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The Cynosure

  Michael Bakunin
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  Education and Anarchy
  Anarchist Poets
The text is taken from my copy of the fourth edition, 1842. This version of Political Justice, originally published in 1793, is based on the corrected third edition, published in 1798.




Advantages of social refinement -- of individuality. -- Evils of cooperation. -- Ideas of the future state of cooperation. -- Its limits. -- Its legitimate province. -- Evils of cohabitation -- of the received system of marriage. -- Consequences of their abolition. -- A promiscuous commerce of the sexes estimated. -- Inconstancy estimated. -- Education need not be a sybject of positive institution. -- Of the division of labour.

It is a curious subject, to enquire into the due medium between individuality and concert. On the one hand, it is to be observed that human beings are formed for society. Without society, we shall probably be deprived of the most eminent enjoyments of which our nature is susceptible. In society, no man, possessing the genuine marks of a man, can stand alone. Our opinions, our tempers and our habits are modified by those of each other. This is by no means the mere operation of arguments and persuasives; it occurs in that insensible and gradual way, which no resolution can enable us wholly to counteract. He that would attempt to counteract it by insulating himself, will fall into a worse error than that which he seeks to avoid. He will divest himself of the character of a man, and be incapable of judging of his fellow men, or of reasoning upon human affairs.

On the other hand, individuality is of the very essence of intellectual excellence. He that resigns himself wholly to sympathy and imitation, can possess little of mental strength or accuracy. The system of his life is a species of sensual dereliction. He is like a captive in the garden of Armida; he may revel in the midst of a thousand delights; but he is incapable of the enterprise of a hero, or the severity of a philosopher. He lives forgetting and forgot. He has deserted his station in human society. Mankind cannot be benefited by him. He neither animates them to exertion, nor leads them forward to unexpected improvement. When his country or his species call for him, he is not found in his rank. They can owe him no obligations; and, if one spark of a generous spirit remain within him, he will view his proceedings with no complacency. The truly vernerable, and the truly happy, must have the fortitude to maintain his individuality. If he indulge in the gratifications, and cultivate the feelings of man, he must at the same time be strenuous in following the train of his disquisitions, and exercising the powers of his understanding.

The objectors of a former chapter1 were partly in the right, when they spoke of the endless variety of the mind. It would be absurd to say that we are not capable of truth, of evidence and agreement. In these respects, so far as mind is in a state of progressive improvement, we are perpetually coming nearer to each other. But there are subjects about which we shall continually differ, and ought to differ. The ideas, associations and circumstances of each man, are properly his own; and it is a pernicious system that would lead us to require all men, however different their circumstances, to act by a precise general rule. Add to this, that, by the doctrine of progressive improvement, we shall always be erroneous, though we shall every day become less erroneous. The proper method for hastening the decline of error, and producing uniformity of judgment, is not, by brute force, by laws, or by imitation; but, on the contrary, by exciting every man to think for himself.

From these principles it appears, that every thing that is usually understood by the term cooperation, is, in some degree, an evil. A man in solitdue, is obligated to sacrifice or postpone the execution of his best thoughts, in compliance with his necessities. How many admirable designs have perished in the conecption, by means of this circumstance? It is still worse, when a man is also obliged to consult the convenience of others. If I be expected to eat or to work in conjunction with my neighbour, it must either be at a time most convenient to me, or to him, or to neither of us. We cannot be reduced to a clock-work uniformity.

Hence it follows that all supererogatory cooperation is carefully to be avoided, common labour and common meals. "But what shall we say to a cooperation, that seems dictated by the nature of the work to be performed?" It ought to be diminished. There is probably considerably more of injury in the concert of industry, than of sympathies. At present, it is unreasonable to doubt, that the consideration of the evil of cooperation, is, in certain urgent cases, to be postponed to that urgency. Whether, by the nature of things, cooperation of some sort will always be necessary, is a question we are scarcely competent to decide. At present, to pull down a tree, to cut a canal, to navigate a vessel, require the labour of many. Will they always require the labour of many? When we recollect the complicated machines of human contrivance, various sorts of mills, of weaving engines, steam engines, are we not astonished at the compendium of labour they produce? Who shall say where this species of improvement must stop? At present, such inventions alarm the labouring part of the community; and they may be productive of the termporary distress, though they conduce, in the sequel, to the most important interests of the multitude. But, in a state of equal labour, their utility will be liable to no dispute. Hereafter it is by no means clear, that the most extensive operations will not be within the reach of one man; or, to make use of a familiar instance, that a plough may not be turned into a field, and perform its office without the need of superintendence. It was in this sense that the celebrated Franklin conjectured, that "mind would one day become omnipotent over matter2."

