The Ideal of a Perfect Society
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Let us in thought construct upon some globe a society, in which social causes of evil shall not exist, and where humanity shall employ its activity and power in the development of the elements needed for the happiness of its members.
There would be, on such a globe, an order like that which reigns in the system of the stars. In this system, the worlds of different orders are arranged in hierarchies — the satellites burn around their planets, and the planets around the central sun, which concentrates all the attractions of the group, and in exchange returns to each of these worlds which he balances in space, heat and light. There are no perturbations, no shocks, no irregular and disordered movements. All these stars, each with its proper life, its proportioned atmosphere, its seas and continents peopled with appropriate creatures, are guided in movements so calculated, that days and nights and seasons follow each other harmoniously in their meridians and zones. They execute their diverse revolutions, and traverse, in prescribed times, their orbits — immense rings, which they trace around the sun, and which interlace and cross each other as the figures of a well-arranged dance.
Humanity, on one of these worlds, would be arranged in imitation of these grand sidereal laws. It would be understood that man, being the intelligent and powerful creature, pre-eminently, amidst other creatures by whom he is surrounded, is, by that fact, the pivotal and ruling being on the globe — that it is for him to preside over the development of the surface face of the earth, to cultivate and embellish the planet which has been entrusted to his care — that he has received force and intelligence in order that he may adorn his noble domain, and draw from the fruitful bosom of nature the riches it conceals, and which human genius is summoned to lay bare. Finally, and in a word, it would be recognised, that the Terrestrial Destiny of man is the administration of his globe. Then, to use the beautiful thought and expressions of poets, peace descending would sow the earth with gold, and flowers, and spices ; and the people, hand in hand, would work together for the culture and beauty of their world. On such a globe, a unitary government would be the centre of all the great industrial operations exercised by the nations of the different continents. It would be the culminating point of the administrative hierarchy, spread like a net-work over the whole globe. It would direct the industrial armies, which, in immense hosts, would labor to introduce great changes on the surface of the earth, to clothe with woods the bare chains of mountains; to conquer, by cultivation, the vast deserts ; to establish ample and convenient roads, radiating from the central capital of the globe, to the various continental capitals, and binding them all together. This central government, by its unitary administration, would equalize the production and consumption of the continents, and preside over the commercial exchanges of their commodities and products. In a word, it would direct the general affairs and operations of the globe, and be the high industrial regulator of the whole.
Around this central government should we see grouped governments of the second degree, presiding in a similar way over the administration of the different continents; regulating, according to exact statistical information, which could be readily obtained, the industrial relations of their large territorial divisions, and effecting the interchange of their productions.
Then would come governments of the third degree, presiding over these large territorial divisions ; then within them the governments of empires; and lower still, provincial, departmental, and commercial administrations, the functions of which would be analogous throughout.
It must be remarked, that these progressive centres of administration, which together form upon the globe a grand spherical Hierarchy, are congresses of different orders, appointed by the people whose affairs they are commissioned to arrange ; and as these affairs would be purely industrial and commercial, the direction of them would be entrusted to men specially appointed and capable of fulfilling their designs. The deliberations of these congresses would not be obligatory ; but, as their judgments would proceed from the concurrence of men recognised as the most enlightened upon the particular subjects considered, it would rarely happen that their decrees would not be sanctioned by the acceptance of those interested in them. The governments, in their different hierarchical degrees which regulate the different commercial and financial movements, and preside over the external industrial relations of the different centres of population, would be simply boards of managers appointed by one or more Associations, and invested with the confidence of those who commission them. There would no longer be power, having at its control armies and police; despotism and usurpation would cease to be possible. Such, then, would be in our Utopia of a world organized in unity, a very general idea of its administrative or governmental system. Such would be the exterior arrangements of nations, provinces and communes.
What other functions now would humanity have to execute and how should they be fulfilled?
