M. JULES SIMON'S LE TRAVAIL.*
IF we could suppose some traveller shipwrecked twenty years ago on a desert island in the South Pacific, or made captive by a wild tribe Of Central Africa or South America, and who has lost his hearing in the interval, to be finding his way back to Europe in the year 1866, utterly ignorant of all the intervening history of the civilized world, and trying to reconstruct that history for himself out of the first file of papers that fell into his hands, he would probably be struck at once with a strong contrast between the politics of England and of France. All in England would seem to be jogging on in the old ruts ; the same Sovereign would be ruling, surrounded with the same respect as of old ; there would be the same talk of Reform Bills for England, and suspension of Habeas Corpus for Ireland ; the old familiar names, with a few blanks and a few additions, would be figuring nearly in the old places, Russell and Grey on the one side, Lord Derby and Disraeli on the other. Mr. Gladstone might seem to have changed sides, but in holding the leadership of the House of Com- • 1.4 Travail. Par Jules Simon. Denxibme Edition. Paris : Libntirie Internationale. mons would only have stepped from the second rank to the front, and in short scarcely one personage would be prominent who had been utterly unknown twenty years before. But in France the spectacle would be far different. Not only would the name and title of the Sovereign indicate a total change of dynasty and regime, but the almost entirely new names with which he would be found surrounded, either of supporters or opponents, would show at once that the revolution which had taken place must have been one essentially and abidingly violent in character. Our traveller would be utterly unable to comprehend how France should have a representative government, and yet that M. Guizot should be looked for only in the Academy or in the Protestant Consistory ; how M. Thiel's, from a great party leader, should have become only a voice amid a small opposition of under fifty members. He might, if once very well informed, and endowed with a very retentive memory and a happy boldness of hypothesis, identify a certain Duke de Persigny with an obscure conspirator of old, and a Count Walewski, President of the Senate, with a former envoy from Polish insurgents. But he would vainly rack his brain to discover who might be the great M. Rouher or the great M. Emile 011ivier. And he would open his eyes very wide to find the name of a former professor of philosophy amongst those of the most prominent members of a Parliamentary opposition, and mixed up with the most practical questions of social economy. But if he felt tempted at first to doubt the identity of the two personages, any such doubt would be dispelled if his eyes glanced over the pages of M. Jules Simon's last published work, Le Travail.
To drop hypothesis, it seems, in truth, a pity that M. Simon should be unable to forget that he has been a teacher of philo- sophy, it may be that, for the understanding of the labour question, it is highly important to know, as he tells us within the first twenty pages of his volume, that "philosophy itself is divided into several branches;" that it "takes particularly the name of ontology when it applies itself to the study of Being, and that of theology when it applies itself to the search after and study of the Cause." But the great bulk of his readers, who may wish to know what he has to say on co-operation or on trade societies, will be terribly apt to skip the philosophic head and tail of his volume, and may not be thought to have lost much by some who will not havelollowed their example. To be brief, the work may be said to be made up of two parts ; about one- third of questionable philosophy, of what is termed in France the spiritualist school, and two-thirds of political economy, of what may be termed the moderate co operative school, fair, judicious, and able.
A few words first as to the philosophy. Positivism is so clearly the great spiritual danger of the day, that it would be useless to spend much time upon doctrines which, so far as they have any
coherency, act as a feeble protest against it. The French Spiritualists at all events proclaim that there is a something beyond that drear clock-work of relations between antecedents and con- sequents which the Positivist declares to be all that man can take cognizance of. But the hollowness of a creed which only proclaims a God to strip Him of all that makes Him worth knowing and loving, which only declares the existence of an immortal spirit in man to sever him from the Father of Spirits, is inexpressible for those who have once felt that communion between God and man made in His image is the Truth of truths in philosophy, the Fact of facts in life. These, when they stumble upon a dogmatic assertion in the fore-front of a chapter, that "If we conceive in thought of a perfect being, it is clear that such a being cannot work without degradation (sans de'choir), since he cannot modify himself without ceasing to be perfect," will feel that in trying to glorify philosophy and labour M. Simon robs the one of a most precious principle, the other of its chief honour. Their God is no such supreme aristocrat, who would compromise His dignity by work. For them the Perfect Being is essentially the Eternal Worker, and the consecration of all labour lies in those profound and blessed words, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." In short, M. Simon's God sadly reminds us of that one whom, as Pascal satirically observed, Descartes would very willingly have done without, but whom he found requisite in order to give a snap of the finger to the world and set it going.
If we turn now to the economic portion of M. Simon's book, we shall find that it consists of a sketch of the history of the labour question in France, for modern times compared with its latest developments in England. M. Simon has several times visited this country ; he is favourably known both in London drawing-rooms and in the theatre of the Royal Institution ; he spent some time last year in a tour through our manufacturing districts, and is generally correct, if sometimes insufficient, in his details respecting the working classes of this country. The only blunder in his volume which may perhaps cause a moment's puzzle to the English reader (perhaps itself only a misprint) is where he speaks of "united," meaning "limited," companies, since few will be deceived by a sentence referring to those notorious hotbeds of petty swindling and usury, the loan societies, as being "for the most part charitable institutions."
