Let no one talk to me of revelation, of tradition, of Chinese, Phenician, Egyptian, Hebraic, Greek, Roman, Teutonic, or French philosophies; outside of my faith or my religion, for which I am accountable to nobody, I have nothing to do with the vagaries of my ancestors; I have no ancestors! For me the creation of the world dates from the day of my birth; for me the end of the world will be accomplished on the day when I shall restore to the elementary mass the apparatus and the afflatus which constitute my individuality. I am the first man, I shall be the last. My history is the complete result of humanity; I know no other, I care to know no other. When I suffer, what good do I get from another’s enjoyment? When I enjoy, in what do those who suffer detract from my pleasures? Of what consequence to me is that which happened before me? How am I concerned in what will happen after me? It is not for me to serve as a sacrifice to respect for extinct generations, or as an example to posterity. I confine myself within the circle of my existence, and the only problem that I have to solve is that of my welfare. I have but one doctrine, that doctrine has but one formula, that formula has but one word: Enjoy! Sincere is he who confesses it; an impostor is he who denies it!
This is bare individualism, native egoism; I do not deny it, I confess it, I verify it, I boast of it. Show me, that I may question him, the man who would reproach and blame me. Does my egoism do you any harm? If you say no, you have no reason to object to it, for I am free in all that does not injure you. If you say yes, you are a thief, for, my egoism being only the simple appropriation of myself by myself, an appeal to my identity, an affirmation of my individuality, a protest against all supremacy, if you admit that you are damaged by my act in taking possession of myself, by my retention of my own person,—that is, the least disputable of my properties,—you will declare thereby that I belong to you, or, at least, that you have designs on me; you are an owner of men, either established as such or intending to be, a monopolist, a coveter of another’s goods, a thief.
There is no middle ground; either right lies with egoism, or it lies with theft; either I belong to myself, or I become the possession of some one else. It cannot be said that I should sacrifice myself for the good of all, since, all having to similarly sacrifice themselves, no one would gain more by this stupid game than he had lost, and consequently each would remain quits,—that is, without profit, which clearly would make such sacrifice absurd. If, then, the abnegation of all cannot be profitable to all, it must of necessity be profitable to a few; these few, then, are the possessors of all, and are probably the very ones who will complain of my egoism.
Every man is an egoist; whoever ceases to be one becomes a thing. He who pretends that it is not necessary to be one is a thief.
Oh, yes, I know, the word has an ugly sound; so far you have applied it to those who are not satisfied with what belongs to them, to those who take to themselves what belongs to others; but such people are in the human order; you are not. In complaining of their rapacity, do you know what you do? You establish your own imbecility. Hitherto you have believed that there were tyrants. Well, you are mistaken; there are only slaves. Where nobody obeys nobody commands. Mark this well; the dogma of resignation abnegation, self-sacrifice, has been preached to the people. What has been the consequence? Papacy and royalty, by the grace of God, resulting in castes of bishops and monks and princes and nobles. Oh! the people long ago resigned themselves, renounced themselves, annihilated themselves. Did they do well? What do you think about it?
Certainly, the greatest pleasure that you can give to the somewhat discountenanced bishops, to the assemblies that have replaced the king, to the cabinet ministers who have replaced the princes, to the prefects who have replaced those grand vassals, the dukes, to the sub-prefects who have replaced those petty vassals, the barons, and to the whole series of subordinate functionaries who stand to us in the stead of the knights, vidames, and lordlings of feudalism,—the greatest pleasure, I say, that you can give to all this nobility fattening on the public revenues is to reenter as speedily as possible into the traditional dogma of resignation, abnegation, and self-sacrifice. There you will still find not a few protectors who will tell you to despise riches at the risk of ridding you of them; there you will find not a few devotees who, to save your soul, will tell you to be continent, in everything except the protection of your wives, daughters, and sisters from annoyance at their hands. Thanks to God, we are not lacking in devoted friends who would accept damnation for our sake, if we would decide to gain the heavens by the old path of the beatitude, from which they politely step aside, in order doubtless not to bar our passage.
Why do all the perpetuators of the old-time hypocrisy no longer feel at ease on the scaffoldings erected by their predecessors? Why? Because abnegation is declining and individualism is growing; because man is acquiring sufficient confidence in his own good looks to be willing to throw off his mask and show himself at last as he is.
Abnegation is slavery, degradation, abjection; it is the king, it is the government, it is tyranny, it is struggle, it is civil war.
Individualism, on the contrary, is enfranchisement, grandeur, nobility; it is the man, it is the people, it is liberty, it is fraternity, it is order.