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  • Writer's pictureRobert Spicer

The law is sacred to the bourgeois (Frederick Engels)

Frederick Engels’ overview of the condition of the English working class, written in 1844 at a time of acute class conflict and against a background of European revolution, includes the following:

… the law is sacred to the bourgeois, for it is his own composition, enacted with his consent and for his own benefit and protection. He knows that, even if an individual law should injure him, the whole fabric protects his interests; and more than all, the sanctity of the law, the sacredness of order as established by the active will of one part of society, and the passive acceptance of the other, is the strongest support of his social position. Because the English bourgeois finds himself reproduced in his law, the policeman’s truncheon has for him a wonderfully soothing power. But for the working man quite otherwise! The working man knows too well, has learned from too-oft experience, that the law is a rod which the bourgeois has prepared for him….

The state does not care whether starvation is bitter or sweet; it locks people up in prison or sends them to penal settlements, and when it releases them it has the satisfaction of having converted people without work into people without morals.

What inducement has the proletarian not to steal? It is all very pretty and very agreeable to the ear of the bourgeois to have the sacredness of property asserted; but for him who has none, the sacredness of property dies out of itself. Money is the god of this world: the bourgeois takes the proletarian’s money from him and so makes a practical atheist of him.

If a rich man is brought up, or rather summoned, to appear before the court, the judge regrets that he is obliged to impose so much trouble, treats the matter as favourably as possible, and, if he is forced to condemn the accused, does so with extreme regret.

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