THE DEAD ARE IN THE RIGHT AND THE LIVING ARE NOT IN THE WRONG
The death agony of the barricade was about to begin.
Everything contributed to its tragic majesty at that supreme moment;
a thousand mysterious crashes in the air, the breath of armed
masses set in movement in the streets which were not visible,
the intermittent gallop of cavalry, the heavy shock of artillery
on the march, the firing by squads, and the cannonades crossing
each other in the labyrinth of Paris, the smokes of battle mounting
all gilded above the roofs, indescribable and vaguely terrible cries,
lightnings of menace everywhere, the tocsin of Saint-Merry, which now
had the accents of a sob, the mildness of the weather, the splendor
of the sky filled with sun and clouds, the beauty of the day,
and the alarming silence of the houses.
For, since the preceding evening, the two rows of houses in the Rue
de la Chanvrerie had become two walls; ferocious walls, doors closed,
windows closed, shutters closed.
In those days, so different from those in which we live, when the
hour was come, when the people wished to put an end to a situation,
which had lasted too long, with a charter granted or with a
legal country, when universal wrath was diffused in the atmosphere,
when the city consented to the tearing up of the pavements,
when insurrection made the bourgeoisie smile by whispering its
password in its ear, then the inhabitant, thoroughly penetrated
with the revolt, so to speak, was the auxiliary of the combatant,
and the house fraternized with the improvised fortress which rested
on it. When the situation was not ripe, when the insurrection
was not decidedly admitted, when the masses disowned the movement,
all was over with the combatants, the city was changed into a desert
around the revolt, souls grew chilled, refuges were nailed up,
and the street turned into a defile to help the army to take
A people cannot be forced, through surprise, to walk more quickly
than it chooses. Woe to whomsoever tries to force its hand! A people
does not let itself go at random. Then it abandons the insurrection
to itself. The insurgents become noxious, infected with the plague.
A house is an escarpment, a door is a refusal, a facade is a wall.
This wall hears, sees and will not. It might open and save you.
No. This wall is a judge. It gazes at you and condemns you.
What dismal things are closed houses. They seem dead, they are living.
Life which is, as it were, suspended there, persists there.
No one has gone out of them for four and twenty hours, but no one
is missing from them. In the interior of that rock, people go
and come, go to bed and rise again; they are a family party there;
there they eat and drink; they are afraid, a terrible thing!
Fear excuses this fearful lack of hospitality; terror is mixed
with it, an extenuating circumstance. Sometimes, even, and this
has been actually seen, fear turns to passion; fright may change
into fury, as prudence does into rage; hence this wise saying:
"The enraged moderates." There are outbursts of supreme terror,
whence springs wrath like a mournful smoke.--"What do these people want?
What have they come there to do? Let them get out of the scrape.
So much the worse for them. It is their fault. They are only getting
what they deserve. It does not concern us. Here is our poor street
all riddled with balls. They are a pack of rascals. Above all things,
don't open the door."--And the house assumes the air of a tomb.
The insurgent is in the death-throes in front of that house; he sees
the grape-shot and naked swords drawing near; if he cries, he knows
that they are listening to him, and that no one will come; there stand
walls which might protect him, there are men who might save him;
and these walls have ears of flesh, and these men have bowels of
Whom shall he reproach?
No one and every one.
The incomplete times in which we live.
It is always at its own risk and peril that Utopia is converted
into revolution, and from philosophical protest becomes
an armed protest, and from Minerva turns to Pallas.
The Utopia which grows impatient and becomes revolt knows what awaits it;
it almost always comes too soon. Then it becomes resigned, and stoically
accepts catastrophe in lieu of triumph. It serves those who deny it
without complaint, even excusing them, and even disculpates them,
and its magnanimity consists in consenting to abandonment.
It is indomitable in the face of obstacles and gentle towards ingratitude.
Is this ingratitude, however?
Yes, from the point of view of the human race.
No, from the point of view of the individual.
