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Conclusion - Frédéric Bastiat, Collected Works of Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850 
The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850, Jacques de Guenin, General Editor. Translated from the French by Jane Willems and Michel Willems, with an introduction by Pascal Salin. Annotations and Glossaries by Jacques de Guenin, Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean, and David M. Hart. Translation Editor Dennis O’Keeffe. Academic Editor, David M. Hart (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2012).
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Throughout the writings in this volume, we discover the personality of Bastiat. He is a keen observer and analyst of the times and a passionate politician who rushes into many debates with the hope of changing the course of history during the crucial period in which he lived. It is as if he somehow anticipated that he had only a very short time left to live.
The time between his election to the Assembly in early 1848 and his death on Christmas Eve in 1850 was a scant twenty months. During this period he carried out his parliamentary duties, wrote numerous pamphlets, and worked feverishly to complete his magnum opus, Economic Harmonies.30 His aim was to convince as many people as possible that liberal economic theory is the only way to evaluate political decisions rationally and to help bring about the creation of a free, prosperous, and peaceful society.
My thanks to David M. Hart for his editorial contributions and his insights into the history of this period.
Frédéric Bastiat Chronology
An expanded and detailed version of the life and works of Bastiat can be found at oll.libertyfund.org/person/25.
Cartography by Mapping Specialists, Madison, Wisconsin.
Cartography by Mapping Specialists, Madison, Wisconsin.
“The Law,” “The State,” and Other Political Writings, 1843–1850
Reflections on the Petitions from Bordeaux, Le Havre, and Lyons Relating to the Customs Service1
[vol. 1, p. 231. “Réflexions sur les pétitions de Bordeaux, Le Havre et Lyon, concernant les Douanes.” April 1834. n.p.]
Free trade will probably suffer the fate of all freedoms; it will be introduced into our legislation only after it has taken hold of our minds. For this reason, we should applaud the efforts of the traders in Bordeaux, Le Havre, and Lyons even if the only effect of these efforts in the immediate future is to draw public attention to the matter.
However, if it is true that a reform has to be generally understood to be firmly established, it follows that nothing can be more disastrous than something that misleads opinion. And nothing is more likely to mislead it than writings that clamor for freedom on the basis of the doctrines of monopoly.
It would doubtless require a great deal of temerity for a simple farmer to disturb, through bold criticism, the unanimous chorus of praise that welcomed the demands of French trade both inside and outside France. No less would be needed to confirm his decision to do so than a firm conviction, I would even say a certainty, that such petitioning would be as disastrous in its effects on the general interest, and in particular on the agricultural interests of France, as its doctrinal effects would be on the progress of economic science.
In speaking out in the name of agriculture against the customs plans presented by the petitioners, I feel the need to begin by declaring that what arouses my complaints in these plans is not the liberal element in their premises, but the exclusive content of their conclusions.
They demand that all protection be removed from primary products, that is to say from agricultural work, but that protection be maintained for the manufacturing industry.
I have come not to defend the protection that they are attacking but to attack the protection that they are defending.
Privilege is being claimed for a few; I come to claim freedom for all.
Agriculture owes its cosseted sales to the monopoly it exercises and its unfairly priced purchases to the monopoly to which it is subject. If it is just to relieve it of the first of these, it is no less so to free it from the second.2
To wish to deliver us to universal competition without subjecting manufacturers to the same situation is to damage our sales without relieving our purchases and to do just the opposite for manufacturers. If this is freedom, may I then have a definition of privilege?
It is up to agriculture to reject such attempts.
I make so bold here as to call upon the petitioners themselves and especially M. Henri Fonfrède. I urge him to refute my complaints or to support them.
I will show:
Between the petitioners’ proposals and the protectionist system there is community of principle, error, aim, and means.
What is the protectionist system? Let us hear M. de Saint Cricq’s views on this.
“Work constitutes the wealth of a people, since on its own it has created material things that we need, and because general affluence consists in an abundance of these things.” This is the principle.
“But it is necessary for this abundance to flow from the nation’s work. If it were based on foreign work, domestic work would stop immediately.” This is the error.
“Therefore, what should a farming and manufacturing country do? Limit its market to the products of its territory and its industry.” This is the aim.
“And to do this, limit through duties, and prohibit as necessary, the products of the territory and industry of other peoples.” This is the means.
Let us compare this approach with that of the petition from Bordeaux.
The petition divides all goods into four categories. The first and second cover food products and raw materials that have not yet undergone any human transformation. In principle a wise economy would require that these two categories not be taxed.
The third category is made up of objects that have undergone some preparatory work. This preparation enables a few duties to be levied on them. It can be seen, therefore, that according to the doctrine of the petitioners, protection begins as soon as national work begins.
The fourth category is made up of finished products that can under no circumstances be useful to national work. We consider these, says the petition, to be the most properly taxable.
Thus the petitioners claim that foreign competition damages national work; this is the error of the protectionist regime. They demand protection for work; this is the aim of the protectionist regime. They make this protection consist of duties on foreign work; this is the means used by the protectionist regime.
These two systems differ through one additional error for which the petitioners are responsible.
However, there is an essential difference between these two doctrines. It lies entirely in the greater or lesser extension given to the meaning of the word work.
M. de Saint-Cricq extends it to cover everything. He therefore wishes to protect everything.
“Work constitutes the entire wealth of a people,” says he. “The protection of the agriculture industry, the entire agriculture industry, the manufacturing industry, the entire manufacturing industry, is the cry that will always resound around this chamber.”
The petitioners regard as work only that which is done by manufacturers, and therefore they accord the favors of protection only to this.
“Raw materials have not yet undergone any human transformation, andin principle they should not be taxed. Manufactured objects can no longer be useful to national work; we consider these to be the most properly taxable.”
This gives rise to three questions which require examination: 1. Are raw materials the outcome of work? 2. If they are not something else, is this work so different from the work done by factories that it would be reasonable to subject them to opposing regimes? 3. If the same regime suits all types of work, should this regime be one of free trade or one of protectionism?
1. Are raw materials the outcome of work?
And precisely what are, I ask you, all the articles that the petitioners include in the first two categories of their proposals? What are all types of wheat, flour, farm animals, dried and salted meat, pork, bacon, salt, iron, copper, lead, coal, wool, skins, and seeds, if they are not outcomes of work?
What, it will be said, is an iron ingot, a ball of wool, or a bushel of wheat if not a product of work? Is it not nature that creates each?
Doubtless, nature creates the elements of all these things, but it is human work that produces their value. It is not given to men, to manufacturers, any more than to farmers, to create or make something out of nothing, and if by work you mean creation, all our work would be non productive and that of traders more so than any other!
The farmer therefore does not claim to have created wool, but he does claim to have produced value, by which I mean that through his work and expenditures he has transformed into wool substances that in no way originally resembled wool. What else does the manufacturer do when he converts wool into fabric?
In order for men to clothe themselves in fabric, a host of operations is necessary. Before the intervention of any human work, the true raw materials of this product are air, water, heat, light, and the gases and salts that have to be included in its composition. An initial operation converts these substances into fodder, a second into wool, a third into thread, and a fourth into a garment. Who would dare to say that no part of this operation constitutes work, from the first furrow of the plough that starts it to the final stitch that completes it?
And since, for greater speed in the completion of the end product—the garment—the work is divided among several categories of workers, you wish, through an arbitrary distinction, to determine that the sequence of these tasks should be the reason for their importance, so that the first does not even deserve the title of work and the last, work par excellence, should be the only one worthy of the favors of monopoly! I do not believe that one could push the spirit of system and partiality any further than this.
The farmer, people will say, unlike the manufacturer, has not done everything himself. Nature has helped him and, while there is some work involved, not everything in wheat is work.
But everything in its value is work, I repeat. I agree that nature has contributed to the material growing of the grain; I agree that this growth is exclusively its work; but you have to agree that I have obliged nature to do this by my work, and when I sell you wheat, I am not being paid for the work of nature but for my own work.
And, in this respect, manufactured objects would not be the products of work either. Are not manufacturers also helped by nature? Do they not make use of the weight of the atmosphere when using steam engines, just as I use its humidity with the help of the plough? Did they create the laws of gravity, of the transmission of force, and of affinity?
You will agree, perhaps, that wool and wheat are the product of work. But coal, you will say, is certainly the work, and only the work, of nature.
Yes, nature has made coal (for it has made everything), but work has created its value. Coal has no value when it is a hundred feet below ground. You have to find it, and this is work. It has to be taken to market, and this is work of a different kind; and mark my words, the price of coal in the marketplace is nothing other than the sum of all the wages paid for all the work of extraction and transport.
The distinction people have tried to make between raw materials and manufactures is therefore theoretically empty. As the basis for an unequal distribution of privilege, it would be iniquitous in practice, unless one wished to claim that although both are the result of work, the importing of one category is more useful than the other in the development of public wealth. This is the second question I have to examine.
2. Is it more advantageous to a nation to import so-called raw materials than manufactured objects?
Here I have to combat a very firmly entrenched belief.
“The more abundant the raw materials,” says the Bordeaux petition, “the more manufactures increase in number and expand.” “Raw materials,” it says elsewhere, “provide endless opportunity for the work of the inhabitants of the countries into which they are imported.” “Since raw materials,” says the petition from Le Havre, “are the basic units of work, they have to be subject to a different regime and immediately admitted at the lowest rate of duty.”3 “Among other articles whose low price and abundance are a necessity,” states the petition from Lyons, “manufacturers all mention raw materials.”
Doubtless it is advantageous for a nation that so-called raw materials should be abundant and at a low price; but I ask you, would it be advantageous for that nation if manufactured objects were high priced and few in number? In both cases this abundance and cheapness must be the fruit of free trade or this scarcity and high price must be the fruit of monopoly. What is supremely absurd and iniquitous is to want the abundance of the one to be due to free trade and the scarcity of the other to be due to privilege.
It will still be insisted and said, I am sure, that the duties that protect the work of factories are demanded in the general interest and that to import articles that require no further human intervention is to lose all the profit of labor, etc., etc.
Note the terrain into which the petitioners are being drawn. Is this not the terrain of the protectionist regime? Could M. de Saint-Cricq not produce a similar argument against the importation of wheat, wool, coal, and all materials that are, as we have seen, the products of work?
To refute this latter argument and prove that the import of foreign products does not damage national work is therefore to demonstrate that the regime of competition is just as suitable for manufactured objects as for raw materials. This is the third question I have asked myself.
In the interests of brevity, may I be allowed to reduce this demonstration to one example that includes them all?
An Englishman may export a pound of wool to France in a variety of forms, as a fleece, as thread, as fabric, or as a garment, but in all cases he will not import an equal quantity of value, or, if you like, of work. Let us suppose that this pound of wool is worth three francs raw, six francs as thread, twelve francs as fabric, and twenty-four francs when made into a garment. Let us also suppose that in whatever form the exportation is made the payment is made in wine, for, after all, it has to be made in something and nothing stops us from supposing that it will be in wine.
If the Englishman imports raw wool, we will export three francs’ worth of wine; we will export six francs’ worth if the wool arrives as thread, twelve francs’ worth if it arrives as fabric, and finally, twenty-four francs’ worth if it arrives in the form of a garment. In this last case, the spinner, the manufacturer, and the tailor will have been deprived of work and profit, I know; one sector of national work will have been discouraged to the same extent, as I also know; but another sector of work that is equally national, wine making, will have been encouraged in precisely the same proportion. And since the English wool can arrive in France in the form of a garment only to the extent that all the workers who combined to produce it in that form are superior to French workers, all things considered, the consumer of the garment will have gained an advantage which may be considered to be a net one, both for him and for the nation.
Change the nature of the goods, the stage of their evaluation, and their source, but think the matter through clearly and the result will always be the same.
I know that people will tell me that the payment might have been made not in wine but in cash. I will draw attention to the fact that this objection could equally well be advanced against the importation of a primary product as against that of a manufactured product. Besides, I am sure that it would not be made by any trader worthy of the name. As for the others, I will limit myself to saying to them that money is a domestic or foreign product. If it is the former, we can do nothing better than to export it. If it is the latter, it must have been paid for out of national work. If we acquired it from Mexico, exchanging it for wine for example, and we then exchanged the wine for an English garment, the result is still wine exchanged for a garment, and we are totally in line with the preceding example.
The petitioners’ plan is a system of privileges demanded by trade and industry at the expense of agriculture and the general public.
That the petitioners’ plan creates unjust privileges that benefit manufacturers is a fact that, I believe, is only too well proved.
However, it is doubtless not so clear how it also grants privileges to trade. Let us examine this.
All other things being equal, it is to the public’s advantage for raw materials to be used on the very site of their production.
For this reason, if people in Paris want to consume eau-de-vie from Armagnac, it is in Armagnac, not in Paris, that the wine is distilled.
It would, however, not be impossible to find a hauler who prefers to transport eight barrels of wine than one barrel of eau-de-vie.
It would not be impossible either for a distiller to be found in Paris who preferred to import the primary rather than the finished product.
It would not be impossible, if this came within the field of protectionism, for our two industrialists to come to an understanding to demand that wine be allowed to enter the capital freely but that eau-de-vie be taxed with heavy duties.
It would not be impossible that, when they sent their demand to the protectionist authority, in order to conceal their selfish outlooks the better, the hauler would mention only the interests of the distiller and the distiller only those of the hauler.
It would not be impossible for the protectionist authority to see an opportunity to acquire an industry for Paris in this plan and to increase its own importance.
Finally, and unfortunately, it would not be impossible for the good people of Paris to see in all this only the extended views of those enjoying protection and the protectionist authority and to forget that, in the final instance, it is on them that the costs and contingencies of protectionism always fall.
Who would wish to believe that the petitioners from Bordeaux, Lyons, and Le Havre, following the clamor of generous and liberal doctrines, would achieve by common accord a similar result and a totally identical system organized on a grand scale?
“It is mainly in this second category (the one that includes materials that have not yet undergone any human transformation),” the petitioners from Bordeaux say, “that the mainstay of our merchant navy is to be found. . . . In principle, a wise economy would require that this category, as well as the first, not be liable to duty. The third might have duties levied and the fourth we consider to be the most appropriate to the levying of duties.”
“Whereas,” say the petitioners from Le Havre, “it is essential to reduce raw materials immediately to the lowest rate of duty, so that industry can in turn put to work the naval forces that supply it with its initial and essential means of work. . . .”
The manufacturers could not be more polite to shipowners. For this reason, the petition from Lyons requests the free introduction of raw materials to prove, it is said, “that the interests of manufacturing towns are not always in opposition to those of coastal ones.”
Do we not seem to hear the Parisian hauler, whom I mentioned before, formulating his request thus: “Whereas wine is the principal element I transport, in principle it should not be liable to duty; as for eau-de-vie, this can have duty levied on it. Whereas it is essential to reduce wine immediately to the lowest rate of duty so that the distiller can use my vehicles, which supply him with the initial and essential element of his work . . .” and to hear the distiller requesting the free import of wine to Paris and the exclusion of eau-de-vie, “to show that the interests of distillers are not always in opposition to those of haulers.”
In sum, what would be the results of the system being proposed? They are these:
It is at the price resulting from competition that we, the farmers, sell our primary products to manufacturers. It is at the price resulting from monopoly that we buy it back from them.
If we work in circumstances that are less favorable than those of foreigners, so much the worse for us. In the name of freedom we are condemned.
But if manufacturers are less skillful than foreigners, so much the worse for us. In the name of privilege we are condemned once more.
If people learn to refine sugar in India or weave cotton in the United States, it is the raw sugar and cotton in the form of fiber that will be transported in order to use our naval forces and we, the consumers, will pay for the pointless transportation of the residues.
Let us hope that, for the same reason and in order to supply lumberjacks with the initial and essential element of their work, we will bring in firs from Russia with their branches and bark. Let us hope that gold from Mexico will be imported in mineral form. Let us hope that, in order to have leather from Buenos Aires, herds of cattle will be transported.
It will never come to that, people will say. And yet it would be rational. But this so-called rationality borders on absurdity.
Many people, I am convinced, have adopted the doctrines of the protectionist regime in good faith (and certainly what is happening is scarcely likely to change their minds). This does not surprise me in the least; what does surprise me is that, when doctrines have been adopted with regard to one point, they are not adopted with regard to everything, since error also has its own logic. As for me, in spite of all my efforts, I have not been able to find a single objection that can be made to the regime of absolute exclusion that cannot be applied equally to the practical system of the petitioners.
The Tax Authorities and Wine1
[vol. 1, p. 243. “Le Fisc et la vigne.” January 1841. n.p.]
The production and sale of wines and spirits must of necessity be affected by the treaties and laws on finance that are currently the subject of deliberations in the chambers.
We will endeavor to set out:
The legislation on wines and spirits is a clear departure from the principle of equality of duties.
At the same time it places all the classes of citizen whose industry it regulates in a separate, heavily taxed category, it creates among these very classes inequalities of a second order: all are placed outside common law; each is held at varying degrees of distance.
It appears that the minister of finance has taken not the slightest notice of the radical inequality we have just pointed out, but on the other hand he has shown himself to be extremely shocked by the secondary inequalities created by the law: he considers as privileged the classes that have not yet suffered from all of the rigors it imposes on other classes. He is devoted to removing these nice differences not by relaxing them but by making them worse.
However, in pursuit of equality thus understood, the minister remains faithful to the traditions of the creator of the institution. It is said that Bonaparte originally established tariffs that were so moderate that the receipts did not cover the costs of collection. His minister of finance drew to his attention the fact that the law annoyed the nation without providing the treasury with funds. “You are an idiot, M. Maret,” replied Napoléon. “Since the nation is complaining about a few impositions, what would it have done if I had added heavy taxes to them? Let us first accustom them to the exercise; later we can adjust the tariff.” M. Maret realized that the great captain was no less an able financier.
The lesson has not been lost, and we will have the opportunity of seeing that the disciples are preparing the reign of equality with a prudence worthy of the master.
The principles on which the legislation on wines and spirits is based are clearly and energetically expressed in three articles flowing from the law dated 28 April 1816:
Art. 1. Each time wine, cider, etc., is taken away or put somewhere else, a circulation duty will be paid. . . .
Art. 20. In towns and villages with a total population of two thousand people and more2 . . . the treasury will levy an entry duty . . ., etc. . . .
Art. 47. When the wine, cider, etc., is sold retail, a duty of 15 percent of the said sales price will be levied. . . .
In this way, each movement of wine, each entry, and each retail sale lead to the payment of a duty.
Side by side with these rigorous and, one might say, strange principles, the law establishes a few exceptions.
With regard to circulation duty:
Art. 3. The following will not be subject to the duty levied under Art. 1:
Art. 4. The same exemption will be granted to traders, wholesalers, brokers, middlemen, agents, distillers, and retail traders, for the wines and spirits they have had moved from one to another of their cellars situated within the confines of the same département.
Art. 5. The transport of wines and spirits that are removed for dispatch abroad or to the French colonies will equally be exempt from circulation duty.
The entry duty did not allow any exceptions.
With regard to retail duty:
Art. 85. Owners who wish to sell the wines and spirits they produce at retail will be granted a discount of 25 percent on the duties they will have to pay. . . .
Art. 86. However, they will be subject to all the obligations imposed on professional retailers. Notwithstanding this, inspections by agents will not take place within their domiciles provided that the premises on which their wines and spirits will be sold at retail are separate from these.
Thus, to summarize these exceptions:
Exemption from circulation duty for the wines of their harvest that owners send from their own property to their own property elsewhere throughout the entire territory of France;
Exemption from the same duty for the wine that traders, merchants, retailers, etc., have had transported from one to another of their cellars situated in the same département;
Exemption from the same duty for wine that is exported;
A discount of 25 percent of the retail duty for owners;
Exemption from inspection visits by agents within their own domiciles where the premises on which this sale is made are separate from these.
Now, here is the text of the draft law put forward by the minister of finance:
Article 13. Exemption from circulation duty on wines and spirits will be allowed only in the following cases:
Article 3 of the law dated 28 April 1816 and Article 3 of the law dated 17 July 1819 are repealed.
Article 14. Wines and spirits from their harvest that owners have transported from one part of their own property to another, outside the limits laid down in the preceding article, will be exempt from circulation duty, provided the owners acquire the necessary permit and are subject at the place of destination to all the obligations imposed on wholesale merchants with the exception of the payment of a license.
Article 25. The provision of Article 85 of the law dated 28 April 1816, which allows to owners who sell at retail the wines and spirits of their own production an exceptional discount of 25 percent of the retail duty that they have to pay, is repealed.
We would greatly exceed the limits we have set ourselves if we carried out a comprehensive examination of the points raised by the draft law, and we will have to limit ourselves to a few short observations.
First, does Article 13 of the draft law repeal Articles 4 and 5 of the 1816 law? An affirmative answer appears to result from the following absolute phrase: Exemption will be allowed only if . . ., which implies the exclusion of all categories not listed in the remainder of the disposition.
However, a negative answer may be concluded from the disposition that ends Article 13, since, by repealing only Article 3 of the 1816 law, it apparently maintains Articles 4 and 5.
In this last case we consider that there is a certain anomaly in reserving for traders and retailers within the confines of the département a right that is restricted for owners to the limits of a village.
Second, since the new measures aim to increase revenue, we should no doubt expect them to be burdensome for taxpayers. It is possible, however, for these measures to exceed their aim and lead to disadvantages out of all proportion to the advantages hoped for.
In effect, these measures deal a deathblow to large-property owners through Article 13 and to small-property owners through Article 20.
As long as exemption from circulation duty was limited to the confines of a département, it could have resulted only in exceptional evils. The ownership of vineyards in several départements is rare, and where this occurs owners will have cellars in each of these départements. However, it is very frequent for an owner to have vineyards in several neighboring villages that do not border on one another; and in general, in this situation, it is in his interest to gather his harvest into the same cellar. The new law obliges him either to increase the number of his buildings, making surveillance more difficult, or to bear the cost of circulation duty for a product that is already very heavily taxed and whose sale will perhaps take place only several years later.
And what will the exchequer gain? Very little, unless the owner, as M. de Villèle hopes, drinks all his wine to recover the duty a little earlier.
It will doubtless be said that Article 14 of the draft will counteract this disadvantage. We will wait and examine the spirit and effect of this later.
On the other hand, small owners draw a very considerable advantage from retail sales: that of keeping their wooden barrels from year to year. From now on, they will be obliged each year to make an outlay oft en in excess of their means to buy them. I will say without hesitation that this disposition contains the cause of total ruin for a great many small owners. The purchase of wooden barrels is not something that they can avoid or delay doing. When the harvest arrives, it is essential, whatever the price, to acquire the wood in which to store it; and if the owner does not have the money, he is at the mercy of the sellers. Wine producers have been seen to offer half their harvest to obtain the means to house the other half. Retail sales would avoid this extreme situation, one that will oft en recur now that this possibility will in practice be forbidden to them.
The two modifications or, as the minister puts it, the two improvements to existing legislation, which we have just been analyzing, are not the only ones contained in the draft law dated 30 December. There are two others on which we ought to make a few comments.
Article 35 of the law dated 21 April 1832 had converted the circulation, entry, and retail duties into a single tax, levied at the entrance to towns, thus allowing free circulation within these towns and abolishing customs investigations.
According to Article 16 of the draft, this single tax will now replace only the entry and retail duties, with the circulation and license duties continuing to be levied as they were in 1829, so that one could say of it, in chorus with the singer,
That this single tax will have two sisters.
Another difficulty arises here. In order to establish the single tax (1832 law, Article 36), “The sum of all the annual yields, from all the duties to be replaced, is to be divided by the total value of annual production.”
Since circulation and license duties are no longer included in those to be replaced, they should not be part of the dividend; this being so, since the quotient will be correspondingly lower, the general public will be subject to the old barriers, with no benefit for the treasury.
The implication is that if the minister intends the yield of current taxation to be maintained, circulation and license duties will be levied twice, once directly by virtue of the new law and a second time through the single tax, since they are included as elements in the calculation of this tax.
Last, a fourth modification introduces a new basis for conversion of spirits into liqueurs.
This is not all. The minister makes it clearly felt that it will not be long before he raises the tariff on wines and spirits to the levels of 1829. Many distinguished authorities, he said, considered that it was the right time to cancel the exceptions allowed in 1830.
Many other such authorities consider that if the minister refrains from making a formal proposal in this respect, it is to allow the Chamber of Deputies the honor of this initiative.
We will now leave the reader to measure the space that separates us from the July revolution. Ten years have scarcely elapsed, and here we are with our legislation on wines and spirits shortly to be indistinguishable from that under the empire or restoration, except for an increase in charges and severity.
If only this growth in severity had as its aim just the current interest of the tax authorities, we could at least hope that it satisfies their requirements in full. But it does not even leave us this illusion, and by proclaiming that they wish a particular dispensation to carry the day, the tax authorities are warning us that we have to expect new requirements until such time as this dispensation has been fully implemented.
“We have considered it just (says the “statement of the reasons”) to restrict the exemption to circulation duty in favor of owners to the just limits within which it might be legitimately claimed; that is to say, to restrict it to the products of their harvest which they intend for their consumption and that of their family, in the actual place of production. Beyond this, it was a privilege that nothing justified and that violated the principle of the equality of duties. For the same reason, we propose to cancel the discount of 25 percent to the wine producer who sells the wines of his production at retail.”
Now, from the instant the government has the equality of duties as its aim, with the understanding that this language means the subjection of all the classes affected by the law on wines and spirits to the full total of the obstacles weighing on the most maltreated class, then for as long as this aim is not reached, the most rigorous measures can be only the prelude to still more rigorous measures.
We should fear it above all in the knowledge that the master4 has carried out and recommended a pitiless but prudent tactic in this connection.
We have seen that the 1816 law extended the owner’s exemption from circulation duty to the entire territory of France.
Shortly afterward it was restricted to the limits of the département or to bordering départements (law dated 25 March 1817, Article 81).
Later it was reduced to the limits of bordering districts (law dated 17 July 1819, Article 3).
Now, the proposal is being made to circumscribe it to the limits of a village or bordering villages (draft law, Article 13).
One step further and it will have totally disappeared.
And this step undoubtedly will be taken, for while these successive restrictions have circumscribed the privilege, they have not destroyed it. There still remains one case in which the harvester consumes a wine that has circulated without paying circulation duty, and it will not be long before it is said that this is a totally unjustified privilege, which violates the principle of equality of taxes. At the level of application, therefore, the tax authorities have compromised with principle but have also, in principle, made clear their intent, and is it not enough for once that they have come down from the district to the commune without stopping at the canton?
Let us be quite sure, therefore, that the reign of equality is coming and that in a short time there will be no exceptions at all to this principle. On each removal or displacement of wine, cider, or perry,5 duty will be levied.
But should this be said? Yes, we will be expressing our entire thoughts, even though we may be suspected of giving way to exaggerated distrust. We believe that the tax authorities have perceived that, when the circulation duty is extended to all without exception, equality will have reached only half of its career; it will still subject owners to the yoke of customs inspection.
We consider that in Article 14 the tax authorities have sown the seed of this secret intention.
What other aim could this measure have?
Article 13 of the draft restricts the exemption from circulation duty to the limits of the village commune.
The rationale is careful to declare that anything exceeding this exemption is a privilege that is totally unjustified.
And Article 14 immediately restores the right that Article 13 removed from us; it gives it back without limits, provided that the owner subjects himself to the obligations imposed on wholesale merchants.
A concession like this is designed to arouse our mistrust.
This floury sack bodes no good.6
Note the specific character of this Article 14.
First, it appears to be a corrective. Article 13 may have seemed rather harsh; Article 14 comes to offer some consolation.
Second, it goes somewhat further than sugar-coating the pill; it hides the pill and hints at the customs inspection without referring to it explicitly.
Last, it pushes prudence to the point of being optional; it goes even further, it makes Article 13 optional. How can we complain? Can we not escape circulation duty by taking refuge in customs inspections and find shelter against customs inspections in circulation duty?
Let us hope we are mistaken! However, we have witnessed an increase in the tariff, and we have witnessed an increase in circulation duty; we are right to worry that customs inspections will increase, too. As the teller of fables told us: “What is small will grow large . . ., provided that God keeps it alive.”7
The gradual progress toward equality is also shown in the development of retail duty.
We have seen that current legislation allows owners two forms of exemption in this respect: first, by giving them a discount of 25 percent on the duty; second, by exempting the owner from home inspections when the point of sale is in a different location.
For the moment, current legislation merely limits itself to calling for the withdrawal of the first of these exemptions. However, the principle of equality is not satisfied, since owners continue to enjoy a privilege denied to café owners, that is to say, the privilege of not having to open their houses, their bedrooms, and their cupboards to the gaze of customs agents, always provided that, in order to sell their wine, they rent premises on an official lease.
If we redirect our gaze to France’s external relations and how these relate to the sale of wine, we will find scarcely any grounds to console us for the internal regime that burdens our industry.
We cannot examine here all the matters that relate to this huge subject. We have to limit ourselves to a few considerations on a question currently being negotiated, a trade treaty with Holland.
After having announced during the session on 21 January that according to this treaty: “Our wines and spirits in barrels will be exempt from any customs duty upon entry into Dutch territory; should they be imported in bottles, they will enjoy a discount of three-fifths of the duty on wine and half for spirits,” the minister exclaimed:
“You will be aware, sirs, that in all sales negotiations carried out by the government, one of its most pressing considerations has always been to expand as far as possible the market for our wine production by opening up new outlets in foreign countries. It is with particular satisfaction that we submit to your approval the means of relieving the sufferings of a sector of trade that is so worthy of our solicitude.”
From this pompous preamble, who would not think that our wines are going to enjoy considerable sales in Holland?
To measure the amplitude of the concessions that our negotiators obtained from the Dutch government, you ought to know that foreign wines and spirits are subject to two different import duties in Holland: customs duty and excise duty.
If you consult the table at the end of this article,8 you will see that the Dutch government has combined its reductions so cleverly that our luxury trade (wine in bottles) enjoys a tax relief of 10½ percent for the Gironde and 21 percent for the Meuse, and our essential trade (wine in barrels) 12 percent for the east and 1⅓ percent for the west of France. This fine outcome has caused such great satisfaction in our negotiators that they have been quick to reduce by 33⅓ percent the duties on cheese and white lead9 made in Holland.
When a significant sector of the population considers itself to be oppressed, it has just two means of regaining its rights: revolutionary means and legal means.
It appears that successive governments in France have vied with one another to instill in the wine-producing classes a disastrous prejudice to the effect that their sole hope of escape lies in revolutions.
As a matter of fact, the 1814 and 1815 revolutions at least won the wine-producing classes a great many promises, and we see from the actual text of the laws of the time that the Restoration claimed to be keeping indirect taxation only as an exceptional resource, which was essentially temporary (law dated 1816, Article 257; and law dated 1818, Article 84).
Scarcely had this empowerment consolidated somewhat, however, when its promises evaporated along with its fears.
The 1830 revolution,10 to do it justice, promised nothing, but it did effect some notable tax relief (laws dated 17 October and 12 December 1830).
We can already see that it was thinking not only of returning to the old legislation but also of giving it an aspect of rigor that was unknown in the great days of the Empire and the Restoration.
Thus, in troubled times, the tax authorities make promises, compromise, and relax their severity.
In peaceful times, they retract their concessions and march on to new conquests.
We repeat that we are surprised that the authorities do not fear that this comparison will strike people’s minds and that they will not draw this deplorable conclusion: “Legal means are killing us.”
This would certainly be the most dreadful of errors; and experience, which may be invoked in this regard, proves on the contrary that no reliance should be placed on promises and alleviations wrung through fear from a tottering government.
A government newly come to power may well, under pressure of circumstances, temporarily renounce part of its revenues; but too many charges weigh on the new government for it to abandon totally the intention of regaining them. More than any other government, has it not certain ambitions to satisfy, persons to reassure, prejudices to overcome? Domestically, a government newly come to power has given rise to jealousy, bitterness, and miscalculations; does it not have to develop some apparatus for policing and repression? Externally, it arouses fear and mistrust; does it not have to surround itself with walls and increase its fleets and armies?
