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Reconstitution of the De La Nature . . . Manuscript

For Saint-Just the state of nature meant, in the usage of the political theory of the time, "the state of man before civil governments were instituted." He describes this state as social, for society, a natural given and a fundamental and historically prior phenomenon, precedes the individual and not vice versa. The individual only appeared when the social body began to disintegrate. This natural human society accounts for a universal phenomenon manifested on every level on the scale of creatures, with certain differences of intensity varying from species to species, depending on the intelligence and sensitivity of those subjected to the society. Man, the most sensitive and intelligent creature, is born for an enduring society, for he is born to possess an ensem-


ble of natural relations originating in human needs and affections. There are two kinds of possession, personal possession, which originates in man's affections—including the relations arising from the ties between person and person—and real possession, which originates in needs and includes relations arising from the self's occupation, the exchange of goods, and business in general.

Apart from this, from man to man, everything is identity. Identity, the affective and psychological underpinning of social life, has a fundamental place in Saint-Just's political thought, and an analysis of this concept helps us define the societal state and provide a diversified picture of it. Saint-Just's first proposition describes the societal state as a harmonious alliance between independence and life in society. The basis of this complementarity is membership in a species: "Everything that breathes is independent of its species, and lives in society in its species."[3] Identity of origin, the precondition for this state, and its corollary, equality, make it possible to rid social life of every instance of domination caused by some difference in power. Unflagging vigilance is needed to preserve identity and equality, and thus to maintain the harmony of the societal state. Inequality of any kind destroys the original identity and introduces into the species or society a heterogeneity that is necessarily a catalyst of dissolution and which fractures the unanimous society into so many distinct and hostile groups. As a result, otherness is the source of an antisocial state, namely, the "savage" or "political" state. In fact, the social state disappears when we are thinking not of the relations between creatures of the same species but the relations between species, for the emergence of difference breeds rivalries and the will to dominate. Every social body thus presents two aspects, depending on whether it is viewed from the inside or the outside. Within a homogeneous society, independence is allied with sociability. But when this society confronts a different society, the societal state vanishes, giving way to the law of politics or preservation, along with its characteristic phenomena of resistance and force. Saint-Just expresses this in a second proposition: "Everything that breathes has a law of politics or preservation against what is not its society or species."[4]

Thus, the two different states coexist. The localization of each of the states depends on which group one envisages. According to Saint-Just, up to the level of the group "people" (peuple), all groups, family, the tribe, are recognized as more identical than different. Thus they live in the societal state. We find the point of transition from identity to otherness at the level of the people, and that is where the solution of continuity intervenes to create the political state. Saint-Just makes the following terminological distinction: "The societal state is the relation between men and men. The political state is the relation between one people and another."[5]

This contrast gives rise to a fundamental idea: force or constraint is to be proscribed, for it destroys social unity. When we replace a relation of identity


and equality with a relation of constraint or domination, the prior unity breaks up, giving way to a conflict between those using force and those they oppress; the binary category of master and slave appears. This is why the definitions of the societal state and the political state are transformed. In ridding themselves of any precise content, they lose their original meaning and become general and theoretical concepts, with the aid of which Saint-Just defined relations other than those between men and the state of nature, or between peoples. The societal state becomes a normative or regulative concept, and the political state a descriptive category. Saint-Just clearly affirms the autonomy and specificity of the social by contrasting a society , an immanent and internally experienced unity, with an aggregate , which is an apparent society and a purely formal unity, an externally imposed and not internally experienced cohesion. The political state designates every relation based on force, inequality, and constraint. And Saint-Just unhesitatingly equates so-called civilized life with savage life. He describes history as the disappearance of the social under the impact of the generalization of the political, which, not restricted to the relations between peoples, has also ruled those between cities, and eventually destroys the relations between men.

This evolution involves two orders of causes: the theoretical causes, and the more specifically historical causes. Humanity has reached the savage state because of two fundamental errors. In the first place—and this is the main cause—men have ignored the distinction between the internal and the external relations of a society, the former being destined to unanimity, the latter to division and war. Men have confused social right and political right. As a result, the city (civitas) has been based on principles that are foreign to its kind, and its internal structure has approached that of the general society of people, separated by a quantitative difference instead of, as in the beginning, a qualitative difference. Ever since, men have lived among themselves in the relation of a people to another people. The primordial phenomenon of participation has faded away; we only see an order of juxtaposition. The principal manifestation of this confusion between the social and the political is the creation of the complex forces of government. The second and more moral cause of this development has to do with man's increasing estrangement from nature, first through ignorance, then through the systematic will to denaturalize man. The leading role in this disfigurement of man's image is played by religious law, which lent its support to all the encroachments of domination and bondage.