Progress is man's mode of existence. The general life of the human
race is called Progress, the collective stride of the human race
is called Progress. Progress advances; it makes the great human
and terrestrial journey towards the celestial and the divine; it has
its halting places where it rallies the laggard troop, it has its
stations where it meditates, in the presence of some splendid Canaan
suddenly unveiled on its horizon, it has its nights when it sleeps;
and it is one of the poignant anxieties of the thinker that he sees
the shadow resting on the human soul, and that he gropes in darkness
without being able to awaken that slumbering Progress.
"God is dead, perhaps," said Gerard de Nerval one day to the
writer of these lines, confounding progress with God, and taking
the interruption of movement for the death of Being.
He who despairs is in the wrong. Progress infallibly awakes, and,
in short, we may say that it marches on, even when it is asleep,
for it has increased in size. When we behold it erect once more,
we find it taller. To be always peaceful does not depend on
progress any more than it does on the stream; erect no barriers,
cast in no boulders; obstacles make water froth and humanity boil.
Hence arise troubles; but after these troubles, we recognize the fact
that ground has been gained. Until order, which is nothing else than
universal peace, has been established, until harmony and unity reign,
progress will have revolutions as its halting-places.
What, then, is progress? We have just enunciated it; the permanent
life of the peoples.
Now, it sometimes happens, that the momentary life of individuals
offers resistance to the eternal life of the human race.
Let us admit without bitterness, that the individual has his distinct
interests, and can, without forfeiture, stipulate for his interest,
and defend it; the present has its pardonable dose of egotism;
momentary life has its rights, and is not bound to sacrifice itself
constantly to the future. The generation which is passing in its
turn over the earth, is not forced to abridge it for the sake
of the generations, its equal, after all, who will have their turn
later on.--"I exist," murmurs that some one whose name is All.
"I am young and in love, I am old and I wish to repose, I am the
father of a family, I toil, I prosper, I am successful in business,
I have houses to lease, I have money in the government funds,
I am happy, I have a wife and children, I have all this, I desire
to live, leave me in peace."--Hence, at certain hours, a profound
cold broods over the magnanimous vanguard of the human race.
Utopia, moreover, we must admit, quits its radiant sphere when
it makes war. It, the truth of to-morrow, borrows its mode
of procedure, battle, from the lie of yesterday. It, the future,
behaves like the past. It, pure idea, becomes a deed of violence.
It complicates its heroism with a violence for which it is just that
it should be held to answer; a violence of occasion and expedient,
contrary to principle, and for which it is fatally punished.
The Utopia, insurrection, fights with the old military code in its fist;
it shoots spies, it executes traitors; it suppresses living beings
and flings them into unknown darkness. It makes use of death,
a serious matter. It seems as though Utopia had no longer any faith
in radiance, its irresistible and incorruptible force. It strikes
with the sword. Now, no sword is simple. Every blade has two edges;
he who wounds with the one is wounded with the other.
Having made this reservation, and made it with all severity,
it is impossible for us not to admire, whether they succeed or not,
those the glorious combatants of the future, the confessors
of Utopia. Even when they miscarry, they are worthy of veneration;
and it is, perhaps, in failure, that they possess the most majesty.
Victory, when it is in accord with progress, merits the applause
of the people; but a heroic defeat merits their tender compassion.
The one is magnificent, the other sublime. For our own part,
we prefer martyrdom to success. John Brown is greater than Washington,
and Pisacane is greater than Garibaldi.
It certainly is necessary that some one should take the part
of the vanquished.
We are unjust towards these great men who attempt the future,
when they fail.
Revolutionists are accused of sowing fear abroad. Every barricade
seems a crime. Their theories are incriminated, their aim suspected,
their ulterior motive is feared, their conscience denounced.
They are reproached with raising, erecting, and heaping up, against the
reigning social state, a mass of miseries, of griefs, of iniquities,
of wrongs, of despairs, and of tearing from the lowest depths blocks
of shadow in order therein to embattle themselves and to combat.
People shout to them: "You are tearing up the pavements of hell!"
They might reply: "That is because our barricade is made of
The best thing, assuredly, is the pacific solution. In short,
let us agree that when we behold the pavement, we think of the bear,
and it is a good will which renders society uneasy. But it depends
on society to save itself, it is to its own good will that we make
our appeal. No violent remedy is necessary. To study evil amiably,
to prove its existence, then to cure it. It is to this that we
However that may be, even when fallen, above all when fallen, these men,
who at every point of the universe, with their eyes fixed on France,
are striving for the grand work with the inflexible logic of the ideal,
are august; they give their life a free offering to progress;
they accomplish the will of providence; they perform a religious act.