Therefore, seeking relief through revolution is an illusion.
However, we believe, and strongly, that the wine-producing population can, through an intelligent and persevering use of legal means, succeed in improving its situation.
We draw its attention in particular to the resources offered by the right of association.
For the last few years, manufacturers have acknowledged the advantage of being represented by special delegations to the government and the chambers. Manufacturers of sugar, woolen cloth, and linen and cotton fabrics have their committee of delegates in Paris.
In this way, no tax or customs measure likely to affect these industries can be passed without enduring the crucible of a long and rigorous inquiry, and everyone is aware how much the domestic producers of sugar owe the success of their struggle to the vigor of their association.
If the manufacturing industry had not introduced the system of delegation, perhaps it would have fallen to the wine-producing industry to set the example. But what is certain is that the wine-producing industry cannot refuse to enter the arena into which others have gone before. It is only too clear that inquiries in which its voice is not heard are incomplete and further that it has everything to lose in leaving the field open to interests that are oft en rivals.
In our opinion, each wine-producing area ought to have a committee in the town that is located at the heart of its commercial activities. Each of these committees would nominate a delegate, and the association of delegates in Paris would form the central committee.
Thus, the basin of the Adour and its tributaries, those of the Garonne, the Charente, the Loire, the Rhone, and the Meuse, and the départements that make up the Languedoc, Champagne, and Burgundy would all have their own delegates.
We have had discussions with several people in this institution without encountering a single one who disputed the usefulness of our proposed legislation, but we have to answer a few objections they made to us.
We have been told:
“The wine-producing industry has its natural delegates in its deputies.
“It is difficult to obtain the assistance of such a large number of interested parties, the majority of whom are scattered throughout the countryside.
“The financial situation of France does not allow any hope of the abolition of indirect taxation; besides, indirect taxation has indisputable advantages alongside a great many disadvantages.”
1. Are deputies delegates of the wine-producing industry?
Clearly, when an electoral body invests a citizen with legislative functions, it does not reduce this mission to matters pertinent to industry. Other considerations determine its choice, and we should not be surprised if a deputy, even when he represents a wine-producing département, has not beforehand made an in-depth study of all the questions relating to the trade in and the duties on wines and spirits. Even less, once he has been nominated, can he concentrate his attention exclusively on a single interest when so many serious matters claim it. Therefore, in the special committees that deal with sugar, iron, and wine, he can see nothing but an advantage in having available the information and documents which would otherwise be physically impossible for him to seek out and coordinate on his own. Besides, the precedents established by the manufacturers remove any value from this objection.
2. It is also said that it is difficult to obtain long-lasting assistance from people scattered about the country.
We, for our part, believe that this difficulty is exaggerated. It would doubtless be insurmountable if active and painstaking assistance were to be expected from each person concerned. But, in situations like these, the most active participate on behalf of the others, and towns act on behalf of the countryside. This does not cause a problem when their interests are identical, and since there is a wine-producing committee in Bordeaux, there is no reason why there should not be one in Bayonne, Nantes, Montpellier, Dijon, or Marseilles, and from these to a central committee there is just one further step to take. It is when difficulties are exaggerated that nothing is achieved. It is certainly easier for three hundred manufacturers of sugar rather than several thousand manufacturers to reach agreement and organize themselves. However, just because something does not happen by itself it should not be concluded that it cannot be done. It should even be recognized that if the masses find it harder to organize themselves, they acquire through organization an unstoppable momentum.
3. Last, the objection is made that France’s financial situation rules out any hope that it would be able to give up the income from consumption tax.
But that again is to circumscribe the question. Does the organization of a central committee establish in advance that its sole mission would be to pursue the total abolition of this tax? Would it have nothing else to do? Do customs questions relating to wine not arise every day? In the discussions that resulted in the treaty with Holland, are people sure that the intervention of the committee would have had no influence on the terms of this treaty? And, as for indirect taxation, is there nothing between total abolition and the total maintenance of the current regime? Do not the method of collection, the means of preventing or repressing fraud, and pertinent powers and jurisdictions offer a vast scope for reform?
Moreover, it should not be thought that everything has been said with regard to the principal question. It is not our place to formulate an opinion on the consumption tax; there are leading authorities and great examples both for and against it. Consumption tax is the rule in England and the exception in France. Well, now! This problem has to be settled. If the system is bad in principle, it has to be abolished; if it is deemed to be good, it has to be improved, its exceptional character has to be removed, and it has to be made both less heavy and more productive by its being generalized. Here, perhaps, lies the solution to the great ongoing debate between the tax authorities and the taxpayer. And who can say that the movement of minds generated by the setting up of industrial committees and the regular exchanges of views made either between them or by their agency, between the general public and the government, will not hasten this solution?
On the Wine-Growing Question
[vol. 1, p. 261. “Mémoire présenté à la société d’agriculture, commerce, arts et sciences, du département des Landes sur la question vinicole.” 22 January 1843. n.p.]
Memoir Presented to the Société d’agriculture, commerce, arts, et sciences du département des Landes on the Wine-Growing Question (22 January 1843)
In one of your previous sessions you set up a commission to investigate the causes of the hardship afflicting the wine-growing sector of the département of the Landes and the means by which it would be possible to combat this.
Circumstances have not allowed me to transmit to the commission the work it entrusted to me. I regret this most sincerely, since the contribution of the enlightened men that form the commission would have made it more worthy of you. Although I am bold enough to believe that my ideas are not so very different from those that they would have authorized me to submit to you, I must nevertheless assume full responsibility. . . .
Sirs, proving first of all that the hardship experienced by our wine-growing people is genuine and presenting a living picture of this to you would both satisfy the logical order of this report and win over your interest and goodwill for it. I am only too ready to sacrifice this consideration to the desire not to intrude on your time too much, since, ready as I am to admit unreservedly and without fear of being wrong that we are not all in agreement on the causes of the decline of the industry we are discussing, there is at least no disagreement between us on the fact that this decline exists.
A detailed analysis of all the causes that have contributed to this unfortunate result would also lead to amplifications that are too wide-ranging.
We would need first of all to examine those causes that are beyond our means of action. One of these is competition from the southeast of France, which is growing daily, encouraged by the gradual improvement in our transport systems. Another is the relative inferiority that appears to be the lot of regions that, like the Chalosse, are not structured to replace cultivation using manpower with that using oxen.
We would then need to distinguish the causes of suffering for which the producer himself is responsible. Has he devoted enough time to improving his cultivating and wine-producing procedures? Has he been farsighted enough to limit his planting? Has he been clever enough to adapt his products to the changes that may have been noted in the needs and tastes of consumers? Have efforts been made, through the choice and blend of grape varieties or other means, to substitute quality for the quantity of wine produced, insofar as outlets are limited, since this might have restored the balance of income to a certain extent? And has the Société d’agriculture itself not been too sparing of encouragement to an agricultural sector from which a third of our population earns its living, while being only too ready to encourage the introduction of exotic plants, whose success is more than uncertain?1
Finally, we need to list those causes of our hardship that must be laid at the door of government measures whose effect has been to hinder the production, circulation, and consumption of wine, and this would lead me to examine the special influence on our region of direct taxes, indirect taxes, city tolls, and customs regulations.
I will limit the scope of this report to the last three of these causes of our sufferings, first because they are much the most immediate determinants of our decline and second because I consider that they are susceptible to present or future changes, which public opinion may hasten or delay at will through demonstrations for or against them.
Before discussing this subject, I have to say that it has been examined with impressive intellectual talent, along with several other economic questions, by one of our colleagues, M. Auguste Lacome of Le Houga,2 in a paper that was read during one of your previous sessions. The author assesses the situation of vineyard owners with equal sagacity and impartiality. By granting concessions that were perhaps too great, he acknowledges that the ever-increasing needs of the country, the communes, and the factories make it unlikely that our public charges will be reduced. He asks the question whether, supposing this to be so, it is just to give satisfaction to all interests at the expense of the interests of wine alone and, after establishing that this is as contrary to natural justice as it is to the letter of the law, he seeks to find out by what means the resources requested up to now from our sector might be replaced. Going down this route and directing his meditations to practical use is to show genuine capability and the ability to rise above the crowd of critical souls who limit themselves to the facile task of criticizing what is wrong without suggesting a remedy. I will not take the liberty of deciding whether the author has always succeeded in indicating the proper sources from whom compensation for the tax on wines and spirits should be requested; I will limit myself to suggesting that the general public should be enabled to judge this by including Lacome’s paper in our Annals.
Sirs, I am approaching the subject I propose to discuss. Has the triple chain of gross impositions that our wines encounter through city dues, indirect taxes, or customs tariffs, depending on whether they seek outlets in towns, nationwide, or through export sales, affected production or caused the burdens that have given rise to our complaints?
It would be very surprising if there were conflicting opinions on this.
What has become of the many commercial houses in Bayonne whose sole activity in days gone by was to export our wines and spirits to Belgium, Holland, Prussia, Denmark, Sweden, and the towns of the Hanseatic League? What has become of the inland navigation system, which we have seen so active and which incontestably gave rise to the many concentrations of population established on the left bank of the Adour? What has become of the proliferating trade investment in a product that because of its property of improving with age would under normal conditions increase in value with time, a product that was effectively a savings bank for our forefathers, spread a comfortable existence among the working classes of the time, and was the traditionally acknowledged source of all the wealth that still survives in Chalosse? All of that has disappeared together with freedom of production and trade.
In the face of this twin assault on our property by the protectionist regime and overbearing taxation, faced with a burden so straightforwardly explained by the obstacles that block our domestic and foreign outlets, nothing surprises us more than the haste with which the tax authorities seek to find the cause of our sufferings elsewhere, unless it is the credulity of the general public in being taken in by their sophisms.
This, however, is what we witness every day. The tax authorities claim that too many vines have been planted and each person repeats, “If we are suffering, it is not because we lack trade or because the weight of taxes is suffocating us, but because we have planted too many vines.”
I have in previous times attacked this assertion, but it expresses an opinion that is too widespread and the tax authorities have made it too deadly a weapon against us for me not to return to my refutation in a few words.
First of all, I would very much like our opponents to set the limits they intend to impose on the growing of vines! I never hear reproaches made that wheat, flax, or orchards invade too high a proportion of our territory. The comparison of supply and demand and costs compared with sale prices are the limits between which the expansion or contraction of industries operates. Why would vine growing, contrary to this general law, extend more widely as it becomes more ruinous?
People will say all that is theory. Well then, let us see what the facts reveal.
Through the offices of a minister of finance,3 we learn that the wine-growing area of France was 1,555,475 hectares in 1788 and 1,993,307 hectares in 1828. The increase is therefore in the ratio of 100 to 128. In the same period of time, the population of France, which according to Necker4 had been 24 million, increased to 32 million, a ratio of 100 to 133. The cultivation of vines, far from expanding unreasonably, has not even kept up with the increase in numbers of the population.
We could check this result through research into consumption if we had statistical data relating to this. As far as we know, this has been done only for Paris and has provided the following result:
Thus, sirs, it is undeniable that in this half-century and while all branches of production have made such remarkable progress, the most natural thing we produce has remained at the very least stationary.
We should conclude that the so-called encroachment of vines is based on allegations as contrary to logic as to fact, and after we have been assured that we are not mistaken in attributing our suffering to the administrative measures that have limited all of our outlets, let us examine the character and effects of these measures more closely.
At the top of the list, we should place the indirect tax on wines and spirits and the duties on circulation, dispatch, consumption, license, transportation, entry, and retail—a sorry and incomplete list of the subtle inventions by which the tax authorities are paralyzing our industry and greedily extracting from it, indirectly, more than one hundred million every year. Far from giving any hint of a foreseeable lessening in these rigors, they redouble them from year to year and although, in 1830, they were obliged in a revolutionary spirit,9 so to speak, to agree to a reduction of forty million, a reduction that has ceased to be noticeable, they have never allowed a session to be completed without expressing their regret and complaining about it.
It has to be said that the wine-producing populations have rarely brought a practical business attitude to bear in their efforts to escape from this regime of arbitrary exceptions. Driven by the more immediate impact of their own sufferings or by the necessities of the time, either they have demanded, vehemently, the total abolition of all consumption taxes, or they have bowed unreservedly under a system they considered monstrous but irremediable, thus swinging from blind confidence to cowardly demoralization.
The pure and simple abolition of indirect contributions is obviously an illusion. Demanded in the name of equality of duties, it implies the abolition of all consumption taxes, from those imposed on salt and tobacco to those bearing on wines and spirits, and what bold reformer would succeed in decreasing budgeted public expenditure immediately to the level of budgeted income reduced to the four headings of direct taxation? No doubt the time will come, and we should hasten its coming through our efforts as well as our hopes, when private industry, with a morale lifted by experience and expanded by a sense of association, will encroach on the domain of public services; and government, reduced to its essential function, the maintaining of internal and external security, will require only the resources to meet this sphere of activity, thus enabling a host of taxes that undermine the liberty and equality of our citizens to be removed from our financial system. But how far from this trend are the views of those who govern us and the all-powerful forces of public opinion! We are being drawn inexorably and perhaps providentially in opposite directions. We ask everything from the state: roads, canals, railways, encouragement, protection, monuments, education, conquests, colonies, and military, maritime, and diplomatic supremacy; we want to civilize Africa and Oceania and what else? Like England, we are obeying a force for expansion that is directing all our resources to be centralized in the hands of the state; we cannot therefore avoid seeking, like England, the exercise of power in taxes on consumption, the most fruitful, regularly increasing, and even the most tolerable of all taxes, when properly understood, since it is then mingled with the act of consumption itself.
But should we conclude from this that all is well with the current situation, or at least that our ills are irremediable? I do not think so. On the contrary, I think that the time has come to subject indirect taxation, still in its infancy, to a revolution similar to that which the land register and equalization have brought to taxes on land.
I in no sense aspire here to the formulation of an entire system of indirect taxes, since this would require knowledge and experience, which I am far from possessing. However, I hope that you will not find it out of place for me to lay down a few principles if only to give you a glimpse of the huge field awaiting your consideration.
I have said that indirect taxation was still in its infancy. Perhaps it will be felt that it is somewhat presumptuous to judge a work of Napoléon in this way. However, it must be realized that a tax system is always of necessity imperfect at its outset, since it is established under the influence of some urgent need. Is it to be imagined that if a need for funds gave rise to a land tax in a country in which this type of public revenue was unknown, it would be possible at the first try to achieve the perfection that has been achieved in France only at the cost of fifty years of work and a hundred million of expenditure? How therefore could indirect taxation, so complicated in nature, have achieved from its inception the final degree of perfection?
A rational law for a good system of consumer taxes would be this: make the tax as comprehensive as possible with regard to the number of objects it falls on and as moderate as possible with regard to its level.
The closer indirect taxation gets in practical terms to these two rules, the more it will fulfill the conditions that ought to be found in an institution of this kind:
It appears in this case that our financial system has been based on the diametrically opposing principle, namely the limitation of the number of objects taxed and the maintenance of the tax on a high level.
A choice has been made, from a thousand products, of two or three—salt, wine and spirits, and tobacco—and these have been heavily burdened.
Once again, it could scarcely have been otherwise. The head of state, desperate for money, has not been concerned with perfection or justice. He has been concerned with making funds flow into the treasury abundantly and easily, and since he had a force capable of overcoming all resistance, he had only to pick a product that was eminently taxable and inflict repeated blows on it.10
With regard to us, the public, wines and spirits must have been the first to come to his mind. They are universally used and promise abundant resources. They are difficult to transport and could hardly escape the attention of the tax authorities. They are produced by a scattered population, which is apathetic and inexperienced in public conflict, and their collection did not seem likely to subject the authorities to insurmountable resistance. The Decree dated 5th Ventôse11 in the Year XII was passed accordingly.
However, two opposing principles can produce only opposing consequences; it could not therefore be denied that indirect taxes such as those instituted by the Decree of Year XII12 are a perpetual violation of the rights and personal interests of citizens.
Indirect taxation is unjust simply by virtue of the exceptions it makes.
It offends equity because it raises as much from the wages of a workman as from the income of a millionaire.
Indirect taxation is bad economics because by raising too much revenue it limits consumption, affects production, and tends to restrict the very source that feeds it.
It is not good policy, since it encourages fraud and is incapable of either preventing or repressing fraud without encircling the activities of production with formalities and obstacles laid down in the most barbarous code that has ever dishonored the legislature of a great people.
If, therefore, men of goodwill and intelligence, the councils of the départements and districts, the Chambers of Commerce, the societies for agriculture, the committees of industrialists and wine producers, these lobby groups that fashion public opinion and draw up material for legislation, wish to give their work in this context a useful and practical direction, if they wish to achieve results that reconcile the collective requirements of our civilization and the interests of each industry and class of citizen, they should not have recourse to a puerile list of unattainable requirements and still less should they give way to sterile discouragement. They should work with perseverance toward the fertile principle we have just set out, with all its just and practical consequences.
The second cause of the decline in wine producing is the regime of city tolls. In the same way that indirect taxes hinder the general circulation of wine, city tolls drive the wine trade away from population centers, that is to say, its major markets of consumption. This is the second barrier placed by the spirit of taxation between the seller and the purchaser.
Except for the fact that city tolls are applied to specific locations, they are a branch of indirect taxation, and for this reason their proper basis in terms both of yield and of justice is the one we have just assigned to this kind of tax: generalization with regard to its area of operation, limitation with regard to the intensity of its application. In other words, such tolls must cover everything but must subject each product to a duty too small to be noticed. City tolls are all the more properly held to this principle of good administration and equity in that unlike combined duties they do not even have the trite excuse of being hard to collect. However, we see that the principle of taxing only certain key products has won in this instance and that highly populated towns base half, three quarters, and even all of their revenues on wines and spirits alone.
If the tariffs of city tolls were left to the sovereign decision of municipal councils, wine-producing départements would be able to retaliate against manufacturing départements. All the working groups of the population would then be seen to engage in an internal customs conflict, a huge turmoil, but one from which the common sense of the general public would probably sooner or later, by way of negotiation, cause the application of the principle we have invoked. It is unquestionably to avoid these domestic disorders that the central power has been given the authority to regulate the tariffs of city tolls, an authority that is an essential part of the franchises of towns and of which they have been deprived for the benefit of the state only on condition that the state is responsible for keeping an even balance between all the various interests.
What use has the state made of this excessive prerogative? If there is one product that the state ought to have protected and removed from municipal rapacity, that product is wine, which already provides the community with so many and such heavy tributes, and yet it is precisely wine that it allows to be overburdened. What is more, a law has set limits to these extortions; a vain barrier
For the crucible of decrees
Has evaporated the law.13
Would we be showing ourselves to be too demanding if we asked that the tariffs of city tolls be gradually reduced to a maximum not exceeding 10 percent of the value of the goods?
The protectionist regime is the third cause of our hardship, and perhaps the one that has most immediately caused our decline. It is therefore worth your particular attention, especially since it is currently the subject of a lively debate between all of the interests concerned, at the end of which debate your opinion and wishes cannot remain far apart.
Customs duties originated as a means of creating revenue for the state. They are an indirect tax, a giant national toll; and as long as they retain this characteristic it is an act of injustice and bad management to remove them from this rule governing any consumer taxes: universality and reasonableness of the tax.
I would go even further: as long as the customs service is a purely fiscal institution, it is in its interest to tax not only imports but also exports, under the twin consideration that the state is thus creating for itself a second source of revenue that costs nothing to collect and that is borne by foreign consumers.
However, it has to be said that it is no longer tax but protection that is the aim of our customs measures, and in order to judge them from this point of view, we would have to go into arguments and developments which have no place in this report. I will limit myself therefore to considerations that have a direct bearing on our subject.
The idea that dominates the protectionist system is this: if we succeed in creating a new form of industry in our country or in giving new impetus to an industry that already exists, we will be increasing the mass of work and consequently the wealth of the nation. Now, a simple way of causing a product to be made within is to prevent its coming in from outside. From this we get prohibitive or protectionist duties.
This system would be based on reason if it were in the power of a decree to add something to the wherewithal of production. But there is no decree in the world that can increase the number of hands or the fertility of the soil of the nation, add a cent to its capital or an additional ray to its sunshine. All that a law can do is to change the combinations of action that these means exercise over each other, substitute an artificial direction for the spontaneous direction of production, and force it to solicit the services of a miserly agent instead of a generous one: in a word, to divide it, scatter it, mislead it, and set it against greater obstacles but never to increase it.
Allow me a comparison. If I said to someone, “You have just one field and you grow cereals in it, part of which you sell to purchase flax and oil. Do you not see that you depend on two other farmers? Divide your field into three; divide your time, your advance payments, and your strength into three and grow olive trees, flax, and cereals together.” This man would probably have good arguments to put against me, but if I had authority over him I would add: “You do not know your own interests; I forbid you, under pain of paying me huge taxes, to purchase oil and flax from anyone whomsoever.” I would oblige this man to diversify his crops, but would I have increased his well-being? That is the prohibitionist regime. It is a bad pruning of the industrial tree, which, while adding nothing to its sap, diverts the tree from growing fruit in favor of suckers.
In this way, in each zone protectionism encourages the production of consumable value but discourages to the same degree tradable value, from which we must rigorously conclude—and this is what brings me back to the decline of wine producing in France—that protectionist tariffs cannot promote the production of certain objects we obtain from abroad without restricting the industries that supply us with the means of trade, that is to say, without causing hindrance and suffering to that production that harmonizes best with the climate, the soil, and the gift s of the inhabitants.
And, sirs, do not the facts once again energetically support the rigor of these deductions? What is happening on either side of the Channel? On the other side, with this nation that nature has endowed so profusely with the wherewithal and the ability needed for the development of manufacturing industry, it is precisely the population of the workshops that is devoured by destitution, misery, and starvation. Language has no expression to describe such hardship; goodwill is powerless to relieve it, and the laws are powerless to repress the disturbances to which it gives rise.
On this side of the Channel, a clear sky and generous sun should generate inexhaustible sources of wealth at every corner of the territory. Well then! It is exactly the wine-producing population that offers the vision of destitution, a sad mirror of the destitution that reigns in the workshops of Great Britain.
Doubtless the poverty of French vineyard owners is less widely trumpeted than that of English workmen. Its ravages are not felt by turbulent urban masses, and it is not proclaimed by the thousand outlets of the press morning and evening, but it is no less real. Travel through our sharecropping farms and you will see families in straitened circumstances, their food mere corn and water, people whose entire consumption does not exceed ten centimes per day per person. Half of this may be supplied to them, apparently as a loan but in effect as a gift from the owner. For this reason, the fate of the owner is relatively no better. Enter his house, one that is falling down, with furniture handed down from generation to generation bearing witness to the struggle that exists, an incessant and bitter struggle against the attractions of well-being and modern comforts that surround him and that he keeps out. Initially you will be tempted to see a ridiculous side to these constant privations, this ingenious parsimony, but take a closer look and you will soon see its sad and touching and, I might say, almost heroic side, for the thought that sustains him in this painful conflict is the ardent desire to keep his sons up to the level of his ancestors, to avoid descending from generation to generation down to the lowest ranks of the social scale, an intolerable suffering from which all his efforts will not spare him.
Why therefore are these people, who are so rich in iron and fire, so rich in capital and productive abilities, whose men are active, persevering, and as constant as the cogs of their machines, dying of want on piles of coal, iron, and fabric? Why are these other people with fertile land and generous sun succumbing to deprivation surrounded by their vines, silk, and cereals? Solely because an economic error incorporated in the protectionist regime has forbidden them to trade mutually in their various riches. Thus, this deplorable system, already ruined on theoretical grounds by economic science, also has ranged against it the terrible argument of the facts.
It is therefore not surprising that we are witnessing the start of a reaction in favor of liberal ideas.14 These ideas have arisen in the highest of our intelligent minds, and, before rallying the forces of public opinion, they have penetrated the sphere of power, in England with Huskisson and in France with M. Duchâtel.15
Doubtless, the government is generally in no great hurry to hasten the development of public freedoms. There is, however, one exception to be made in favor of free trade. It can never be through ill will but only through systematic error that those in power paralyze this freedom. They are only too aware that if the customs service were brought back to its original purpose—the creation of public revenue—the treasury would gain, the task of the government would be made easier because of its neutrality in the face of industrial rivalries, and peace between nations would have its most powerful guarantee in the trade relations between peoples.
We should therefore not be surprised by the trend toward favoring free trade that is becoming apparent in the high circles of governments in Prussia, Austria, Spain, England, Belgium, and France, in the guise of customs unions, trade, commercial treaties, etc., etc.16 These are all steps toward the holy alliance of peoples.
Unquestionably, one of the most significant official demonstrations of this trend is the treaty negotiated two years ago between France and England.17 At that time if the wine-producing industry had kept an eye on its genuine interests, it would have glimpsed, and through its share of influence hastened, a prosperous future of which it probably had no idea. In effect, at no time had such brilliant prospects been open to southern France. Not only was England lowering the duties she had imposed on our wines, but through an innovation of incalculable effect she was also replacing the fixed duty that was so disadvantageous to ordinary wines with a progressive duty which, while maintaining a reasonably high tax on luxury wine, reduced very considerably the duty on lower-quality wine. This meant that not only a few aristocratic cellars but also the farms, workshops, and cottages of Great Britain were open to our production. No longer was it just the Aï, Laffitte, and Sauterne18 that had the privilege of crossing the Channel; the entire wine-producing districts of France were suddenly faced with twenty million consumers. I will not try to calculate the effect of a revolution on this scale and its influence on our vineyards, merchant navy, and trading towns, but I do not think anyone can doubt that, under the sway of this treaty, production, revenue, and investment in land in our département would have increased rapidly and prodigiously.
From another point of view, the principle of a progressive rate of duty was a fine victory and a step toward the general adoption of an ad valorem tax, the only just and equitable system that conforms to the true principles of science. A uniform duty is by nature aristocratic; it allows for the maintenance of a few relationships only, and only between high-born producers and consumers. A progressive duty based on value would bring the popular masses of all nations into relations of common interest.
However, France could not lay claim to such advantages without opening its market to some of the products of English industry. The treaty was likely, therefore, to be resisted by manufacturers. This was not slow to manifest itself in a clever, persevering, and desperate way. The producers of coal, iron, and fabric made their grievances plain and did not limit themselves to passive opposition. Associations and committees were organized within each industry; permanent delegates were given the mission of winning acceptance for special interests by ministries and chambers. Abundant and regular subscriptions assured the support of the most widely distributed newspapers to this cause and, through their pages, gained the sympathy of public opinion, which was misled. It was not enough to cause the treaty to fail to be concluded temporarily; it had to be made impossible, even at the risk of a general conflagration, and to this end the patriotic pride that is such a sensitive fiber in French hearts had to be unceasingly inflamed. Since that time, we have seen these groups stir up, with devilish Machiavellianism, all the long-dormant jealousies of the nation and finally succeed in sabotaging all the negotiations started with England.
A short time afterward, the governments of France and Belgium developed the idea of merging the economic interests of the two nations.19 Once again this was a source of hope for the industries of the south and a source of alarm for the manufacturing monopoly. This time, circumstances were not favorable for the monopoly; working against it were the interest of the masses and the industries in trouble, as well as the influence of the government and every popular instinct, quick to see in the customs union the prelude to and guarantee of a closer alliance between these two children of the same fatherland. Journalists who had supported it with regard to the English question were of little succor in the Belgian case for fear of being discredited in the eyes of the general public. All they could do was either counter the customs union through insinuations made with a great deal of oratorical circumspection or retreat into shameful neutrality.
However, the neutrality of the newspapers in the most important question to be raised in France at the present time could not be maintained for very long. The monopoly had no time to lose; it needed a prompt and vigorous demonstration to bring about the failure of the customs union and continue to keep our south of France under their heel. This was the mission that an assembly of delegates, which became famous under the name of the deputy who was its president (M. Fulchiron), accomplished successfully.
What were the wine-producing interests doing in the meantime? Alas! They scarcely managed laboriously to produce a few shadows of association. When they should have gone into combat, committees were recruited with difficulty in the depths of a province. With no organization, resources, order, or mouthpiece, is it surprising that they were defeated for the second time?
But it would be foolish to lose heart. It is not in the power of a few fleeting intrigues to bury major social questions in this way and to reverse permanently the trends that are leading to the unity of human destinies. These questions may be restricted for a time, but they rise up again and these trends regain strength; at the time I am speaking to you, these questions have already been referred to our national assemblies by the speech from the throne.
Let us hope that this time the committees of wine producers will not be absent from the battlefield. Privilege has immense resources; it has delegates, finance, and supporters who have more or less declared themselves in the press. It is strong in the unity and swiftness of its movements. Let the cause of freedom be defended by the same means. It has truth and immense numbers in its favor; let it also acquire organization. Let committees rise up in all the départements and join with the central committee in Paris. Let them increase their financial and intellectual resources. May they finally help the central committee to carry out the difficult mission of being a powerful support for the government if it moves toward establishing free trade and an obstacle if it yields to the exactions of the special interests of a privileged industrial sector.
But is it part of your portfolio to give support to this task?
Well, sirs, is not your title the Société d’agriculture et commerce? Are you not summoned from all corners of the land as being the men most familiar with the knowledge relating to these two branches of public wealth? Do you not recognize that, since they are exhausted by disastrous measures, they no longer provide not just well-being but even subsistence for the population, and are you not allowed to take such dearly held interests under your wing and do what Chambers of Commerce are doing every day? Are you not a society to be taken seriously? Is the extent of your attributions legally limited to the inspection of some foreign plant, imaginary fertilizer, or common sector of speculative agronomy? And is it enough for a question to be serious for you to waive your credentials immediately?
I am convinced that the Société d’agriculture would not wish to reduce its influence to this degree. I have the honor of proposing that it adopt the following resolution:
The Société d’agriculture des Landes, taking note of the hardship afflicting the people of the Chalosse and Armagnac, who are particularly devoted to the cultivation of vines;
Acknowledging that the principal causes of this hardship are indirect taxation, city tolls, and the protectionist regime;
With regard to indirect taxation, the Society considers that the owners of vineyards, for as long as the state in order to meet its expenditures cannot forfeit its current revenues, cannot hope that a source of revenue as important as this be cut without replacing it with another, but nevertheless the Society still supports the vineyard owners’ just protestations against the regime of arbitrary exceptions in which this system of taxation has placed them. It does not consider it impossible that a means of reconciling the requirements of the treasury, the interest of the taxpayers, and the truth of the principle of the equality of charges might be found in an extension of this type of tax at a reasonable level and with a less-complicated method of collection.
It is through a similar deviation from the laws of equity that city tolls were authorized to base themselves almost exclusively on wines and spirits. By reserving the right to sanction the tariffs decided by vote in the communes, it appears that the aim of the state must have been to prevent city tolls, overwhelmed with the industrial hostility aroused, from becoming between provinces what the customs system is between nations, a perpetual ferment of discord. However, it is in that case difficult to explain how the state can have tolerated and seconded the coalition of the interests of all the towns against one single sector of production. All the abuses of city tolls would be prevented if the law restored their franchises to the communes and intervened in the arrangement of the tariffs only to set them at a general, uniform limit that would not be exceeded to the disadvantage of any product, without distinction.
The Society also attributes the decline of wine producing in the département of the Landes to the absolute stoppage of exports of wines and spirits through the port of Bayonne, an effect that the protectionist regime could not fail to produce. It has also gained the hope of a speedy improvement in our external outlets from the recent words of the king of the French.20
The Society does not pretend that the obstacles that the spirit of monopoly will put in the path of the accomplishment of this benefit do not exist. It will point out that by temporarily turning the action of tariffs to the advantage of a few industrial firms, France never intended to relinquish the right to use customs dues for a purely fiscal purpose; rather, far from this, France has always proclaimed that protection was by its very nature temporary. The time has come at last when private interests should be subjugated to the interests of consumers, industries suffering hardship, the maritime commerce of trading towns, and the overall interest of peace between nations of which trade is the surest guarantee.
