do you conclude? I
conclude that man is left. And if he has the strength to look
his own will in the face and to find it solid we have the
right to say that he possesses something. And what, I ask
you? Stoicism. Times like these have always produced
this severe authority. This is also Gobineaus response.
This is the stoic individualism in which he takes refuge.
Nevertheless, de Gobineau fights up to the bitter end. Even
though isolated, even though his efforts are made sterile
because of his isolation, he continues to work in the
direction of grandiose dream, whose vague and
magnificent perspective his imagination of the superman
has allowed him to glimpse. Despite it all, he has enough
pride to create for himself an ideal he wont betray, a goal
he will pursue. A table of human values, a scale whose
summit he will occupy in a sterile but splendid isolation.
In a way he recalls the symbols of Leconte de Lisle in his
energy, his disdain, and his despair.
The wounded wolf who stays silent so as to die,
And who twists the knife in his bleeding mouth
Nietzsche at a certain time became enamored of an
ethnic ideal no less ancient and no less uncertain than the

Gobinist ideal. He was enamored of primitive Hellenism,

the radiant and prestigious Hellenism of The Origins of
Tragedy, i.e., the primitive Greek soul, at one and the
same time Dionysian and Apollonian. The Greek soul in
which the apotheosis of the ardent, overabundant, joyous,
exalted and triumphant life is summarized, as well as the
beauty, the purity of line, the nobility of attitude, the
majesty of the face and the serenity of the gaze. It is with
this magical image that Nietzsche confronts current
civilization, with its regulated and domesticated societies,
with its tyrannical and servile democracy, with its
depressing Christianity, with its narrow-minded morality,
which weakens and makes ugly. And he too sounds the
alarm issued by de Gobineau: Decadence! Decadence!
In truth, Nietzsches pessimism, like that of
Gobineau, doesnt lack for a secret relationship with
romantic pessimism. There is much romanticism in the
historical pessimism of Gobineau and Nietzsche. If these
two thinkers take refuge in the past it is because the
present brings only vulgarity and ugliness, its that they
situate their grandiose dreams of impenitent romantics in a
vanished utopia and uchronia. Whatever the case, by
virtue of a law whose effects we are following, the
pessimism of Nietzsche, like that of Gobineau, turns into
individualism. It is true that the nuance in Nietzschean
individualism is more difficult to determine than in that of
Gobinien individualism. Gobineaus individualism is a

despairing stoicism, an isolation of the defeated man of

action, of a haughty thinker taking refuge in an ivory tower,
from the heights of which he witnesses the slow agony of a
world without either force or beauty.
Nietzsches individualism is clearly an anti-social
individualism. But is that anti-societism absolute or
relative, provisional or definitive? Does Nietzsche indict
only modern society or all societies? Nietzsches ideas on
this subject is somewhat unclear. Modern societies, says
M. Faguet, are anti-Nietszchean in their nature, and
Nietzsche cannot prevent himself from being, and
especially appearing, anti-social. Certainly (and why not
recognize this?) he must have had moments of antisocietism and have said to himself: It is possible that life
as I conceive it was simply savage life and it can only be
fully and brilliantly realized in the state of nature or in that
primitive state of little organized societies that we
sometimes call the state of nature. At heart, it is social
invention that is against me. He could have told himself
this, though he didnt write it anywhere, he who wrote
everything that he thought with so much bravura and
daring. He could have thought this on several occasions
and for my part I know him to be too intelligent to doubt
that he had this thought. But persuaded, perhaps
erroneously, that there was a race that is the Greeks
that was organized in a society and that created the free,
beautiful and strong life, he didnt stop at anti-social

