Scoundrel History and Utopian Method
Le Libertaire, iii, 1895, presumed Louise Michel
Who among us does not feel the shadow of fear cast by the cowardly laws of these past years? The Scoundrel Laws terrorize not only those who might commit violence but anyone who associates with them. They reward those who denounce their brothers and sisters, sowing distrust and ill-will. They freeze our hearts and our tongues, by punishing with prison anyone who provokes, praises, or merely seeks to understand those mad acts to which an insane society has driven a few poor souls.
Perhaps even these words, here, are enough to summon our new inquisitors.
If so, I say, let them come. I know their jail cells; their guards are my comrades and friends. Scoundrel laws, like the scoundrels who created them, must one day lose their power. It is a law of justice and nature.
We who know the future, who see with certainty like a memory ahead of us the society of freedom, equality, brotherhood, and sisterhood, we learn such laws from the past, even, at times, from the bourgeois chroniclers behind the walls of the Sorbonne. At the very least, from them, we may learn what new tricks they employ.
Thus I recently read the three volumes of the historian whom they call "great", Hippolyte Taine, to learn what lies were being passed off as the official past. Taine sat in a special Chair, for the History of the Revolution - a monument propped on the grave of the past like a tombstone, to guarantee that such an event will never happen again.
This historian is now himself buried, covered in praise. I come not to desecrate his memory, but merely, after so many e;loges by that mindless thinkers-by-the-hour, to restore it to its true and laughable scale.
Taine tells us that history is an obscure knowledge of a distant past and that we have nothing to expect from the future. The Revolution, this decisive overflowing of the desire for justice and a better life, is denounced as a deception, a struggle for power among upstarts, a monstrosity never to be repeated.
Among all Taine's half-truths, fantasies, and idiocies, none is so great as his pretension to science - in which history is always a balance between race, milieu, and moment. He transforms inspired and courageous men and women into dupes of nature and of their fellows; by this, he hopes to complete whatever bestialization the rulers of this society have not yet wrought.
He has created the equivalent in letters of those villainous acts of legislation. He has written l'Histoire sce;le;rate, Scoundrel History. It shuts people's mouths and severs their connection to the dreams, sweat, and aspirations of those who struggled before us. Scoundrel History insists on the difference between now and then, the arbitrariness of the new, the fatalism of birth, of rocks, vegetation, and rivers. In the name of science, he lashes those who embraced a world more vast than his vanity.
Were these his only crimes, I would happily cast his miserable books aside - or in a more generous spirit, wrap fish in them, so that in some small way they might serve life. But I am moved to take up my pen, finally, by his third volume, which blesses the current power as good, just, and in any case inevitable. What spurs me to write is a single citation, a unique if profound mistake.