The society expresses the wish that future treaties should, as far as possible, be founded on the principle of duties proportional to the value of the goods, which is the only true and fair system and the only one that is able to extend to all classes the benefits of international trade.
Foreseeing all the debates that are bound to take place between rival industries when the reform of the customs system takes place, the society believes it would be abandoning the cause that it has just taken under its patronage if it left the département of the Landes without the resources to take part in the combat which is being prepared.
Consequently, and in the absence of special committees, whose support it regrets not being able to lean upon in these circumstances, it has decided that the Commission of Wine Producers, which has already been nominated in the session of 17 April 1842, will continue its functions and will communicate with the committees for the Gironde and Paris.
Copies of this resolution will be sent through the good offices of the secretary of the Society to the minister for trade, to the Commissions of the chambers involved, and to the secretariat of the committees of wine producers.
Property and Law
[vol. 4, p. 275. “Propriété et loi.” Originally published in the 15 May 1848 issue of Le Journal des économistes.]
The confidence of my fellow citizens has given me the title of legislator.
I would certainly have declined this title if I had understood it as Rousseau did.
“He who dares undertake to provide institutions to a people,” he said, “must feel that he is capable, so to speak, of changing human nature, of transforming each individual who, of himself, is a perfect and solitary whole, into a part of a much greater whole from which this individual is to receive to a certain degree his life and being; of changing the physical constitution of man in order to strengthen it, etc., etc. If it is true that a great prince is a rare man, what is to be said of a great legislator? The first has only to follow the model that the second has put forward. The second is the inventor of the machine, while the first is only the workman who assembles it and makes it work.”1
Since Rousseau was convinced that the social state was a human invention, he had to place law and the legislator on a high pedestal. Between the legislator and the rest of the human race, he saw the distance or rather the abyss that separates the inventor from the inert matter of which the machine is made.
According to him, the law ought to transform people and create or not create property. According to me, society, people, and property existed before the laws, and, to limit myself to a particular question, I would say: It is not because there are laws that there is property, but it is because there is property that there are laws.
The opposition of these two systems is radical. The consequences that result from them are constantly divergent; let me therefore set out the question clearly.
I warn you first of all that I am taking the word property in a general sense and not in the restricted sense of landed property. I regret, and probably all economists regret with me, that this word involuntarily awakens in us the idea of possession of land. What I mean by property is the right the worker has over the value he has created through his work.
That having been said, I ask myself whether this right is a creation of the law or if it is not, on the contrary, prior to and higher than the law, whether it was necessary for the law to give birth to the right of property or whether, on the contrary, property was a fact and right that existed before the law and that had given rise to it? In the first case the mission of the legislator is to organize, amend, and even eliminate property if he thinks this right; in the second his powers are limited to guaranteeing it and ensuring that it is respected.
From the preamble to a draft constitution issued by one of the greatest thinkers of modern times, M. Lamennais, I quote:
The French people declare that they acknowledge rights and duties that predate and are greater than all the positive laws and that are independent of them.
These rights and duties, directly handed down by God, are summarized in the triple dogma expressed by these sacred words: equality, liberty, fraternity.
I put the question whether the rights of property are not among those that, very far from deriving from positive law, predate the law and are its raison d’être.
This is not, as might be thought, a slight or pointless question. It is a vast and fundamental one. The answer to it is of the highest concern to society, something you will be convinced of, I hope, once I have compared the origins and effects of the two opposing theoretical systems.
Economists consider that property, like the person, is a providential fact. The law does not give existence to one any more than to the other. Property is a necessary consequence of the constitution of man.
In the full sense of the word, man is born a property owner, since he is born with needs whose satisfaction is essential to life, with organs and faculties whose exercise is essential to the satisfaction of these needs. These faculties are merely an extension of the person, and property is just an extension of these faculties. To separate man from his faculties is to make him die; to separate man from the product of his faculties is once again to make him die.
There are political writers who are greatly preoccupied with finding out how God ought to have made man. For our part, we study man as God has made him. We ascertain that he cannot live without satisfying his needs, that he cannot provide for his needs without work, and that he cannot work if he is not certain of applying the fruits of his work to his needs.
This is why we consider that property is a divine institution and that its safety and protection are the object of human law.
It is so true that property predates the law that it is acknowledged even by primitive people who have no laws or at least no written laws. When a savage has devoted his work to building himself a hut, no one disputes his possession or ownership of it. Doubtless another savage who is stronger than he can drive him out but not without angering and alarming the entire tribe. It is actually this abuse of strength that gives rise to association, agreement, and the law, which places public force in the service of property. Therefore the law arises out of property, a far cry from property arising from law.
It can be said that the principle of property is even recognized by animals. The swallow tends her young family with care in the nest she has built with her own efforts.
Even plants live and thrive by assimilation, by appropriation. They appropriate substances, the elements of air and salts that are within their reach. You have only to interrupt this phenomenon for them to dry up and die.
In the same way, men live and develop through appropriation. Appropriation is a natural and providential phenomenon that is essential to life, and property is only appropriation that has become a right through work. When work has rendered assimilable and appropriable substances that were not so, I really do not see how it can be claimed that, in law, the phenomenon of appropriation has to be attained for the benefit of an individual other than he who has carried out the work.
It is in view of these primordial facts, necessary consequences of the very constitution of man, that the law intervenes. Since the aspiration toward life and development may induce a strong man to despoil a weak one, thus violating the rights of production, it has been agreed that the strength of all would be devoted to the prevention and repression of violence. The purpose of the law is therefore to ensure respect for property. It is not property that is conventional but law.
Let us now seek the origin of the opposing theoretical system.
All of our past constitutions proclaimed that property is sacred, which appears to assign to our coming together as a society the purpose of the free development either of individuals or of particular associations by means of work. This implies that property is a right that predates the law, law’s only objective being to guarantee property.
I wonder, however, whether this declaration has not been introduced into our charters instinctively, so to speak, by virtue of catchwords, of language spoken long ago, and above all I wonder whether it is at the root of all social convictions.
Now, if it is true, as people say, that literature is the expression of society, doubts may be raised in this connection, since it is certain that never have political writers, after having respectfully saluted the principle of property, so oft en called for the intervention of the law, not in order to have property respected but to amend, alter, transform, fine-tune, weigh down, and organize property, credit, and labor.
Now, this supposes that an absolute power over people and property is attributed to the law and consequently to the legislator.
This may distress us but it should not surprise us.
From where do we draw our ideas on these subjects, especially our notion of law? In Latin books and in Roman law.
I have not studied my Roman law, but it is enough for me to know that this is the source of our ideas to be able to assert that these ideas are erroneous. The Romans had to regard property as purely conventional, a product and an artificial creation of the written law. Obviously, the Romans could not, as political economy does, go back to the constitution of man and perceive the relationship and necessary links between these phenomena: needs, faculties, work, and property. This would have been a suicidal error. How could they, who lived by pillage, all their property being the fruit of plunder and their means of existence based on the labor of slaves, have brought into their legislation, without shaking the foundations of their society, the notion that the true title of property was produced by work? No, they could neither say this nor think it. They had to have recourse to the following empirical definition of property: jus utendi et abutendi,2 a definition that relates only to effects and not to causes or origins, since they were clearly obliged to keep the origins dark.
It is sad to think that the science of law in our country and in the nineteenth century is still at the level of ideas that the presence of slavery must have inspired in the classical world, but there is an explanation for this. The teaching of law is a monopoly in France, and monopoly rules out progress.
It is true that jurists do not mold the entire range of public opinion, but it has to be said that university and church education is a marvelous preparation for the young people of France to receive the erroneous notions of jurists on these subjects since, as though the better to make sure of this, for the ten finest years of our life, it plunges us all into this atmosphere of war and slavery that enveloped and permeated Roman society.
Let us not therefore be surprised to see reproducing itself in the eighteenth century this Roman idea that property is a mere convention and a legal institution, that far from law being a corollary of property, it is property that is a corollary of law. We know that according to Rousseau not only property but also society as a whole was the result of a contract, an invention originating in the mind of the legislator.
“Social order is a sacred right which forms the basis of all the others. However, this right does not come from nature. It is therefore based on conventions.”3
Thus, the right that is the basis of all the others is purely conventional. Therefore property, which is a subsequent right, is also conventional. It does not come from nature.
Robespierre was imbued with the ideas of Rousseau. From what the pupil had to say on property, we can recognize the theories and even the form of oratory of the master.
Citizens, I will first of all put before you a few articles which are necessary to complete your theory of property. Let no one be alarmed by the use of this word. You souls of mud, who esteem only gold, I do not wish to touch your treasures, however tainted their source. . . . For my part, I would prefer to be born in Fabricius’s hut than in Lucullus’s palace, etc., etc.4
I will draw to your attention here that when you analyze the notion of property, it is irrational and dangerous to make this word a synonym of opulence and in particular of ill-gotten opulence. Fabricius’s cottage is just as much an item of property as Lucullus’s palace. However, may I draw the reader’s attention to the following sentence, which sums up this entire outlook?
In defining liberty, this primary need of man, the most sacred of the rights he holds from nature, we have correctly stated that its limit lies in the rights of others. Why have you not applied this principle to property, which is a social institution, as though the eternal laws of nature were less inviolable than the conventions of mankind?
Following these introductory remarks, Robespierre establishes the principles in these terms:
Article 1: Property is the right of each citizen to enjoy and dispose of the portion of goods which is guaranteed to him by the law.
Article 2: The right to property is limited, like all others, by the obligation to respect the rights of others.5
In this way, Robespierre contrasts liberty and property. These are two rights with different origins: one comes from nature; the other is a social institution. The first is natural, the second conventional.
The common limit that Robespierre places on these two rights ought, it would seem, to have led him to think that they have the same source. Whether it is a question of liberty or property, respecting others’ rights is not to destroy or alter that right; it is to acknowledge and confirm it. It is precisely because property is a right that predates the law just as liberty does that both exist only on condition that they respect the rights of others, and the mission of the law is to ensure that this limit is respected, which means that it recognizes and maintains the very principle of it.
Be that as it may, it is certain that Robespierre, following Rousseau’s example, considered property to be a social institution, like a convention. In no way did he link it to its true justification, which lies in work. It is the right of disposal of the portion of goods guaranteed by the law, he said.
I have no need to remind you here that through Rousseau and Robespierre the Roman notion of property has been transmitted to all our so-called socialist schools. We know that the first volume by Louis Blanc on the Revolution6 is an extravagant eulogy to the Geneva philosopher and to the leader of the Convention.
Thus, this idea that the right of property is a social institution, that it is an invention of the legislator, a creation of the law, in other words, that it is unknown to man in a state of nature, this idea, say I, has been transmitted from the Romans to us through the teaching of law, classical studies, the political writers of the eighteenth century, the revolutionaries of’93, and the theorists of organization of today.7
Let us now move on to the consequences of the two theoretical systems that I have just contrasted beginning with the jurist view.
The first step is to open a limitless field to the imagination of utopian thinkers.
This is obvious. Once we establish the principle that property takes its existence from the law, there are as many possible means of organizing production as there are possible laws in the minds of dreamers. Once we establish the principle that the legislator is responsible for arranging, combining, and molding both people and property at will, there is no limit to the imaginable means by which people and property can be arranged, combined, and molded. Right now, there are certainly more than five hundred projects on the organization of production circulating in Paris, not counting an equal number of projects on the organization of credit. Doubtless these plans contradict one another, but they have in common the fact that they are based on this consideration: the law has created the right of property; the legislator is the absolute master in disposing of workers and the fruits of their work.
Among these projects, those that have attracted the greatest public attention are those by Fourier, Saint-Simon, Owen, Cabet, and Louis Blanc. However, it would be madness to think that these five methods of organization are the only ones possible. Their number is boundless. Every morning a new one may be hatched, more attractive than yesterday’s, and I leave you to imagine what would happen to the human race if, when one of these inventions was imposed on it, another more-specious one was suddenly revealed. The human race would be reduced to the choice of either changing its way of carrying on every morning or continuing forever down a path known to be erroneous, just because it had once set out on this path.
A second consequence is to arouse the thirst for power in all dreamers. Let us suppose that I have thought out a system for organizing work. Setting out my system and expecting people to adopt it if it is a good one would be to suppose that the prerogative of action lies with them. However, in the system that I am examining the principle of action lies with the legislator. “The legislator,” as Rousseau says, “must feel that he has the strength to transform human nature.”8 This being so, my ambition should be to become a legislator in order to impose the social order of my devising.
It is also clear that systems based on the idea that the right to property is a social institution all lead either to the most highly concentrated privilege or the most fundamental communism, depending on the good or bad intentions of the inventor. If he has sinister designs, he will make use of the law to enrich a few at the expense of all. If he obeys philanthropic impulses, he will want to equalize the level of well-being, and to do this he will think of stipulating that each person should legally share equally of the products created. It remains to be seen whether, under these conditions, it is possible to engage in production.
With regard to this, the Luxembourg Palace9 recently offered us an extraordinary sight. A few days after the February revolution, in the middle of the nineteenth century, did we not hear a man who was more than a minister, a member of the provisional government, a civil servant invested with unlimited revolutionary authority speak in the name of liberty and coldly ask whether, in distributing salaries, it was a good thing to take account of the strength, talent, activity, and skill of the worker, that is to say the wealth he produced, or whether it was not better to disregard these personal virtues and their beneficial effect and in future give everyone the same pay. The question amounts to this: will a meter of cloth sold by a lazy man be sold for the same price as two meters offered by someone who is industrious? And, something that beggars belief, this man has proclaimed that he preferred profits to be uniform, whatever the work offered for sale, and in his wisdom he has decided that although two equals two by nature, they would in future be by law only one.
That is what happens when we act on the basis that the law is stronger than nature.
His audience apparently grasped the fact that the very constitution of man rose up against such an arbitrary decision and that people would never allow one meter of cloth to claim the same remuneration as two meters. If this were to be so, the competition that he wished to abolish would be replaced by another form of competition a thousand times more deadly: everyone would compete to work the least and demonstrate the least activity since, by law, the reward would be always guaranteed and equal for all.
However, Citizen Blanc had foreseen the objection and, to prevent this sweet do-nothing, alas so natural to man when work is not rewarded, he had thought of setting up a post in each commune on which would be inscribed the names of those who were lazy. However, he did not say whether there would be inquisitors to uncover the sin of laziness, courts in which to judge it, and gendarmes to execute the sentence. It should be noted that utopians never concern themselves with the huge machine of government indispensable for putting their legal machinery in motion.
Since the delegates in the Luxembourg Palace were rather incredulous, Citizen Vidal, Citizen Blanc’s secretary, appeared to complete his master’s thought. Using Rousseau’s example, Citizen Vidal suggested nothing less than changing the nature of man and the laws of Providence.10
It has pleased Providence to place within each individual certain needs and their consequences and faculties and their consequences, thus creating personal interest, in other words, an instinct for preservation and a love of development that is the mainspring of the human race. M. Vidal will be changing all that. He has looked at the work of God and seen that it was not good. Consequently, starting from the principle that the law and the legislator can do anything, he will be abolishing personal interest by decree and replacing it by point of honor.
Men will no longer work to live, to provide for and raise their families, but to obey a point of honor, to avoid the hangman’s noose, as though this new motive were not still a personal interest of another kind.
M. Vidal constantly refers to what the question of honor encourages armies to do. But alas! Everything must be stated clearly, and if the wish is to regiment workers we should be told whether the military code, with its thirty transgressions carrying the death penalty, would become the labor code!
An even more striking effect of the disastrous principle which I am endeavoring to combat here is the uncertainty it always holds suspended, like the sword of Damocles, over production, capital, trade, and industry. This is so serious that I dare to claim the reader’s entire attention.
In a country like the United States, where the right of property is placed above the law, and where the sole mission of the forces of public order is to have this natural right respected, every individual may with total confidence devote his capital and strength to production. He has no need to fear that his plans and arrangements will be upset by the legislative power from one minute to the next.
But when on the contrary, on the principle that it is not work but the law that is the basis of property, all the creators of utopias are allowed to impose their arrangements generally and through the authority of decrees, who can fail to see that all the farsightedness and prudence that nature has implanted in men’s hearts are being turned against industrial progress?
Where is the bold speculator now who would dare to set up a factory or take on a business? Yesterday, it was decreed that people would be allowed to work for only a given number of hours.11 Now it is being decreed that the payment for this type of work will be fixed, and who can predict what will be decreed tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, and the days after that? Once the legislator has set himself at such an incommensurable distance from other men and in all conscience thinks that he can dispose of their time, work, transactions, everything that is property, what man in all the land will have the slightest knowledge of what constraints he and his profession will be placed under tomorrow by the law? And in such circumstances, who will be able or want to undertake anything?
I certainly do not deny that, among the innumerable systems to which this erroneous principle will give rise, many and perhaps the majority will be based on benevolent and generous intentions. But what is to be feared is the principle itself. The manifest aim of each individual arrangement is to equalize well-being. But the even more manifest effect of the principle on which these arrangements are based is to equalize deprivation; I cannot put this too plainly, it will reduce affluent families to the ranks of the poor and decimate poor families through illness and starvation.
I admit that I am afraid for the future of my country when I consider the gravity of the financial difficulties that this dangerous precedent will make even worse.
On 24 February, we found a budget that exceeds the proportions that France can reasonably achieve and what is more, according to the current minister of finance, with nearly a billion francs in debts that are for immediate repayment.
Because of this situation, already alarming enough, expenditure has steadily increased and revenue steadily decreased.
That is not all. Two types of promises have been tossed with a boundless prodigality to the general public. According to one lot, they are going to be given a countless mass of institutions that are beneficial but expensive. According to the second lot, all taxes will be reduced. In this way, on the one hand the numbers of day nurseries, asylums, primary schools, free secondary schools, workshops, and industrial pensions will be increased. The owners of slaves will be indemnified and the slaves themselves paid damages. The state will found credit institutions, lend workers their instruments of work, double the size of the army, reorganize the navy, etc., etc., and on the other hand it will abolish the salt tax, city tolls, and all the most unpopular contributions.
Certainly, whatever idea one has of the resources of France, it has at least to be admitted that such resources must increase if they are to meet twin aspirations that are so vast in scale and so contradictory in appearance.
But, in the midst of this extraordinary movement, which might be considered beyond human strength even when the entire energy of the country is being directed toward productive work, a cry can be heard: the right toproperty is a creation of the law. Consequently, the legislator can issue, at any time and in accordance with the theoretical systems with which he is imbued, decrees that overturn all the arrangements made by industry. Workers are not the owners of any object or thing of value because they have created these through their work but because the laws in effect today guarantee this. Tomorrow’s law may withdraw this guarantee, at which time property will no longer be legitimate.
I ask you, what is bound to happen? Capital and production are terrified; they can no longer count on the future. Under the influence of a doctrine like this, capital will hide, flee, and be reduced to nothing. And what will then happen to the workers, these very workers for whom you profess such a lively, sincere, but so unenlightened affection? Will they be better fed when farming production has ceased? Will they be better clothed when no one dares start up a factory? Will they be more fully occupied when capital has vanished?
And taxes, where will you obtain these? And the financial position, how will this be restored? How are you going to pay the army? How will you pay your debts? What money will there be to lend for investment in machinery? With what resources will you support the charitable institutions whose existence it is so easy to decree?
I hasten to abandon these somber considerations. It remains for me to examine the consequences of the opposite principle that prevails today, namely, the “economists’ principle,”12 the principle that attributes the right of property to labor [travail] and not to the law; the principle that says that property existed before the law; the sole mission of the law is to ensure respect for property wherever it is and wherever it is formed, in whatever manner in which the worker has created it, either in isolation or in association, provided that he respects the rights of others.
First, just as the jurists’ principle virtually implies slavery, that of the economists espouses liberty. Property, the right to enjoy the fruit of your labor, the right to work, develop yourself, and exercise your faculties as you please without the intervention of the state except in its protective role, that is liberty. And I still cannot understand why the many partisans of opposing persuasions allow the word liberty to remain on the republican flag. It is said that some of them have removed it and substituted the word solidarity. Such people are more frank and consistent. However, they should have put communism, not solidarity, since the solidarity of interests, like property, exists outside the law.
It also implies unity. We have already seen this. If the legislator creates the right to property, there are as many ways for property to exist as there may be errors in the minds of utopians, that is to say, an infinite number. If, on the other hand, the right to property is a providential fact that predates any human legislation and the aim of human legislation is to ensure its respect, there is no place for any other arrangements.
It is also security, and this is perfectly clear: if a people fully acknowledge that each person has to provide for his means of existence but also that each person has a right to the fruit of his work that predates and is higher than the law, also that human law has been necessary and has intervened only to guarantee to all the freedom to work and the property of the fruit of that work, it is clearly evident that a totally secure future opens out before human activity. It no longer has to fear that legislative power will through successive decrees stop its efforts, disrupt its arrangements, and bring to nothing its forecasts. Within the shelter of this security capital will spring up rapidly. The rapid increase in capital, for its part, is the sole reason for growth in the value of labor. The working classes will therefore become better off and will themselves contribute to providing new sources of capital. They will be increasingly capable of freeing themselves from wage-labor,13 becoming partners in the businesses, founding their own businesses, and recovering their dignity.
Last, the eternal principle that the state should not be a producer but should provide security for producers would inexorably lead to economy and order in public finances. The implication is that only this principle makes it possible to establish a good foundation and just distribution for taxes.
In fact, we should never forget that the state has no resources of its own. It has nothing and it owns nothing that it does not take from workers. Therefore, when it interferes in everything, it substitutes the grim and expensive activity of its agents for private activity. If, as happens in the United States, people came to realize with regard to this matter that the mission of the state is to provide a perfectly safe context for all, the state would be able to accomplish this mission with a few hundred million. This saving, combined with economic prosperity, would at last make it possible to establish a single direct tax which would bear only on actual property, of whatever kind.
But for this contingency we would have to wait until a few experiences, sometimes cruel ones, had somewhat diminished our faith in the state and increased our faith in humanity.
I will end with a few words on the Free Trade Association. It has oft en been reproached for this title. Its opponents have rejoiced, and its supporters have regretted, what both have considered to be a fault.
“Why cause alarm in this way?” say its partisans. “Why emblazon a principle on your flag? Why do you not limit yourselves to demanding those wise and prudent alterations to the customs tariff that time has made necessary and experience has shown to be opportune?”
Why? First, because, in my view at least, free trade has never been a matter of customs and tariffs but a question of right, justice, public order, and property. Second, because privilege, in whatever form it is manifested, implies a negation or scorn for property. Third, because state intervention to level out fortunes, increasing some shares at the expense of others, is communism, just as one drop of water is water just as the entire ocean is water.
Fourth, because I foresaw that once the principle of property has been undermined in one form, it would soon be attacked in a thousand different forms. Fifth, because I did not quit my solitude to pursue a partial amendment of the tariffs, which would have implied my adherence to the false notion that law predates property, but to fly to the aid of the opposite principle, compromised by protectionism. Finally, because I was convinced that the landowners and capitalists had themselves, with the tariff, sown the seed of the communism that terrifies them now, since they were demanding additional profits from the law at the expense of the working classes. I could see clearly that the working classes would not be slow to demand, in the name of equality, the benefits of the law applied to leveling out well-being, which is communism.
Let people read the first statement of principles issued by our Association, the program drawn up in a preparatory session on 10 May 1846; this will convince them of our central approach.
Trade is a natural right, like property. Every citizen who has created or acquired a product should have the option either of using it immediately or of selling it to someone anywhere in the world who is willing to give him what he wants in exchange. Depriving him of this faculty, when he is not using it for a purpose contrary to public order or morals and solely to satisfy the convenience of another citizen, is to justify plunder and violate the laws of justice.
It also violates the conditions of order, since what order can exist within a society in which each economic activity, with the assistance of the law and the powers of government, seeks success by oppressing all the others?
We placed this question so far above that of tariffs that we added the following:
The undersigned do not dispute society’s right to establish, on goods that cross the border, taxes intended to meet common expenditure, provided that they are determined by the needs of the treasury.
However, as soon as the tax loses its fiscal nature and is aimed at discouraging foreign products—to the detriment of the tax authorities themselves—in order to raise the price of a similar home product artificially and thus hold the community to ransom for the benefit of a particular class of people, it then becomes protection or rather plunder, and these are the ideas and practices that the Association is seeking to discredit and remove totally from our laws.
Of course, if we had pursued only the immediate modification of the tariffs, if we, as was claimed, had been the agents only of a few commercial interests, we would have taken care not to emblazon on our flag a word that implies a principle. Does anyone believe that I did not foresee the obstacles that this declaration of war against injustice would raise for us? Did I not know full well that by scheming, concealing our aim, and hiding half of our thought we would arrive more quickly at this or that partial victory? But how would these triumphs, which are fleeting anyway, have identified and safeguarded the great principle of property which we ourselves would have kept in the shadows and ruled out?
I repeat, we were asking for the abolition of the protectionist regime, not as a good government measure but as justice, as the achievement of freedom, as the rigorous consequence of a right that is higher than the law. We should not conceal behind its outward form that which we most desire.14
The time is coming when it will be recognized that we were right in not agreeing to insert a catch, a trap, a surprise, or an ambiguity in the title of our Association but rather a frank expression of an eternal principle of order and justice, since only principles have power. They alone are the flame of intelligent minds or the rallying point for misguided convictions.
Recently, a universal shiver of terror has run through the entire territory of France. At the single word communism, every soul has become alarmed. Seeing the strangest systems appear in broad daylight and almost officially, and subversive decrees issued in succession, which may be followed by even more subversive ones, everyone has asked himself where we are all going. Capital has become terrified, credit has fled, work has been suspended, and the saw and hammer have been stopped in mid task as though a disastrous and universal electric current had suddenly paralyzed both mind and arm. Why? Because the principle of property, whose essence has already been compromised by the protectionist regime, has suffered further violent shocks as a consequence of the first. Because the intervention of the law with regard to industry and as a way of adjusting values and redistributing wealth, an intervention of which the protectionist regime was the first manifestation, is threatening to reveal itself in a thousand known or unknown forms. Yes, I say it loud and clear; it is the landowners, those who are considered to be property owners par excellence, who have undermined the principle of property, because they have called upon the law to give their lands and products an artificial value. It is the capitalists who have suggested the idea of leveling out wealth by law. Protectionism was the forerunner of communism; I will go even further, it was its first manifestation. For what are the suffering classes asking for now? Nothing other than what the capitalists and landowners have asked for and obtained. They are asking for the intervention of the law to balance, adjust, equalize wealth. What the capitalists and landowners have done by means of customs, the poor want to do by way of other institutions, but the principle is always the same: to take from some people on the basis of legislation to give the proceeds to others, and certainly, since it is you, property owners and capitalists, who have had this disastrous principle accepted, you should not complain if those more unfortunate than you claim the benefit. They have at least a right to it that you did not.15
But at last our eyes are being opened, and we see toward what abyss this initial blow against the essential conditions of public safety is driving us. Is this not a terrible lesson, clear proof of the chain of cause and effect through which at long last the justice of providential retribution is appearing, when we now see the rich terrified out of their wits by the invasion of a false doctrine whose iniquitous foundations they themselves laid and whose consequences they thought they could peacefully turn to their own profit? Yes, protectionists, you have been the promoters of communism. Yes, landowners, you have destroyed in people’s minds the true concept of property. It is political economy that disseminates this concept; and you have proscribed political economy because, in the name of the right to property, it opposed your unjust privileges.16 And when they have seized power, what has also been the first thought of these modern schools of thought that so terrify you? It is to eliminate political economy, since economic science is a constant protestation against the legal leveling out that you have sought and others are seeking today, following your example. You have asked the law for things that are far and away beyond what may be demanded of the law. You have asked it not for security (which would have been your right) but for added value on what belongs to you, which could not be given to you without damaging the rights of others. Now the folly of your claims has become universal folly. And if you wish to stave off the storm that threatens to engulf you, you have just one means left. Acknowledge your mistake; renounce your privileges; restrict the law to its own powers and limit the legislator to his role. You have abandoned us and you have attacked us, probably because you did not understand us. At the sight of the abyss you have opened up with your own hands, make haste to come over to our side and adopt our propaganda in favor of the right to property by, I repeat, giving this word its widest meaning, including in it both the faculties of man and all that they are able to produce, whether in production or trade!
The doctrine that we are defending arouses a certain mistrust because of its extreme simplicity; it limits itself to asking the law for security for all. People find it hard to believe that the mechanics of government can be reduced to these proportions. What is more, since this doctrine encloses the law within the limits of universal justice, some reproach it for excluding fraternity. Political economy does not accept this accusation. That will be the subject of another article.
Justice and Fraternity1
[vol. 4, p. 298. “Justice et fraternité.” Originally published in the 15 June 1848 issue of Le Journal des économistes.]
On a great many points the Economists2 are in opposition to a number of schools of socialism, which claim to be more advanced and which are, I readily agree, more active and popular. Our adversaries (I do not wish to call them detractors) are the communists; the followers of Fourier and Owen; MM Cabet, Louis Blanc, Proudhon, and Pierre Leroux; and many others.
What is very strange is that these schools differ among themselves at least as much as they differ from us. It is therefore necessary (1) that they admit a common principle that we do not admit and (2) that this principle lends itself to the infinite diversity among them that we observe.
I believe that what radically divides us is this:
Political economy reaches the conclusion that only universal justice should be demanded of the law.
Socialism, in its various branches and through applications whose number is of course unlimited, demands in addition that the law should put into practice the dogma of fraternity.
Well, what is the result? Following Rousseau, socialism accepts that the entire social order is encompassed by the law. We know that Rousseau based society on a contract. On the very first page of his book on the Revolution,3 Louis Blanc says: “The principle of fraternity is that which, viewing the members of the extended family as interdependent, at some point tends to organize various forms of society, the work of man, on the model of the human body, the work of God.”4
Starting from this point, that society is the work of man, the work of the law, socialists are inevitably led to the conclusion that nothing exists in society that has not been ordered and arranged in advance by the legislator.
Therefore, seeing that political economy limits itself to demanding from the law justice everywhere and for all, that is, universal justice, they have concluded that it did not acknowledge fraternity in social relationships.
The reasoning for this is strict. “Since society is contained in law,” they say, “and since you ask the law only for justice, you are therefore excluding fraternity from the law and consequently from society.”
From this have come the imputations of rigidity, coldness, hardness, and lack of feeling that have been heaped on economic science and those who profess it.
But is the leading premise admissible? Is it true that all of society is encompassed in the law? It can be seen immediately that if it is not, then all these imputations collapse.
Now! To say that positive law, which always acts with authority, through constraint, resting on the force of coercion, with the bayonet and dungeon as sanctions and ending with some laid-down penalty; to say that law, which cannot decree affection, friendship, love, self-denial, selflessness, or sacrifice therefore cannot decree that which epitomizes them, namely fraternity: is this to wipe out or deny these noble attributes of our nature? Certainly not; it is to say only that society is wider than the law; that a number of acts take place and a host of feelings are stirring outside and above the law.
For my part, in the name of science, I protest with all my strength at this wretched interpretation, according to which, because we acknowledge that the law has limits, we are accused of denying everything that is outside these limits. Ah! Whether people believe or not, we too salute with ardor the word fraternity which came down from the peak of the sacred mountain eighteen centuries ago and is emblazoned forever on our republican flag. We too wish to see individuals, families, and nations come together, help one another, and come to each other’s assistance in the difficult journey through mortal life. We too feel our hearts beat faster and our tears flow at the recounting of generous acts, whether they shine in the lives of simple citizens or bring together and mingle different classes and especially when they precipitate predestined peoples to occupy pioneering positions in progress and civilization.
And will we be reduced to talking about ourselves? Well, then! Let our actions be scrutinized. Certainly, we are very willing to admit that the host of political writers, who these days wish to stifle everything, including the sentiment of personal self-interest, in people’s hearts and who show themselves to be so merciless toward what they call individualism, whose mouths are so incessantly filled with words like selflessness, sacrifice, and fraternity, exclusively adhere to the sublime motives they advise others to observe, that they give examples as well as advice and are careful to align their conduct with their doctrine. We are very pleased to take their word for it that they are full of disinterestedness and charity, but finally we should be allowed to say that from this point of view we are not afraid of comparison.