As there would be no longer wars and intestine discord in this model- world, there would remain in addition to these administrative relations only labors productive of wealth, domestic, agricultural, manufacturing, scientific, artistic. How shall they be performed? How shall wealth be created and expended? Where is the habitation of the agriculturist, the manufacturer, the student, the artist? In the Commune. The Commune, then, is the social workshop of the province, the nation, the general society. If, then, to an organization of unitary government, regulating and directing the commercial and industrial relations of the Communes, which are grouped in provinces and nations, is added a good internal organization of the Commune itself, it is plain that the Utopia of a world Harmoniously ordered will be completely sketched.
And, now, though we have set out from an hypothesis purely ideal as yet, that is, of a unitary government enveloping the whole globe, we can still deduce from this speculation an observation of the greatest importance, the application of which would be most valuable, even now ; it is this :
“The organization of the commune is the corner-stone of the social edifice, however vast and perfect it may be.”
Is it not evident, however carelessly the preceding remarks may have been read, that the administrative congresses of different degrees, departmental, provincial, national, &c., the members of which are supplied from the communes and appointed by them, cannot be good and well selected, unless the communes themselves are in a position to know well and to select well their representatives. For, if there are opposed interests, discords, parties, in the commune, the different centres oi the administrative hierarchy will reproduce inevitably these contentions, which distract the communes from which they came ; and consequently, in the different congresses will be opposition, discord, and strife.
Again, if we will reflect how completely incapable communes, pressed down by misery and ignorance, would be wisely to choose their representatives, we shall see a second reason for concluding, that the hypothesis of a good governmental organization, invested with the confidence of those who commission its members, is possible only on the condition that the commune itself is well organized.
And finally, if we will reflect that the administrative functions, even of the best possible governments, can only be functions of arrangement, of order, of general supervision, and never of agricultural, manufacturing, scientific operations, which are the only functions directly productive of riches, we shall admit, that the installation of the best possible government would be, by itself, a very small thing for humanity ; and we shall feel that social welfare depends especially upon the arrangement of the labor performed in the commune, of the domestic, agricultural, manufacturing functions, and of those of science, education, and arts. For, these are the functions which actually create the riches of individuals and of nations, and all the means of man’s material and intellectual well-being.
The communes are the stones of the edifice; the administration is the cement which unites them. If your stones, then, are friable, rough, unhewn, you need a great quantity of cement to make your edifice erect and strong; while, if the stones are good and smooth, you can build with ease a beautiful and solid structure. First of all, then, must you choose, shape, and hew the stones. It is inconceivable, that politicians are not capable of this most simple reasoning. It is incredible, almost, that for so long a time they should have been straining every nerve to form a good government, when it is so perfectly easy to prove, that the best govern’ mental system, taken alone, would do almost nothing for the melioration of human conditions; and when, finally, it is mathematically demonstrable that it is impossible to have a good government, a government administered for the interests of all, when those interests are divided and opposed in the commune, and, by consequence, in the nation. Thus it is, because the question in relation to social well-being, melioration, and happiness, has been wrongly put at first; because men have obstinately attempted what is impossible; because they have tried to solve the social problem by the governmental one, without perceiving that this latter cannot be solved, until that in relation to the commune has been solved first; because, in a word, an error was accepted in the outset and taken as the point of departure, that humanity has been agitated with vain revolutions, and the grandest geniuses have wasted their energies in utterly barren speculations. How has it been possible, that for so long a time men should have failed to comprehend that society, being composed of communes, as the beehive is of cells, and the army of companies, and the house of stones, the first problem to be solved, in order to have a good social organization, is to determine what is the good organization of the very primitive element of all society, the commune.
We have proved that the Congresses or administration councils, departmental, provincial, national, central, cannot be compact, harmonious and well-selected, unless they emanate from nations, provinces, communes, whose internal interests are compact, harmonious and co-operative; so that in our model world, the arrangement of the administration of a department is possible, only subsequently to a right organization of the communes constituting such a department; and the administration of provinces, nations, and of the globe is possible only subsequently to a right organization of all the communes of the globe. Now what appearance would the communes of a perfect world present?
