Front Page Titles (by Subject) 233.: FRENCH NEWS  EXAMINER, 26 JAN., 1834, PP. 56-7 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II
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233.: FRENCH NEWS  EXAMINER, 26 JAN., 1834, PP. 56-7 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIII - Newspaper Writings August 1831 - October 1834 Part II, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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FRENCH NEWS 
Promised in No. 230, this continuation of the series beginning with No. 226 is listed in the Somerville College set of the Examiner, as “Article on the Société des Droits de l’Homme,” with one correction: at 672.32 “constitution” is altered to “institution”. The part here included is the fifth section of the news under the heading “London, January 26, 1834,” and is clearly the part intended by Mill’s listing in the Somerville College set of the Examiner, the identification being confirmed by his quotation of most of it in his “The Monster Trial” in the Monthly Repository for June 1835 (see CW, Vol. XX, pp. 123-9); however, the second section in this part of the Examiner, a sentence promising what Mill delivered in No. 235, may also be his. It reads: “There have been some interesting proceedings in the French Chamber of Deputies, but as their interest is rather of a permanent than of an immediate character, we shall defer any comments upon them till next week.” In the variant notes recording the differences between this text and the quotation from it in “The Monster Trial,” the latter is indicated by “35”.
athe société des droits de l’homme is at present the hobgoblin or bugbear of the juste milieu. The language and manner of the partizans of Louis Philippe with respect to that association are a curious medley of affected contempt and intense personal hatred, not without an admixture of fear. They are constantly and studiously imputing to the members of the society, the absurdest opinions and the most criminal purposes; they are incessantly averring, with a degree of emphasis which betrays a lurking doubt, that those opinions and purposes are abhorred by the French people, and that the society has not and never will have the support of any class whatever, even the lowest. Yet, in the very same breath in which they declare it to be harmless by reason of its insignificance, they proclaim it so mischievous and so formidable that society is certain to perish unless it be put down, by whatever means.
In truth the alarmists are equally wrong in both feelings, whether the feelings be sincere or affected. This much-talked-of association is not to be despised, neither, on the other hand, is it to be feared. It does not aim at subverting society, and society would be too strong for it if it did. Were we to believe some people, the edifice of society is so tottering and its foundations so unstable, that a breath is enough to blow it down; nay, there cannot be any stir in the surrounding atmosphere, nor any knocking upon the ground, without its certain destruction. But we have another idea of society than this; for us it is something more steady and solid than a house of cards. The evil we are apprehensive of is stagnation, not movement; we can anticipate nothing in the present age but good, from the severest, from even the most hostile scrutiny of the first principles of the social union. Instead of expecting society to fall to pieces, our fear is lest (the old creeds, which formerly gave to the established order of things a foundation in men’s consciences, having become obsolete) the fabric should mechanically hold together by the mere instinctive action of men’s immediate personal interests, without any basis of moral conviction at all. Rather than see this we should prefer to see the whole of the working classes speculatively Owenites, or Saint Simonians. We are not frightened at anti-property doctrines. We have no fear that they should ever prevail so extensively as to be dangerous. But we have the greatest fear lest the classes possessed of property should degenerate more and more into selfish, unfeeling Sybarites, receiving from society all that society can give and rendering it no service in return, content to let the numerical majority remain sunk in mental barbarism and physical destitution.a All experience justifies us in the conviction that unless the ruling few can be made and kept “uneasy,”1 the many need expect no good; and nothing will make the few uneasy but fears for the security of their property. We are well content, therefore, that there should be cause for such fears. We have no anti-property doctrines ourselves, and therefore cannot honestly give such doctrines any encouragement. But we are quite satisfied that their promulgation has a most salutary effect.
The Society of the Rights of Man cannot, however, be said to have put forward any anti-property doctrines; and nothing can be more absurdly calumnious than the accusations of confiscation, agrarian law, &c., &c. If opinions adverse to the present constitution of property are secretly held by any of the able and accomplished men who guide the proceedings of the association, (which is certainly not to be believed on the evidence of their enemies,) they have not put forward any such opinions. They profess, indeed, democratic republicanism in its fullest extent; and are far more impatient, and willing to take more violent means for obtaining the form of government which they desire, than the more moderate of the Republicans would approve. But on the subject of property they have advanced no doctrines but such as, to an Englishman, sound like the merest truisms; and that these should have been considered dangerous in France, only shows how little peril there is lest in that country anti-property doctrines should ever prevail.