The practical portion of the work begins at chapter vi., on "Societies having for Object to keep up or raise the Rate of Wages." M. Simon's account of English trades' unions is fair, and (a characteristic in which he is seldom deficient) prudent. The chapter on "Savings' Banks and Friendly Societies" is poor, and seems to indicate a lacuna in the getting up of his materials. It is when we come to the chapters or parts of chapters on co- operative societies for provisions and consumption, on building societies, mutual credit societies, and productive societies, that we really enter upon what may be termed the heart of his book, that to which all the rest is little more than a framework. M. Simon, as before intimated, is a strong advocate for co-operation in all its forms amongst working men. He has been a not inattentive reader of M. Louis Blanc (whom, however, he is too cautious to name), and tells us in his preface that "every honest man" will recognize at every page of his work "the enthusiasm of liberty " (do enthusiasts talk much of their own enthusiasm ?) "and a boundless devotion to democracy." High-sounding ex- pressions,—but which have to be construed according to the standard of French Imperialism, under which every man has the right to call himself enthusiastic for liberty who may think that a newspaper should only be suppressed after four warnings instead of three, and where the worship of democracy is proclaimed by the autocrat himself. In the mouth of so moderate a man, however, as M. Simon, the praise of co-operative stores and productive associations, mutual credit societies and building societies, need have no terrors, even for the most timid of those who will look into the facts.
The work, in short, is that of an able man accustomed to general- ization, wishing well to the working class, and who, having per- sonally mixed with it, understands several of the questions immediately connected with its social status better than most of those who talk about them ; one, above all, who has had the tact to know how far the advocacy of popular views can be pushed with- out raising the cry of revolutionism. It may be difficult to believe that the book will live much longer than the regime under which it has appeared, but to that regime it is well adapted, and repre- sents a real service rendered to the cause of French freedom. Whilst the crack orators of the French democratic party devote their eloquence to cosmopolitan harangues, M. Simon has had the good sense to fasten upon the really vital question of the time in the social sphere, and to make it his own for the day. Hence no single French Parliamentary name, it is said, carries so much weight at the present moment with the Parisian ouvrier as that of the ex-professor of philosophy. Indeed there are probably not more than two or three men in France who could have written Le 7ravai/,—perhaps scarcely more than half-a-dozen who could have done so in England.
Yet the book is one which, though it may interest and instruct, leave l the reader unswayed and cold. The French Socialist writers of the first half of the nineteenth century, even when they had faith in nothing else, had at least faith in their own theories ; and the warmth of that faith stirred up men's hearts either to pas- sionate partizanship or to passionate opposition. M. Simon appears to have no great warmth of faith either in social theories or in anything else. He speaks freely of duty, justice, equity, as beseems the author of a work on Le Devoir, but the word duty in his philosophy can have no reference to a supreme Author of Duty, the word justice to no Judge of all the earth, who shall "do right." Hence for him the moral importance of pro- ductive associations lies simply in this, that men will "work for themselves, depend only on themselves. A workmen who blushes for his blouse is an ass ; a workman who reckons it a great advan- tage to have no other master than the rules [le regiment] is a man." We must not indeed read such words only according to the letter. What lies beneath them is the really earnest political longing of an educated Frenchman for a truly constitutional government, freely constructed, freely established, freely obeyed, in place of the will of a despot. Thus construed, they will be found to be almost touching in their naivete. But has it come to this, that a professor of philosophy of the grande nation should set forth is regkment as the supreme master whom alone it is true manhood to obey ? Some who know France may deem this wor- ship a is reglement far too rife there already, and one of the very idolatries which it most concerns her people to throw off. And rules indeed are in themselves an escape only from the fickleness of will, not from its selfishness, its tyranny. Not to travel out of M. Simon's immediate subject, if the system of the old French guilds became intolerable, it was not through the wilfulness of individual masters, but through the absurd and vexatious despotism of their rules. Nor is is reglement in anywise peculiar to associa- tion of any kind. Half the trade disputes in our coal districts arise from colliery rules imposed by individual coal proprietors. No, if association raises men morally it is not because is reglement is master, it is because association transforms them from separate and often warring units into members of a society, an organic whole, and the brightest days of any association are generally those before there are any rules at all, whilst men are only bound together by a common purpose and a mutual trust. Le Tene- ment is no doubt, sooner or later, a very necessary and valu- able thing, and when made, and until unmade, demands to be master. But it claims that mastership, not on its own behalf, but only as being itself the expression of a higher law—a law of Justice, a law of Unity—portions these in turn of the rule of rules and law of laws, the Will of the One just and loving God.