At the appointed hour, with as much disinterestedness as an actor
who answers to his cue, in obedience to the divine stage-manager,
they enter the tomb. And this hopeless combat, this stoical
disappearance they accept in order to bring about the supreme
and universal consequences, the magnificent and irresistibly human
movement begun on the 14th of July, 1789; these soldiers are priests.
The French revolution is an act of God.
Moreover, there are, and it is proper to add this distinction to
the distinctions already pointed out in another chapter,--there are
accepted revolutions, revolutions which are called revolutions;
there are refused revolutions, which are called riots.
An insurrection which breaks out, is an idea which is passing its
examination before the people. If the people lets fall a black ball,
the idea is dried fruit; the insurrection is a mere skirmish.
Waging war at every summons and every time that Utopia desires it,
is not the thing for the peoples. Nations have not always and at
every hour the temperament of heroes and martyrs.
They are positive. A priori, insurrection is repugnant to them,
in the first place, because it often results in a catastrophe,
in the second place, because it always has an abstraction as its point
Because, and this is a noble thing, it is always for the ideal,
and for the ideal alone, that those who sacrifice themselves do thus
sacrifice themselves. An insurrection is an enthusiasm. Enthusiasm may
wax wroth; hence the appeal to arms. But every insurrection,
which aims at a government or a regime, aims higher. Thus, for instance,
and we insist upon it, what the chiefs of the insurrection
of 1832, and, in particular, the young enthusiasts of the Rue de
la Chanvrerie were combating, was not precisely Louis Philippe.
The majority of them, when talking freely, did justice to this king
who stood midway between monarchy and revolution; no one hated him.
But they attacked the younger branch of the divine right in Louis
Philippe as they had attacked its elder branch in Charles X.;
and that which they wished to overturn in overturning royalty
in France, was, as we have explained, the usurpation of man
over man, and of privilege over right in the entire universe.
Paris without a king has as result the world without despots.
This is the manner in which they reasoned. Their aim was distant
no doubt, vague perhaps, and it retreated in the face of their efforts;
but it was great.
Thus it is. And we sacrifice ourselves for these visions,
which are almost always illusions for the sacrificed, but illusions
with which, after all, the whole of human certainty is mingled.
We throw ourselves into these tragic affairs and become intoxicated
with that which we are about to do. Who knows? We may succeed.
We are few in number, we have a whole army arrayed against us;
but we are defending right, the natural law, the sovereignty
of each one over himself from which no abdication is possible,
justice and truth, and in case of need, we die like the three
hundred Spartans. We do not think of Don Quixote but of Leonidas.
And we march straight before us, and once pledged, we do not draw back,
and we rush onwards with head held low, cherishing as our hope an
unprecedented victory, revolution completed, progress set free again,
the aggrandizement of the human race, universal deliverance;
and in the event of the worst, Thermopylae.
These passages of arms for the sake of progress often suffer shipwreck,
and we have just explained why. The crowd is restive in the
presence of the impulses of paladins. Heavy masses, the multitudes
which are fragile because of their very weight, fear adventures;
and there is a touch of adventure in the ideal.
Moreover, and we must not forget this, interests which are not
very friendly to the ideal and the sentimental are in the way.
Sometimes the stomach paralyzes the heart.
The grandeur and beauty of France lies in this, that she takes
less from the stomach than other nations: she more easily knots
the rope about her loins. She is the first awake, the last asleep.
She marches forwards. She is a seeker.
This arises from the fact that she is an artist.
The ideal is nothing but the culminating point of logic,
the same as the beautiful is nothing but the summit of the true.
Artistic peoples are also consistent peoples. To love beauty is
to see the light. That is why the torch of Europe, that is to say
of civilization, was first borne by Greece, who passed it on to Italy,
who handed it on to France. Divine, illuminating nations of scouts!