Each one of these Deciuses5 has a plan that intends to achieve the happiness of humanity, and all appear to say that if we oppose them it is because we fear either for our wealth or for other social advantages. No, we oppose them because we hold their ideas to be false and their projects to be as puerile as they are disastrous. Because if it were proved to us that it is possible to bring down happiness on earth permanently through an artificial organization or by decreeing fraternity, there are those among us who, although they are economists, would joyfully sign such a decree with their last drop of blood.
However, it has not been proved to us that fraternity can be imposed. Whenever and wherever it occurs, it arouses such lively sympathy in us because it acts outside any legal constraint. Fraternity is either spontaneous or it does not exist. To decree it is to annihilate it. The law may indeed oblige men to remain just; in vain will it endeavor to oblige them to be devoted to others.
It is not I, incidentally, who have invented this distinction. As I said just now, eighteen centuries ago these words were uttered by the divine founder of our religion:
The law says: Do not unto others as you would not have them do unto you.
And I say to you: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
I believe that these words set the limits that divide justice from fraternity. I believe that they also trace the demarcation line, one that I will not say is absolute and impassable but theoretical and rational, between the circumscribed field of the law and the limitless region of human spontaneity.
When a large number of families, all of which in order to live, develop, and improve themselves need to work either in isolation or in association, pool part of their strengths, what can they demand of this common strength other than the protection of all the individuals, all their work, all their property, all their rights and interests? Is this anything other than universal justice? Obviously the rights of each person are limited by the absolutely identical rights of all the others. The law cannot therefore do anything other than to recognize this limit and see that it is respected. If it allowed some people to infringe it, this would be to the detriment of some of the others. The law would be unjust. It would be even more unjust if, instead of tolerating this infringement, it ordered it.
Let us take property, for example. The principle is that what each person achieves through his work belongs to him, whether this work is comparatively more or less clever, persevering, or apposite and consequently more or less productive. If two workers wish to combine their strengths in order to share the product in accordance with agreed proportions or exchange their products with each other, or if one wishes to make the other a loan or a gift, what does the law have to do with this? Nothing, I think, other than require the fulfilling of agreements and prevent or punish misrepresentation, violence, or fraud.
Does this mean that the law will forbid acts of selflessness and generosity? Who could even think this? But will it go so far as to order them? This is precisely the point that separates economists from socialists.
If the socialists mean that, in extraordinary circumstances and emergencies, the state has to store up a few resources, assist in certain misfortunes, and smooth over certain transitions, for God’s sake, we would agree. This has been done and we would like it done better; however, there is a point along this path that should not be exceeded, the point at which governmental foresight destroys individual foresight by taking its place. It is perfectly clear that organized charity would, in such a case, do much more permanent harm than temporary good.
But we are not dealing here with exceptional measures. What we are investigating is this: is the mission of the law, viewed from a general and theoretical position, to determine the limits of preexisting mutual rights and see that they are respected, or to provide happiness to people directly by provoking acts of selflessness, self-denial, and mutual sacrifice?
What strikes me in this last theoretical viewpoint (and it is to this issue that I will be frequently returning in this hastily written article) is the uncertainty that it causes to hover over human activity and its results, the unknown before which it places society, an unknown whose nature is to paralyze all of its strength.
We know what justice is and where it is. It is a fixed and immovable point. Let the law take it as its guide, and everyone knows what is expected of him and acts accordingly.
But what is the fixed point of fraternity? What are its limits? What form does it take? Obviously it is infinite. Fraternity, in sum, consists in making a sacrifice for another, working for another. When it is free, spontaneous, and voluntary I can understand it and I applaud it. My admiration for sacrifice is all the greater where it is total. But when this principle, that fraternity will be imposed by law, is propounded within society, that is to say in good French, that the distribution of the fruits of work will be made through legislation, with no regard for the rights of the work itself, who knows to what extent this principle will operate, what form a caprice of the legislator will give it and in what institutions a decree will bring it into existence from one day to the next? Well, I ask whether society can continue to exist in these conditions.
Note that sacrifice, by its very nature, is not, like justice, something that has a limit. It can extend from the gift of a small coin thrown into a beggar’s plate to the gift of life, usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis.6 The Gospels, which taught fraternity to men, explained it through its counsels. It tells us: “When someone strikes you on the right cheek, offer the left cheek. If someone wants to take your jacket give him your coat as well.”7 It went further than just explaining fraternity to us; it has given us the most complete, touching, and sublime example of it on the summit of Golgotha.
Well then! Will it be said that legislation has to push the achievement of the dogma of fraternity through administrative measures to this point? Or will it stop somewhere along the way? But to what extent will it stop and in accordance with what rule? Today, this will depend on one vote, tomorrow on another.
The same uncertainties hover over the form. It is a question of imposing sacrifices on some for the benefit of all or on all for the benefit of some. Who can tell me how the law will deal with this? For it cannot be denied that the number of formulae for fraternity is infinite. Not a day goes past when five or six appeals do not reach me through the post and all of them, please note, are completely different. Truly, is it not folly to believe that a nation can experience a degree of moral tranquillity and material prosperity when the principle is admitted that, from one day to the next, the legislator can toss the nation in its entirety into the one of the hundred thousand molds of fraternity that has gained its favor momentarily?
May I be allowed to contrast the most striking consequences of the economic and socialist systems?
First of all, let us imagine a nation that adopts justice, universal justice, as the basis for its legislation.
Let us suppose that its citizens tell their government: “We will take responsibility for our own lives. We will take charge of our work, our transactions, our education, our progress, and our religion. For your part, your sole mission will be to contain us within the limits of our rights in all respects.”
In truth, we have tried so many things that I would like the whim to take hold of my country, or any country around the globe, to try this at least. Certainly, it cannot be denied that the mechanics are of amazing simplicity. Each individual will exercise all of his rights as he sees fit, provided that he does not infringe the rights of others. The test would be all the more interesting if, in point of fact, the peoples that came the closest to each other under this system exceeded all the others in security, prosperity, equality, and dignity. Yes, if ten years of life were left to me, I would willingly give nine of them to witness for a year an experiment of this nature in my country. For here, it seems to me, is what I would be fortunate enough to witness.
In the first place, each individual would be certain of his future as far as this could be affected by the law. As I have pointed out, literal justice is something that is so constraining that legislation that had only this in view would be almost immutable. It could be changed only with regard to the means of achieving a single aim ever more closely: to ensure that people and their rights were respected. Thus each person could undertake all sorts of honest enterprises without fear or uncertainty. All careers would be open to all; each person would be free to exercise his faculties freely, according to his self-interest, liking, aptitude, or circumstances. There would be no privileges or monopoly, nor restrictions of any sort.
Next, since all the forces of government would be applied to preventing and redressing willful misrepresentations, frauds, misdemeanors, crimes, and violence, it is to be believed that government forces would achieve these all the more since they would not be dispersed as they are today over a host of objects that are foreign to their essential prerogatives. Our opponents themselves will not deny that preventing and eliminating injustice is the principal mission of the state. Why then is it that the valuable art of prevention and elimination has made so little progress in our country? It is because the state neglects it in favor of the thousand other functions for which it has been made responsible. This is why security is far from being the distinctive characteristic of French society. It would be total under the regime which I am for the moment analyzing: security in the future, since no utopia could impose itself by means of government power; security in the present, since this power would be exclusively devoted to combating and abolishing injustice.
I must at this point say something about the consequences that security engenders. First of all, property will be totally guaranteed in its variety of forms: land and movable assets; industrial, intellectual, and manual property. It is now protected from attack by wrongdoers and, what is more, from attack by the law. Whatever the nature of the services rendered by workers to society or between themselves, or traded externally, these services will always have their natural value. This value will still be much affected by events, but at least it can never be affected by the whims of the law or the needs of taxation, intrigues, claims, or parliamentary entanglements. The price of things and work will thus suffer minimally from fluctuations, and when all of these conditions obtain simultaneously it would be impossible for industry not to develop, wealth not to increase, or capital not to accumulate with prodigious rapidity.
Now, when capital increases, its uses compete among themselves; its remuneration decreases, or in other words interest rates fall. They bear less and less on the price of products. The share of capital in the national product decreases continuously. This factor of production, now being more widely distributed, comes within the reach of a greater number of men. The price of consumer goods is relieved of the whole part no longer set aside for capital; things become cheaper and this is an essential and prime condition for the liberating of the working classes.8
At the same time and for the same reason (the rapid accumulation of capital), earnings will of necessity rise. Capital, in fact, yields absolutely nothing if it is not put to use. The larger this source of earnings is and the more it is put to use in relation to a given number of workers, the more earnings will rise.
In this way, the necessary result of this clear-cut regime of strict justice, and consequently of freedom and security, is to raise the suffering classes in two ways, first of all by making life cheaper and second by raising the level of earnings.
It is impossible for the fate of workers to be naturally and doubly improved without their moral condition being elevated and purified. We are therefore proceeding along the path of equality. I am not talking only about equality before the law, which is obviously implied since it excludes any form of injustice, but actual equality, both physical and moral, that results from the fact that the remuneration of labor increases in the same proportion as the income from capital decreases.
If we cast an eye on the relationships of this people with other nations, we will see that they all favor peace. Arming itself against any form of aggression is its sole policy. It does not threaten nor is it threatened. It has no diplomatic service and still less any armed diplomatic force. Since by virtue of the principle of universal justice no citizen is able to call upon the law in his own self-interest to intervene to prevent another citizen from buying or selling abroad, the commercial relationships enjoyed by these people will be free and extensive. No one will argue that such relationships are not a contributory factor to maintaining peace. They are a genuine and valuable system of defense, which will make arsenals, fortresses, navies, and standing armies almost pointless. Thus, all the forces of this people will be directed toward productive work, an additional cause of an increase in capital with all its consequences.
It is easy to see that within this people, the government has been reduced to very slender proportions and the wheels of administration to their simplest form. What does this mean? Giving government the sole mission of maintaining justice between the citizens. Well, this can be done at little cost, and even in France today it costs only twenty-six million. Therefore this nation will to all intents and purposes not pay any taxes. It is even certain that civilization and progress will tend to make the government ever more simple and economic, since the more justice results from sound social habits, the more it will be apposite to reduce the force organized to impose it.
When a nation is crushed by taxes, nothing is more difficult, and I might even say impossible, than to distribute them equitably. Statisticians and financiers no longer aspire to do so. However, there is something that is even more impossible, and that is to restrict the taxes to the rich. The state can have a great deal of money only by draining everybody’s resources, especially those of the masses. But in the simple regime to which I am devoting this humble argument, a regime that requires only a few tens of millions, nothing is easier than an equitable distribution. A single contribution, proportional to the property realized, raised in the family and at no cost within municipal councils, will be enough. There will be no more of the tenacious tax system or voracious bureaucracy that are the dank moss and vermin of the social body, no more of the indirect contributions, the money snatched by force or guile, the tax traps set on all the paths of work, the harassments that hurt us even more because of the freedoms they withdraw from us than because of the resources of which they deprive us.
Do I need to show that order would be the inevitable result of a regime like this? Where would disorder come from? Not from destitution; it would probably be unknown in the country at least as a chronic occurrence; and where temporary and accidental suffering did on occasion occur, no one would dream of turning against the state, the government, or the law. At present, when it is accepted in principle that the state has been set up to distribute wealth to everyone, it is natural that it should be asked to account for this commitment. To fulfill it, the state increases the number of taxes and causes more destitution than it relieves. New demands from the public, new taxes from the state, and we can go only from one revolution to the next. But if it was fully understood that the state should take from workers only what was absolutely essential to protect them from all forms of fraud and violence, I cannot see from what quarter disorder would arise.
There are some who will think that society would be very dismal and gloomy under such a simple regime that is so easy to set up. What would become of great political action? What use would statesmen be? Would not national representation itself, reduced to improving the civil and penal codes, cease to offer the spectacle of passionate debates and dramatic combats to the avid curiosity of the public?
This curious reservation comes from the idea that government and society are one and the same thing, an erroneous and disastrous idea if ever there was one. If they were really identical, simplifying government would in effect be to demean society.
But would the mere fact that government would limit itself strictly to maintaining justice take something away from the initiative of the citizens? Is their action even today restricted within limits set by the law? Would it not be possible for them, provided that they did not depart from the principles of justice, to form an infinite variety of alliances or associations of all kinds—religious, charitable, industrial, farming, and intellectual, indeed not excluding even political associations like those of the followers of Fourier and Cabet? On the contrary, is it not certain that a wealth of capital would encourage all these activities? The only thing would be that each person would join voluntarily at his own risk. What people want, through the intervention of the state, is to share in the risks and expenses of the public.
It will doubtless be said: “In this sort of regime, we can clearly see justice, economy, freedom, wealth, peace, order, and equality, but we do not see fraternity.”
Once again, does the human heart contain only what the legislator has put there? Was it necessary for fraternity to issue from the electoral urn for it to appear on earth? Does the law forbid you to practice charity because it imposes only justice on you? Do you believe that women would cease to be selfless and have a heart open to pity because selflessness and pity were not commanded by the Code? And which is the article of the Code that tears young girls from the embraces of their mothers and propels them toward the distressing asylums in which the hideous wounds of the body and even more hideous wounds of the mind are displayed? Which is the article of the Code that determines vocations to the priesthood? To which written law or government intervention are we to relate the founding of Christianity, the zeal of the apostles, the courage of the martyrs, the good deeds of Fénelon or Francis de Paule,9 the self-denial of so many men who in our time have risked their lives for the triumph of the popular cause.10
Every time we judge an act to be good and fine, we want it to become more widespread, and this is natural. However, when we see within society a force before which everything bows down, our first thought is to have it collude with us in decreeing and imposing the act in question. But what is important is to know whether we are not in this way depreciating both the nature of this force and the nature of the act which from being voluntary has been made obligatory. As far as I am concerned, I cannot get into my head that the law, which is a force, can usefully be employed for anything other than curbing wrongs and maintaining rights.
I have just described a nation in which this would be so. Let us now suppose that within this people the opinion became prevalent that the law would no longer be limited to imposing justice but would aim to impose fraternity as well.
What would happen? It will not take me long to tell you since the reader has only to redo the scenario by reversing the foregoing picture.
First of all, a terrible uncertainty and a deadly insecurity would hang over the entire domain of private activity since fraternity can take on thousands of unknown forms and consequently thousands of decrees that cannot be anticipated. A host of draft regulations will threaten established relationships each day. In the name of fraternity some will demand the uniformity of earnings, and at a stroke the working classes will be reduced to the condition of Indian castes. Skill, courage, assiduity, and intelligence will not be enough to redress their situation; the lead weight of the law will weigh down upon them. This world will be for them like Dante’s Inferno: “Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate chi!”11 In the name of fraternity, another will demand that work be reduced to ten, eight, six, or four hours, and production will grind to a halt. As there will be no more bread to assuage hunger or cloth to keep out the cold, a third inspiration will demand the missing bread and cloth be replaced by obligatory paper money. “Is it not with écus that we buy these things? Increasing the number of écus,” he will say, “will increase the amount of bread and cloth. Increasing the amount of paper will increase the number of écus. Let us do this.” A fourth will demand that competition be abolished, a fifth that personal self-interest be abolished. Someone else wants the state to provide work; another, education; and yet another, pensions for every citizen. Yet another person wants to bring down every king on this earth and decree universal war in the name of fraternity. I will stop there. It is perfectly clear that going down this road we will find an inexhaustible source of utopias. They will be rejected, people will say. This may be so, but it is possible that they will not, and this would be enough to create uncertainty, the greatest scourge of work.
Under this regime, it will be impossible to build up capital. It will become scarce, expensive, and concentrated. This means that earnings will decrease and that inequality will create an ever-deepening abyss between the classes.
Public finances will not be slow to descend into total confusion. How could it be otherwise when the state is responsible for supplying everything to everyone? The people will be crushed by taxes, and loan upon loan will be taken out. Once the present has been exhausted, the future will be devoured.
Finally, since it will be accepted in principle that the state is responsible for producing fraternity in favor of its citizens, the entire people will be seen to be transformed into supplicants. Landed property, agriculture, industry, commerce, the merchant navy, and industrial companies will all clamor to receive favors from the state. The treasury will literally be pillaged. Each individual will have good reason to prove that legal fraternity has to be seen from the following angle: the advantages for me and the burdens for others. Everyone will devote his efforts to extracting some shred of fraternal privilege from the legislature. Despite having the best founded claims, the suffering classes will not always have the most success; their numbers will constantly increase, however, which will lead to our being able to go nowhere save from one revolution to the next.
In a word, we will witness the progress of the entire sad spectacle of which a few modern societies are offering us a foretaste since they have adopted this disastrous idea of legal fraternity.
I have no need to say that this notion is rooted in generous sentiments and pure intentions. It is indeed because of this that it attracted the sympathy of the masses so quickly and also that it opens an abyss beneath our feet if it is wrong.
I add that I personally would be happy if someone proved to me that it is not wrong. Good heavens, if universal fraternity could be decreed and this decree effectively given the sanction of government; if, as Louis Blanc would wish it, the spring of personal self-interest could be made to disappear from this world through the vote; if, through legislation, that article in the program of La Démocratie pacifique titled No More Egoism could be achieved; and if we could organize for the state to give everything to everyone without receiving anything from anyone, then let all this be done. I would certainly vote for the decree and rejoice that humanity had achieved perfection and happiness via such a short and easy route.
But, it has to be said, such notions appear illusory and futile to the point of puerility. It is not surprising that they have awakened hopes in the classes that work, suffer, and have no time to reflect. But how can they mislead leading political writers?
At the sight of the sufferings that overwhelm many of our brothers, these political writers thought that they could be laid at the door of the freedom that is justice. They started with the idea that the system of freedom and strict justice had been tested legally and had failed. They concluded that the time had come to make legislation take a further step forward and that it ought, in a word, to become imbued with the principle of fraternity. This has given rise to the schools of the followers of Saint-Simon, Fourier, communism, and Owen; to attempts to organize work; to declarations that the state owes subsistence, well-being, and education to all its citizens; that it should be generous, charitable, involved in everything, and devoted to all; that its mission is to give milk to babies, educate young people, ensure work for the able-bodied and pensions for the weak; in a word, that it should intervene directly to alleviate all forms of suffering, satisfy and anticipate every need, supply capital to all enterprises, enlightenment to all minds, balm to every wound, asylums to all misfortunes, and even help end the sacrifice of French blood to all the oppressed around the world.
Once again, who would not wish to see all these benefits flow over the world from the law as though from an everlasting source? Who would not be happy to see the state assume responsibility for every trouble, every precaution, every responsibility, every duty, and every arduous and weighty burden that the impenetrable design of Providence has placed on humanity, and reserve for the individuals who make it up the attractive and easy side of things: the satisfactions, enjoyments, certainties, peace, rest, a present that is always assured and a future full of gaiety, wealth without care, a family without responsibility, credit without surety, and an existence without effort?
Certainly, we would all like that, if it were possible. But is it possible? That is the question. It is not easy to grasp what people mean by the state. I find, in the perpetual personification of the state, the strangest and most humiliating mystification of all. What in fact is this state that takes on itself all virtues, all duties, and all liberalities? From where does it draw these resources that we urge it to shower such bounty on individual people? Is it not from the individuals themselves? How then can these resources grow when they pass through the hands of a parasitic and voracious intermediary? It is not clear, on the contrary, that this system is such that it will absorb a great deal of useful effort and reduce the workers’ share of income by an equivalent amount? Do we not also see that workers will abandon to it, along with part of their well-being, part of their freedom?
From whatever point of view I consider human law, I cannot see that we can reasonably ask of it anything other than justice.
Take religion, for example. Certainly, it would be desirable for there to be just one belief, one faith, and one religion in the world, on condition that it was the true faith. But however desirable unity may be, diversity, that is to say research and discussion, is even better for as long as the infallible sign by which this true faith will be recognized does not shine out before men’s intelligence. The intervention of the state, even where it took fraternity as a pretext, would therefore be an oppression, an injustice if it claimed to be establishing unity, for who would guarantee that the state, unbeknown to itself perhaps, would not work to stifle truth in favor of error? Unity must result from the universal consent of freely held convictions and the natural attraction that truth exercises over the minds of men. All that we can therefore ask of the law is freedom for all forms of belief, whatever anarchy may result in the thinking world. For what does this anarchy prove? That unity is not at the origin but at the end of intellectual evolution. It is not the point of departure; it is a result. The law that would impose it would be unjust, and if justice does not necessarily imply fraternity, it will at least be agreed that fraternity excludes injustice.
The same is true of teaching. Who will not agree that, if we could reach consensus on the best form of teaching possible with regard to the subject and method, then a single methodology or one imposed by government would be preferable since, on this assumption, only error could be excluded by law. But for as long as this criterion has not been found, as long as the legislator or the minister of public education does not bear the irrefutable sign of infallibility on his forehead, the best chance for the true method to be discovered and absorb the others lies in diversity, tests, experience, and individual effort, all directed by the concern for success, in a word, freedom. The worst option is a uniform system of education by decree since, under this regime, error will be permanent, universal, and irremediable. Therefore, those who, spurred on by a sentiment of fraternity, demand that the law should direct and impose a system of education should be aware that they are running the risk that the law will direct and impose only error and that legal prohibition may attack truth by way of the intelligent minds who believe that they possess it. Well, I ask you, is it genuine fraternity that has recourse to force to impose or at least risk imposing error? Diversity is feared and stigmatized as anarchy, but it is the inevitable result of the very diversity of intelligent minds and convictions and besides, it tends to be reduced by discussion, study, and experience. In the meantime, by what right is one system valued above the others by law or political fiat? Here again, we find that this alleged fraternity, which invokes the law or legal constraint, is in opposition to justice.
I could make the same remarks with regard to the press, and in truth I find it hard to understand why those who demand a uniform education imposed by the state do not also demand the same thing for the press. The press is a form of education too. The press allows discussion because it lives by it. It therefore also contains diversity and anarchy. Why not, in accordance with these ideas, create a ministry of publicity and make it responsible for inspiring all the books and journals in France? Either the state is infallible, in which case we could not do better than to submit to it the entire domain of intelligent thought, or it is not, in which case it is no more rational to hand over education to it than to the press.
If I consider our relationships with foreigners, in this case, too, I see no rule except justice, so prudent, solid, and acceptable to all that it is capable of becoming a law. To submit these relationships to the principle of legal, obligatory fraternity is to decree perpetual and universal war, for it would become an obligation for us to place our forces and the blood and treasure of our citizens at the service of anyone who claimed them with regard to any cause that arouses the sympathy of the legislator. What a singular form of fraternity! A long time ago Cervantes personified its ridiculous vanity.
But it is above all with regard to work that the dogma of fraternity seems to me to be dangerous, where, contrary to the idea that is the essence of this sacred word, plans are made to incorporate it into our codes, accompanied by the penal dispositions that sanction any positive law.
Fraternity always implies the idea of selflessness and sacrifice, and because of this it arouses tears of admiration whenever it occurs. If it is said, as some socialists do say, that acts of fraternity are profitable to their author, there is no need to decree them; men do not need a law to induce them to make a profit. Besides, this point of view degrades and much tarnishes the notion of fraternity.
Let us therefore leave it its character, summed up in these words: a voluntary sacrifice inspired by fraternal sentiment.
If you make fraternity a legal prescription, whose acts are prescribed and made obligatory by the industrial code, what remains of this definition? Only one thing: sacrifice, but an involuntary sacrifice, one that is forced, determined by a fear of punishment. And in good faith, what is a sacrifice of this nature, imposed on one person for the benefit of another? Is this fraternity? No, it is injustice. The word must be spoken; it is legal plunder, the worst form of plunder, since it is systematic, permanent, and unavoidable.
What was Barbès doing when in the session on 15 May he introduced a tax of a billion in favor of the suffering classes? He was putting your principle into practice. This is so true that the proclamation by Sobrier, which comes to the same conclusion as the speech by Barbès, starts with this preamble: “The consideration that fraternity must no longer be an empty word but must be revealed through actions entails the following: capitalists, identified as such, will pay, etc.”
You who are protesting, what right have you to blame Barbès and So-brier? What have they done apart from being slightly more consistent than you and taking your own principle a little further?
I say that when this principle is introduced into legislation, even when it first makes just a timid appearance, it paralyzes capital and labor, for nothing guarantees that it will not develop further indefinitely. Do we need so many reasoned arguments to show that where men are no longer certain of enjoying the fruit of their work they no longer work or work less? You should be fully aware that insecurity is the major cause of paralysis of investment. It drives investment away and prevents it from building up, and then what happens to those very classes whose sufferings are allegedly being relieved? I sincerely think that this phenomenon alone is enough to make the most prosperous of nations descend rapidly to a level below that of Turkey.
The sacrifice imposed on some in favor of others through the operation of taxes obviously loses its fraternal character. Who therefore gains the merit for it? Is it the legislator? The only cost to him is casting a ball into an urn. Is it the tax collector? He obeys for fear of losing his job. Is it the taxpayer? He pays in self-defense. To whom therefore will be attributed the merit that selflessness implies. Where is the morality to be found?
Extralegal plunder arouses total aversion and turns against itself all the forces of public opinion, making them agree with the notions of justice. Legal plunder, on the other hand, is accomplished without disturbing consciences, which leads only to a weakening of a moral sense within a people.
With courage and prudence, we can avoid the plunder that is contrary to law. Nothing can protect us from legal plunder. If someone tries it, what dreadful sight is set before society? A plunderer armed by the law against a victim resisting the law.
When on the pretext of fraternity the law imposes mutual sacrifices on citizens, human nature does not for this reason lose its rights. Each person strives to contribute little to the sacrificial heap and to receive a great deal from it. However, in this struggle, are the most unfortunate the ones that gain most? Certainly not, those who gain the most are the most influential and the greatest schemers.
Are union, agreement, and harmony at least the fruit of fraternity as we have understood it? Doubtless, fraternity is the divine chain that in the long run will bind in unity all individuals, families, nations, and races. But this is on condition that it remains as it is, that is to say, the most free, spontaneous, voluntary, meritorious, and religious of sentiments. Its mask will not accomplish the prodigy, and it will be in vain that legal plunder adopts the name of fraternity with its features, formulae, and insignia. Legal plunder will always be just a principle of discord, confusion, unjust claims, terror, deprivation, inertia, and hatred.
A serious objection is made. We are told: “It is true that freedom and equality before the law constitute justice. But strict justice remains neutral between the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, the scholar and the ignorant, the owner and the proletarian, the fellow countryman and the foreigner. However, since self-interests are by nature antagonistic, leaving men their freedom and allowing only just laws to intervene between them is to sacrifice the poor, the weak, the ignorant, the proletarian, and the athlete who presents himself unarmed for the combat.”
“What could result from this freedom of production on which so much hope had been banked,” said M. Considérant, “from this celebrated principle of free competition, which was thought to be so strongly endowed with the characteristics of democratic organization? The only result would be collective enthrallment of the propertyless masses, who are also without manufactured weapons or the wherewithal of production or education, in a word, their general subservience to the class that is well endowed with power over production and well armed to boot. It is said that ‘the lists are open, each individual is called to combat and the conditions are the same for all combatants.’ Very well, only one thing has been forgotten, and that is that on this great battlefield some are educated, seasoned, equipped, and armed to the teeth, that they possess a major procurement system, equipment, ammunition, and weapons of war and occupy all the positions; whereas the others are deprived, naked, ignorant, and famished and, in order to scrape a daily living for themselves and their wives and children, are obliged to implore their opponents themselves to give them work of sorts and a meager wage.”12
What, are we comparing work with war? These arms that are being called capital, which consist in procurements of all sorts and which can never be employed for other than conquering rebellious nature, are being assimilated through a deplorable sophism with the bloody weapons which in combat men turn against one another! It is obvious that it is too easy to calumniate the industrial order by using the vocabulary of war to decry it.
The profound and irreconcilable disagreement on this point between socialists and economists consists in this: The socialists believe in the inherent antagonism of self-interests. The economists believe in natural harmony or rather in the necessary and progressive harmonization of self-interests. This sums it all up.
From the premise that self-interests are naturally antagonistic, socialists are led by the force of logic to seek an artificial organization for self-interests or even to stifle the sentiment of self-interest in the hearts of men if they can. This is what they tried to do in the Luxembourg Palace. However, although they are crazy enough, they are not strong enough and it goes without saying that, having ranted against individualism in their books, they sell their books and behave exactly like common mortals in ordinary daily life.
Well, if interests were naturally antagonistic, then justice, freedom, and equality before the law probably should be trampled underfoot. The world would need to be remade or, as they say, society would need to be reconstructed, according to one of the innumerable plans they are always inventing. Self-interest, an unruly principle, should be replaced by legal, imposed, involuntary, and obligatory selflessness, in a word, organized plunder, and since this new principle would arouse only infinite repugnance and resistance, attempts would first be made to have it accepted under the dishonest misnomer of fraternity, after which the law would be invoked, which would mean force.
But if Providence has not erred, if it has arranged things in such a way that personal interests under the law of justice naturally achieve perfectly harmonious agreements, if, as M. de Lamartine says, they arrive through freedom at a form of justice with which despotism could never supply them, if the equality of rights is the most certain and direct way to equality in fact, well then, all that we can ask of the law is to provide justice, freedom, and equality, just as all that we ask is the removal of obstacles so that the drops of water that make up the ocean find their own level.13
And that is the conclusion reached by political economy. It does not seek this conclusion, it finds it, but it is happy to find it since, in the end, is it not highly satisfactory for the spirit to see harmony in freedom where others are reduced to demanding it from despotism?
The words full of hatred with which socialists oft en address us are really very strange! What then! If by mischance we were mistaken, should they not deplore this? What are we saying? We say: After mature consideration, it has to be acknowledged that God has done well, so that the best conditions under which progress can occur are justice and freedom.
Socialists think we are mistaken; that is their right. But they should at least be sorry about this, for if our error is proved it implies that it is urgent to substitute the artificial for the natural, arbitrary systems for freedom, and contingent and human inventions for eternal and divine design.
Let us imagine that a chemistry professor comes and tells us: “The world is threatened with a major catastrophe; God has not taken sufficient precautions. I have analyzed the air escaping from human lungs and seen that it is no longer fit to breathe, so that, calculating the volume of the atmosphere, I can predict the day when it will be totally corrupted and when humanity will perish by consumption unless it adopts the artificial means of respiration that I have invented.”
Another professor comes forward and says: “No, humanity will not perish in this way. It is true that the air that is used for animal life is no longer fit for this use, but it is fit for plant life and that exhaled by plants is fit for humans to breathe. An incomplete study led people to believe that God made a mistake; more detailed research has shown that He included harmony in His work. Men can continue to breathe as nature intended.”
What would people have said if the first professor had covered the second with insults, saying: “You are a chemist with a heart that is hard, dry, and cold. You are preaching a dreadful laissez-faire; you do not like humanity, as is shown in your demonstrating the uselessness of my breathing apparatus”?
This encapsulates our entire quarrel with the socialists. Both our camps want harmony. They seek it through the countless theoretical systems they want imposed on people by law; we find it in the nature of people and things.
This would be the right place to demonstrate that self-interest leads to harmony, since this is the entire question, but to do this would require me to give a course in political economy and the reader will forgive me for not doing so right now.14 I will say only this: If political economy succeeds in recognizing the harmony of personal interests, it is because, unlike socialism, it does not stop at the immediate consequences of phenomena, but proceeds to their subsequent and final effects. That is its whole secret. The two schools differ exactly as the two chemists I have just mentioned do; one sees part of the picture and the other the whole. For example, when the socialists are prepared to take the trouble to follow the effects of competition right to the end, that is, right up to the consumer, instead of stopping at the producer, they will see that competition is the most powerful agent for equality and progress, whether it occurs inside the country or comes from abroad. And it is because political economy finds what constitutes harmony in this definitive effect that it says: In my field, there is a lot to learn and little to do. A lot to learn because the sequence of effects can be followed only with great application; little to do since the harmony of the entire phenomenon comes from the final effect.