The historical description is much more concise. In the earliest societies—Saint-Just is thinking of the Franks and the Teutons—the people had no magistrates; acting as both their own princes and their own sovereigns, the peoples had only chiefs to ensure external preservation. The political state emerged with the divorce of the roles of prince and sovereign from the people, and with the creation of the magistrate, who never ceased to oppress the


people. This separation came about when the people lost their penchant for assemblies and turned away from the life of the city to dedicate themselves to commerce, agriculture, or conquest. It was then that the political contract, which Saint-Just conceived as a twofold convention, intervened in history, including a pact of union by the citizens among themselves and a pact by the citizens to submit to power.

Saint-Just envisaged the reconstruction of the legitimate city (civitas) from a theoretical viewpoint and a political viewpoint. From a theoretical point of view, we need to reverse the course of history and recover for the social the domain that rightly belongs to it, and thus limit the political to the relations between peoples. Social right must inform the reconstruction of the "city," basing it on nature, that is, on integration and participation in an organic totality, as contrasted with coordination and, a fortiori , subordination. That is why Saint-Just denounces the idea of a social contract at the origin of society. By its very structure, the contract is just a means for achieving a compromise between various antagonistic forces. Furthermore, to enact a contract is bad in itself, for it is an attempt to constrain nature and ignore the natural harmony that rests on the reciprocity between, on the one hand, sociability—the basis of possession and ownership of the national territory—and, on the other hand, property and possession, the most certain guarantees of society's preservation. This natural harmony is, however, the fruit of hierarchical laws according to the relations engendered by the society. At the top of the hierarchy Saint-Just places social relations—the direct relations of men in the simple quality of being human—and their more complex relations as citizens. The laws of these relations are independence and ownership, which means that each man is the owner of his body, his will, and himself. These two most abstract laws constitute the fundamental norms with which all legal rules must be consistent. Thus, the civil laws governing possession must follow the rule of equality that translates on the civil plane as the norm of social right. Because of certain matters of fact, Saint-Just grants the lawmaker a latitude in the practical arrangement of the conformity between the social state and the civil state in a somewhat more concrete manner. When this harmony is respected, society regenerates and perpetuates itself, and there seems to be no need for external and authoritarian intervention. And Saint-Just emphasizes the possession that progressively becomes the surest catalyst of social spontaneity as it reveals how decisive civil relations are in strengthening or crushing the social body if they are not based on independence and equality. The anthropological and legal notion of possession issues in a nonantagonistic and harmonious solidarity whose primary source is affinity, and which finds itself confirmed in the set of natural and necessary mediations deriving from the needs and affections of men. From a political viewpoint, the very title of the manuscript, whatever the grammar suggests, indicates how the rule of independence from the government should


be based on "nature," which is understood in the narrow Rousseauistic sense.[6] Saint-Just's mistrust gives rise to a solution as direct as it is negative: the "city" must have no separation between the magistrate and the sovereign; it is enough to exclude the magistrate from the "city" forever. This, however, is more a matter of logical and ideal conclusions than of real political solutions. Saint-Just formulated other negative imperatives like the creation of a public force that is not an organ of oppression or division. The government must be limited to the exercise of one function only: external preservation. Thus, it involves an ad hoc military leader more than a genuine government.

From a strictly political point of view, De la nature . . . is decidedly unsatisfying. Positive solutions are lacking, and here Sain-Just's ideas reflect the incompleteness of the manuscript. This incompleteness, however, is not alone responsible for the lacunae. We need to reckon with the deeper proclivities of the young and doctrinaire Jacobin. Torn between the demands of the social law that "does not tolerate either the elevation or the abasement of anyone" and the necessity for self-preservation, Saint-Just affirmed his resolute opposition to the domination to which, in his view, politics was in the main reduced. Several times over, in lapidary phrases, he condemns the phenomenon of power. Social right imposes a ban on the distinction between the governing and the governed, which damages the original cohesion and builds the city on the disastrous opposition between the weak and the strong. This radical critique, revealing that Saint-Just belonged to a minority in the tradition that knew how to separate the being of the social from the division into masters and subjects, is not aimed at any particular political form. Nevertheless, he absolutely rejects politics as such, including the rule of force. Ignorant of the creative spontaneity of the social state, politics institutes violent ties instead of natural ties. Political law is to be proscribed, for within the city it separates, while social law unites. Surprisingly, the reader senses a genuine hatred of politics in someone who aspires to appear on the world's political stage, as though he were judging politics only on the basis of the monarchical experience. Saint-Just writes, "I'll speak of political law no more, I have struck it from the state."[7]

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