It is in the commune, we have said, that riches are produced and consumed. The administrations which emanate from it establish only the modes of external relations, and regulate commercial transactions and the exchange of products. Therefore, as I consider clearly established, there would be nothing to be done within the communes itself except domestic, agricultural and manufacturing labors, works of art, scientific investigations, education, and the internal settlement of accounts ; or in a word, the production and preparation of goods of all kinds for the nse of the commune and for exchange, and the division of this wealth among the members of the association. It is evident, that these labors should be arranged in such a manner as to yield the largest possible returns, or in other words, that they should be executed not blindly and without order, but under subjection to a system of organization. Now, what is the meaning of this word organization? Let us define it by some examples.
In our civilized societies, we generally see but few instances of industrial organizations, for it is evident enough that the agricultural and manufacturing labors of our existing towns are performed by families who have no close connection with each other; we see among them no classification, no arrangement in ranks and orders, no government and union; they work separate, divided, isolated; they follow without agreement or concert the caprices, personal wishes, necessities or accidental intelligence, be it great or small, of individuals. Our civilized societies have no other instances of organization for the most part than the departments of war, of the magistracy, of the post office, &c. The defence of our country is not entrusted to the caprice, to the good or bad will, to the intelligence and zeal of separate families. We have armies composed of different bodies of men arranged in divisions, brigades, regiments; which regiments are divided into battalions and companies; while the whole is linked together and bound in one by a system of government. And thanks to this mode of distribution, the great movements of attack and defence are made with a precision and concert which extend to the maneouvres of the regiments, battalions, platoons. For the security of a country, every one feels that such arrangements are necessary. Every one appreciates too the need of a judicial organization for the repression of crimes, and the settlement of difficulties between individuals. And finally, it is easy to conceive, that if the transport and distribution of dispatches and letters was not made by an organized system, if we had no general administration of the mails, and this function was left to two or three thousand private persons with no connection or concert among themselves, there would result an utter confusion from which every citizen would suffer. A function is organized then, whatever it be, military, judicial, commercial or industrial, when it is executed in concert and order as as a whole, when its various offices are classified, governed, and combined.
Now, although instances may readily be found of organizations badly made and administered, yet no one will deny, that the organization of social functions is a good in itself, and that in every sphere of life it would be proper and convenient to substitute national organization for the blind, uncertain, partial, divided action of individuals and families. If it is well to organize war, the magistracy and the mails, ought we not also to organize industry, and productive labor, whose function is to nourish humanity and to create the means of living and well-being for individuals and nations? Is it not the height of folly to leave to disorder and and anarchy operations which are of the very first importance? What should we say of a manufacturer or farmer, who should leave in confusion his workshop or farm? What ought we to say then of any society which permits in the communes which are its grand workshops of production, confused and isolated modes of industry? The communes of an ideal society would present the appearance of a perfect organization of all its functions. The entire territory, with its cultivated fields, workshops and manufactories, would be considered as the domain of one single person; and all its labors would be regulated and guided by an internal central administration, composed of the most capable individuals nominated by those whose right it is to appoint them, to oversee the operations. This regency, possessed of the confidence, of the people, would have a personal interest, both honorable and pecuniary to govern wisely, because the products of the association would be divided to each individual proportionally to his contributed aid in producing them. For in this model system, the mode will be found of dividing all goods among the associates, not equally, which would be absurd, but prorata according to the capital, labor, skill, which each has contributed, estimated in a regular, fixed and mathematical way.
There would be then for each one in these communal associations employment, at once lucrative to him and useful to the masses, for his capital, labor and skill; there would open for him many occupations in agriculture, manufactures, science and art; and in every branch of occupation there would be honorable recompences and emoluments proportioned to his recognised usefulness and true merit, awarded by the vote of his peers and fellow laborers. As the emoluments of each would increase proportionally to the general prosperity of all branches of industry, each member as proprietor in the stock of the whole commune, or as a productive laborer, would be interested in its well being as a whole, since the chances of individual gains multiply with the increasing revenues of the commune. The interests of all classes would thus be convergent ; and an education given by the commune, open to all, would perfect throughout nations and the world the union of the now separated classes. Finally and as a condition of the highest importance it must be added, that this mode of organizing labor would have the power to render it attractive, so that all, rich and poor alike, would be drawn to it. No more, then, would despotism and oppression, the destruction of man by weary toils and wretchedness appear; but floating on a stream of abundance of all kinds of good, men would love one another, for their interests would be harmonious and united, and their reciprocal relations would engender no. causes of hate. By this organization of labor and by the ‘proportional distribution of benefits, each individual would be socially emancipated, independent and free. And the picture which this normal society, so different from ours would present, would be as follows:
Universal peace, with kind relations among all nations.
