Philosophe Alain

Le site de référence sur le philosophe français Emile Chartier, dit Alain (1868-1951), par l’Association des Amis d’Alain, fondée par ses proches après sa mort.

Le site de référence sur le philosophe français Emile Chartier, dit Alain (1868-1951), par l’Association des Amis d’Alain, fondée par ses proches après sa mort.

The traffic policeman

If a traffic policeman wanted to be fair, he would question everyone, letting doctors and midwives go first; this would, in fact, be the height of disorder, and everyone would be unhappy. So the policeman doesn’t care to know who is in a hurry nor their reasons; he simply breaks up the flow; he imposes an order as such; no better than another, but it’s order. His idea, if he has one, is that disorder brings a crowd of injustices in its train. But he doesn’t have an idea. The power of order comes from his refusal to direct things according to an idea. A man of order resists thought, because he wants to worship order; but order is not god.

If we examine moral order, we should remove the crown it’s always putting back on its head. Order is never to be venerated; it only reminds us of the urgency of lower needs. Human beings can only think if they have slept and eaten. And the iron law of needs consists in this, that those who try to disdain their needs promptly find themselves subject to them like an animal. Try to postpone sleep and food, they will lay siege to you, and immediately. It’s thinking that always has to be postponed, that is, equality, liberty, justice. These important things can wait; they should wait. Such are the axioms of order. Established on animal needs like this, order is invincible.

How many have sought order! They mean order according to an idea, and functions arranged according to values. These researches populate the great kingdom of Utopia. Order is not to be sought; it is; its specific virtue is to exist; we come up against it. Order doesn’t ask permission; admire the double meaning of the word; order is imperious; to call someone to order is an operation of force. And this force of order, the attribute of all agents of order, only translates the force of lower needs, which are just as brutal. Comte’s strong mind, very well stocked with severe knowledge, went straight to this idea of order, which expresses nothing else than our dependence on the mindless things from which we draw our life. We first need products, trades, markets, a currency. If you scare off the merchants, you’ll have to look for your food like sparrows, rats and rabbits. Goodbye to thinking.



Money, as we’ve seen, as we’ve always seen, is as untamed as the Ocean, and even more complicated with its eddies and whirlpools. It’s because money expresses the pressure of needs, which can’t be forgotten. On first appearance, money is an ingenious invention, and which can be changed according to an idea. In the event, here you have to follow the merchants. If they are led by greed and by fear, you shouldn’t be surprised; that has to be. The naïve passions of merchants, who in the end regulate financial exchanges, demonstrate that hunger precedes justice. Fear and trust are untamed animals; they are harnessed to our chariot. If the chariot rolls along reasonably well, the driver can dream of better things; if not, then not. Comte expressed this in the formula ‘Progress is only ever the development of order’.

Prohibitions or policing is order itself; and the main thing with regard to prohibitions is that one first has to live; this is an animal principle. People are surprised that reasonings here fall flat on their face; they’d be less surprised if they noticed that it’s fear and the rumour of fear that regulate things. At bottom it’s the need to sleep that justifies policing; and the need to sleep doesn’t listen to reason. The man of order wants us to take human nature as it is, and even, through an instinct for security, takes it a little less than it is, guiding policy as if citizens were big children. And that quickly becomes true, if one disdains order. I like to make a case for the man of order; but he doesn’t like my reasons; it’s because I remove his crown. Order’s only deception is its crown.


January 31st, 1931

English translation copyright © Michel Petheram

To read the French version on this website.


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