All the Sophisms which I have so far
combated, relate to the restrictive policy; and some
even on this subject, and those of the most remarkable,
I have, in pity to the reader, passed over: acquired
rights; unsuitableness; exhaustion of
money, etc., etc.
But Social economy is not confined
within this narrow circle. Fourierism, Saint
Simonism, Commonism, agrarianism, anti-rentism, mysticism,
sentimentalism, false philanthropy, affected aspirations
for a chimerical equality and fraternity; questions
relative to luxury, wages, machinery; to the pretended
tyranny of capital; to colonies, outlets, population;
to emigration, association, imposts, and loans, have
encumbered the field of Science with a crowd of parasitical
arguments, Sophisms, whose rank growth
calls for the spade and the weeding-hoe.
I am perfectly sensible of the defect
of my plan, or rather absence of plan. By attacking
as I do, one by one, so many incoherent Sophisms,
which clash, and then again often mingle with each
other, I am conscious that I condemn myself to a disorderly
and capricious struggle, and am exposed to perpetual
I should certainly much prefer to
state simply how things are, without troubling
myself to contemplate the thousand aspects under which
ignorance supposes them to be.... To lay
down at once the laws under which society prospers
or perishes, would be virtually to destroy at
once all Sophisms. When Laplace described what,
up to his time, was known of the movements of celestial
bodies, he dissipated, without even naming them, all
the astrological reveries of the Egyptians, Greeks,
and Hindoos, much more certainly than he could have
done by attempting to refute them directly, through
innumerable volumes. Truth is one, and the work
which expounds it is an imposing and durable edifice.
Error is multiple, and of ephemereal nature.
The work which combats it, cannot bear in itself a
principle of greatness or of durability.
But if power, and perhaps opportunity,
have been wanting to me, to enable me to proceed in
the manner of Laplace and of Say, I still cannot but
believe that the mode adopted by me has also its modest
usefulness. It appears to me likewise to be well
suited to the wants of the age, and to the broken
moments which it is now the habit to snatch for study.
A treatise has without doubt an incontestable
superiority. But it requires to be read, meditated,
and understood. It addresses itself to the select
few. Its mission is first to fix attention, and
then to enlarge the circle of acquired knowledge.
A work which undertakes the refutation
of vulgar prejudices, cannot have so high an aim.
It aspires only to clear the way for the steps of Truth;
to prepare the minds of men to receive her; to rectify
public opinion, and to snatch from unworthy hands
dangerous weapons which they misuse.
It is above all, in social economy,
that this hand-to-hand struggle, this ever-reviving
combat with popular errors, has a true practical utility.
Sciences might be arranged in two
categories. Those of the first class whose application
belongs only to particular professions, can be understood
only by the learned; but the most ignorant may profit
by their fruits. We may enjoy the comforts of
a watch; we may be transported by locomotives or steamboats,
although knowing nothing of mechanism and astronomy.
We walk according to the laws of equilibrium, while
entirely ignorant of them.
But there are sciences whose influence
upon the public is proportioned only to the information
of that public itself, and whose efficacy consists
not in the accumulated knowledge of some few learned
heads, but in that which has diffused itself into
the reason of man in the aggregate. Such are
morals, hygiene, social economy, and (in countries
where men belong to themselves) political economy.
Of these sciences Bentham might above all have said:
“It is better to circulate, than to advance
them.” What does it profit us that a great
man, even a God, should promulgate moral laws, if
the minds of men, steeped in error, will constantly
mistake vice for virtue, and virtue for vice?
What does it benefit us that Smith, Say, and, according
to Mr. de St. Chamans, political economists of every
school, should have proclaimed the superiority
in all commercial transactions, of liberty above
restraint, if those who make laws, and for whom
laws are made, are convinced of the contrary?
These sciences, which have very properly
been named social, are again peculiar in this,
that they, being of common application, no one will
confess himself ignorant of them. If the object
be to determine a question in chemistry or geometry,
nobody pretends to have an innate knowledge of the
science, or is ashamed to consult Mr. Thenard, or to
seek information from the pages of Legendre or Bezout.
But in the social sciences authorities are rarely
acknowledged. As each individual daily acts upon
his own notions whether right or wrong, of morals,
hygiene, and economy; of politics, whether reasonable
or absurd, each one thinks he has a right to prose,
comment, decide, and dictate in these matters.