The conclusion of the progress which has here been sketched, is something like a final close to the necessity of manual labour. It may be instructive in such cases, to observe, how the sublime geniuses of former times, anticipated what seems likely to be the future improvement of mankind. It was one of the laws of Lycurgus, that no Spartan should be employed in manual labour. For this purpose, under his system, it was necessary, that they should be plentifully supplied with slaves devoted to drudgery. Matter, or, to speak more accurately, the certain and unremitting laws of the univerew, will be the Helots of the period we are contemplating. We shall end in this respect, oh immortal legislator! at the point from which you began.

To return to the subject of cooperation. It may be a curious speculation ot attend to the progressive steps, by which this feature of human society may be expected to decline. For example: shall we have concerts of music? The miserable state of mechanism of the majority of the performers, is so conspicuous, as to be, even at this day, a topic of mortification and ridicule. Will it not be practicable hereafter for one man to perform the whole? Shall we have theatrical exhibitions? This seems to include an absurd and vicious cooperation. It may be doubted, whether men will hereafter come forward in any mode, formally to repeat words and ideas that are not their own? It may be doubted, whether any musical perforer will habitually execute the compositions of others? We yield supinely to the superiour merit of our predecessors, because we are accustomeed to indulge the inactivity of our faculties. All formal repetition of other men's ideas, seems to be a scheme for imprisioning, for so long a time, the operations of our own mind. It borders perhaps, in this respect, upon a breach of sincerity, which requires that we should give immediate utterance to every useful and valuable idea that occurs.

Having ventured to state these hints and conjectures, let us endeavour to mark the limits of individuality. Every man that receives an impression from any external object, has the current of his own thoughts modified by force; and yet, withot external impressions, we should be nothing. Every man that reads the composition of another, suffers the succession of his ideas to be, in a considerable degree, under the direction of his author. But it does not seem, as if this would ever form a sufficient objection against reading. One man will always have stored up reflections and facts that another wants; and mature and digested discourse will perhaps always, in equal circumstances,, be superior to that which is extempore. Conversation is a species of cooperation, one or the other party always yielding to have his ideas guided by the other: yet convesation, and the intercourse of mind with mind, seem to be the most fertile sources of improvement. It is here as it is with punishment. He that, in the gentlest manner, undertakes to reason another out of his vices, will probably occassion pain; but this species of punishment ought, upon no account, to be superseded.

Let not these views of the future individuality of man, be misapprehended, or overtrained. We ought to be able to do without one another. He is the most perfect man, to whom society is not a necessary of life, but a luxury, innocent and enviable, in which he joyfully indulges. Such a man will not fly to society, as to something requisite for the consuming of his time, or the refuge of his weakness. In society he will find pleasure; the temper of this minid will prepare him for firendship and for love. But he will resort with a scarcely inferior eagerness to solitude; and will find in it the highest complacence and the purest delight.

Another article which belongs to the subejct of cooperation, is cohabitation. The evils attendant on this practice, are obvious. In order to this human understanding's being successfully cultivated, it is necssary, that the intellectual operations of men should be independent of each other3. We should avoid such practices as are calculated to melt our opinions into a common mould. Cohabitation is also hostile to that fortitude, which should accustom a man, in his actions, as well as in his opinions, to judge for himself, and feel competent to the discharge of his own duties. Add to this, that it is absurd to expect the inclinations and wishes of two human beings to coincide, through any long period of time. To oblige them to act and to live together, is to subject them to some inevitable portion of thwarting, bickering and unhappiness. This cannot be otherwise, so long as men shall continue to vary in their habits, their preferences and their views. No man is always chearful and kind; and it is better that his fits of irritation should subside of themselves, since the mischief in that case is more limited, and since the jarring of opposite tempers, and the suggestions of a wounded pride, tend inexpressibly to increase the irritation. When I seek to correct the defects of a stranger, it is with urbanity and good humour. I have no idea of convincing him throguh the medium of surliness and invective. But something of this kind invetiably obtains, where the intercourse is too unremitted.