b The cassociationc some months ago embodied their principles on the subject of property in the form of a manifesto, along with which they republished, as a compendium of their opinions, a Declaration of the Rights of Man, which was proposed by Robespierre2 to the National Convention to be prefixed to their Republican constitution, and was by that body rejected. The name of Robespierre was well calculated to excite a prejudice against this document, but any thing more harmless than its contents can scarcely be conceived. Such, however, was not the impression of the Parisian public. The writer of this was at Paris when the document made its appearance, and he well remembers his astonishment at the nature and intensity of the sentiments it appeared to excite. Those who did not deem it too contemptible to be formidable, were filled with consternation. The Government party, the Carlists, the Liberals, were unanimous in crying anarchy and confusion; even Republicans shook their heads and said “This is going too far.” And what does the reader imagine was the proposition which appeared so startling and so alarming to all parties? It was no other than the definition which, in the Robespierrian declaration of rights, was given of the “right of property;” and ran as follows:
“The right of property is the right which every one possesses of using and enjoying the portion of wealth which is guaranteed to him by the law.” (La portion de biens qui lui est garantie par la loi.)3
Such is the superstitious, or rather idolatrous character of the respect for property in France, that this proposition actually appeared an alarming heresy, was denounced with the utmost acrimony by all the enemies of the propounders, and timidly and hesitatingly excused rather than vindicated by their friends. The maxim was evidently too much for all parties, it was a doctrine considerably in advance of them; even Republicans required some time to make up their minds. Ardent revolutionists, men who were ready to take up arms at five minutes’ notice for the subversion of the existing dynasty, doubted whether they could admit as a speculative truth, that property is not of natural right, but of human institution, and is the creature of law. Truly, there is little fear for the safety of property in France. We believe that in no country in the world, not even the United States of America, is property so secure; the most violent convulsion would not endanger it; in a country where nearly two-thirds of the male adult population possess property in land, and where the notions entertained of the inviolability of property are so pedantic and (if we may be permitted the expression) so prudish, that there are persons who will gravely maintain that the State has no right to make a road through a piece of land without the owner’s consent, even on payment of compensation.
Strange as it may appear in the declaration of rights, drawn up by Robespierre, and adopted by the Société des Droits de l’Homme, there is not, with the one exception which we have mentioned, one single proposition on the subject of property, which was considered exceptionable even by those who were so scandalized at the above definition. No limitation of the right of property was hinted at; no new or alarming maxim promulgated; unless such be implied in the recognition of the principle of the English Poor Laws, that society is bound to provide subsistence and work for its indigent members; and this document was rejected by the Convention, by the body which put to death Louis XVI, and created the Revolutionary Tribunal, rejected by that body as anarchical. Yet there are people who believe that the principle of the French Revolution was spoliation of property! For the thousandth time, we say to the English Tories and Whigs, that they are as utterly ignorant of the French revolution as of the revolutions among the inhabitants of the moon. Acts of injustice were done; rights which really partook of the nature of property, were not always treated as such; but the respect of the revolutionary assemblies for all that they considered as entitled to the name of property, amounted to actual narrowness and dbigotry; wed do not affirm this solely of the comparatively moderate and enlightened men who composed the constituent Assembly, but in even a greater degree of the violent revolutionists of the Convention, to whose obtuser and less cultivated intellects such a prejudice was more natural. In the height of the reign of terror, anti-property doctrines would have been scouted, even more decidedly than now; no one dared avow them for fear of the guillotine, nor do such doctrines figure in the history of the revolution at all, save in the solitary instance of the conspiracy of Baboeuf,4 greatly posterior to the fall of Robespierre and the Montagne.b
In so far as the Society of the Rights of Man contends against the narrow and superstitious notions of property which are prevalent in France, and gives currency to more liberal and more rational views, it can do nothing but good; and even if the speculative truths, which it so energetically proclaims, are intended to serve as a foundation for practical corollaries of a more questionable character, we see no cause for alarm; none even for regret. Without infringing the principle of property, much remains to be done, by morality and even by law, to render the practical working of that principle productive of greater good to society at large: much may be done to mitigate the inequalities of wealth which have as pernicious an effect on those whom they seem to benefit, as upon those on whom they apparently press hardest, and to promote all those tendencies in human affairs which cause society to approximate to what, in the literal sense, must always be an unattainable chimera, equality of fortunes. But all this we have little hope to see done, until the rich shall feel that except by making the law of property popular, they will have some difficulty in maintaining it. Society will then only be on the most desirable footing, when the proprietary class shall feel compelled to make a clear case to the world in favour of the existing institutions of society; when they shall act under an habitual sense of the necessity of convincing the non-proprietary multitude, that the existing arrangement of property is a real good to them as well as to the rich; and shall feel that the most effectual way to make them think it so, is to make it more and more so in fact.
[a-a][quoted in 35]
[1 ]Mill may be taking the term from Edward Gibbon Wakefield, England and America, 2 vols. (London: Bentley, 1833), Vol. I, pp. 82-105, where the middle class is described as the “uneasy class”; Wakefield reprinted this section, under the title “The Uneasy Class,” in his Popular Politics (London: Knight, 1837), pp. 26-47.
[b-b][quoted in 35]
[c-c]35 Society of the Rights of Man
[2 ]Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen, proposée par Maximilien Robespierre, 24 avril, 1793 (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1793), reprinted in Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen (1833), by the Société des Droits de l’Homme (see Nos. 226, n2, and 230, n3).
[3 ]Article 6: “La propriété est le droit qu’a chaque citoyen de jouir et de disposer de la portion de bien qui lui est garantie par la loi” (1793 version, p. 3; the 1833 version adds “à son gré” between “disposer” and “de la portion,” also p. 3).
[d-d]35 bigotry. We
[4 ]François Noël Babeuf (1760-97), one of the leaders of the Société des Egaux; under the Directory he advocated socialist and revolutionary doctrines, and was executed as a conspirator. One of the cells of the Société des Droits de l’Homme was named for him.