114. The egalitarian utopia: socialism
The Revolution of 1789 was raised against God and against the king in order to institute Liberty, but even more for the abolition of privileges, with the promise of Equality for all. Economic liberalism made much of guaranteeing this equality of opportunity and of wealth through the full freedom of the market. Alas, it soon became obvious that this purely theoretical declaration of the “ rights of economic man ” was a snare. The real strengths of the partners were far too unequal for their profits not to be even more unequal. The profits were absolutely disproportionate to their vital needs, as also to the importance or merit of their respective contributions, the effort made, the risks incurred, the competence and the courage displayed. It appeared that the free play of supply and demand inexorably profited the rich, who grew richer still, even if it did not pauperise the poor to the same extent, as has been claimed.
1. Socialism is primarily a claim to equality in the distribution of goods acquired through human labour. With the proclamation of political democracy, which consists in the equality of social rights, economic democracy, which consists in the equality of access to material goods, must normally follow and be maintained through the play of economic freedom. Noting the growing inequality between the capitalist and working classes, socialism denounces this injustice as the hidden vice of the liberal system. This is what gives it its passionate character, its justice-loving tone, its breath of generosity. It pleads on behalf of the poor, who are abused, robbed and exploited by the rich.
2. Socialism, in its origin, is of Methodist inspiration. The Anglican Church, “ the Established Church ”, had for too long preached that wealth, according to the Bible, was the certain sign of divine blessing. It was thus compromised with the owning classes, covering up the exploitation of the poor with the cloak of religion. As a reaction against this, Methodism preached another biblical lesson – although of an equally judaic, terrestrial and carnal spirit – announcing salvation to the poor and calling on them to throw off the oppressions of a bad world, pointing them towards a kingdom to come where virtue alone will guarantee the prosperity of all in universal justice and equality.
3. Socialism defines itself as a popular uprising of the masses, a romantic uprising, the strength of which resides in the prophetism of its leaders and the utopia of a better world. It is easy for its adversaries to denounce its “ fundamental irrationality ”. The primary socialist intuition of the hidden disorder, of the trick of the liberal system, is absolutely lucid. Then, it is true, it becomes confused in its search for the causes of the injustice it denounces ; it loses its way dreaming of solutions that are just as materialist and liberal, but which are supposed to be innocent, egalitarian and fraternal.