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RECLUS, Elisée. Evolution and Revolution
Article mis en ligne le 4 décembre 2010

par r-c.
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THESE two words, Evolution and Revolution, closely resemble one another, and yet they are constantly used in their social and political sense as though their meaning were absolutely antagonistic. The word Evolution, synonymous with gradual and continuous development in morals and ideas, is brought forward in certain circles as though it were the antithesis of that fearful word, Revolution, which implies changes more or less sudden in their action, and entailing some sort of catastrophe. And yet is it possible that a transformation can take place in ideas without bringing about some abrupt displacements in the equilibrium of life ? Must not revolution necessarily follow evolution, as action follows the desire to act ? They are fundamentally one and the same thing, differing only according to the time of their appearance. If, on the one hand, we believe in the normal progress of ideas, and, on the other, expect opposition, then, of necessity, we believe in external shocks which change the form of society.

It is this which I am about to try to explain, not availing myself of abstract terms, but appealing to the observation and experience of every one, and employing only such arguments as are in common use. No doubt I am one of persons known as "dreadful revolutionists ;" for long years I have belonged to the legally infamous society which calls itself "The International Working Mens’ Association," whose very name entails upon all who assume membership the treatment of malefactors ; finally, I am amongst those who served that "execrable" Commune, "the detestation of all respectable men." But however ferocious I may be, I shall know how to place myself outside, or rather above my party, and to study the present evolution and approaching revolution of the human race without passion or personal bias. As we are amongst those whom the world attacks, we have a right to demand to be amongst those whom it hears.

To begin with, we must clearly establish the fact, that if the word evolution is willingly accepted by the very persons who look upon revolutionists with horror, it is because they do not fully realise what the term implies, for they would not have the thing at any price. They speak well of progress in general, but they resent progress in any particular direction. They consider that existing society, bad as it is, and as they themselves acknowledge it to be, is worth preserving ; it is enough for them that it realises their own ideal of wealth, power or comfort. As there are rich and poor, rulers and subjects, masters and servants, Caesars to command the combat, and gladiators to go forth and die, prudent men have only to place themselves on the side of the rich and powerful, and to pay court to Caesar. Our beautiful society affords them bread, money, place, and honour ; what have they to complain of ? They persuade themselves without any difficulty that every one is as well satisfied as they. In the eyes of a man who has just dined all the world is well fed. Toying with his tooth-pick, he contemplates placidly the miseries of the "vile multitude" of slaves. All is well ; perdition to the starveling whose moan disturbs his digestion ! If society has from his cradle provided for the wants and whims of the egotist, he can at all events hope to win a place there by intrigue and flattery, by hard work, or the favour of destiny. What does moral evolution matter to him ? To evolve a fortune is his one ambition !

But if the word evolution serves but to conceal a lie in the mouths of those who most willingly pronounce it, it is a reality for revolutionists ; it is they who are the true evolutionists.

Escaping from all formulas, which to them have lost their meaning, they seek for truth outside the teaching of the schools ; they criticise all that rulers call order, all that teachers call morality ; they grow, they develop, they live, and seek to communicate their life. What they have learned they proclaim ; what they know they desire to practise. The existing state of things seems to them iniquitous, and they wish to modify it in accordance with a new ideal of justice. It does not suffice them to have freed their own minds, they wish to emancipate those of others also, to liberate society from all servitude. Logical in their evolution, they desire what their mind has conceived, and act upon their desire.

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