I have had the opportunity of discussing this question with the eminent man that the revolution has raised to such great heights.15 I told him: As the law acts through constraint we can ask only justice of it. He thought that nations could also expect fraternity of it. Last August, he wrote to me: “If ever in a crisis I find myself at the helm of events, your idea will be half of my creed.” I sent him this reply: “The second half of your creed will stifle the first, since you cannot establish legal fraternity without establishing legal injustice.”16
I will end by saying to the socialists: If you believe that political economy rejects association, organization, and fraternity, you are mistaken.
Association! And do we not know that this is society itself in the constant throes of improvement?
Organization! And do we not know that it makes all the difference between a heap of heterogeneous elements and nature’s masterpieces?
Fraternity! And do we not know that this is to justice what impulses of the heart are to cold calculations of the mind?
We agree with you on this; we applaud your efforts to spread on the field of humanity the seed that will bear fruit in the future.
But we oppose you from the instant you call the law and taxes, that is to say, constraint and plunder, into play, since, apart from the fact that this recourse to force shows that you have more faith in yourselves than in the genius of humanity, this recourse is enough, in our view, to change the very nature and essence of the teaching that you are endeavoring to put into practice.17
Individualism and Fraternity
[vol. 7, p. 328. “Individualisme et fraternité.” Possibly June 1848. n.p.]
A systematic view of history and the destiny of mankind, which seems to me to be as erroneous as it is dangerous, has recently been produced.1
According to this system, the world is divided into three principles: authority, individualism, and fraternity.
Authority relates to the aristocratic eras, individualism to the reign of the bourgeoisie, and fraternity to the triumph of the people.
The first of these principles is above all incarnated in the pope. It leads to oppression by stifling personality.
The second, inaugurated by Luther, leads to oppression through anarchy.
The third, announced by the thinkers in La Montagne, has given birth to true freedom by shrouding men in the ties of harmonious association.
As the people have been the masters in only one country, France, and for a short period, in’93, we still know the theoretical value and practical attractions of fraternity only through the attempt so noisily made at it at that time. Unfortunately, union and love, personified in Robespierre, were only half able to stifle individualism, which reappeared the day after 9 Thermidor.2It still prevails.
What is individualism, then? The author of the work to which we are referring defines it as follows:
“The principle of individualism is that which, taking man out of society, makes him the sole judge of what surrounds him and of himself, gives him an exalted view of his rights without indicating his duties, abandons him to his own resources, and, with regard to all matters of government, proclaims the system of laissez-faire.”3
That is not all. Individualism, the driving force of the bourgeoisie, was bound to invade the three major branches of human activity: religion, politics, and industry. From this sprang three major individualist schools: the school of philosophy, with Voltaire as its leading light, which by demanding freedom of thought led us to a profound moral anarchy; the school of politics, founded by Montesquieu, which, instead of political freedom, brought us an oligarchy based on a property franchise; and the school of economists, represented by Turgot, which, instead of economic freedom, bequeathed us competition between rich and poor to the advantage of the rich.4
We see that up to now humanity has been very poorly inspired and that it has gone wrong at every turn. This has not, however, been through lack of warnings, since the principle of fraternity has always issued its protests and reservations through the voices of Jean Huss,5 Morelli, Mably, and Rousseau and through the efforts of Robespierre.
But what is fraternity? “The principle of fraternity is that which, considering the members of the extended family as being interdependent, tends to organize the various forms of society, the work of man, in line with the model of the human body, the work of God, and bases the power of government on persuasion and the voluntary acquiescence of the heart.6
This is M. Blanc’s system. What makes it dangerous in my view, apart from the brilliance with which it is set out, is that in it the true and the false are intermingled in proportions that are difficult to determine. I have no intention of studying it in all its symmetrical ramifications. In order to respect the requirements of this booklet, I will consider it principally from the point of view of political economy.
I must admit that when it is a question of setting out the principles which, in a given era, were the driving force of the social body, I would like them expressed in terms less vague than individualism and fraternity.
Individualism7 is a new word that has been simply substituted for egoism. It is an exaggeration of the concept of personality.
Man is essentially a sympathetic creature. The more his powers of sympathy are concentrated on himself, the more of an egoist he is. The more they embrace his fellow men, the more of a philanthropist he is.
Egoism8 is thus like all other vices, like all other prevarications; that is to say, it is as old as man himself. This can also be said of philanthropy. In all eras, under all regimes, and in all classes, there have been men who were hard, cold, self-centered, and who related everything to themselves, and others who were good, generous, humane, and selfless. I do not think that we can make one of these states of mind the basis of society any more than we can anger or gentleness, energy or weakness.
It is therefore impossible to accept that from a fixed date in history, for example, from the time of Luther, all the efforts of the human race have been systematically, and so to speak providentially, devoted to the triumph of individualism.
On what basis can it be held that an exaggerated sense of self was born in modern times? When ancient people pillaged and ravaged the world, reducing those they conquered to slavery, were they not acting under the influence of an egoism of the highest degree? If, in order to ensure victory, overcome resistance, and escape the frightful fate they reserved for those they called savages, alliances of warriors felt the need to join forces, if individuals were even disposed to make genuine sacrifices to this end, was egoism thereby any less egoism for being collective?
I would say the same thing with regard to domination by theological authority. Whether force or guile is used to achieve the servitude of men, whether their weakness or credulity is exploited, does not the very fact of unjust domination reveal a feeling of egoism in those who dominate? Did not Egyptian priests who imposed false beliefs on their fellow men in order to make themselves masters of their actions and even of their thought seek personal advantage through the most immoral means?
As nations became stronger they rejected plunder achieved by force. They progressed toward moral propriety and the production and economic freedom attending it, and yet some people profess to find in freedom of production the primal manifestation of selfishness!
But you who do not want production to be free must want it constrained, for there is no halfway house. Yes, there is, you say, association. This is to misunderstand words, for as long as association is voluntary, production remains free. It is not an abandonment of freedom to enter into agreements or voluntary associations with your fellow men.
As men became more enlightened, they reacted against superstition, false beliefs, and opinions that were imposed. And there you go again discovering in free inquiry a second sign of selfishness.
But you who do not accept either authority or free examination, what would you put in its place? Fraternity, you say. Will not fraternity put into my mind either totally preconceived ideas or ones it has itself elaborated?
So you do not want men to examine opinions critically! I can understand this intolerance in theologians. They are logically consistent. They say: Seek the truth in everything, traditus est mundus disputationibus eorum,9 when God has not revealed it. Where He has said: This is the truth, it would be absurd for you to want to examine it critically.
However, by what right do modern socialists refuse us the free inquiry they use so widely? They have just one means of curbing our minds and that is to claim to be inspired. A few of them have tried, but up to now they have not shown us their qualifications to be prophets.
Without calling into question their intentions, I say that at the basis of these doctrines there is the most irrational of all despotisms and consequently of all individualisms. What is more tyrannical than to want to regiment our work and minds, leaving aside, indeed not even invoking, any supernatural authority? It is not surprising that we end up seeing in Robespierre the archetype, the hero, and the apostle of fraternity.
If selfishness is not the exclusive motivation of a period in modern history, no more is it the principle that guides one class to the exclusion of all the others.
In moral sciences a certain symmetry in presentation is oft en taken for the truth. Let us be wary of superficial appearance.
This is how the notion that modern nations are made up of three classes—the aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, and the common people—has gained credibility. Therefore, it is concluded that there is the same antagonism between the two lower classes as between the two upper ones. The bourgeoisie, it is said, has overthrown the aristocracy and taken its place. With regard to the common people, it constitutes another form of aristocracy and will, in turn, be overthrown by it.
For my part, I see only two classes in society: conquerors who fall on a country, taking possession of the land, the wealth, and legislative and judiciary power; and a common people that has been overcome, that suffers, works, grows, breaks its chains, reconquers its rights, and governs itself more or less well, or very badly, for a long time, is taken in by a great many charlatans, is oft en betrayed by its own members, learns through experience, and gradually achieves equality through freedom and fraternity through equality.10
Each of these two classes obeys an indestructible sense of itself. But if this disposition deserves the name “selfishness,” it is certainly in the case of the conquering and dominating class.
It is true that within the common people there are men who are more or less rich in infinite variation. But the difference in wealth is not enough to make up two classes. As long as a man of the common people does not turn against the common people themselves to exploit them, as long as he owes his wealth only to work and an ordered and economic life, despite the few riches he acquires and the limited influence that these riches give him, he will remain a member of the common people and it is a misuse of terminology to claim that he has entered another class, an aristocratic class.
If this were so, see what the consequences would be. An honest artisan who works hard and plans for the future, who imposes severe privations on himself, who increases the number of his customers because of the confidence he inspires, who gives his son a rather fuller education than the one he received himself, would be on the way to joining the bourgeoisie. This is a man to be distrusted, a nascent aristocrat, an egoist.
If, on the contrary, he is lazy, dissipated, improvident, if he totally lacks the dynamism necessary for making a few savings, we can then be certain that he will remain one of the common people. He will adhere to the principle of fraternity.
And now, how will all these men retained in the ranks of the lowest of society through improvidence, through vice, and only too oft en, I admit, because of misfortune understand the principle of equality and fraternity? Who will be their defender, their idol, their apostle? Do I need to name him? . . .
Abandoning the theater of polemics, I will endeavor, as far as my strength and time allow, to consider egoistical individualism and fraternity from the point of view of political economy.
I will begin by declaring very frankly that the concept of the individual, of self-love, the instinct of self-preservation, the indestructible desire within man to develop himself, to increase the sphere of his action, increase his influence, his aspiration to happiness, in a word, individuality, appears to me to be the point of departure, the motive and universal dynamic to which Providence has entrusted the progress of humanity. It is absolutely in vain that this principle arouses hostility in modern socialists. Alas! Let them look into themselves; let them go deep into their consciences and they will rediscover this drive, just as we find gravity in all the molecules of matter. They may reproach Providence for having made man as he is and, as a pastime, seek to find out what would happen to society if the divinity, accepting them as counselors, changed his creatures to suit another design. These are dreams for distracting the imagination, but it is not on these that social sciences are founded.
There is no feeling that is so constantly active in man or so dynamic as the sense of self.
We can differ in the way we conceive happiness or seek it in wealth, power, and glory or the terror we inspire, in the responsiveness of our fellow men, in the satisfaction of vanity or the crown of election, but continue to seek it we do and we cannot stop ourselves from doing so.
From this it must be concluded that egoistic individualism, which is the sense of self taken in its unfavorable meaning, is as old as the concept itself, since there is not one of his qualities, above all the one most inherent in its nature, that man cannot abuse and has not abused through the ages. To claim that the sense of self has always been held within just limits, except since the time of Luther and among the bourgeoisie, can be considered only a form of wit.
I think that the contrary thesis, in any case a more consoling one, could with more reason be held, and here are my arguments.
It is a sad truth, but one born of experience, that men in general give full rein to the sense of self and consequently abuse it up to the point at which they can do so with impunity. I say in general, since I am far from claiming that the inspiration of conscience, natural benevolence, or religious prescriptions have not oft en been enough to prevent personality from degenerating into egoism. However, it can be stated that the general obstacle to the exaggerated development or abuse of the sense of self is not in us but outside us. It is in the other personalities who surround us and react when we upset them to the point of keeping us in check, if you will excuse the expression.
This having been said, the more a gathering of men finds itself surrounded by weak or credulous beings and the less it finds obstacles in them, the more the concept of personality has to grow stronger in them and break the bounds that reconcile it with the general good.
Thus we see the peoples in classical times desolated by war, slavery, superstition, and despotism, all manifestations of egoism in men stronger or more enlightened than their fellows. It is never through action on itself in obedience to the moral laws that the concept of personality is confined within its just limits. To restrict it to these, it has been necessary for force and enlightenment to become the common heritage of the masses; and it is just as necessary that individualism, when manifested through force, is brought to a halt by a superior force, and when manifested through deceit, perishes through lack of support from public credulity.
Perhaps it will be thought that the representation of personalities as in a state of virtually perpetual antagonism containable only by a balance of force and enlightenment constitutes a very gloomy doctrine. It would follow that, as soon as this balance is disturbed, as soon as a people or a class realizes that they are endowed with irresistible force or an intellectual superiority that might make other peoples or classes subservient to them, the sense of self is always ready to exceed its limits and degenerate into egoism and oppression.
It is not a question of knowing whether this doctrine is gloomy, but whether it is true and whether the constitution of man is not such that he has to win his independence and security by the development of his strength and intelligence. Life is a conflict. This has been true up to now, and we have no reason to believe that that will ever cease to be the case as long as man carries within his heart this sense of self that is so ready to exceed its limits.
The socialist schools endeavor to fill the world with hopes that we cannot prevent ourselves from considering to be illusory, precisely because they take no account, in their trivial theories, of this indelible disposition and the unchangeable nature that drives it, if it is not contained, toward its own exaggeration.
We search in vain in their mathematical systems of series and harmonies for the obstacle to the abuse of personality, for we will never find it. The socialists appear to us to be revolving ceaselessly in this vicious circle: if all men wish to be selfless, we have found social forms that will maintain fraternity and harmony between them.
For this reason, when they come to propose something which appears to be practical, we always see them dividing humanity into two parts: on the one hand, the state, the ruling power which they take to be infallible, impeccable, and free from any egoistic character; on the other, the people who no longer need plans for the future or any guarantees as to their security.
To carry out their plans, they are reduced to entrusting the ruling of the world to a power that is drawn, so to speak, from outside humanity. They invent a word: the state. They suppose that the state is a being that exists in itself, that possesses an inexhaustible amount of wealth independent from society’s wealth, and that by means of this wealth the state can provide work for everyone and ensure everyone’s existence. They take no heed of the fact that the state can only give back to society goods that it started off taking from it, and that it can actually give back only a part of these; nor furthermore, that the state is made up of men endowed with the sense of self, which in them just as in those being governed is inclined to degenerate into abuse; nor that one of the greatest temptations enticing one personality to offend others occurs when the man concerned is powerful and able to overcome resistance. In truth, although they have never expressed many views on this subject, the socialists probably hope that the state will be supported by institutions, by education, by foresight, and by close and severe supervision of the masses. However, if this is to be so, the masses have to be enlightened and farsighted, and the system of governance that I am examining tends precisely to destroy the foresight of the masses since it makes the state responsible for supplying all necessities, combating all obstacles, and providing for everyone.
But, people will say, if the sense of self is indestructible, if it has the disastrous tendency to degenerate into abuse, if the force that represses it is not within us but exterior to us, if it is contained within just limits only by the resistance and reaction of other selves, if the men who exercise power do not escape this law any more than those on whom power is exercised, so that society can be maintained in good order only by the constant vigilance of all its members over each other and in particular by those governed over those who govern, then radical antagonism is irremediable. We have no other safeguards against oppression than a sort of balance among all the egoisms that keep one another in check; and fraternity, the principle that is so comforting, whose very name touches and softens hearts, that is capable of realizing all the hopes of all men of goodwill, uniting men through the bonds of friendship, this principle, proclaimed eighteen centuries ago by a voice that almost all of humanity has held to be divine, would be banished forever from the world.
God forbid that this should be our thought. We have ascertained that the sense of individuality is a general human law, and we believe that this fact is beyond doubt.
It is now a matter of knowing whether the fully understood and constant interest of a man, a class, or a nation is radically opposed to the interest of another man, class, or nation. If this is so, it has to be stated with sorrow but truthfully that fraternity is just a dream, since it must not be expected that each person will sacrifice himself for others, and if this happened, we cannot see how humanity would gain, since the sacrifice of each one would be equivalent to the sacrifice of the entire human race; this would constitute universal misfortune.
But if, on the contrary, by studying the action that men exercise over one another, we discover that their general interests concur, that progress, morality, and the wealth of all are conditions for the progress, morality, and wealth of each individual, we will then understand how the concept of individuality is reconciled with that of fraternity.
There is one condition, however. It is that this agreement does not consist in a vain proclamation but is clearly, rigorously, and scientifically demonstrated.
When this happens, as this demonstration is better understood and inculcated in a greater number of intelligent minds, that is to say, as enlightenment and moral science progress, the principle of fraternity will extend further and further throughout the human race.
Well, this is the comforting demonstration that we think we can make.
First of all, what should we understand by the word fraternity?
Should we, as it is said, take this word literally? And does it imply that we should love everyone currently living on the surface of the globe as we love the brother who was conceived in the same womb and fed on the same milk and whose cradle, games, emotions, sufferings, and joys we have shared? Obviously this is not the meaning of the word that we should accept. No man could exist for more than a few minutes if each sorrow, each setback, or each death that occurred around the world had to arouse in him the same emotion as if it concerned his brother, and if the socialist gentlemen are adamant on this point (and they are very adamant . . . when it applies to others), they have to be told that nature is much less demanding. It is useless for us to beat our breasts or indulge in the affectation of words, so commonly seen these days; we will never, fortunately, be able to raise our sensitivity to this height. If nature does not allow this, morality forbids it, too. We all have to fulfill our duties toward ourselves, those close to us, our friends, our colleagues, and all those whose existence depends on us. We are also responsible to our profession and for the functions entrusted to us. For most of us these duties take up all our time, and it is impossible for us to be able always to have a thought for and make our immediate aim the general interests of humanity.
The question is to establish whether the scheme of things, resulting from the way men organize themselves and their perfectibility, does not lead to individual interests becoming increasingly merged with the general interest, and whether we are not brought by observation and perhaps by experience to desire the general good and consequently to contribute to it. In this case, the code of fraternity would arise from the very sense of self to which at first sight it is opposed.
Here, I need to return to a fundamental idea, one I have already discussed in this book11 in the articles titled “Competition” and “Population.”
With the exception of blood relationships and acts of pure selflessness and self-sacrifice, I think it can be said that the whole economy of a society is based on exchanged services.
However, to anticipate any misinterpretation, I have to say a word on self-sacrifice, which is the voluntary sacrifice of the sense of self.
Economists are accused of not taking self-sacrifice into account and perhaps despising it. Please God, we will never fail to recognize the power and grandeur in self-sacrifice. Nothing that is great and generous, nothing that arouses fellow feeling and admiration in men can be accomplished except through selflessness. Man is not just an intelligent mind, and he is not merely a calculating being. He has a soul, and in this soul there is a germ of fellow feeling which may be developed until it attains universal love, to the point of the most absolute sacrifice, at which point it produces the generous actions that, when narrated, bring tears to our eyes.
However, economists do not think that everyday events in our lives, the daily and constant actions that men carry out to keep themselves alive and fed and to develop themselves can be based on the principle of self-sacrifice. Well, these acts and transactions that are freely negotiated are the very ones that are the subject of political economy. The field is sufficiently large to constitute a science. Men’s actions relate to a variety of sciences: when they give rise to dispute, they are subject to the science of law; when they are subject to the direct influence of the established authority, they relate to politics; and when they call for the effort we consider virtue, they concern morality or religion.
None of these sciences can do without the others and even less contradict them. However, we should not require one of them to embrace the others totally. And although economists have little to say about self-sacrifice since this is not their subject, we dare to assert that their biographies in this respect can bear comparison with those of writers who have embraced other doctrines. In the same way as priests have little to say about value and competition because these things are only indirectly concerned with the sphere of their predications, they buy and sell just like common mortals. This can also be said of socialists.
Let us say, then, that in human actions, those that form the subject of economic science involve the exchange of services.
Perhaps people will find that this is to disparage the science. However, I sincerely believe that it is substantial, although simpler than is supposed, and that it is entirely based on these vulgar notions: give me this and I will give you that; do this for me and I will do that for you. I cannot conceive of any other forms of human transaction. The intervention of cash, merchants, and middlemen may complicate this elementary system and obscure our view of it. It is nonetheless typical of all economic acts.
[vol. 4, p. 327. “L’État.” Originally published in the 25 September 1848 issue of Le Journal des débats.]
I would like someone to sponsor a prize, not of five hundred francs but of a million, with crowns, crosses, and ribbons for whoever can provide a good, simple, and understandable definition of the words “the state.”
What a huge service this person would be doing to society!
The state! What is this? Where is it? What does it do? What ought it to be doing?
All we know about it is that it is a mysterious being and is definitely the one that is most solicited and most tormented and is the busiest; the one to whom the most advice is given; the one most accused, most invoked, and most provoked in the world.
For, sir, I do not have the honor of knowing you, but I will bet ten to one that for the last six months you have been constructing utopias; and if you have been doing so, I will bet ten to one that you are making the state responsible for bringing them into existence.
And you, madam, I am certain that in your heart of hearts you would like to cure all the suffering of humanity and that you would not be in the slightest put out if the state just wanted to help in this.
But alas! The unfortunate being, like Figaro, does not know whom to listen to nor which way to turn. The hundred thousand voices of the press and the tribune are all calling out to this being at once:
“Oh, sirs, have a little patience,” the state replies pitifully. “I will try to satisfy you, but I need some resources to do this. I have prepared some projects relating to five or six bright, new taxes that are the most benign the world has ever seen. You will see how pleased you will be to pay them.”
At that, a great cry arises: “Just a minute! Where is the merit in doing something with resources? It would not be worth calling yourself the state. Far from imposing new taxes on us, we demand that you remove the old ones. You must abolish:
In the middle of this tumult, and after the country has changed its state two or three times because it has failed to satisfy all these demands, I wanted to point out that they were contradictory. Good heavens, what was I thinking of? Could I not keep this unfortunate remark to myself?
Here I am, discredited forever, and it is now generally accepted that I am a man without heart or feelings of pity, a dry philosopher, an individualist, a bourgeois, and, to sum it up in a single word, an economist of the English or American school.
Oh, excuse me, you sublime writers whom nothing stops, not even contradictions. I am doubtless mistaken, and I most willingly retract my statements. I do not ask for more, you may be sure, than that you have genuinely discovered, independently from us, a bountiful and inexhaustible being that calls itself the state, which has bread for every mouth, work for every arm, capital for all businesses, credit for all projects, oil for all wounds, balm for all suffering, advice for all perplexities, solutions for all doubts, truths for all intelligent minds, distractions for all forms of boredom, milk for children, wine for the elderly, a being that meets all our needs, anticipates all our desires, satisfies all our curiosity, corrects all our errors and all our faults, and relieves us all henceforth of the need for foresight, prudence, judgment, wisdom, experience, order, economy, temperance, and activity.
And why would I not desire this? May God forgive me, but the more I reflect on this, the more the convenience of the thing appeals to me, and I too am anxious to have access to this inexhaustible source of wealth and enlightenment, this universal doctor and infallible counsellor that you are calling the state.
This being so, I ask you to show it to me and define it for me, and this is why I am proposing the establishment of a prize for the first person who discovers this phoenix. For in the end, people will agree with me that this precious discovery has not yet been made, since up to now all that has come forward under the name of the state has been overturned instantly by the people, precisely because it does not fulfill the somewhat contradictory conditions of the program.
Does this need to be said? I fear that we are, in this respect, the dupes of one of the strangest illusions ever to have taken hold of the human mind.
Man rejects pain and suffering. And yet he is condemned by nature to the suffering privation brings if he does not embark upon the pain of work. All he has, therefore, is a choice between these two evils. How can he avoid both? Up to now, he has only found and will only ever find one means, that is, to enjoy the work of others, to act in such a way that pain and satisfaction do not accrue to each person in accordance with natural proportions, but that all pain accrues to some and all satisfaction to the others. From this we get slavery or even plunder, in whatever form it takes: wars, imposture, violence, restrictions, fraud, etc., all monstrous forms of abuse but in line with the thought that has given rise to them. We should hate and combat oppressors, but we cannot say that they are absurd.
Slavery is receding, thank heaven, and on the other hand, our aptitude for defending our property means that direct and crude plunder is not easy to do. However, one thing has remained. It is this unfortunate primitive tendency within all men to divide into two our complex human lot, shifting pain onto others and keeping satisfaction for themselves. It remains to be seen in what new form this sorry tendency will manifest itself.
Oppressors no longer act directly on the oppressed using their own forces. No, our conscience has become too scrupulous for that. There are still tyrants and victims certainly, but between them has placed itself the intermediary that is the state, that is to say, the law itself. What is more calculated to silence our scruples and, perhaps more appealing, to overcome our resistance? For this reason, we all make calls upon the state on one ground or pretext or another. We tell it, “I do not consider that there is a satisfactory relation between the goods I enjoy and my work. I would like to take a little from the property of others to establish the balance I desire. But this is dangerous. Can you not make my task easier? Could you not provide me with a good position? Or else hinder the production of my competitors? Or else make me an interest-free loan of the capital you have taken from its owners? Or raise my children at public expense? Or award me subsidies? Or ensure my well-being when I reach the age of fifty? By these means I will achieve my aim with a perfectly clear conscience, since the law itself will have acted on my behalf and I will achieve all the advantages of plunder without ever having incurred either its risks or opprobrium!
As it is certain, on the one hand, that we all address more or less similar requests to the state and, on the other, it is plain that the state cannot procure satisfaction for some without adding to the work of the others, while waiting for a new definition of the state I think I am authorized to give my own here. Who knows whether it will not carry off the prize? Here it is:
The state is the great fiction by which everyone endeavors to live at the expense of everyone else.
For today, as in the past, each person more or less wants to profit from the work of others. We do not dare display this sentiment; we even hide it from ourselves, and then what do we do? We design an intermediary, we address ourselves to the state, and each class in turn comes forward to say to it, “You who can take things straightforwardly and honestly, take something from the general public and we will share it.” Alas! The state has a very ready tendency to follow this diabolical advice as it is made up of ministers and civil servants, in short, men, who like all men are filled with the desire and are always quick to seize the opportunity to see their wealth and influence increase. The state is therefore quick to understand the profit it can make from the role that the general public has entrusted to it. It will be the arbiter and master of every destiny. It will take a great deal; therefore a great deal will remain to it. It will increase the number of its agents and widen the circle of its attributions. It will end by achieving crushing proportions.
But what we should clearly note is the astonishing blindness of the general public in all this. When happy soldiers reduced the conquered to slavery, they were barbaric, but they were not absurd. Their aim, like ours, was to live at someone else’s expense, but they did not fail to do so like us. What ought we to think of a people who do not appear to have any idea that reciprocal pillage is no less pillage because it is reciprocal, that it is no less criminal because it is executed legally and in an orderly fashion, that it adds nothing to public well-being, and that, on the contrary, it reduces well-being by everything that this spendthrift of an intermediary that we call the state costs us?
And we have placed this great illusion at the forefront of the Constitution to edify the people. These are the opening words of the preamble:
France has set itself up as a republic in order to . . . call all its citizens to an increasingly higher level of morality, enlightenment, and well-being.
Thus, it is France, an abstraction, that calls French citizens, real persons, to morality, well-being, etc. Is it not wholeheartedly going along with this strange illusion that leads us to expect everything from some energy other than our own? Does it not give rise to the idea that there is, at hand and outside the French people, a being that is virtuous, enlightened, and rich that can and ought to pour benefits over them? Is it not to presume, quite gratuitously of course, that there is between France and the French, between the simple, abbreviated, abstract name of all these unique individuals and these individuals themselves, a relationship of father and child, tutor and pupil, teacher and schoolchild? I am fully aware that it is sometimes metaphorically said that the fatherland is a tender mother. However, to catch a constitutional proposition in flagrant inanity, you need to show only that it can be inverted, not without inconvenience but even advantageously. Would accuracy have suffered if the preamble had said:
The French people have set themselves up as a republic in order to call France to an increasingly higher level of morality, enlightenment, and well-being?
Well, what is the value of an axiom in which the subject and attribute can change places without causing trouble? Everyone understands that you can say: “Mothers suckle their children.” But it would be ridiculous to say: “Children suckle their mothers.”
The Americans had another concept of the relationship between citizens and the state when they placed at the head of their Constitution these simple words:
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain, etc.6
Here we have no illusions, no abstraction from which its citizens ask everything. They do not expect anything other than from themselves and their own energy. They place no expectations on anything other than themselves and their own energy. Or they place their expectations only on themselves and their own energy.
If I have taken the liberty of criticizing the opening words of our Constitution, it is because it is not a question, as one might believe, of wholly metaphysical subtlety. I claim that this personification of the state has been in the past and will be in the future a rich source of calamities and revolutions.
Here are the public on one side and the state on the other, considered to be two distinct beings, the latter obliged to spread over the former and the former having the right to claim from the latter a flood of human happiness. What is bound to happen?
In fact, the state is not and cannot be one-handed. It has two hands, one to receive and the other to give; in other words, the rough hand and the gentle hand. The activity of the second is of necessity subordinate to the activity of the first. Strictly speaking, the state is able to take and not give back. This has been seen and is explained by the porous and absorbent nature of its hands, which always retain part and sometimes all of what they touch. But what has never been seen, will never be seen, and cannot even be conceived is that the state will give to the general public more than it has taken from them. It is therefore a sublime folly for us to adopt toward the state the humble attitude of beggars. It is radically impossible for the state to confer a particular advantage on some of the individuals who make up the community without inflicting greater damage on the community as a whole.
The state therefore finds itself, because of our demands, in an obvious vicious circle.
If the state refuses to supply the services being demanded of it, it is accused of impotence, lack of willpower, and incapacity. If it tries to provide them, it is reduced to inflicting redoubled taxes on the people, doing more harm than good, and attracting to itself general dislike from the other direction.
Thus there are two hopes in the general public and two promises in the government: a host of benefits and no taxes. Hopes and promises that, since they are contradictory, can never be achieved.
Then is this not the cause of all our revolutions? For between the state, which is hugely generous with impossible promises, and the general public, which has conceived unattainable hopes, have come two classes of men, those with ambition and those with utopian dreams. Their role is clearly laid out by the situation. It is enough for these courtiers of popularity to shout into the people’s ears: “The authorities are misleading you; if we were in their place, we would shower you with benefits and relieve you of taxes.”
And the people believe this, and the people hope, and the people stage a revolution.
No sooner are their friends in power than they are required to fulfill these promises. “So give me work, bread, assistance, credit, education, and colonies,” say the people, “and notwithstanding this, deliver me from the clutches of the tax authorities as you promised.”
The new state is no less embarrassed than the former state since, when it comes to the impossible, promises may well be made but not kept. It tries to play for time, which it needs to bring its huge projects to fruition. First of all, it tries a few things timidly: on the one hand, it expands primary education a little; second, it makes slight modifications to the tax on wines and spirits.7 But the contradiction still stands squarely before it; if it wants to be philanthropic it is obliged to maintain taxes, and if it renounces taxation it is also obliged to renounce philanthropy.
These two promises always, and of necessity, block each other. Making use of borrowing, in other words consuming the future, is really a current means of reconciling them; efforts are made to do a little good in the present at the expense of a great deal of evil in the future. However, this procedure evokes the specter of bankruptcy, which chases credit away. What is to be done then? The new state in this case takes its medicine bravely. It calls together forces to keep itself in power, it stifles public opinion, it has recourse to arbitrary decisions, it calls down ridicule on its former maxims, and it declares that administration can be carried out only at the cost of being unpopular. In short, it proclaims itself to be governmental.
And it is at this point that other courtiers of popularity lie in wait. They exploit the same illusion, go down the same road, obtain the same success, and within a short time are engulfed in the same abyss.
This is the situation we reached in February.8 At that time, the illusion that is the subject of this article had penetrated even further into the minds of the people, together with socialist doctrines. More than ever, the people expected the state, in its republican robes, to open wide the tap of bounty and close that of taxation. “We have oft en been misled,” said the people, “but we ourselves will see to it that we are not misled once again.”
What could the provisional government do? Alas, only what has always been done in a like situation: make promises and play for time. The government did not hesitate to do this, and to give their promises more solemnity they set them in decrees. “An increase in well-being, a reduction of work, assistance, credit, free education, farming colonies, land clearance, and at the same time a reduction in the tax on salt, on wine and spirits, on postage, on meat, all this will be granted . . . when the National Assembly meets.”