Are you sick? There is not a good old woman in
the country who is not ready to tell you the cause
and the remedy of your sufferings. “It is
from humors in the blood,” says she, “you
must be purged.” But what are these humors,
or are there any humors at all? On this subject
she troubles herself but little. This good old
woman comes into my mind, whenever I hear an attempt
made to account for all the maladies of the social
body, by some trivial form of words. It is superabundance
of produce, tyranny of capital, industrial plethora,
or other such nonsense, of which, it would be fortunate
if we could say: Verba et voces praetereaque
nihil, for these are errors from which fatal consequences
From what precedes, the two following
results may be deduced: 1st. That the social
sciences, more than others, necessarily abound in Sophisms,
because in their application, each individual consults
only his own judgment and his own instinctd.
That in these sciences Sophisms are especially
injurious, because they mislead opinion on a subject
in which opinion is power is law.
Two kinds of books then are necessary
in these sciences, those which teach, and those which
circulate; those which expound the truth, and those
which combat error.
I believe that the inherent defect
of this little work, repetition, is what is
likely to be the cause of its principal utility.
Among the Sophisms which it has discussed, each has
undoubtedly its own formula and tendency, but all
have a common root; and this is, the forgetfulness
of the interests of men, considered as consumers.
By showing that a thousand mistaken roads all lead
to this great generative Sophism, I may perhaps
teach the public to recognize, to know, and to mistrust
it, under all circumstances.
After all, I am less at forcing convictions,
than at waking doubts.
I have no hope that the reader as
he lays down my book will exclaim, I know.
My aspirations will be fully satisfied, if he can but
sincerely say, I doubt.
“I doubt, for I begin to fear
that there may be something illusory in the supposed
blessings of scarcity.” (Sophism I.)
“I am not so certain of the
beneficial effect of obstacles.” (Sophism II.)
“Effort without result,
no longer appears to me so desirable as result
without effort.” (Sophism III.)
“I understand that the more
an article has been labored upon, the more is its
value. But in trade, do two equal
values cease to be equal, because one comes from the
plough, and the other from the workshop?” (Sophism
“I confess that I begin to think
it singular that mankind should be the better of hindrances
and obstacles, or should grow rich upon taxes; and
truly I would be relieved from some anxiety, would
be really happy to see the proof of the fact, as stated
by the author of “the Sophisms,” that
there is no incompatibility between prosperity and
justice, between peace and liberty, between the extension
of labor and the advance of intelligence.” (Sophisms
XIV and XX.)
“Without, then, giving up entirely
to arguments, which I am yet in doubt whether to look
upon as fairly reasoned, or as paradoxical, I will
at least seek enlightenment from the masters of the
I will now terminate this sketch by
a last and important recapitulation.
The world is not sufficiently conscious
of the influence exercised over it by Sophistry.
When might ceases to be right,
and the government of mere strength is dethroned,
Sophistry transfers the empire to cunning
and subtilty. It would be difficult to determine
which of the two tyrannies is most injurious
Men have an immoderate love for pleasure,
influence, consideration, power in a word,
for riches; and they are, by an almost unconquerable
inclination, pushed to procure these, at the expense
But these others, who form
the public, have a no less strong inclination to keep
what they have acquired; and this they will do, if
they have the strength and the knowledge
to effect it.
Spoliation, which plays so important
a part in the affairs of this world, has then two
agents; Force and Cunning. She has
also two checks; Courage and Knowledge.
Force applied to spoliation, furnishes
the great material for the annals of men. To
retrace its history would be to present almost the
entire history of every nation: Assyrians, Babylonians,
Mèdes, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Goths, Franks,
Huns, Turks, Arabs, Tartars, without counting the
more recent expeditions of the English in India, the
French in Africa, the Russians in Asia, etc.,
But among civilized nations surely
the producers of riches are now become sufficiently
numerous and strong to defend themselves.
Does this mean that they are no longer
robbed? They are as much so as ever, and moreover
they rob one another.
The only difference is that Spoliation
has changed her agent. She acts no longer by
Force, but by Cunning.
To rob the public, it is necessary
to deceive them. To deceive them, it is necessary
to persuade them that they are robbed for their own
advantage, and to induce them to accept in exchange
for their property, imaginary services, and often
worse. Hence spring Sophisms in all their
varieties. Then, since Force is held in check,
Sophistry is no longer only an evil; it is
the genius of evil, and requires a check in its turn.
This check must be the enlightenment of the public,
which must be rendered more subtle than the
subtle, as it is already stronger than the
GOOD PUBLIC! I now dedicate to
you this first essay; though it must be confessed
that the Preface is strangely transposed, and the Dedication
a little tardy.