Eliminate poverty, don't reduce it: Victor Hugo disses the MDGs

“I am one of those who think and say that it is possible to destroy extreme poverty. Mark you, gentlemen, I am not saying ‘reduce’, 240px-Victor_Hugo_circa_1880‘lessen’, ‘limit’, ‘control’, I said destroy. Poverty is a disease of society such as leprosy was a disease of the human body, and can be eliminated just as leprosy has disappeared. Yes, it is possible. Legislators and policymakers must think about it constantly, for as long as the possible is not done, our duty will never be fulfilled.
In Paris, in these suburbs of Paris where the wind of revolt once blew so easily, there are streets, houses, sewers, where families, whole families live pell-mell, men, women, girls, children, having no beds, blankets. For clothing they have stinking heaps of rags – the cities, where human beings huddle to escape the cold of winter.

Well, gentlemen, I say that these are things that should not be, I say that society must spend all its strength, all its care, its intelligence, all its will, so that such things are not! I say that such facts in a civilized country, engage the conscience of the whole society,

[For all your efforts] gentlemen, you have done nothing as long as the people suffer! As long as those in the prime of life and work are without bread, as long as those that are old and have worked are homeless! It is not only your generosity that I appeal to, it is your wisdom, I implore you to think. You have made laws against anarchy, now make laws against poverty!”
Victor Hugo, Speech to Legislative Assembly, 9 July 1849

[h/t Matt Davies, plus a combination of Google Translate and remnants of schoolboy French…..]

Subscribe to our Newsletter

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please see our Privacy Policy.

We use MailChimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to MailChimp for processing. Learn more about MailChimp's privacy practices here.


8 Responses to “Eliminate poverty, don't reduce it: Victor Hugo disses the MDGs”
  1. JC

    Victor meant material poverty alone, no?

    Duncan: Good question JC: that’s how it reads, but you’d expect a fair amount of attention to fraternity, liberty, equality etc in 19th Century France, wouldn’t you?

  2. Catherine Dom

    If ‘to end’ means more or less the same as ‘to eliminate’, the second Ethiopian (government/country?) “PRSP” (but 5th or 6th National Devt Plan since EPRDF took power in 1991) was called “Plan for Accelerated and Sustainable Development to End Poverty”. The question, as Victor Hugo certainly has continued to say in his speech (or did he not?) is how. No? But it’s a salutory reminder…

  3. Victor Hugo may have been speaking essentially about material poverty, but he inspired 20th century French activists to take up his mantle and go one step further – Abbé Pierre, founder of Emmaus and Joseph Wresinski, founder of ATD Fourth World being notable examples.

    I had for a long-time Victor Hugo’s quote appearing next to my name on my skype profile. But recently I replaced it with the excellent quote from another author, found thanks to FP2P: “The greatest of evils and worst of crimes is poverty.” (George Bernard Shaw).

  4. Pete H

    School boy French? You obviously paid a lot more attention in school than I did.

    France has eliminated this kind of extreme poverty within it’s country (I assume…). Now the need is to make peoples aspirations or consciences global.

  5. Qjinti

    I am sorry to darken the pretty image of France. People not only suffer exclusion in France, they also suffer material poverty. People don’t eat as much as they need, and people die in France, in the freezing streets, out of hunger, out of poverty driven discrimination and violence. Of course France has done a lot and is still doing so, but the model may not only be the rich countries. Any inspiring effort made all over the world by a family, an organization or a person should be shared.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.