The National Assembly met, and since two contradictory things cannot be achieved, its task, its sad task was to withdraw as gently as possible and one after the other all the decrees of the provisional government.
However, in order not to make the disappointment too cruel, a few compromises simply had to be undertaken. A few commitments have been maintained, and others have been started to a small degree. The current government is therefore endeavoring to dream up new taxes.
At this point, I will move forward in thought to a few months in the future and ask myself, with iron in my soul, what will happen when a new breed of agents goes into the countryside to raise the new taxes on inheritance, on income, and on farming profits. May the heavens give the lie to my presentiments, but I can still see a role in this for the courtiers of popularity.
Read the latest Manifesto of the Montagnards,9 the one they issued regarding the presidential elections. It is a bit long, but in the end it can be briefly summarized thus: The state must give a great deal to its citizens andtake very little from them. This is always the same tactic, or if you prefer, the same error.
The state owes “free instruction and education to all its citizens.”
“General and vocational education that is as appropriate as possible to the needs, vocations, and capacities of each citizen.”
“Teach him his duties toward God, men, and himself; develop his sensibilities, aptitudes, and faculties; and in short, give him the knowledge needed for his work, the enlightenment needed for his interests, and a knowledge of his rights.”
“Make available to everybody literature and the arts, the heritage of thought, the treasures of the mind, and all the intellectual enjoyment that elevates and strengthens the soul.”
“Put right any accident, fire, flood, etc. (this et cetera says far more than its small size would suggest), experienced by a citizen.”
“Intervene in business and labor relations and make itself the regulator of credit.”
“Well-founded encouragement and effective protection to farmers.”
“Buy back the railways, canals, and mines,” and doubtless also run them with its legendary capacity for industry.”
“Stimulate generous initiatives, encourage them, and help them with all the resources needed to make them a triumphant success. As the regulator of credit, it will sponsor manufacturing and farming associations liberally in order to ensure their success.”
The state has to do all this without prejudicing the services which it currently carries out; and, for example, it will have to maintain a constantly hostile attitude toward foreigners since, as the signatories of the program state, “bound by this sacred solidarity and by the precedents of republican France, we send our promises made on high and our hopes soaring across the barriers that despotism raises between nations: the right we wish for ourselves we also wish for all those oppressed by the yoke of tyranny. We want our glorious army to continue to be, if necessary, the army of freedom.”
As you can see, the gentle hand of the state, that sweet hand that gives and spreads benefits widely, will be fully occupied under the Montagnard government. Might you perhaps be disposed to believe that this will be just as true of the rough hand that goes rummaging and rifling in our pockets?
Don’t you believe it! The courtiers of popularity would not be masters of their trade if they did not have the art of hiding an iron fist in a velvet glove.
Their reign will certainly be a cause for celebration for taxpayers.
“Taxes must reach the superfluous, not the essentials,” they say.
Would it not be a fine day if, in order to shower us with benefits, the tax authorities were content to make a hole in our superfluous assets?
That is not all. The aim of the Montagnards is that “taxes will lose their oppressive character and become just a fraternal act.”
Good heavens! I was well aware that it is fashionable to shove fraternity in everywhere, but I did not think it could be inserted into the tax collector’s notice.
Coming down to detail, the signatories of the program say:
“We want the taxes levied on objects of first necessity, such as salt, wines and spirits, et cetera, to be abolished immediately;
“The land tax, city tolls, and industrial licenses to be reformed;
“Justice free of charge, that is to say, a simplification of the forms and a reduction in the fees” (this is doubtless intended to milk the stamp duty).
Thus, land tax, city tolls, industrial licenses, stamp duty, salt tax, tax on wine and spirits,10 and postage would all go. These gentlemen have found the secret of giving feverish activity to the gentle hand of the state while paralyzing its rough hand.
Well then, I ask the impartial reader, is this not childishness and, what is more, dangerous childishness? What is to stop the people mounting revolution after revolution once the decision has been taken not to stop doing so until the following contradiction has been achieved: “Give nothing to the state and receive a great deal from it”?
Do people believe that if the Montagnards came to power they would not be victims of the means they employed to seize it?
Fellow citizens, since time immemorial two political systems have confronted one another and both have good arguments to support them. According to one, the state has to do a great deal, but it also has to take a great deal. According to the other, its twin action should be little felt. A choice has to be made between these two systems. But as for the third system, which takes from the two others and which consists in demanding everything from the state while giving it nothing, this is illusionary, absurd, puerile, contradictory, and dangerous. Those who advocate it to give themselves the pleasure of accusing all forms of government of impotence, and of thus exposing them to your blows, those people are flattering and deceiving you, or at the very least they are deceiving themselves.
As for us, we consider that the state is not, nor should it be, anything other than a common force, instituted not to be an instrument of mutual oppression and plunder between all of its citizens, but on the contrary to guarantee to each person his own property and ensure the reign of justice and security.11
The State (draft)
[vol. 7, p. 238. “L’État.” Originally published as a draft dated 11–15 June 1848, in the first issue of Jacques Bonhomme.1
“There are those who say, ‘A financial man, such as Thiers, Fould, Goudchaux, or Girardin, will get us out of this.’ I think they are mistaken.”
“Who, then, will get us out of this?”
“When the people have learned this lesson: since the state has nothing it has not taken from the people, it cannot distribute largesse to the people.”
“The people know this, since they never cease to demand reductions in taxes.”
“That is true, but at the same time they never cease to demand handouts of every kind from the state.
They want the state to establish nursery schools, infant schools, and free schools for our youth, national workshops for those that are older, and retirement pensions for the elderly.
They want the state to go to war in Italy and Poland.
They want the state to found farming colonies.
They want the state to build railways.
They want the state to bring Algeria into cultivation.
They want the state to lend ten billion to landowners.
They want the state to supply capital to workers.
They want the state to replant the forests on mountains.
They want the state to build embankments along the rivers.
They want the state to make payments without receiving any.
They want the state to lay down the law in Europe.
They want the state to support agriculture.
They want the state to give subsidies to industry.
They want the state to protect trade.
They want the state to have a formidable army.
They want the state to have an impressive navy.
They want the state to . . .”
“Have you finished?”
“I could go on for another hour at least.”
“But what is the point you are trying to make?”
“This. As long as the people want all of this, they will have to pay for it. There is no financial man alive who can do something with nothing.”
Jacques Bonhomme is sponsoring a prize of fifty thousand francs to be given to anyone who provides a good definition of the word state, for that person will be the savior of finance, industry, trade, and work.
[vol. 4, p. 342. “La Loi.” Bastiat wrote this pamphlet while vacationing with his family in Mugron. June 1850. n.p.]
The law corrupt? The law—and in its train all the collective forces of the nation—the law, I repeat, not only turned aside from its purpose but used to pursue a purpose diametrically opposed to it! The law turned into an instrument of all forms of cupidity instead of being a brake on them! The law itself accomplishing the iniquity it was intended to punish! This is certainly a serious occurrence if it is true, and one to which I must be allowed to draw the attention of my fellow citizens.
We hold from God the gift that encompasses them all: life; physical, intellectual, and moral life.
However, life is not self-supporting. He who has given it to us has left us the job of looking after it, developing it, and improving it.
To do this, He has provided us with a set of exceptional faculties and immersed us in a milieu of diverse elements. It is through the application of our faculties to these elements that the phenomena of assimilation and appropriation take place, through which life proceeds along the circle allocated to it.
Existence, faculties, and assimilation—in other words, personality, freedom, and property—this is man in a nutshell.
It may be said that these three things, leaving aside any demagogical hair-splitting, precede and supersede all human legislation.
It is not because men have enacted laws that personality, freedom, and property exist. On the contrary, it is because personality, freedom, and property are already in existence that men enact laws.
What is the law, then? As I have said elsewhere, it is the collective organization of the individual right of legitimate defense.1
Each of us certainly holds from nature and God the right to defend our person, our freedom, and our property, since these are the three elements that constitute or preserve life, elements that are mutually complementary and that cannot be understood independently of one another. For what are our faculties if not an extension of our personality, and what is property if not an extension of our faculties?
If each person has the right to defend, even by force, his person, his freedom, and his property, several people have the right to join together, to form an understanding and organize themselves into a common force in order to provide lawfully for this defense.
Collective right therefore roots its principle, its raison d’être, and its legitimacy in individual right, and common force cannot rationally have any other aim or mission than those of the individual forces for which it is a substitute.
Thus, since force on the individual level cannot legitimately be aimed at the person, freedom, or property of another individual, by the same argument force cannot legitimately be used collectively to destroy the person, freedom, or property of either individuals or classes.
This is because such misuse of force would in either case be a contradiction of our premises. Who would dare to say that we were given such power not to defend our rights, but to reduce the equal rights of our fellows to nothing? And if this is not true for each individual acting in isolation, how can it be true for collective power, which is nothing other than the organized union of the power of individuals?
Therefore, if there is one thing that is clear, it is this: law is the organization of the natural right of legitimate defense. It is the substitution of collective for individual power to facilitate action in the area in which individuals have the right to act, that is to say, to do what they have the right to do. It serves to guarantee the integrity of persons, freedoms, and property; to maintain each person within his right; and to ensure the reign of justice among all.
And if there were a people constituted on this basis, I consider that order would prevail both in fact and in theory. I consider that this people would have the simplest, the most economical, the least heavy, the least felt, the least culpable, the most just, and hence the most solid government imaginable, whatever its political form.
For, under such a regime, each person would fully understand that he had full enjoyment as well as full responsibility for his existence. Provided that each person was respected, work was free, and the fruits of work protected against any unjust infringement, no one would have any cause to take issue with the state. So long as we were happy, we would not, it is true, have to thank it for our success; however, should we be unhappy, we would no more attribute this to the state than our farmers would attribute hail and frost to it. Its only effect on us would be the inestimable benefit of security.
We can also state that, thanks to the noninterference of the state in private affairs, needs and satisfactions would develop naturally. We would not see poor families seeking literary education before they had bread. We would not see towns growing in population at the expense of the countryside or the countryside at the expense of towns. We would not see those large-scale migrations of capital, labor, or populations triggered by legislative measures, migrations that render the very sources of existence so uncertain and precarious and which increase the responsibility of governments to such a great extent.
Unfortunately, the law is far from being limited to its proper role. It is far from deviating from it only according to neutral and questionable opinions. It has done worse: it has acted against its own purposes; it has destroyed its own aim; it has concentrated on abolishing the justice which it should have put in command and effacing the boundaries between various rights that its mission was to uphold. It has placed collective power at the disposal of those who wish to exploit persons, freedom, or the property of others without risk or scruple; it has converted plunder into right in order to protect it and legitimate defense into crime in order to punish it.
How has this corruption of the law come about? What have its consequences been?
The law has become corrupt under the influence of two very different causes: unintelligent selfishness and bogus philanthropy.
Let us take the first of these.
Protecting and developing oneself is an aspiration common to all men to the extent that if each person enjoyed the free exercise of his faculties and the free disposition of his attendant products, social progress would be constant, uninterrupted, and unerring.
However, there is another disposition that is just as common to them. That is to live and grow, when they can, at the expense of others. This is not a fortuitous allegation from someone with a bitter and pessimistic turn of mind. History gives examples of such a disposition through the constant wars, migrations of populations, oppression by religious leaders, universal slavery, industrial fraud, and monopolies with which its annals are filled.
This disastrous disposition arises from the very constitution of man, in the primitive, universal, and invincible sentiment that propels him toward well-being and makes him flee suffering.
Man can live and enjoy life only by assimilation and personal appropriation, that is to say, by a constant application of his faculties to things or by work. Hence property.
However, in practice, he can live and enjoy life by assimilating or appropriating to himself the product of the faculties of his fellow men. Hence plunder.
Well, since work is in itself a burden and since man by his nature is drawn to escape burdens, it follows, and history is there to prove it, that wherever plunder is less burdensome than work, it triumphs over work. This happens without religion or morality being able to stop it.
When, then, will plunder cease? When it becomes more of a burden or more dangerous than work.
It is very clear that the aim of the law has to be to oppose the powerful obstacle of collective power to this disastrous tendency and that it has to be on the side of property against plunder.
But the law is, in the majority of cases, established by one man or a class of men. And since the law has no existence without the sanction or support of an overwhelming force, the very probable result is that this force is finally placed in the hands of those who make the laws.
This inevitable phenomenon, combined with the disastrous tendency we have noted in men’s hearts, explains the almost universal corruption of the law. It can be seen how, instead of being a brake on injustice, the law becomes an instrument and the most invincible instrument of injustice. It can be seen that, depending on the power of the legislator, to his profit and to varying degrees, the law destroys personality by slavery, freedom by oppression, and property by plunder among the bulk of mankind.
It is in the nature of men to react against the iniquity of which they are the victims. Therefore, when plunder is organized by law for the benefit of the classes that make it, all the classes that have been plundered attempt, by either peaceful or revolutionary means, to have a say in the making of laws. Depending on the level of enlightenment which they have attained, these classes may set themselves two very different aims when they pursue the acquisition of their political rights; they may either wish to stop legal plunder or they may aspire to take part in it.
Woe and misery three times over to any nation in which this last thought dominates the masses at the time when they in turn take the helm of the legislative power!
Up to now, legal plunder has been exercised by the minority over the majority as can be seen in those peoples in which the right to pass laws is concentrated in just a few hands. However, it has now become universal and equilibrium is being sought in universal plunder. Instead of the injustice existing in society being rooted out, it has become generalized. As soon as underprivileged classes recover their political rights, their first thought is not to rid themselves of plunder (that would suppose that they had an enlightenment that they cannot have) but to organize a system of reprisals against other classes and to their own detriment, as though it is necessary for a cruel retribution to strike them all, some for their iniquity and others for their ignorance, before the reign of justice is established.
No greater change or misfortune could therefore be introduced into society than this: to have a law that has been converted into an instrument of plunder.
What are the consequences of an upheaval like this? Volumes would be needed to describe them all. Let us content ourselves with pointing out the most striking.
The first is to erase from people’s consciences the notion of the just and the unjust.
No society can exist if respect for the law does not prevail to some degree, but the surest means of ensuring that laws are respected is for them to be worthy of respect. When law and morality contradict one another, citizens find themselves in the cruel quandary of either losing their notion of morality or losing respect for the law, two misfortunes that are equally great and between which it is difficult to choose.
It is so deeply ingrained in the nature of law to ensure that justice reigns, that law and justice are inseparable in the eyes of the masses. We all have a strong disposition to consider what is legal to be legitimate, to the extent that many people mistakenly consider all forms of justice to be founded in law. It is therefore enough for the law to order and consecrate plunder for plunder to appear just and sacred in the understanding of many. Slavery, restrictions, and monopoly find their defenders not only in those who benefit from them but even in those who suffer from them. Try to put forward a few doubts about the morality of these institutions, and you will be told, “You are a dangerous innovator, a utopian, a theoretician, and a despiser of laws; you are undermining the base on which society is built.” Do you give courses on morals or political economy? Official bodies will be found to express the following resolution to the government:
“That such subjects should be taught in the future no longer from the sole point of view of free trade (of freedom, property, and justice), as has been done so far, but also and above all from the point of view of the facts and the legislation (contrary to freedom, property, and justice) which govern economic life in France.
“That in the chairs in public universities whose salaries are paid for by the treasury, the professor should rigorously refrain from undermining in the slightest the respect due to the laws in force,2 etc.”
So that if there is a law that sanctions slavery or monopoly, oppression or plunder in any form, it cannot even be mentioned, since how can it be discussed without undermining the respect it inspires? What is more, it will be mandatory to teach morals and political economy from the point of view of this law, that is to say, on the premise that it is just merely because it is the law.
Another effect of this deplorable corruption of the law is that it gives an exaggerated weight to political passions and conflicts and in general to politics itself.
I could prove this proposition in a thousand ways. I will limit myself to comparing it, as an example, with a subject that has recently been in the minds of all: universal suffrage.
Whatever the disciples of Rousseau think, those who say that they are very advanced and whom I believe to be retarded by twenty centuries, universal suffrage (taking this word in its strictest sense) is not one of the sacred dogmas with regard to which any examination or even doubt is a crime.
Major objections may be made to it.
First of all, the word universal hides a crude sophism. There are in France thirty-six million inhabitants. In order for the right of suffrage to be universal it would have to be recognized for thirty-six million electors.3 The most generous account recognizes only nine million. Three out of four people are therefore excluded, and what is more they are excluded by the fourth. On what basis is this exclusion founded? On the principle of incapacity. Universal suffrage means the universal suffrage of those capable. There remains this practical question: who is capable? Are age, sex, and criminal record the only signs from which we can recognize incapacity?
If we look closely, we quickly see the reason the right of suffrage rests on the presumption of capacity, since the widest system differs in this respect from the most restricted system only by the appreciation of the signs from which this capacity can be recognized, which does not constitute a difference of principle but of degree.
This reason is that the elector does not stipulate for himself but for everybody.
If, as republicans of Greek and Roman hue claim, the right of suffrage was granted to us with life, it would be iniquitous for adults to prevent women and children from voting. Why should they be prevented from doing so? Because they are deemed to be incapable. And why is incapacity a reason for exclusion? Because the elector is not alone when given responsibility for his vote; because each vote commits and affects the entire community; because the community has the perfect right to demand a few guarantees with regard to the acts on which their well-being and existence depend.
I know what a possible answer might be. I also know what a possible reply to it might be. This is not the place to settle a controversy of this nature. What I want to draw attention to is that this controversy (as well as most political questions), one that so agitates whole nations, inflaming them and causing such distress, would lose almost all its importance if the law had always been what it ought to have been.
In fact, if the law limited itself to ensuring that all persons, freedoms, and properties were respected, if it were merely the organization of the individual right of legitimate defense, the obstacle, brake, and punishment that opposed all forms of oppression and plunder, would you believe that we would argue much, between citizens, as to whether suffrage was more or less universal? Do you believe that it would call into question the greatest of our benefits, public peace? Do you believe that the excluded classes would not wait patiently for their turn? Do you believe that the admitted classes would guard their privilege jealously? And is it not clear that, since personal interest is identical and common, some would take action without very much inconvenience on behalf of the others?
But if this fatal principle were to be introduced, if under the pretext of organization, regulation, protection, and subsidy the law would be able to take from some to give to others, to draw upon the wealth acquired by all classes to increase that of one class—sometimes that of farmers or manufacturers, traders, shipowners, artists, or actors—then, to be sure, in this case, there is no class that would not claim with reason that it too should have a hand in making the law, that would not fervently demand the right to vote and demand its eligibility to receive benefits and that would not overthrow society rather than be denied those benefits. Beggars and vagabonds themselves will prove to you that they have incontestable rights to it. They will say to you, “We never buy wine, tobacco, or salt without paying the tax, and part of this tax is given by law as premiums and subsidies to men who are richer than we are. Others use the law to raise the price of bread, meat, iron, and cloth artificially. Since each one exploits the law to his advantage, we want to exploit it too. We want it to enact the right to assistance, which is the share of plunder for the poor. To do this, we have to be electors and legislators in order to organize widespread alms for our class, just as you have organized widespread protectionism for yours. Do not tell us that you will provide our share and that, in accordance with M. Mimerel’s proposal, you will throw us the sum of six hundred thousand francs to keep us quiet and as a bone to gnaw. We have other claims, and in any case we wish to decide for ourselves, just as the other sectors have decided for themselves!”
What can we say in reply to this argument? Yes, as long as the accepted principle is that the law can be diverted from its proper mission, that it can violate property instead of upholding it, each class will want to make the law, either to defend itself against plunder or to organize it for its own benefit. The political question will always be prejudicial, dominant, and absorbing; in a word, people will be beating on the door of the legislative palace. The conflict will be no less bitter within it. To be convinced of this, it is scarcely necessary to look at what is going on in the debating chambers in France and England; all you need to know is how the question is being put.
Is there any need to prove that this odious perversion of the law is a constant source of hatred and discord, which may go so far as to cause social disruption? Just look at the United States. This is one country in the world in which the law most faithfully fulfills its role to uphold the freedom and property of each person. It is therefore the one country in the world in which social order appears to be based on the most stable foundations. However, within the United States itself there are two questions, and only two questions, which have threatened political order from the outset. What are these two questions? Slavery and tariffs, that is to say, precisely the only two questions in which, contrary to the general spirit of that republic, the law has taken on the character of a plunderer. Slavery is a violation of the rights of the person sanctioned by the law. Protectionism is a violation of the right of property perpetrated by the law. Certainly it is very remarkable that, in the middle of so many other discussions, this twin legal scourge, a sorry inheritance from the old world, is the only one that may lead and perhaps will lead to the breakup of the Union. Indeed, no more significant fact can be imagined within society than this: The law has become an instrument of injustice. And if this fact leads to such momentous consequences in the United States, where it is just an exception, what will it lead to in this Europe of ours, where it is a principle, a system?
M. de Montalembert, referring to the reasoning behind a famous proclamation by M. Carlier, said, “We must make war on socialism.” And by socialism, according to the definition by M. Charles Dupin, we have to understand that he meant plunder.
But what form of plunder was he wishing to talk about? For there are two forms. There is plunder outside the law and there is legal plunder.
As for plunder against the law, which we call theft or fraud and which is defined, provided for, and punished by the Penal Code, I really do not think this can be cloaked in the name of socialism. It is not this that systematically threatens the very foundations of society. Besides, the war against this sort of plunder has not waited for a signal from M. de Montalembert or M. Carlier. It has been waged since the beginning of time. France had already provided for it a long time before the February revolution, long before the apparition of socialism, by a whole apparatus of magistrates, police, gendarmes, prisons, convict settlements, and scaffolds. It is the law itself that wages this war, and what we should be hoping for, in my opinion, is that the law will always retain this attitude with regard to plunder.
But this is not the case. Sometimes the law takes the side of plunder. Sometimes it plunders with its own hands, in order to spare the blushes, the risk, and the scruples of its beneficiary. Sometimes it mobilizes the whole system of magistrates, police, gendarmes, and prisons to serve the plunderer and treats the victim who defends himself as a criminal. In a word, there is legal plunder, and it is doubtless to this that M. de Montalembert is referring.
Such plunder may be just an exceptional stain on the legislation of a people; and in this case the best thing to do, without undue oratory and lamentation, is to remove it as quickly as possible, in spite of the outcry from those it favors. How do we recognize it? That is easy; we need to see whether the law takes property owned by some to give to others what they do not own. We need to see whether the law carries out an act that a citizen cannot carry out himself without committing a crime, for the benefit of one citizen and at the expense of others. Make haste to repeal a law like this; it is not only an iniquity, it is a fruitful source of iniquity, for it generates reprisals, and if you are not careful an exceptional act will become widespread, more frequent, and part of a system. Doubtless, those who benefit from it will make a loud outcry; they will invoke acquired rights. They will say that the state owes their particular product protection and support. They will claim that it is a good thing for the state to make them richer because, as they are richer, they spend more and thus rain down earnings on their poor workers. Be careful not to listen to these sophists for it is exactly by the systematizing of such arguments that legal plunder becomes systematic.
This is what has happened. The illusion of the day is to make all sectors richer at each other’s expense; this is generalizing plunder on the pretext of organizing it. Well, legal plunder can be carried out in an infinite number of ways. This gives rise to an infinite number of plans for organizing it, through tariffs, protectionism, premiums, subsidies, incentives, progressive taxes, free education, the right to work, the right to assistance, the right to tools for work, free credit, etc., etc. And all of these plans, insofar as they have legal plunder in common, come under the name of socialism.
Well, what type of war do you wish to wage against socialism, thus defined and as it forms a body of doctrine, if not a doctrinal war? Do you find this doctrine wrong, absurd, or abominable? Refute it. This will be all the easier the more erroneous, absurd, or abominable it is. Above all, if you wish to be strong, start by rooting out from your legislation everything relating to socialism that has managed to creep into it—no small task.
M. de Montalembert has been reproached for wanting to turn brute force against socialism. This is a reproach from which he should be cleared, since he formally stated, “The war against socialism should be in accordance with the law, honor, and justice.”
But how has M. de Montalembert not seen that he has placed himself in a vicious circle? Do you want to oppose socialism by means of the law? But it is precisely socialism that invokes the law. It does not aim to carry out plunder against the law, but legal plunder. It is of the law itself that socialism claims to be the instrument, like monopolists of all stripes, and once it has the law on its side, how do you hope to turn the law against it? How do you hope to bring it within striking power of your courts, your gendarmes, or your prisons?
So what do you do? You want to prevent socialism from having any say in making laws. You want to keep it out of the legislative chamber. I dare to predict that you will never succeed in this while laws are being passed inside the chamber on the principle of legal plunder. It is too iniquitous and too absurd.
It is absolutely necessary for this question of legal plunder to be settled, and there are just three alternatives:
You have to choose between partial plunder, universal plunder, and no plunder at all. The law can pursue one of these three alternatives only.
Partial plunder. This is the system that prevailed for as long as the electorate was partial and is the system to which people return to avoid the invasion of socialism.
Universal plunder. This is the system that threatened us when the electorate became universal with the masses having conceived the idea of making laws along the same lines as their legislative predecessors.
Absence of plunder. This is the principle of justice, peace, order, stability, conciliation, and common sense that I will proclaim with all my strength, which is, alas, very inadequate, and with my lungs until my final breath.
And sincerely, can anything else be asked of the law? Can the law, with compulsion as its essential sanction, be reasonably employed for anything other than ensuring everyone his right? I challenge anyone to cause the law to step outside this circle without diverting it and consequently without turning compulsion against right. As this would be the most disastrous, the most illogical social upheaval imaginable, we really have to acknowledge that the true solution of the social problem, so long sought after, is encapsulated in these simple words: law is organized justice.
Well, we should note this clearly: to organize justice by law, that is to say, by compulsion, excludes the idea of organizing by law or compulsion any manifestation of human activity: labor, charity, agriculture, trade, industry, education, the fine arts, or religion, for it is impossible for any of these secondary organizations not to destroy the essential organization. In effect, how can we imagine compulsion impinging on the freedom of citizens without undermining justice, without acting against its own goal?
Here I am coming up against the most popular preconception of our age. Not only do we want the law to be just, we also want it to be philanthropic. We are not content for it to guarantee each citizen the free and inoffensive exercise of his faculties as they apply to his physical, intellectual, and moral development; we require it to spread well-being, education, and morality directly across the nation. This is the seductive side of socialism.
However, I repeat, these two missions of the law are contradictory. A choice has to be made. A citizen cannot simultaneously be free and not free. M. de Lamartine wrote to me one day, “Your doctrine is only half of my program. You have stopped at freedom; I have reached fraternity.” I replied to him, “The second half of your program will destroy the first.” And in effect it is totally impossible for me to separate the word fraternity from the word voluntary. It is impossible for me to conceive a fraternity that is enforced by law without freedom being destroyed by law and justice trampled underfoot by law.
Legal plunder is rooted in two things: the first, we have seen, is human selfishness, the other bogus philanthropy.
Before going any further, I think I have to explain myself as to the word plunder.
I do not take it to mean, as is only too oft en the case, something that is vague, undetermined, approximate, or metaphorical; I am using it in its properly scientific meaning, and as expressing the opposite idea to that of property. When a portion of wealth passes from the person who has earned it, without his consent and without compensation, to one who has not created it, whether this is by force or fraud, I say that property is undermined and that there is plunder. I say that it is exactly this that the law should be repressing everywhere and always. If the law is carrying out the very act that it should be repressing, I say that there is plunder nonetheless and even, socially speaking, with aggravating circumstances. Only in this case it is not the beneficiary of the plunder who is responsible for it, it is the law, the legislator, or society; and that is what constitutes the political danger.
It is unfortunate that this word has offensive overtones. I have tried in vain to find another, for at no time and still less today do I wish to cast an irritating word into the cauldron of our disagreements. For this reason, whether you believe it or not, I declare that I do not intend to query either the intentions or the morality of anyone whomsoever. I am attacking an idea that I consider to be false and a practice that appears to me to be unjust, and all this is so far beyond our intentions that each of us takes advantage of it unwittingly and suffers from it unknowingly. It is necessary to write under the influence of the party spirit or out of fear to cast doubt on the sincerity of protectionism, socialism, or even communism, which are only one and the same plant at three different stages of its development. All that can be said is that plunder is more visible in protectionism4 because of its partiality and in communism because of its universality. From this it follows that of the three systems socialism is still the most vague, the most indecisive, and consequently the most sincere.
Be that as it may, agreeing that legal plunder has one of its roots in bogus philanthropy is obviously to exonerate its intentions.
This being understood, let us examine what the popular ambition that claims to achieve the general good through general plunder is worth, where it comes from, and where it will lead.
Socialists tell us, “Since the law organizes justice, why should it not also organize labor, education, or religion?”
Why? Because it could not organize labor, education, or religion without disorganizing justice.
Note therefore that law is compulsion, and that consequently the domain of the law cannot legitimately exceed the legitimate domain of compulsion.
When the law and compulsion hold a man in accordance with justice, they impose on him nothing other than pure negation. They impose only an abstention from causing harm. They do not interfere with his personality, his freedom, or his property. All they do is safeguard the personality, freedom, and property of others. They remain on the defensive; they defend the equal rights of all. They carry out a mission whose harmlessness is obvious, whose usefulness is palpable, and whose legitimacy is uncontested.
This is so true that, as one of my friends brought to my notice, to say that the aim of the law is to ensure the reign of justice is to use an expression that is not strictly true. What should be said is: The aim of the law is to prevent injustice from reigning. In reality it is not justice that has its own existence, it is injustice. The one results from the absence of the other.
But when the law, through the offices of its essential agent, compulsion, imposes a way of working, a method of teaching or the contents of the latter, a faith or a creed, it is no longer acting negatively but positively on men. It substitutes the will of the legislator for their own will. Their role is no longer to question themselves, make comparisons, or plan for the future; the law does all that for them. Intelligence becomes a superfluous attribute; they cease to be men and lose their personality, their freedom, and their property.
Try to imagine a form of labor compulsorily imposed that does not infringe freedom or a transmission of wealth forcibly imposed that does not infringe property. If you do not succeed, then you must agree that the law cannot organize economic production without organizing injustice.
When, from the confines of his office, a political writer surveys society, he is struck by the spectacle of inequality that greets him. He weeps over the sufferings that are the lot of so many of our brothers, sufferings that appear even more saddening when contrasted with luxury and opulence.
Perhaps he should ask himself whether such a state of society has not been caused by former plunder carried out by conquest and by current plunder carried out by means of the law. He should ask himself whether, given that all men aspire to well-being and improving their lot, the reign of justice is not enough to achieve the greatest activity of progress and the greatest amount of equality that are compatible with the individual responsibility ordained by God, as the just reward for virtue and vice.
He does not even give this a thought. His thoughts go to deals, agreements, and organizations that are either legal or artificial. He seeks a remedy in perpetuating or exaggerating the situation that has produced the misfortune.
The fact is, outside justice, which, as we have seen, is just a genuine negation, is there a single one of these legal agreements that does not include the principle of plunder?
You say, “Here are men who lack wealth,” and you turn to the law. But the law is not a breast that fills by itself or whose milk-bearing ducts draw from elsewhere than society. Nothing enters the public treasury in favor of a citizen or a class other than that which other citizens and other classes have been forced to put in. If each person draws out only the equivalent of what he has put in, it is true that your law is not plunderous, but it does nothing for those men that lack wealth, it does nothing for equality. It can be an instrument for equality only to the extent that it takes from some to give to others, and in this case it becomes an instrument of plunder. If you look at the protection of tariffs, production subsidies, the right to profit, the right to work, the right to assistance, the right to education, progressive taxes, free credit, or social workshops from this point of view, you will always find at their root legal plunder and organized injustice.
You say, “Here are men who lack enlightenment,” and you turn to the law. But the law is not a torch that spreads its own light far and wide. It hovers over a society in which there are men with knowledge and others without, citizens who need to learn and others who are willing to teach. It can do only one of two things: either it allows this type of transaction to operate freely and permits this type of need to be freely satisfied, or it can constrain people’s wishes in this respect and take from some to pay teachers who will be responsible for educating the others free of charge. But in the second case it cannot do this without freedom and property being violated, signifying therefore legal plunder.