It is an admirable thing that the poetry of a people is the element
of its progress. The amount of civilization is measured by the
quantity of imagination. Only, a civilizing people should remain
a manly people. Corinth, yes; Sybaris, no. Whoever becomes effeminate
makes himself a bastard. He must be neither a dilettante nor
a virtuoso: but he must be artistic. In the matter of civilization,
he must not refine, but he must sublime. On this condition,
one gives to the human race the pattern of the ideal.
The modern ideal has its type in art, and its means is science.
It is through science that it will realize that august vision
of the poets, the socially beautiful. Eden will be reconstructed
by A+B. At the point which civilization has now reached, the exact
is a necessary element of the splendid, and the artistic sentiment
is not only served, but completed by the scientific organ;
dreams must be calculated. Art, which is the conqueror,
should have for support science, which is the walker; the solidity
of the creature which is ridden is of importance. The modern spirit
is the genius of Greece with the genius of India as its vehicle;
Alexander on the elephant.
Races which are petrified in dogma or demoralized by lucre are unfit
to guide civilization. Genuflection before the idol or before money
wastes away the muscles which walk and the will which advances.
Hieratic or mercantile absorption lessens a people's power of radiance,
lowers its horizon by lowering its level, and deprives it of that
intelligence, at once both human and divine of the universal goal,
which makes missionaries of nations. Babylon has no ideal;
Carthage has no ideal. Athens and Rome have and keep, throughout
all the nocturnal darkness of the centuries, halos of civilization.
France is in the same quality of race as Greece and Italy.
She is Athenian in the matter of beauty, and Roman in her greatness.
Moreover, she is good. She gives herself. Oftener than is the case
with other races, is she in the humor for self-devotion and sacrifice.
Only, this humor seizes upon her, and again abandons her.
And therein lies the great peril for those who run when she
desires only to walk, or who walk on when she desires to halt.
France has her relapses into materialism, and, at certain instants,
the ideas which obstruct that sublime brain have no longer anything
which recalls French greatness and are of the dimensions of a
Missouri or a South Carolina. What is to be done in such a case?
The giantess plays at being a dwarf; immense France has her freaks
of pettiness. That is all.
To this there is nothing to say. Peoples, like planets, possess the
right to an eclipse. And all is well, provided that the light
returns and that the eclipse does not degenerate into night.
Dawn and resurrection are synonymous. The reappearance of the light
is identical with the persistence of the _I_.
Let us state these facts calmly. Death on the barricade
or the tomb in exile, is an acceptable occasion for devotion.
The real name of devotion is disinterestedness. Let the abandoned
allow themselves to be abandoned, let the exiled allow themselves
to be exiled, and let us confine ourselves to entreating great
nations not to retreat too far, when they do retreat. One must
not push too far in descent under pretext of a return to reason.
Matter exists, the minute exists, interest exists, the stomach exists;
but the stomach must not be the sole wisdom. The life of the moment
has its rights, we admit, but permanent life has its rights also.
Alas! the fact that one is mounted does not preclude a fall.
This can be seen in history more frequently than is desirable:
A nation is great, it tastes the ideal, then it bites the mire,
and finds it good; and if it be asked how it happens that it
has abandoned Socrates for Falstaff, it replies: "Because I
One word more before returning to our subject, the conflict.
A battle like the one which we are engaged in describing is nothing
else than a convulsion towards the ideal. Progress trammelled
is sickly, and is subject to these tragic epilepsies. With that malady
of progress, civil war, we have been obliged to come in contact
in our passage. This is one of the fatal phases, at once act
and entr'acte of that drama whose pivot is a social condemnation,
and whose veritable title is Progress.
The cry to which we frequently give utterance is our whole thought;
and, at the point of this drama which we have now reached, the idea
which it contains having still more than one trial to undergo,
it is, perhaps, permitted to us, if not to lift the veil from it,
to at least allow its light to shine through.
The book which the reader has under his eye at this moment is,
from one end to the other, as a whole and in detail, whatever may
be its intermittences, exceptions and faults, the march from evil
to good, from the unjust to the just, from night to day, from appetite
to conscience, from rottenness to life, from hell to heaven,
from nothingness to God. Point of departure: matter; point of arrival:
the soul. The hydra at the beginning, the angel at the end.