The organization of all useful labors.
Harmony of individual and collective interests.
Developement of all the faculties.
Union of all classes.
Perfect liberty of individuals amidst the general order and by reason of this general order;
Attractive industry and unity of action.
Without entering into more particular and regularly classified details, we can readily conceive that this is in general the ideal of a world harmoniously ordered; that if such a society should exist on any planet, it might be said, that there man, collectively regarded, was really the administrator and the ruler of his globe; that lie would there enjoy, amidst ennobling labors all the riches of his own creation and of the creation of God; that his physical, emotive and intellectual faculties, would attain amidst such conditions their fullest developement; that he would there be happy in his senses, his intelligence, his heart; that he would put in practice naturally and with delight all the real virtues; and in one word, that he would there fulfil the most beautiful destiny which it is possible to conceive for him in this earthly sphere.
If what has now been said is true, then with equally strict truth may it be said, that the efforts of man upon this earth should be concentrated upon elevating our social condition to the nearest possible resemblance to this typical organization, even if it can never be perfectly attained. And with the same truth may it also be further said, that we can judge of the relative value of different social organisations, past, present, or to come, by a comparison with this type as a common standard, even if the type itself cannot be completely realized.
Before closing, let one fact which is already established be applied, and let another fact be established. They are both of capital importance, and should be constantly borne in mind.
The first is this, that if the state of society which has now been described as the ideal one, should actually exist upon any truly blessed and happy globe, the first step in its realization must necessarily be the right organization of communes, and that general harmony can be established only in just the degree in which this communal regulation is applied to the different regions of the globe. Whence it appears, that if we desire to-day that any society of any country the world over, should undergo a happy transformation, we must confine ourselves in the first place to a discovery of the laws and mechanical arrangement of a right industrial organization of the commune.
The second fact will be found in the reply to this question: would the members of an ideal society have passions like ours? Apparently they would have the affections of love and of paternity which control the perpetuation of the race; and friendship which unites individuals of the same sex, as love does those of different sexes. Apparently they would have ambition, without which there could be no hierarchy nor popular organization. Apparently also they would be susceptible of pleasures of sense, and therefore desirous of the riches by which they are procured; for what end would be answered by the immense developements of the arts, sciences, and of industry, what end by productive labor, and by accumulated means of pleasure, if the men themselves were either brutes or philosophers, who neither could nor would enjoy them. A noble emulation also would quicken them in the accomplishment of their labors; and enthusiasm would stimulate them and fill them with power; and finally they would be impelled by the desire of change, for without this, each man being occupied by one function for His whole life would be little fitted for combination with his fellows, as his nature would be developed only on one side; he who was incessantly occupied by intellectual labor without making use of his body, would lose strength and health, while he who was wholly absorbed in some bodily toil would remain brutal and coarse, would never fill the sphere of a man, and might have his place supplied by an animal or a machine.
Friendship, love, ambition, the family affections, the desires and joys of sense, the love of pleasure and riches, the capacity of rivalry, of enthusiasm and of love of change, would remain active then among the inhabitants of this best possible world. Now if we can prove that these passions now enumerated are primitive and the parents of all other passions, as any one with a little reflection can indeed at once perceive, it will be our necessary conclusion that the inhabitants of this best possible world, the men of our ideal and typical society would be organized absolutely as we ourselves are upon this earth, which is as it has well been called one of the small mansions of the universe.
Victor Considerant, “The Ideal of a Perfect Society,” The Present 1, no. 1 (September 1843): 19-22; 1 no. 2 (October 15, 1843): 52-56.