thought, leaving to a few of his disciples the task or the

pleasure of deducing his premises. What of which he
carried out a penetrating, subtle and uncompromising
criticism of was modern society. It is difficult to
determine the exact place that anti-societism occupies in
Nietzschean philosophy and the scope that Nietzsche
attributed to it. At certain moments this anti-societism
attacks modern society, at others it seems to attack the very
conditions of social life. Is Nietzsches anti-societism
radical, as radical as that of Stirner, when Nietzsche
violently protests against the conduct and the virtues that
every society imposes on its members: the spirit of
consistency and a spirit of adaptation and obedience to the
rules; when on the contrary he glorifies the faculties and
energies stifled by life in society; when along with Stirner
he celebrates that happy freedom of the instincts, horror of
the rule, love of the fortuitous, the uncertain, the
unforeseen? Nietzsches social philosophy seems here to
be an absolute and definitive anti-societism, it seems to
summarize the common basis of social pessimism and
individualism: the perception of a natural, profound and
in a way psychological antinomy between the individual
and society, the individual having instincts that do not
yield before social life, since man is not adapted to social
life, which wounds him like a poorly made shoe. Seen in
this way Nietzschean individualism is profoundly antisocial and Strinerite; it is a revolt not only against our

society, but against any society, future or possible.

But it is only fair to remark that in certain aspects of
his philosophy, which are perhaps not the least important,
Nietzsche puts the lie to this rebellious attitude, or at least
places it in a secondary position and subordinates it to an
ideal of a human grandeur still possible and realizable in
the future.
An important difference separates Nietzsche from
Gobineau in this regard. Its the concept of the Superman,
which is in opposition to the Gobinien law of the
necessary limitations on the resources of human aptitude.
This law is formulated in the Discourse on Inequality:
Man, says de Gobineau, was able to learn certain
things; he has forgotten many others. He has not added a
single sense to his senses, a member to his members, a
faculty to his soul. He has done nothing but turn to another
side of the circle that is his lot. De Gobineau closes
humanity into a narrow circle of capacities and works. He
assigns him unsurpassable limits within which he can, it is
true, regress, but which his physiology forbids him from
ever surpassing. From this flows the theory of
irremediable decadence once human races are adulterated
through mixing, and Gobineaus hopeless pessimism.
Opposed to this is the concept of the Superman. While de
Gobineau looks on the superior human race as definitively
fallen from its original purity and beauty, Nietzsche, he too
theoretician of decadence, performs a sudden about face.

At a certain moment in the development of his thought, and

in what is perhaps an example of inconsistency, he
introduces into his philosophy the strange concept of the
Superman, that is, of a humanity called on to indefinitely
surpass itself, to make itself indefinitely superior to itself,
incomparable to itself, incommensurable with itself.
Through this unexpected change in front Nietzsche
displaces his human ideal. He transports it from the rear to
the front, from the past to the future. From historic and
retrospective this ideal becomes futuristic. The human
ideal is no longer the primitive Hellenism from which we
are fallen, it is the Superman of tomorrow. In this way
Nietzsche superimposes or rather substitutes for his theory
of decadence a theory of indefinite progress. And
decadence itself takes on a new meaning. Nietzsche admits
that the current decadence is a period of transition from
which will come a society containing the possibility of
nobility and beauty. He only rejects current society in the
hope of finding a society hospitable to great souls, a
society where masters will reign and where great things
will yet be done. At those moments Nietzsche is not a
hopeless pessimist like the Count de Gobineau, nor is he
an anti-social individualist , a theoretician of revolt for
revolts sake like Stirner. On the contrary, he is then, or
wants to be, a creator of values, the founder of a society, a
prophet, a priest.
And so Nietzsches attitude towards the problem of

the relations between the individual and society are not

clear. But through its very lack of decisiveness it confirms
the psychological law that we are attempting to establish:
the correlation between individualism and pessimism. At
those moments when Nietzsche is optimistic, when he
believes in the Superman, he is not an anti-social
individualist. He repudiates Stirnerite individualism as a
manifestation of the slave revolt, as one of the symptoms
of our modern decadence. On the other hand, at those
times when Nietzsche is pessimistic, at those times when
he says that the Greek miracle was unique and we have no
chance of reviving it, he shows himself to be an
uncompromising enemy of society and hater of social ties.
He expresses an anti-societism as radical, as absolute as
that of Stirner.