You say, “Here are men who lack morality or religion,” and you turn to the law. But the law is compulsion and do I need to say how violent and crazy it is to use force in this connection?
For all its theories and strivings it appears that socialism, however indulgent it is toward itself, cannot avoid catching a glimpse of the fiend that is legal plunder. But what does socialism do? It cleverly shrouds the legal plunder from all eyes, even its own, under the seductive names of fraternity, solidarity, organization, and association. And because we do not ask so much of the law since we require only justice of it, socialism presumes that we are rejecting fraternity, solidarity, organization, and association and hurls the epithet “Individualist!” at us.
Socialism ought to know, therefore, that what we are rejecting is not natural organization, but forced organization.
It is not free association, but the forms of association that socialism claims to have the right to impose on us.
It is not spontaneous fraternity, but legal fraternity.
It is not providential solidarity, but artificial solidarity, which is only an unjust displacement of responsibility.
Socialism, like the old politics from which it stems, confuses government with society. For this reason, each time we do not want something to be done by the government, socialism concludes that we do not want this thing to be done at all. We reject education by the state; therefore we do not want education. We reject state religion; therefore we do not want religion. We reject equality established by the state; therefore we do not want equality, etc., etc. It is like accusing us of not wanting men to eat because we reject the growing of wheat by the state.
How in the world of politics has the strange idea become dominant of having the law generate things that it does not encompass: Good in its positive aspect, wealth, science, and religion?
Modern political writers, particularly those of the socialist school, base their various theories on a common hypothesis, definitely the strangest and most arrogant hypothesis that the human brain has ever devised.
They divide humanity into two parts. All men minus one form the first and the political writer all on his own forms the second and by far the most important part.
In effect, they begin with the premise that men do not have within themselves either a principle of action or any means of discernment; that they lack initiative; that they are made of inert matter, passive molecules, and atoms deprived of spontaneity; and that they are at most a form of plant life that is indifferent to its own mode of existence and willing to accept an infinite number of more or less symmetrical, artistic, and developed forms from an external initiative and hand.
Each of them then quite simply supposes that he is himself, wearing the hats of organizer, prophet, legislator, teacher, and founder, this driving force and hand, this universal dynamo and creative power whose sublime mission is to gather together in society the scattered stuff of humanity.
From this given starting point, just as each gardener according to his whim prunes his trees into pyramids, umbrellas, cubes, cones, vases, fruit-tree shapes, distaffs, or fans, each socialist, according to his vision, prunes poor humanity into groups, series, centers, subcenters, honeycombs, and social, harmonious, or contrasting workshops, etc., etc.
And just as the gardener needs axes, saws, sickles, and shears in order to prune his trees, the political writer needs forces that he can find only in the laws in order to marshal his society: customs laws, tax laws, laws governing assistance or education.
It is so true that the socialists consider humanity to be material that can be modeled to fit social templates that if by chance they are not certain of the success of these arrangements, they claim at least a part of humanity as material for experimentation. We know just how popular the idea of trying out all their systems is among them, and we have already seen one of their leaders5 come in all seriousness to ask the Constituent Assembly to give them a commune with all its inhabitants in order for them to carry out tests.
In this way, every inventor makes a small-scale model of his machine before making it full scale. In this way, chemists sacrifice a few reagents and farmers a little seed and a corner of a field in order to test an idea.
But what incommensurable distance there is between a gardener and his trees, the inventor and his machine, the chemist and his reagents, and the farmer and his seed! This is the very distance that the socialist quite sincerely believes separates him from humanity.
We should not be surprised that nineteenth-century political writers consider society to be an artificial creation resulting from the genius of the legislator.
This idea, the fruit of a classical education, has dominated all the thinkers and great writers of our country.
All have seen the same relationship between humanity and the legislator as there is between clay and the potter.
What is more, while political writers have agreed to acknowledge a principle of action in the hearts of men and a principle of discernment in their intelligence, they have thought that this was a fatal gift from God and that humanity, under the influence of these two stimuli, was progressing inexorably toward its downfall. They have assumed that left to its own devices humanity would concern itself with religion only to end up with atheism, with education only to achieve ignorance, and with work and trade only to end up in destitution.
Fortunately, according to these same writers, there are a few men known as rulers and legislators who have received contrary tendencies from heaven not only for themselves but also on behalf of all the others.
Although human propensity is toward evil, the propensity of these few is toward good; although humanity marches on toward darkness, they aspire to the light; and although humanity is drawn to vice, they are attracted to virtue. And assuming this, they lay claim to force to enable them to substitute their own propensities for those of the human race.
All you have to do is to open at random a book on philosophy, politics, or history to see how deeply rooted in our country is the idea that humanity is mere inert matter that receives alike life, organization, morality, and wealth from government, an idea born of study of the classics and having socialism for its offspring—or, what is worse, that humanity itself is drawn toward degradation and is saved from this slippery slope only by the mysterious hand of the legislator. Classic conventionalism shows us everywhere that behind a passive society there is an occult power that, going by the names of the law and the legislator, or under the cloak of the more convenient, vaguer word one,6 moves humanity, brings it to life, enriches it, and infuses it with morality.
One of the things that one (who?) imprinted most strongly on the minds of the Egyptians was love of their country. . . . No one was allowed to be of no use to the state; each person had his work assigned to him by law and this was passed from father to son. No one could have two employments or change his own . . . but there was one obligatory communal activity, namely the study of the laws and conventional wisdom. Ignorance of the religion and policies of the country was not excused under any circumstances. Besides, each occupation had its own coinage assigned to it (by whom?). . . . Among good laws, the best was that everyone was fed (by whom?) with a view to his being observed. Their traveling traders filled Egypt with marvelous inventions and saw to it that they were aware of almost everything that might make life easier and more peaceful.
According to Bossuet, therefore, men draw nothing from themselves whether it be patriotism, wealth, activity, wisdom, inventions, agriculture, or science; all these they received by way of the laws or from their kings. All they had to do was to let themselves go. Bossuet takes his argument to such a pitch that he corrects Diodorus for having accused the Egyptians of rejecting wrestling and music. How could that be possible, he says, since these arts had been invented by Trismegistus?
Similarly, in Persia:
One of the principal cares of the prince was to ensure that agriculture flourished. . . . Just as there were specific responsibilities laid down for directing the armies, so there were specific responsibilities for supervising agrarian labor. . . . The respect for royal government that was inspired among the Persians reached excessive proportions.
Although the Greeks had highly developed minds, they were no less powerless as to their lot in life, to the point that, left to their own devices, they would not have risen, as do dogs or horses, to the heights of the simplest games. The agreed classical tradition is that everything comes from outside the people.
The Greeks, naturally full of intelligence and courage, had been developed from the start by the kings and colonies that came from Egypt. It is from them that they learned to exercise their bodies, run races on foot, on horseback, or in chariots . . . The best thing the Egyptians taught them was to be docile and to let themselves be formed by laws enacted for the public good.
Brought up on the study and admiration of antiquity and a witness to the power of Louis XIV, Fénelon could scarcely escape from the idea that humanity is passive and that both its misfortunes and prosperity, its virtues and vices came to it because of external action exercised on it by the law or by the person who makes the law. Thus, in his utopian Salente,7 he subjects men with all their personal interests, faculties, desires, and goods to the absolute discretion of the legislator. Whatever the circumstances, they never judge for themselves; it is the prince who judges for them. The nation is just a formless entity of which the prince is the soul. In him are united the thought, the foresight, the very principles of all forms of organization and progress, and consequently all responsibility.
To prove this assertion, I would need to copy the entire tenth book of Télémaque.8 I refer the reader to this and am content to quote a few passages taken at random from this famous poem, the quality of which, in every other respect, I am the first to acknowledge.
With that surprising credulity that characterizes the classics, Fénelon accepts the general happiness of the Egyptians, in spite of the authority of reason and facts, and attributes it not to their own wisdom but to that of their kings.
We cannot look at the two banks without glimpsing opulent towns, country houses with pleasant situations, land that each year is covered with a golden harvest without any fallow period, grasslands full of herds, farmers bowed under the weight of the fruit that overflows from the bosom of the land, or shepherds who cause the sweet sounds of their flutes and pipes to be echoed round about. Happy are the people, said Mentor, who are led by a wise king.
Mentor then pointed out to me the joy and abundance that extended over the entire country of Egypt in which up to twenty-two thousand towns could be counted, the justice exercised in favor of the poor against the rich, the proper education of children who were trained in obedience, work, sobriety, and love of arts and letters, the exact observance of all religious ceremonies, disinterestedness, a desire for honor, fidelity to men, and fear of the gods that every father inculcated into his children. He never tired of admiring such fine order. Happy are the people, he said to me, whom a wise king leads thus.
Fénelon creates an idyll of Crete that is even more attractive. Then he adds, through the words of Mentor:
All that you see in this marvelous island is the fruit of Minos’s laws. The education whose provision he ordered for children makes the body healthy and strong. The laws make them accustomed first of all to a life that is simple, frugal, and physically taxing. They assume that all sensual pleasure makes body and mind soft. They never offer them any other pleasure than that of being invincible through virtue and gaining a great deal of glory. Here, they punish three vices that go unpunished in other peoples: ingratitude, dissimulation, and greed. They never need to repress ostentation and dissipation since these are unknown in Crete. They do not allow valuable furniture, magnificent clothes, delicious feasts, or gilded palaces.9
This is how Mentor prepares his pupil to grind down and manipulate the people of Ithaca, doubtless with the most philanthropic of intentions, and for greater safety he gives him an example of this in Salente.
This is how we are given our first notions of politics. We are taught to treat men almost in the way Olivier de Serres teaches farmers to treat and mix their soil.
To maintain the spirit of trade, all laws need to encourage it, and the details of these same laws should be framed to divide up wealth as trade increases it, in such a way as to put each poor citizen in sufficient comfort to be able to work like the others, and each rich citizen in such a state of mediocrity that he needs to work to conserve or acquire.
The laws thus dispose of all wealth.
Although in democracy genuine equality is the soul of the state, this is, however, so difficult to establish that an extreme punctiliousness in this respect is not always suitable. It is sufficient that one establishes a quota that reduces or sets the differences at a certain level. After this, it is up to particular laws to equalize inequality, so to speak, through the charges they impose on the rich and the relief they give to the poor.
This again advocates the equalization of wealth by the law and by force.
In Greece, there were two forms of republic. One form was military, exemplified by Sparta; the other was commercial, exemplified by Athens. In the former, they wanted its citizens to be idle; in the latter, they sought to instill a love of work.
I would ask people to give some attention to the extent of the genius these legislators demonstrated in seeing that by upsetting all the accepted customs, by confusing all the virtues, they would be demonstrating their wisdom to the universe. Lycurgus, combining robbery with a spirit of justice, the most severe slavery with the heights of freedom, the most atrocious sentiments with the greatest moderation, gave his town stability. He appeared to remove from it all resources, arts, trade, money, and city walls. There was ambition with no hope of being better off. The Spartans had natural sentiments and were neither child, husband, nor father. Even modesty was removed from chastity. It is along this route that Sparta was led to greatness and glory. . . .
We have also seen this extraordinary situation that was observed in the institutions in Greece in the dregs and corruption of modern times.
An honest legislator has formed a people in which probity appears to be as natural as bravery was in the Spartans. Mr. Penn is a genuine Lycurgus and, while Mr. Penn’s object was peace in the same way that Lycurgus’s was war, they resemble one another in the singular path in which they set their people, in the influence they had on free men, in the preconceptions they overcame, and in the passions they subdued.
Another example is Paraguay.10 Those who regard the pleasure of governing as the sole good thing in life have wished to make it a crime against society, but it will always be a fine thing to govern men while making them happy. . . .
Those who wish to establish similar institutions will set up the communality of assets of Plato’s republic, the respect for the gods that he demanded, the separation from foreigners in order to preserve customs, with the city, not the citizens, carrying out trade. They will give us our arts without our luxury and our needs without our desires.”
However much popular enthusiasm cries, “It is by Montesquieu, so it is marvelous! It is sublime!” I will have the courage of my convictions and say:
What? You have the effrontery to find that beautiful?
It is dreadful! Abominable! And these quotations that I could increase in number show that in Montesquieu’s view people, freedom, property, and the entire human race are just materials suited to the exercise of the legislator’s sagacity.
Although this political writer, the supreme authority for democrats, bases the social edifice on the general will, no one has accepted as completely as he does the hypothesis of the total passivity of the human race in the presence of the legislator.
While it is true that a great prince is a rare person, how much more so is a great legislator? The former has only to follow the model that the latter has to put forward. The latter is the mechanic who invents the machine, while the former is the worker who gets on it and makes it go.11
And what is the role of men in all this? The machine that you get on and make go, or rather the raw material out of which the machine is made!
Thus, between the legislator and the prince and between the prince and his subjects there is the same relationship as between the agronomist and the farmer and the farmer and the soil. At what height above humanity, therefore, do we place the political writer who governs the legislators themselves and teaches them their job in such imperative terms as the following?
Do you want to give consistency to the state? Reduce the distance between the extreme levels as far as is possible. Do not allow either wealthy people or paupers.
Is the soil hard to till or infertile or the country too small to hold its inhabitants? Turn toward industry and the arts whose productions you can trade for the goods you lack. . . . Do you lack inhabitants where the land is good? Concentrate on farming, which increases the number of men, and turn away from the arts, which will succeed only in reducing the population of the country. . . . Are you concerned with shorelines that are broad and accessible? Cover the sea with ships and you will have a brilliant and short existence. Does the sea bathe only inaccessible rocks on your shoreline? Remain savages and eaters of fish; your life will be more peaceful, perhaps better, and certainly happier. In a word, apart from the maxims common to all, each people carries within it a cause that orders it in a particular way and makes its legislation proper to it alone. This is why in former times the Hebrews and more recently the Arabs have had religion as their principal object, the Athenians letters, Carthage and Tyre trade, Rhodes naval matters, Sparta war, and Rome virtue. The author of the Spirit of the Laws12 has shown with what art the legislator directs the system of institutions toward these objects. But if the legislator makes a mistake and takes a principle other than that which arises from the nature of things and one tends toward slavery while the other tends toward freedom, one toward wealth and the other toward population, one to peace and the other to conquests, the laws will be seen to become imperceptibly weaker, the constitution will be changed, and the state will not cease to suffer agitation until it is either destroyed or changed and invincible nature has regained its empire.
But if nature is sufficiently invincible to regain its domination, why does Rousseau not admit that it did not need such a legislator to take this domination from the outset? Why does he not admit that by obeying their own initiative men will of their own accord turn toward trade on broad and accessible shorelines without a Lycurgus, a Solon, or a Rousseau interfering at the risk of making a mistake?
Be that as it may, we can understand the awesome responsibility that Rousseau places on inventors, teachers, leaders, legislators, and the manipulators of societies. This is why he is very demanding with regard to them.
He who dares to undertake to teach a people must feel that he is, so to say, capable of changing human nature and transforming each individual who, of himself, is a perfect and solitary whole, into a part of a greater whole from which this individual receives totally or in part his life and being; he must be capable too of changing the constitution of man in order to strengthen it and substituting an incomplete and moral existence for a physical and independent one which we have all received from nature. In a word, he needs to remove from man his own forces in order to give him some that are foreign to him. . . .
Poor human race, what will Rousseau’s disciples do with your dignity?
The climate, that is to say the sky and the soil, is the first rule of the legislator. Its resources dictate his duty to him. First of all, it is its local situation that he must consult. A people cast upon a seacoast will have laws that relate to navigation. . . . If the colony is concerned with the land, a legislator must provide for both its type and level of fertility. . . .
It is above all in the distribution of property that the wisdom of the legislation will shine through. In general and in all the countries of the world, when a colony is founded, land must be given to each man, that is to say, a sufficient amount to each person to provide for a family. . . .
In an uncivilized island that one would people with children, one would only have to leave the seeds of truth to blossom in the development of reason. . . . But when one establishes a people that is already old in a new country, the art lies in leaving to it only those harmful opinions and habits from which it cannot be cured and corrected. If one wants to prevent them from being passed on, one will supervise the second generation through the communal and public education of its children. A prince or legislator should never found a colony without sending wise men in advance to educate the young. . . . In a new colony every facility is open to the precautions of the legislator who wishes to purify the blood and manners of a people. If he has genius and virtue, the lands and men he will have in his hands will inspire in his soul a plan for society which a writer would outline only in a vague manner subject to unstable hypotheses that vary and complicate one another with an infinite number of circumstances that are too difficult to forecast and combine.
Does he not appear to hear a teacher of agriculture say to his pupils, “The climate is the farmer’s first rule? Its resources dictate his duties. It is its local situation that he has to consult. If the farm is on a clay soil, he has to take these steps. If he has to deal with sand, this is what he has to do. All facilities are available to the farmer who wishes to clear and improve his soil. If he is clever, the land and fertilizers he has in his hands will inspire in him an operating plan that a teacher will be able to outline only in a vague manner subject to unstable hypotheses that vary and complicate one another with an infinite number of circumstances that are too difficult to forecast and combine.”
But, O sublime writers, please remember on occasion that this clay or sand, this compost of which you so arbitrarily dispose, is made up of men, your equals, who are intelligent and free beings like you, who, like you, have received from God the faculty of sight, foresight, thought, and making judgments for themselves!
(He takes the laws to be rusty from age, security to be neglected, and continues thus:)
In these circumstances, you have to be convinced that the springs of government have been loosened. Give them renewed tension [Mably is addressing the reader] and the ill will be cured. . . . Think less of punishing faults than of encouraging the virtues you need. This way, you will restore the vigor of youth to your republic. Free peoples have lost their freedom because they did not know this! But if the ill has progressed so far that ordinary magistrates cannot remedy it effectively, turn to an extraordinary group of magistrates with a short tenure and considerable power. The citizens’ imagination in such circumstances needs to be struck.
And more in this vein for twenty volumes.
There was a time when, under the influence of such teaching, which is the foundation of classical education, everyone wanted to place himself outside and above humanity in order to arrange it, organize it, and set it up according to his views.
My Lord, make yourself out to be a Lycurgus or a Solon. Before continuing to read further, amuse yourself by giving laws to some uncivilized tribe in America or Africa. Settle these nomadic men in sedentary houses; teach them to feed their herds and work at developing the social qualities that nature has given them. Order them to start practicing the duties of humanity. Use punishment to poison the pleasures promised by passion and you will see that these savages will lose a vice and gain a virtue with each article of your legislation.
All peoples have had laws. But few of them have been happy. Why is this so? It is because legislators have almost always ignored the fact that the object of society is to unite families through a common interest.
The impartiality of laws lies in two things: establishing equality in the wealth and equality in the dignity of citizens. . . . As your laws establish greater equality, they will become dearer to each citizen. . . . How will avarice, ambition, sensuality, laziness, idleness, envy, hatred, and jealousy operate in men who are equal in fortune and dignity and in whose eyes the laws will give no opportunity of disrupting equality? [The idyll follows.]
What you have been told about the republic of Sparta should give you greater enlightenment on this question. No other state has ever had laws that conformed more to the order of nature and equality.14
It is not surprising that the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries considered the human race to be inert matter that waits, receives everything—form, face, stimulus, movement, and life—from a great prince, a great legislator, or a great genius. These centuries were fed on the study of antiquity and antiquity effectively offers us everywhere—in Egypt, Persia, Greece, and Rome—the sight of a few men manipulating at will a human race that is subjugated by force or imposture. What does that prove? It shows that because man and society can be improved, error, ignorance, despotism, slavery, and superstition must have existed in greater quantity at the dawn of time. The mistake of the writers I have quoted is not to have noted the fact but to have offered it as though it were a rule to be admired and imitated by future races. Their mistake is to have accepted with an inconceivable lack of critical analysis and on the faith of puerile conventionalism what is unacceptable, that is to say, the grandeur, dignity, morality, and well-being of these artificial forms of society in the ancient world; to have failed to understand that time produces and propagates light; and that, as the light grows brighter, the force takes the side of the right and society takes possession of itself again.
And in fact, what is the political work we are witnessing? It is none other than the instinctive effort of all peoples to achieve liberty.15 And what is liberty, this word that has the power of making all hearts beat faster and causing agitation around the world, if it is not the sum of all freedoms: freedom of conscience, teaching, and association; freedom of the press; freedom to travel, work, and trade; in other words, the free exercise of all inoffensive faculties by all men and, in still other terms, the destruction of all despotic regimes, even legal despotism, and the reduction of the law to its sole rational attribution, which is to regulate the individual law of legitimate defense or to punish injustice.
This tendency in the human race, it must be agreed, is grossly countered, particularly in our country, by the fatal disposition—the fruit of classical teaching—that is common to all political writers, to put themselves in a position outside the human race in order to sort it out, organize it, and institute it according to their lights.
For while society agitates to achieve freedom, the sole thought of the great men who put themselves at its head and who are imbued with the principles of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is to bend it to suit the philanthropic despotism of their social inventions and to have it, as Rousseau says, bear docilely the yoke of public felicity as they have conceived it.
We saw this clearly in 1789. Scarcely had the legal former regime been destroyed when the new form of society was made to bear other artificial systems all based on the agreed concept: the omnipotence of the law.
The legislator holds sway over the future. It is up to him to want what is good. It is up to him to make men what he wants them to be.
The function of the government is to direct the physical and moral forces of the nation toward the purpose behind its institution.
It is necessary to re-create the people to whom we wish to restore freedom. Since it is necessary to destroy former prejudices, change long-standing habits, improve depraved affections, restrict superfluous needs, and root out inveterate vices, strong action and a fervent drive are needed. . . . Citizens, in Sparta the inflexible austerity of Lycurgus became the unshakeable foundation for the republic; the weak and trusting character of Solon plunged Athens once again into slavery. This parallel encapsulates the entire science of the government.
Considering how far the human race has degenerated, I am convinced of the need to carry out total regeneration and, if I may put it this way, to create a new people.
As you can see, men are nothing other than vile material. It is not up to them to want what is good; they are incapable of this. It is up to the legislator, according to Saint-Just. Men are only what he wants them to be.
According to Robespierre, who echoes Rousseau literally, the legislator begins by designating the purpose for which the nation is established. There-after, all the government has to do is to direct all physical and moral forces toward this aim. The nation itself always remains passive in all this, and Billaud-Varennes teaches us that it should have only the prejudices, habits, affections, and needs that are authorized by the legislator. He goes so far as to say that the inflexible austerity of one man is the foundation of the republic.
We have seen that, where evil is so great that ordinary magistrates cannot remedy it, Mably recommended dictatorship in order to make virtue flourish. “Turn to an extraordinary group of magistrates,” he says, “whose tenure will be short and whose power will be considerable. They need to have a strong impact on citizens’ imaginations.” This doctrine has not been lost. Listen to what Robespierre says:
The principle of republican government is virtue, and its means, while it is becoming established, is terror. In our country, we want to substitute morality for selfishness, probity for honor, principles for customs, duty for the proprieties, the empire of reason for the tyranny of fashion, a scorn of vice for a scorn of misfortune, pride for insolence, greatness of spirit for vanity, a love of glory for a love of money, good people for good company, merit for intrigue, genius for a finely turned phrase, truth for brilliance, the attraction of happiness for the boredom of sensuality, the greatness of man for the small-mindedness of the great, a people that is magnanimous, powerful, and happy for a people that is likable, frivolous, and wretched, in a word, all the virtues and all the miracles of a republic for all the vices and absurdities of the monarchy.16
At what height above the rest of humanity Robespierre sets himself here! And note the circumstance in which he is speaking. He does not limit himself to expressing a wish for a major regeneration of the human heart; he does not even expect that this will be the result of a proper system of government. No, he wants to achieve this by himself, and through terror. The speech from which this puerile and plodding heap of antitheses is taken aimed to set out the moral principles that ought to direct a revolutionary government. Note that when Robespierre comes forward to request a dictatorship, it is not just to repel foreigners and combat factions but really to achieve the triumph of his own moral principles through terror, and this prior to the application of the Constitution. His pretension is to root out from the country, through terror, nothing less than selfishness, honor, customs, the proprieties, fashion, vanity, a love of money, good society, intrigue, brilliance of mind, sensuality, and wretchedness. It is only after he, Robespierre, has accomplished these miracles, as he quite rightly calls them, that he will allow the law to regain its empire. Oh, you poor people who think you are so great, who hold humanity to be so insignificant, who want to reform everything, reform yourselves and that task will suffice.
However, in general, reformers, legislators, and political writers do not ask to exercise an immediate despotism over the human race. No, they are too moderate and philanthropic for that. They demand only the despotism, absolutism, and omnipotence of the law. The only thing is that they aspire to make the law.
To show how universal this strange disposition of minds has been in France, not only would I have had to copy out the entire works of Mably, Raynal, Rousseau, and Fénelon, and long quotations from Bossuet and Montesquieu, I would also have had to copy the entire minutes of the sessions of the Convention. I will refrain from doing so and merely refer the reader to them.
We can be sure that this idea was very attractive to Bonaparte. He embraced it with fervor and put it energetically into practice. Since he considered himself to be a chemist, all he saw in Europe was a source of material on which to experiment. However, this material showed itself to be a powerful reagent. When he was three quarters disillusioned on Saint Helena, Bonaparte appeared to acknowledge that there was a certain amount of initiative in peoples and he seemed to be less hostile to freedom. However, this did not stop him from giving the following lesson to his son in his will, “To govern is to spread morality, education, and well-being widely.”
Is it still necessary to use fastidious quotations to show where Morelly, Babeuf, Owen, Saint-Simon, or Fourier takes his source? I will limit myself to offering the reader a few extracts of the book by Louis Blanc on the organization of work.17
“In our project, society receives its drive from government.” (Page 126)
In what does the drive that authority gives society consist? In imposing the project of M. Louis Blanc.
On the other hand, society is the human race.
Therefore, in the end, the human race receives its inspiration from M. Louis Blanc.
Let him get on with it, people will say. Doubtless the human race is free to follow the advice of no matter whom. But this is not how M. Louis Blanc sees things. He thinks that his project should be converted into law and consequently be imposed by force by the government.
In our project, the state gives only a legislative structure for labor production (excuse the only) in virtue of which productive activity can and ought to accomplish its task in total freedom. It (the state) merely places freedom on a slope (that is all) which it descends once it has been put there simply through the force of things and by a natural consequence of the established mechanism.
But what is this slope? “The one indicated by M. Louis Blanc.” Does it not lead to an abyss? “No, it leads to happiness.” Why then does society not put itself on the slope of its own accord? “Because it does not know what it wants and needs a stimulus.” Who will give it this stimulus? “The government.” And who will give a stimulus to the government? “The inventor of the mechanism, M. Louis Blanc.”
We will never escape this circle, that of a passive human race and one great man who sets it in motion through the intervention of the law.
Once on this slope, will society at least enjoy a measure of freedom? “Doubtless.” And what is freedom?
Let us say this once and for all: freedom consists not only in the right awarded but in the power given to man to develop and exercise his faculties under the rule of justice and the safeguard of the law.
And this is not a worthless distinction: its meaning is profound and its consequences immense. For, when it is admitted that, in order to be truly free, man needs the power to exercise and develop his faculties, it follows that society owes a suitable education to each of its members, without which the human mind cannot flourish, together with the instruments of work, without which human activity cannot be given full scope. However, by whose intervention will society give each of its members a suitable education and the necessary tools of work if it is not through the intervention of the state?
Thus freedom is power. In what does this power consist? “In taking possession of education and the tools of work.” Who will dispense education and hand out the tools? “Society, which owes them to its members.” Through whose intervention will society hand out tools to those who lack them? “Through the intervention of the state.” From whom will the state take them?
It is up to the reader to reply and to see where all this will lead.
One of the strangest phenomena of our time, which will probably astonish our descendants a great deal, is that the doctrine based on this triple hypothesis—the radical inertia of humanity, the omnipotence of the law, and the infallibility of the legislator—is the sacred cow of the party that proclaims itself exclusively democratic.
It is true that the party also calls itself social.
Insofar as it is democratic, it has boundless faith in the human race.
Since it is social, it ranks the human race lower than mud.
Is it a question of human rights, or of producing a legislator from its bosom? In this case, indeed, in its view the people know everything instinctively; they have admirable tact. Their will is always right and the general will cannot err. Suffrage cannot be too universal. No one owes society any guarantees. The will and capacity to make a good choice is always assumed. Can the people make a mistake? Are we not in the century of enlightenment? Well, then! Will the people always remain in a state of guardianship? Have they not won their rights by enough effort and sacrifice? Have they not provided sufficient proof of their intelligence and wisdom? Have they not become mature? Are they not in a position to judge for themselves? Do they not recognize their own interests? Is there a man or a class that dares to claim the right to take the people’s place and make decisions and act on their behalf? No, no, the people want to be free and will be free. They want to run their own affairs and will do so.
However, once the legislator has freed himself from electoral meetings through the elections, oh, how he changes his language! The nation reverts to passiveness, inertia, and nothingness, and the legislator enters into possession of omnipotent powers. Invention, direction, inspiration, and organization are all up to him! All humanity has to do is go along with it; the hour of despotism has rung. And note that this is fatal; for the people who only recently were so enlightened, moral, and perfect now have no propensities, or if they have any, these are leading them all to degradation. And they should be left a shred of freedom! Are you not aware that, according to M. Considérant, freedom inexorably leads to monopoly? Are you not aware that freedom is competition and that competition, according to M. Blanc, is a system of extermination for the people and a cause of ruin for the bourgeoisie? That it is for this reason that peoples have been all the more exterminated and ruined the freer they are, as Switzerland, Holland, England, and the United States show? Are you not aware that, still according to M. Louis Blanc, competition leads to monopoly and that for the same reason, a good bargain leads to high prices? That competition leads to the drying up of sources of consumption and propels production to become a devouring activity? That competition forces production to increase and consumption to decrease? From which it follows that free peoples produce in order not to consume and that competition is simultaneously oppression and dementia and that it is absolutely essential for M. Louis Blanc to meddle with it.
What freedom, besides, can we leave men? Will it be freedom of conscience? But we will see them all take advantage of permissiveness to become atheists. Freedom of education? But fathers will hasten to pay teachers to teach their sons immorality and error; what is more, according to M. Thiers, if education were left to national freedom, it would cease to be national and we would raise our children according to the views of the Turks or Hindus, instead of which, through the legal despotism of the university, they have the good fortune to be raised according to the noble views of the Romans. Freedom to work? But this is competition, which leaves products unconsumed, exterminates the people, and ruins the middle classes. Freedom to trade? But we know only too well, and protectionists have demonstrated this ad nauseam, that men are ruined when they carry out free trade and that in order to become rich they should trade without freedom. Freedom of association? But according to socialist doctrine, freedom and association are mutually exclusive precisely because one takes freedom away from men only in order to force them to form associations.
You can thus see clearly that social democrats cannot, in all conscience, leave men any freedom, since by their very nature, and if these fine gentlemen did not put it right, they would all tend everywhere toward all forms of degradation and demoralization.
We are left guessing, if this is so, on what basis universal suffrage is being demanded so insistently on their behalf.
The pretensions of the organizers raise another question, which I have oft en asked them and to which, as far as I know, they have never replied. Since the natural tendencies of man are sufficiently bad for their freedom to have to be removed, how is it that those of the organizers are good? Are the legislators and their agents not part of the human race? Do they think they are formed from a different clay from the rest of mankind? They state that society, left to itself, rushes inexorably toward the abyss because its instincts are perverse. They claim to be able to stop society on this slope and redirect it to a better goal. They have therefore received from heaven a level of intelligence and virtues that place them outside and above humanity; let them show the justification for this. They wish to be shepherds and want us to be sheep. This arrangement assumes that they have superior natures, and we have every right to demand prior proof of this.
Note that what I am questioning is not their right to invent social combinations and propagate them, recommend them, and try them out on themselves at their own risk, but in particular their right to impose them on us through the law, that is to say, using public compulsion and finance.