The subject of cohabitation is particularly interesting, as it includes in it the subject of marriage. It will therefore be proper to pursue the enquiry in greater detail. The evil of marriage, as it is practiced in European countries, extends further than we have yet described. The method is, for a thoughtless and romatntic youth of each sex, to come together, to see each other, for a few times, and under circumstnaces full of delusion, and then to vow to eternal attachment. What is the consequence of this? In almost every instance they find themselves deceived. They are reduced to make the best of an irretrievable mistake. They are led to conceive it is their wisest policy, to shut their eyes uppon realities, happy, if, by any perversion of intellect, they can persuade themselves that they were right in their first crude opinion of each other. Thus the institution of marriage is made a system of fraud; and men who carefully mislead tehir judgments in the daily affair of their life, must be expected to have a crippled judgment in every other concern.

Add to this, that marriage, as now understood, is a monopoly, and the worst of monopolies. So long as two human beings are forbidden, by positive institution, to follow the dictates of their own mind, prejudice will be alive and vigorous. So long as I seek, by despotic and artificial means, to maintain my possession of a woman, I am guilty of the most odious selfishness. Over this imaginary prize, men watch whith pertpetual jealousy; and one man finds his desire, and his capacity to circumvent, as much excited, as the other is excited, to traverse his projects, and frustrate his hopes. As long as this state of society continues, philanthropy will be crossed and checked in a thousand ways, and the still augmenting stream of abuse will continue to flow.

The abolition of the present system of marriagge, appears to involve no evils. We are apt to represent that aboltion to ourselves, as the harbinger of brutal lust and depravity. But it really happens, in this, as in other cases, that the positive laws which are made to restrain our vices, irritate and multiply them. Not to say, that the same sentiments of justice and happiness, which, in a state of equality, would destroy our relish for expensive gratifications, might be expected to decrease our inoridnate appetites of every kind, and to lead us universally to prefer the pleasures of intellect to the pleasures of sense.

It is a question of some moment, whether the intercourse of the sexes, in a reasonable state of society, would be promiscuous, or whether each man would select for himself a partner, to whom he will adhere, as long as that adherence shall continue to be the choice of both parties. Probability seems to be greatly in favour of the latter. Perhaps this side of the alternative is most favourable to population. Perhaps it would suggest itself in prefrence, to the man who would wish to maintain the several propensities of his frame, in the order due to their relative importance, and to prevent a merely sensual appetite from engrossing excessive attention. It is scarcely to be imagined, that this commerce, in any state of society, will be stripped of its adjuncts, and that men will as willingly hold it, with a woman whose personal and mental qualities they disapprove, as with one of a different description. But it is the nature of the human mind, to persist, for a certain length of time, in its opinion or choice. The parties therefore having acted upon selection, are not likely to forget this selection when the interview is over. Friendship, if by friendship we understand that affection for an individual which is measured singly by what we know of his worth, is one of the most exquisite gratifications, perhaps one of the most improving exercises, of a rational mind. Friendship therefore may be expected to come in aid of the sexual intercourse, to refine its grossness, and increase its delight. All these arguments are calculated to determine our judgement in favour of marriage as a salutary and respectable institution, but not of that species of marriage in which there is no room for repentance and to which liberty and hope are equally strangers.

Admitting these principles therefore as the basis of the sexual commerce, what opinion ought we to form respecting infidelity to this attachment? Certainly no ties ought to be imposed upon either party, preventing them from quitting the attachment, whenever their judgement directs them to quit it. With respect to such infidelities as are compatible with an intention to adhere to it, the point of principal importance is a determination to have recourse to no species of disguise. In ordinary cases, and where the periods of absence are of no long duration, it would seem that any inconstancy would reflect some portion of discredit on the person that practised it. It would argue that the person's propensities were not under that kind of subordination which virtue and self-government appear to prescribe. But inconstancy like any other temporary dereliction, would not be found incompatible with a character of uncommon excellence. What, at present, renders it, in many instances, peculiarly loathsome is its being practised in a clandestine manner. It leads to a train of falsehood and a concerted hypocrisy, than which there is scarcely anything that more eminently depraves and degrades the human mind.

