Péguy and the Socialist City
August 1897. Charles Péguy was 24 years old. He published in La revue socialiste one of his first texts: On the Socialist City
On the Socialist City
In the socialist city social goods will be well administered.
Socialists want to replace, as much as possible, the governance of men in society by the social administration of things, goods: in effect, men are indefinitely varied, which is good, but one cannot organize the governance of men according to an exact scientific method; while goods are not indefinitely varied, we can organize the administration of goods according to an exact scientific method. The majority of difficulties, sufferings which seem to be caused by the poor governance of men, come from the poor administration of goods. In order to better organize the administration of goods, socialists want to socialize social labor, that is to say the all the labor necessary for the city to continue living.
To this ends, they want to socialize the material which is necessary for social labor, that is to say the social means of production: the land in so far as it can be used for social farming; the sub-soil, mines, and quarries; industrial tools, machinery, workshops, stores, commercial tools, routes and means of communication. The means of production will be socialized, that is to say they will be returned to the city, to all the citizens.
Social labor will be socialized, that is to say it will be done by all citizens. The individual shares of social labor, that is to say the share of social labor which will be rendered to the city by every citizen, will doubtlessly not be the same among them, as it is impossible, but it will be, as much as possible, equal among them, in the sense that differences will only be directed by the different needs of the city and the different individual aptitudes of the citizens as laborers, and in this sense these inevitable differences of quality, intensity, duration, style will be compensated, as much as possible, by others differences of quality, intensity, duration, style such that the the individual shares of social labor are as equal in quantity as possible. In exchange the city will assure the citizens a truly human education, exact assistance in case of sickness or infirmity, and finally assistance for the entire duration of old age.
Education will be equal for all children, but not in the sense that individual educations will be identical, of course, but in the sense that differences in individual educations will only be driven by the resources of the city and the different individual aptitudes of the citizens as students.
The means of consumption will be left freely available to the citizens in quantities as equal as possible.
Consider the advantages of this regime from the perspective of the city and the perspective of the citizens.
From the perspective of the city, this regime will spare human labor, whose waste is immoral. This saving of human labor will be realized in many ways, including the three following:
Competition will be suppressed. It is bad. On first glance it seems to have positive effects in the present society, but these positive effects hardly begin to make up for the ills it has caused by itself. We don’t always recognize them as ills because our education, just as poor, trains us to work through a feeling of vain emulation, foreign to work itself and the proper ends of labor. Competition is bad in principle: it is bad that men work against each other; men should work with each other; they should work to improve their labor; not to use their labor to vanquish other workers. Due to competition workers aren’t paid according to what they’ve done, which would be just in the strict sense, nor are they paid regularly, which would be just or harmonious in a broad sense, but they are only paid according to what their competitors haven’t done. Competition is often excessive, when one of the competitors realizes that he can’t work better than his competitors, he works worse than them through fraudulent measures, in order to ensure victory anyhow. Competition often uses false advertising, which tends to give the advantage to the most cunning work over the best quality work. Finally international competition is the cause of war, arms races, and the ills that follow, just like individual competition causes trials, private conflicts, the majority of private and public hatred, and the associated ills.
Idleness will be suppressed. In order to calculate the savings of the social labor thus realized, we must also compare the number of idlers to the total number of citizens in present society; we must add to the number of idlers all the citizens who work to provide individual luxury for the idlers at present.
Production will be centralized as much as possible; yet if centralization is harmful to the interior lives of men and for the superior work of humanity, especially for art and philosophy, it is good for social production, because it permits the citizens to perform the social labor of production better and more quickly, and thus to it permits citizens to live better and be freer to pursue their interior lives and the superior work of humanity. The socialist city will organize intensive farming and industry, centralize commerce, so as to derive from human activity the greatest amount of the best means of consumption.
From the perspective of the citizens, the socialist regime will have two advantages over present day society:
It will establish a fraternity, between all citizens and for all citizens, a real and living solidarity; justice; real and living equality; real liberty – instead of false fraternity, false justice, false liberty.
It will lessen the impacts of individual catastrophes as much as possible. In present society we let individual misfortunes fall with all their weight on citizens, who are often crushed by them. Since there are, despite everything, undefined individual social bonds, these misfortunes have undefined, incalculable repercussions. There are so many repercussions that even progress is ultimately costly. For example, when one invents a machine that eliminates half the labor of a job, consumers in general derive certain benefits because prices fall, but half the workers are punished, and these individual misfortunes have such far reaching repercussions that all the suffering thus caused to the citizens is worse than the advantages benefiting the consumers. On the contrary, in the socialist city, when such inventions take over a job, it will suffice to reduce the number of concerned workers without catastrophes, either by training fewer apprentices in this field, or by giving some workers the time to learn a new trade; looking ahead, when the measures take their full effect, the number of hours the workers devote to this job will be reduced, which will not be a misfortune for anyone in the city.
Thus established, the socialist city will be perfect in so far that it will be socialist. In so far that it will be a human city, it will still be imperfect. But it will be the least imperfect of human cities possible, in the sense that all difficulties, all sufferings will be at worst equal to what they must be in any individualist society.
For example, the difficulties which arise from the choice of career and laziness:
One will ask us, how can you be sure that people will serve in the most arduous or dullest trades, in a word, sacrificial trades?
Firstly, we note that as mechanization increases jobs are increasingly concentrated there and there will be fewer sacrificial jobs. Next we note that in the socialist city we can always compensate for what is still painful or boring in these sacrificial trade with benefits. And finally, if, despite this compensation, voluntary workers desert certain trades, it will suffice to make it a mandatory service, obligatory, universal and personal, in order to assure that these jobs are done.
But they will say, that’s coercion!
Doubtlessly it is coercion, but it’s just and official coercion. While in present society there is universal coercion, all the more dreadful as it is both unjust and devious: unjust because coercion doesn’t equally affect all citizens; devious, as no one wants to confess that we force certain citizens to do certain jobs, but we are quite content with general misery so much, that to the citizens who fall so low, these jobs seem like a blessing to them. And that’s what the entire present society rests upon. In order to avoid certain jobs, certain social functions, certain services, mandatory services, we squander human suffering: instead of bringing workers from the middle class trades to the sacrificial trades, if need be, the workers in the sacrificial trades are dropped lower, without seeming to notice it, so low that they say they are lucky to go back to these trades.
And they will say, what will you do about laziness?
Firstly we remark there will would be much less laziness when every citizen has received normal education. Then we remark that there would be much less laziness in a city where the majority of careers will be constantly open to all, because there will be much fewer false vocations, because there will not be any forced vocations, because it will not be possible to return to poorly engaged lives. And finally if, in a city where three or four hours at most in an easy job suffices to secure daily life, if in such a city, we still find idlers who refuse any form of work, these sick people will not die from hunger in a city so rich in means of consumption, but we can reduce theirs to the level of strict necessity.
So they will say, will the lazy be maintained at the expense of the city?
Doubtlessly, but what does the present society do if not to maintain them, and at great cost, in its asylums, its hospitals, its penal colonies, or in its more sumptuous hotels, mendicant parasites or luxurious parasites, or workers in unprofitable trades.
According to this exact method of analysis and comparison, one will always see that the supposed worst possible outcomes of the socialist city, are the real, habitual rules of present society.