The mutual kindness of persons of an opposite sex will, in such a state, fall under the same system as any other species of friendship. Exclusively of groundless and obstinate attachments, it will be impossible for me to live in the world, without finding in one man a worth superior to that of another. To this man I shall feel kindness, in exact proportion to my apprehension of his worth. The case will be the same with respect to the other sex. I shall assiduously cultivate the intercourse of that woman, whose moral and intellectual accomplishments strike me in the most powerful manner. But "it may happen that other men will feel for her the same preference that I do." This will create no difficulty. We may all enjoy her conversation; her choice being declared, we shall all be wise enough to consider the sexual commerce as unessential to our regard. It is a mark of the extreme depravity of our present habits, that we are inclined to suppose the sexual commerce necessary to the advantages arising from the purest friendship. It is by no means indespensible, that the female to whom each man attaches himself in that matter, should appear to each the most deserving and excellent of her sex.

Let us consider the way in which this state of society will modify education. It "may be imagined, that the abolition of the present system of marriage would make education, in a certain-sense, the affair of the public; though, if there be any truth in the reasonings of this work, to provide for it by the positive institutions of a community, would be extremely inconsistent with the true principle of an intellectual nature4. Education may be regarded as consisting of various branches. First, the personal cares which the helpless state of an infant requires. These will probablt devolve upon the mother; unless, by frequent parturition, or by the nature of these cares, that be found to render her share of the burden unequal; and then it will be amicably and willingly participated by others. Secondly, food and other necessary supplies. These will easily find their true level, and spontaneously flow, from the quarter in which they abound, to the quarter which is deficient. Lastly, the term education may be usd to signify instruction. The task of instruction, under such a form of society, will be greatly simplified and altered from what it is at present. It will then scarcely be thought more necessary to make boys slaves, than to make men so. The business will not then be to bring forward so many adepts in the eggshell, that the vanity of parents may be flattered by hearing their praises. No man will think of vexing with premature learning the feeble and inexperienced,left, when they came to years of discretion, they should refuse to be learned. The mind will be suffered to expand itself, in proportion as occasion and impression shall excite it, and not tortured and enervated by being cast in a particular mould. No creature in human form will be expected to learn any thing, but because he desires it, and has some conception of its value; and every man, in proportion to his capacity, will be ready to furnish such general hints and comprehensive views, as will suffice for the guidance and encouragement of him who studies from the impulse of desire.

These observations lead us to the consideration of one additional difficulty, which relates to the division of labour. Shall each man manufacture his tools, furniture and accomodations? This would perhaps be a tedious operation. Each man performs the task to which he is accustomed, more skillfully, and in a shorter time than another. It is reasonable that you should make for me, that which perhaps I should be three or four times as long in making, and should make imperfectly at last. Shall we then introduce barter and exchange? By no means. The moment I require any further reason for suppplying you, than the cogency of your claim, the moment, in addition to the dictates of benevolence, I demand a prospect of reciprocal advantage to myself, there is an end of that political justice and pure society of which we treat.

The division of labour, as it has been developed by commercial writers, is the offspring of avarice. It has been found that ten persons can make two hundred and forty times as many pins in one day as one person5. This refinement is the growth of monopoly. The object is, to see how vast a surface the industry of the lower classes may be beaten, the more completely to gild over the indolennt and the proud. The ingenuity of the merchant is whetted, by new improvements of this sort to transport more of the wealth of the powerful into his coffers. The practicability of effecting a compendium of labour by this means, will be greatly diminished, when men shall learn to deny themselves partial superfluities. The utility of such a saving of labour, where labour shall be changed from a burthen into an amusement, will scarcely balance the evils of so extensive a cooperation. From what has been said it appears, that there will be a division of labour, if we compare the society in question with the state of the solitaire and the savage. But it will produce an extensive simplication of labour, if we compare it with that to which we are at present accustomed in civilised Europe.



1Book VIII, Chap. V.
2I have no authority to quote for this expression but the conversation of Doctor Price. I am happy to find upon enquiry, that Mr. William Morgan, the nephew of Dr Price, and editor of his works, distinctly recollects to have heard it from his uncle.
3Book IV, Chap. III, p. 288*.
4Book VI, Chap. VIII.
5Smith's Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chap. I.


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