I demand that the followers of Cabet, Fourier, and Proudhon, the academics and protectionists, renounce, not their specific ideas, but the idea that is common to them, which is to subject us by force to their causes and writings, to their social workshops, their “free” banks, their Greek and Roman systems of morality, and their hindrances to trade. What I demand from them is for us to be allowed to judge their plans and to refuse to join them, whether directly or indirectly, if we find that they run counter to our interests or are repugnant to our consciences.
For, apart from the fact that it is oppressive and plunderous, the call for bringing in the government and more taxes implies once again this damaging hypothesis, the infallibility of the organizer, and the incompetence of humanity.
And if humanity is incapable of making its own judgments, why are people talking to us about universal suffrage?
The contradiction in these ideas is unfortunately reflected in events, and while the French people have led all the others in winning their rights, or rather their political guarantees, they nevertheless remain the most governed, directed, administered, taxed, hobbled, and exploited of all peoples.
They are also the people where revolutions are most likely to happen, and this should be so.
As soon as you start with the idea, accepted by all our political writers and so energetically expressed by M. Louis Blanc in the following words, “Society receives its motive force from the government”; as soon as men consider themselves to be sensitive but passive, incapable of lifting themselves up by their own discernment and energy to any form of morality or well-being and reduced to expecting everything to be provided by the law; in a word, when they accept that their relationship with the state is that of sheep with their shepherd, it is clear that the responsibility of the government is immense. Good and evil, virtues and vices, equality and inequality, wealth and poverty all flow from it. It is responsible for everything, it undertakes everything, and it does everything, so therefore it answers for everything. If we are happy, the state rightfully claims our gratitude, but if we are unhappy we can blame only it. Does it not, in principle, dispose of our persons and our belongings? Is not the law omnipotent? When the state created the university monopoly, it undertook to meet the hopes of heads of families who were deprived of their freedom, and if these hopes have been dashed, whose fault is this? By regulating industry, the state undertook to make it prosper; otherwise the state would have been absurd to remove freedom from industry, and if industry suffers, whose fault is it? By interfering in adjusting the balance of trade by playing with the tariffs, the state undertook to make the stale trade flourish and if, far from flourishing, it dies, whose fault is that? By awarding the shipbuilders protection in exchange for their freedom, the government undertook to make them generate wealth, and if they become a financial burden, whose fault is this?
Thus, there is no suffering in the nation for which the government has not voluntarily made itself responsible. Should we be surprised therefore that each cause of suffering is a cause for revolution?
And what remedy are they proposing? They propose the indefinite widening of the domain of the law, that is to say, the responsibility of the government.
But if the government makes itself responsible for raising and regulating all earnings and cannot do this, if it makes itself responsible for giving assistance in every misfortune and cannot do this, if it makes itself responsible for ensuring all the pensions of all the workers and cannot do this, if it makes itself responsible for supplying all the workers with their working tools and cannot do this, if it makes itself responsible for allocating free credit to all those craving loans and cannot do this, if, according to the words we have with regret seen escape from the pen of M. de Lamartine, “The state has set itself the mission of enlightening, developing, enlarging, fortifying, spiritualizing, and sanctifying the souls of peoples,” and it fails, do we not see with each disappointment, alas, that it is more than likely that a revolution is inevitable?
I repeat my thesis and say: the overriding question to be asked is where the dividing line between economic and political science18 lies. It is this:
What is the law? What ought it to be? What domain does it cover? What are its limits? Consequently, where do the attributions of the legislator cease?
I have no hesitation in replying: the law is the common power organized to obstruct injustice and, in short, the law is justice.
It is not true that the legislator has absolute power over our persons and property, since they existed before him and his task is to surround them with guarantees.
It is not true that the mission of the law is to rule over our consciences, our ideas, our will, our education, our feelings, our work, our trade, our gift s, and our enjoyment.
Its mission is to ensure that in none of these areas does the right of one person override the right of another.
Because it wields the necessary sanction of coercion, the law can have as its legitimate domain only the legitimate domain of force, that is to say, justice.
And as each individual has the right to have recourse to force only in the case of legitimate defense, collective force, which is just the union of individual forces, cannot reasonably be applied in any other case.
Therefore, the law is solely the organization of the pre-existing individual right of legitimate defense.
The law is justice.
It is entirely wrong for it to be able to oppress persons or plunder their property, even for a philanthropic reason, since its mission is to protect them.
And let it not be said that it can at least be philanthropic provided that it refrains from any oppression or plunder; that is contradictory. The law cannot fail to act with regard to our persons or our property; if it does not guarantee them, it violates them by the very fact that it acts, the very fact that it exists.
The law is justice.
This is a statement that is clear, simple, perfectly defined and delimited, easy to understand, and easy to see, for justice is a given quantity that is unmovable and inalterable and does not allow any ifs or buts.
If you exceed these bounds, and make the law religious, fraternal, egalitarian, philanthropic, industrial, literary, or artistic, you will immediately be in the realm of the infinite, uncertainty, and the unknown and in an imposed utopia or, what is worse, in the host of utopias struggling to take over the law and impose themselves, for fraternity and philanthropy, unlike justice, do not have established limits. Where will you stop? Where will the law stop? One person, like M. de Saint-Cricq, will extend his brand of philanthropy only to certain sectors of industry and will demand of the law that it disadvantage consumers in favor of producers. Another, like M. Considérant, will take up the cause of the workers and claim from the law on their behalf an assured minimum, by way of clothing, accommodation, food, and everything necessary for the preservation of life. A third, M. Louis Blanc, will say, correctly, that this is just a rough outline of fraternity and that the law ought to provide all the tools for work and education. A fourth will call to our attention that such an arrangement will still leave an opening for inequality and that the law should ensure that luxury, literature, and the arts reach the most far-flung hamlet. You will thus be led right up to communism, or rather, the legislation will be . . . what it already is: a battlefield for all forms of dreams and cupidity.
The law is justice.
Within this circle a simple, unshakable government is conceived. And I defy anyone to tell me how the thought of revolution or insurrection, or even a simple riot, could arise against a public authority that is limited to repressing injustice. Under a regime like this, there would be greater fulfillment, well-being would be spread more evenly, and as for the suffering that is endemic to the human race, no one would think of attributing it to the government, which would have had as little effect over suffering as it has on variations in the weather. Has anyone ever seen the people rise up against the court of appeal or burst into the chamber of a justice of the peace to demand a minimum wage, free credit, tools for work, favorable tariffs, or social workshops? They are fully aware that these arrangements are beyond the judge’s powers and will learn at the same time that they are beyond the powers of the law.
But if you make the law based on the principle of fraternity and proclaim that all benefits and misfortunes flow from it, that it is responsible for all individual suffering and all social inequality, you will open the floodgates to an unending flow of complaints, hatred, unrest, and revolution.
The law is justice.
And it would be very strange if it could in fairness be anything else! Does justice not encapsulate right? Are all rights not equal? How then could the law intervene to subject me to the social designs of MM Mimerel, de Melun, Thiers, and Louis Blanc rather than subject these gentlemen to my designs? Does anyone believe that I have not received sufficient imagination from nature to invent a utopia of my own? Is it the role of the law to choose among so many illusions and assign public compulsion to serve just one of these?
The law is justice.
And let nobody say, as is constantly said, that if the law were thus designed to be atheist, individualistic, and with no substance it would make the human race in its image. That is an absurd deduction, only too worthy of this government obsession with seeing humanity in the law.
What then! Once we are free, does it follow that we would cease to act? Once we no longer receive our animation from the law, does it follow that we will be devoid of any stimulus? Once the law limits itself to guaranteeing us the free exercise of our faculties, does it follow that our faculties will be struck by inertia? Once the law no longer imposes forms of religion, systems of association, methods of teaching, procedures for working, instructions for trading, or rules for charitable work on us, does it follow that we will rush into atheism, isolation, ignorance, deprivation, and selfishness? Does it follow that we will no longer be capable of recognizing the power and goodness of God, form associations, help each other, love and assist our brothers in misfortune, examine the secrets of nature, and aspire to achieving the perfection of our being?
The law is justice.
And it is under the law of justice, under the regime of right, under the influence of freedom, security, stability, and responsibility that each person will attain his full value, the full dignity of his being, and that humanity will accomplish with order and calmness, doubtless with slowness but certainty, the progress which is its destiny.
I think that I have theory on my side, for whatever question I subject to reason—whether it concerns religion, philosophy, politics, or economics; whether it relates to well-being, morality, equality, right, justice, progress, responsibility, solidarity, property, work, trade, capital, earnings, taxes, population, credit, or government; at whatever point on the scientific horizon I place the point of departure of my research—I invariably reach this conclusion: the solution to the social problem is to be found in freedom.
And have I not also experience on my side? Take a look at the globe. What countries have the happiest, most moral, and most peaceful peoples? Those countries in which the law intervenes the least in private activity; in which the government is the least felt; in which individuality has the most vigor and public opinion the greatest influence; in which the administrative systems are the least in number and degree of complexity, the taxes the least heavy and the least unfair, popular discontent the least heated and the least justifiable; in which the responsibility of individuals and classes is the most active and, consequently, where habits are imperfect, they tend most indefatigably to improve; in which transactions, agreements, and associations are the least hindered; in which labor, capital, and the population are subject to the fewest artificial displacements; in which humanity obeys its proper leanings most readily; in which the thought of God prevails the most over the designs of men; those in a word that come the closest to the following state of affairs: all things to be achieved through man’s free and perfectible spontaneous action, within the limits of what is right; nothing to be achieved by the law or by force other than universal justice.
It has to be said: there are too many great men in the world. There are too many legislators, organizers, founders of society, leaders of peoples, fathers of nations, etc., etc. Too many people put themselves above humanity in order to rule it and too many people think their job is to become involved with it.
People will say to me: you yourself are becoming involved, you who talk about it. That is true. But they will agree that it is for a very different reason and from a very different point of view, and while I am taking on those who wish to reform, it is solely to make them abandon their effort.
I am becoming involved with it not like Vaucanson with his automaton but like a physiologist with the human organism, in order to examine it and admire it.
I am becoming involved with it in the same spirit as that of a famous traveler.
He arrived among a savage tribe. A child had just been born and a host of fortune-tellers, warlocks, and quacks were crowding around it, armed with rings, hooks, and ties. One said, “This child will never smell the aroma of a pipe if I do not lengthen his nostrils.” Another said, “He will be deprived of the sense of hearing if I do not make his ears reach down to his shoulders.” A third said, “He will never see the light of the sun unless I make his eyes slant obliquely.” A fourth said, “He will never stand upright if I do not make his legs curve.” A fifth said, “He will never be able to think if I do not squeeze his brain.” “Away with you,” said the traveler. “God does His work well. Do not claim to know more than He does and, since He has given organs to this frail creature, leave those organs to develop and grow strong through exercise, experimentation, experience, and freedom.”
God has also provided humanity with all that is necessary for it to accomplish its destiny. There is a providential social physiology just as there is a providential human physiology. The social organs are also constituted so as to develop harmoniously in the fresh air of freedom. Away with you, therefore, you quacks and organizers! Away with your rings, chains, hooks, and pincers! Away with your artificial means! Away with your social workshop, your phalanstery, your governmentalism, your centralization, your tariffs, your universities, your state religion, your free credit or monopolistic banks, your constraints, your restrictions, your moralizing, or your equalizing through taxes! And since the social body has had inflicted on it so many theoretical systems to no avail, let us finish where we should have started; let us reject these and at last put freedom to the test, freedom, which is an act of faith in God and in His work.
Property and Plunder1
[vol. 4, p. 394. “Propriété et spoliation.” Originally published in the 24 July 1848 issue of Le Journal des débats.]
[30. ]A future volume in this series will contain Bastiat’s Economic Harmonies.
[1. ]Following the July revolution, the government initiated a debate on the future of the protectionist system introduced under the restoration. Some politicians were in favor of the progressive introduction of commercial freedom, while some lobbies, using various sophisms, argued for a partial freedom that would not hurt their own business. One such lobby was composed of traders from Bordeaux, soon joined by traders from Le Havre and Lyons. Bastiat responded in a Bordeaux newspaper with the above article.
[2. ](Paillottet’s note) See vol. 2, pages 25ff. (OC, vol. 2, p. 25, “De l’influence du régime protecteur sur la situation de l’agriculture en France.”)
[3. ](Paillottet’s note) The same petition wanted the protection of manufactured objects to be reduced, not immediately, but at an unspecified time and not to the lowest rate of duty but to a rate of 20 percent.
[1. ]Taxes on wine and spirits were very detrimental to the Chalosse. Introduced in 1806, twice withdrawn and reestablished between 1814 and 1816, the taxes did not change much until 1840, when the European crisis led to greater government spending. On 30 December 1840 a bill for taxes on wines and spirits in order to lower the deficit was presented to parliament. Being from a wine-producing region, Bastiat was somewhat concerned for himself, because he had some vines on his own property; however, as a member of the General Council, he was even more concerned by a law that was very hard on the local farmers, whose main crop was grapes for wine producing. This study was presented to the General Council in 1841. See “On the Wine-Growing Question,” p. 25 in this volume. See also the entry for “Wine and Spirits Tax” in the Glossary of Subjects and Terms.
[2. ](Bastiat’s note) This figure varied at times.
[3. ]An alcoholic drink made from pear juice.
[4. ]Napoléon Bonaparte.
[6. ]This line is probably from Molière’s comedy Les Fourberies de Scapin (1671). Scapin is a servant who extorts money from his wealthy and aristocratic patrons in a complex comedy about love and social station. A “sack” plays an important role in the subterfuge as Scapin fools the father Géronte into hiding in the sack while Scapin proceeds to hit it with a stick at periodic intervals. See Œuvres complètes de Molière, vol. 5, pp. 548–49, where there is a similar passage to Bastiat’s quotation.
[7. ]From Jean de La Fontaine’s poem “Le Petit poisson et le pêcheur.”
[8. ]“Droits d’Entrée en Hollande” (Import Duties in Holland).
[9. ]In French, céruse. Refers to a white lead pigment used in cosmetics.
[10. ]See the entry for “Revolution of 1848” in the Glossary of Subjects and Terms.
[1. ]The society recommended the introduction of rapeseed, tobacco, and mulberries for the rearing of silkworms.
[2. ]Le Houga is a village close to the eastern border of the Landes in the Gers dé partement.
[3. ](Bastiat’s note) M. de Chabrol, “Report to the King.”
[4. ]Jacques Necker.
[9. ]Bastiat is making a joke here about how the revolution accidentally forced a temporary reduction in taxes because of turmoil and confusion. See also the entry for “Revolution of 1848” in the Glossary of Subjects and Terms.
[10. ](Bastiat’s note) “It has been acknowledged that, of all the products that can be taxed, wines and spirits yield the most [taxes] and are the easiest to collect.” M. de Villèle.
[11. ]See the entry for “Republican calendar” in the Glossary of Subjects and Terms.
[12. ]It is not clear to what decree Bastiat is referring. Year XII of the Republican calendar would place it sometime in 1804, which was the year the Constitution of Year XII (18 May 1804) was decreed, creating the new empire of Napoléon. In April 1803 duties were enacted on the importation of cotton goods, and all French protective duties were codified in February and April 1806. Soon after becoming emperor, Napoléon passed a number of decrees putting in place his continental blockade against Britain (the Berlin Decree of November 1806 and the Milan Decree of November 1807).
[13. ]From “Le Ventru, aux électeurs de 1819,” a satirical song by Pierre Jean de Béranger. See Béranger, Chanson s, pp. 301–3. In the song Béranger mocks in turn the electors, the prefects, the mayors, the clergy, the conservative Ultras, and the liberals.
[14. ]Bastiat is referring to the first glimmers of liberal economic reform in the 1820s and 1830s. See also the entries for “Huskisson, William,” and “Tanneguy Duchâtel, Charles Marie,” in the Glossary of Persons.
[15. ](Bastiat’s note) I am not so much referring to the minister, with whose acts I am not familiar, but to the political writer who is a well-known member of the Adam Smith School.
[16. ]See the entry for “Zollverein” in the Glossary of Subjects and Terms.
[17. ]In the early 1840s there began what is called an “entente cordiale” between France and England following the tensions that arose because of the Eastern Crisis of 1840 (when war broke out between Egypt and the Ottoman Empire). Lord Aberdeen and Guizot wanted to improve relations with a new trade treaty, but tensions remained over such issues as the Franco-Belgian customs union, Franco-British rivalry over Spain, and the suppression of the slave trade. In 1842 Sir Robert Peel began to move in the direction of unilateral trade liberalization, which would result in the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. In 1842 he began to remove prohibitory duties on raw materials and foodstuffs, such as the removal of import and export duties on wool.
[18. ]Bordeaux wines.
[19. ]Under the influence of the liberal revolution in France in 1830, which ushered in the July Monarchy of Louis-Philippe, Belgium broke away from the Netherlands and became independent with its own constitution and monarch, Leopold of Saxe-Coburg. There was a two-way battle in trade policy between the nations who favored free trade, the Netherlands and Great Britain, on the one hand, and the more-protectionist nations of France and Belgium on the other. Britain eventually removed most of its trade barriers unilaterally in 1846, and in 1860 France and Britain signed a free-trade treaty, the Cobden-Chevalier Treaty. In 1861–62 Britain, France, and Belgium signed a similar free-trade treaty. At the same time the German states were gradually adopting a common external tariff and removing internal German trade restrictions as part of the Zollverein (or Customs Union), which expanded in 1833.
[1. ]Rousseau, Du contrat social, bk. 2, chap. 7.
[2. ]“The right of using and abusing.”
[3. ]Rousseau, Du contrat social, bk. 1, chap. 1.
[4. ]Gaius Fabricius Luscinus was a Roman ambassador and consul (282 bc) renowned for his probity, incorruptibility, and parsimonious life. He was much admired by Cicero as a model of good behavior. Lucius Licinius Lucullus (117 bc–57 bc) was a successful Roman general who amassed a huge fortune during his twenty years of military service. He used his wealth to build sumptuous palaces, libraries, and gardens in Rome.
[5. ]Bastiat is quoting from a speech Robespierre gave in the National Convention on 24 April 1793. In this speech Robespierre argues that the Convention in its deliberations on a new Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (which it passed in June) was too favorable to the natural right of property and did not give adequate attention to the “social” and “moral” aspects of property. He gave his own formulation in four articles, two of which Bastiat quotes above. The third and fourth articles, which Bastiat did not quote, are quoted here: Article 3: “He (the citizen) can harm neither the security, liberty, existence, nor property of others.” Article 4: “All possession, all exchange (traffic) which violates this principle is illicit and immoral.” Robespierre then offers his own proposal for a Declaration of Rights, which is turned down by the Convention as too radical. (Œuvres de Maximilien Robespierre, vol. 3, pp. 352–53.)
[6. ]Bastiat is referring to Blanc’s Histoire de la Révolution française. The first and second volumes appeared before the revolution of 1848 broke out.
[7. ]Bastiat distinguishes between the “revolutionaries of 1789” and the “revolutionaries of 1793.” By the former he means the liberals and constitutional monarchists, such as the Girondin group, who wanted to replace the monarchy and the ancien régime with a new regime limited by a constitution and the rule of law. By the latter he means the radical Jacobins around Robespierre, who used the Terror to eliminate their enemies and to introduce socialist legislation between 1793 and 1795. (See also the entry for “Girondins” in the Glossary of Subjects and Terms and the entry for “Robespierre, Maximilien de,” in the Glossary of Persons.)
[8. ]Rousseau, Du contrat social et autres œuvres politiques, p. 260.
[9. ]The Luxembourg Palace was the seat of the Government Commission for the Workers, created on 20 February 1848. Louis Blanc was the president and François Vidal, the secretary.
[10. ](Paillottet’s note) See vol. 1 for the report on the work by M. Vidal on the Distribution of Wealth and vol. 2 for the reply to five letters published by M. Vidal in the journal La Presse. (OC, vol. 1, p. 440, “De la répartition des richesses”; and vol. 2, p. 147, “L’Organisation et liberté.”)
[11. ]The decree of 2 March (1848) appeared in the first few weeks of the new regime that came to power following the February revolution of 1848. The decree limited working time to ten hours a day in Paris and eleven hours in the provinces.
[12. ]Bastiat uses the expression “le principe économiste,” which is the name that the free-market political economists gave themselves in France, for example, Le Journal des économistes. See also the term “Les Économistes” in the Glossary of Subjects and Terms.
[13. ]That is, workers paid by the hour.
[14. ](Paillottet’s note) See in vol. 1 the letter dated January 1845 and addressed to M. de Lamartine on the Right to Work. (OC, vol. 1, p. 406, “Du droit au travail.”)
[15. ](Paillottet’s note) See vol. 2 for a group of articles on the question of subsistence and, following this, Protectionism and Communism. (OC, vol. 2, pp. 63ff., “Subsistances”; and vol. 4, p. 504, “Protectionisme et communisme.”)
[16. ](Paillottet’s note) See vol. 5, Plunder and Law—The War Against Chairs of Political Economy. (OC, vol. 5, p. 16, “Guerre aux chaires d’économie politique.”)
[1. ]The slogan “liberté, égalité, fraternité” is deeply associated with the ideals of the French Revolution, yet before it became the official motto of France (probably during the Third Republic) many other combinations of ideals were used for polemical effect by various groups: law, nation, unity, property, justice, and so on.
[2. ]See the entry for “Les Économistes” in the Glossary of Subjects and Terms.
[3. ]Blanc, Histoire de la Révolution française (1847).
[4. ]Ibid., vol. 1, pp. 9–10.
[5. ]See the entry for “Decius, Gaius Messius Quintus,” in the Glossary of Persons.
[6. ]“[Christ became obedient for us] unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:8.)
[7. ]Luke 6:29. The King James version states: “And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also.”
[8. ](Paillottet’s note) See the pamphlet titled Capital and Rent in vol. 5, and see chap. 2 of Economic Harmonies in vol. 6. (OC, vol. 5, p. 23, “Capital et Rente”; and vol. 6, chap. 7, p. 228, “Capital.”)
[9. ]The religious order known as the Minims was founded by the Italian priest Francis of Paola (1416–1507) in 1435. The order was severely weakened by the French Revolution and is now defunct.
[10. ](Paillottet’s note) In practical terms, men have always distinguished between a contract and a purely benevolent act. I have on occasion been pleased to observe the most charitable man, the most selfless heart, and the most fraternal soul that I know. The parish priest of my village raises love for his fellow men and particularly for the poor to an exceptional level. It goes so far that when he has to extract money from the rich in order to assist the poor, this fine man is not very scrupulous in his choice of means.
[11. ]“All hope abandon, ye that enter here!” (Dante, Inferno III, line 9.)
[12. ](Paillottet’s note) See “Property and Plunder” hereafter, including the final note. [See “Property and Plunder,” p. 147 in this volume.] See also in vol. 2 the reply to a letter from M. Considérant. (OC, vol. 2, p. 134, “La résponse à une lettre de M. Considérant.”)
[13. ]In December 1844, Lamartine wrote in his journal Le Bien public an article titled “On the Right to Work,” in which he said, “There is no other organization of work than its freedom; there is no other distribution of income than work itself paying its accomplishments and doing itself a justice that your arbitrary systems do not do.” See also “Bastiat’s Political Writings: Anecdotes and Reflections,” pp. 410–12, and the entry for “Le Bien public” in the Glossary of Subjects and Terms.
[14. ](Paillottet’s note) Several chapters of Economic Harmonies had by this point already been published in the Le Journal des économistes and the author was shortly to continue this work.
[15. ]Lamartine, then member of the provisional government and minister of foreign affairs.
[16. ](Paillottet’s note) In August 1847, at the time when a public meeting was being prepared in Marseilles in favor of free trade, Bastiat met M. de Lamartine there and had a long discussion on free trade and then on freedom of all sorts, a fundamental axiom of political economy. See the note following the speech given in Marseilles in vol. 2 (OC, vol. 2, p. 311, “Sixième discours, à Marseille”). See also in vol. 1 the two letters to M. de Lamartine, vol. 1, p. 406, “Un Économiste à M. de Lamartine,” and p. 452, “Seconde lettre à M. de Lamartine.”
[17. ](Paillottet’s note) “There are three levels for humanity: the lowest, plunder; the highest, charity; and a middle level, justice.
[1. ]Bastiat is possibly referring to the first two volumes of a history of the French Revolution (Histoire de la Révolution française, 1847) that the socialist Louis Blanc had published just prior to the outbreak of the February Revolution of 1848. (See also the entry for “Blanc, Louis,” in the Glossary of Persons.)
[2. ]Date of the arrest of Robespierre (27 July 1794). He was guillotined the fol lowing day.
[3. ](Bastiat’s note) Blanc, Histoire de la Révolution française, vol. 1, p. 9. [Bastiat is quoting from the 1847 edition of Blanc’s work.]
[4. ](Bastiat’s note) Blanc, Histoire de la Révolution française, vol. 1, pp. 350–51. [Bastiat is again quoting from the 1847 edition of Blanc’s work. In this passage Bastiat is summarizing Blanc’s critique of eighteenth-century theories of individualism.]
[5. ]Jan Hus.
[6. ](Paillottet’s note) As Bastiat had not finished copying the passage of the book he is dealing with by hand in his manuscript, I have had to make good this lacuna and present the whole sentence. With regard to the last few words, I make so bold as to say that they imply a contradiction with the thought of achieving any form of social system through the intervention of the state, that is to say, by force. Those who put forward social systems they have invented do not limit themselves, any more than Robespierre does, to claiming to persuade or to obtain the voluntary acquiescence of the heart, and have no greater justification than he in assuming the flag of freedom.
[7. ]See “Bastiat’s Political Writings: Anecdotes and Reflections,” pp. 407–8.
[8. ]Ibid., p. 408.
[9. ]“And the world has been handed over to their discussions.”
[10. ]See “Note on the Translation,” pp. xiii–xiv, and also “Bastiat’s Political Writings: Anecdotes and Reflections,” pp. 409–10.
[11. ]It is not clear to what book Bastiat is referring here. He published only three book-length works before his death: Cobden and the League (1845), Economic Sophisms (1847), and Economic Harmonies (1850). The last was only partially completed when it was first published and contained only the first ten chapters. A more complete edition was published in 1851, after his death. Chapter 10 of Economic Harmonies was titled “Competition,” and chapter 16 was titled “Population.” This essay appeared with no date or place of publication and may have been written in June 1848. Bastiat thus may be referring to a draft of the Economic Harmonies, which he was writing at the time this essay appeared.
[1. ](Paillottet’s note) This last sentence is from M. de Lamartine. The author quotes it again in the pamphlet that follows. (OC, vol. 4, p. 342, “La Loi.” [The sentence itself is found on p. 387.])
[2. ]Before the Revolution of 1789 the salt tax was known as the “gabelle.” Because of its symbolic association with the ancien régime, it was much hated and was one of the first things abolished after the Revolution. However, it soon returned as a more straightforward “salt tax.” See Coquelin, “Gabelle,” in Le Dictionnaire de l’économie politique, vol. 1, pp. 814–15.
[3. ]The word Bastiat uses is “octrois,” a form of hated taxes during the pre-Revolutionary period. An octroi was a consumption tax levied by a town or city in order to pay for the activities of the communal administration. It was much abused during the ancien régime because it was “farmed out” to private contractors. Although the octroi was abolished in the early years of the Revolution, it was reintroduced by the city of Paris in 1798. See Esquirou de Parieu, “Octrois,” in Coquelin, Dictionnaire de l’économie politique, vol. 2, pp. 284–91.
[4. ]The word Bastiat uses is “patentes,” direct taxes imposed on any individual who carried out a trade, occupation, or profession. The patentes were first imposed in 1791 by the Constituent Assembly and were completely reformulated in 1844.
[5. ]The French word used here is “prestations,” which is an abbreviation of “prestations en nature” (or “obligatory services in kind”), according to which all able-bodied men were expected to spend two days a year maintaining roads in and around their towns. The prestations were a reform of the much-hated and burdensome compulsory labor obligations known as the “corvée,” dating from the ancien régime. The corvée was abolished by Turgot in 1776; however, it returned, as did the “gabelle” (salt tax), in a less onerous form during the Consulate period under Napoléon, only to be abolished again in 1818. Under the law of 1824 the modern form of the prestations was introduced, whereby the compulsory labor was used only for local roads. A further modification took place in 1836, when the labor service could be commuted to the payment of a monetary equivalent. See also Courcelle-Seneuil, “Prestations,” in Coquelin, Dictionnaire de l’économie politique, vol. 2, pp. 428–30.
[6. ]We have used the original English wording for the words of the Constitution.
[8. ]Revolution of 1848.
[9. ]During the Second Republic deputies on the extreme left adopted the name “Montagnards” (or Mountain), which had first been used during the French Revolution by Robespierre and his supporters. See also the entry for “La Montagne” in the Glossary of Subjects and Terms and the entry for “Robespierre, Maximilien de,” in the Glossary of Persons.
[10. ]See the entry “Wine and Spirits Tax” in the Glossary of Subjects and Terms.
[11. ](Paillottet’s note) See chapter 17 of the Harmonies in vol. 6 and the small work dated 1830 titled “To the Electors of the Département of the Landes,” in vol. 1. (OC, vol. 6, p. 535, “Services privés, service publique”; and vol. 1, p. 217, “Aux électeurs du département des Landes.)
[1. ]This piece is a rough draft of Bastiat’s best-known pamphlet, “The State,” published in September 1848 (see “The State,” pp. 93–104 in this volume. For more details on Bastiat’s journalistic activity during the revolution of 1848, see “Bastiat’s Political Writings: Anecdotes and Reflections,” pp. 401–7 in this volume.
[1. ](Paillottet’s note) See vol. 5, the last two pages of the pamphlet titled “Plunder and the Law.” (OC, vol. 5, p. 1, “Spoliation et loi.”) [The last two pages are 14 and 15.] [See also “Plunder and Law,” p. 275 in this volume.]
[2. ](Bastiat’s note) The General Council for Agriculture, Industry, and Trade. (Session on 6 May 1850.)
[3. ]Under France’s restrictive eligibility rules for voting only the wealthiest taxpayers were allowed to vote. Under King Charles X (1824–30) fewer than 100,000 taxpayers were able to vote out of a total population of about 32 million. By 1848 the increase in the size of the wealthy merchant and industrial classes had increased the number of voters to about 200,000 out of a total population of 36 million. By contrast, in England restrictions on voter eligibility were determined by the value of land one owned. The First Reform Bill of 1832 increased the size of the electorate from 435,000 to 652,000 out of a total population of 13 million.
[4. ](Bastiat’s note) If in France protection were granted only to a single sector, for example to ironmasters, it would be so absurdly plunderous that it would be impossible to maintain it. For this reason, we see all forms of protected industry forming leagues, making common cause, and even recruiting each other to the extent that they appear to be embracing the whole of national labor. They feel instinctively that plunder is as concealed as it is generalized.
[5. ]Victor Considérant.
[6. ]The French word on has no real equivalent in English and is translated as “one,” “we,” “you,” “they,” or “people,” depending on the context. We have chosen “one” in this context. In this passage, by Bossuet, Bastiat asks “who” and “by whom” these decisions were made for Egyptian society. It is not Bossuet who is asking this.
[7. ]Fénelon published Les Aventures de Télémaque in 1699. It is the story of Telemachus’s search for his father in the company of Mentor, who instructs the young Telemachus on the virtues required by a prince. They come across the fictitious city of Salentum (Salente in French), which has been corrupted by luxury and military despotism. Only the dictatorship of an enlightened legislator could reform Salentum according to Fénelon. The complete works of Fénelon were published in multivolume editions in 1830 and again in 1848–52: Œuvres complètes de Fénelon.
[9. ]In this passage we translate the French word on as they. Bastiat again wants to show that the ruling elite imposes restrictions on its citizens. He changes the quotation by Fénelon slightly to make this point. See also note 6 , p. 124.
[10. ]Between 1609 and their expulsion from Latin America in 1767, the Jesuits organized among the native people of Paraguay a community based on Christian and communist principles. The Jesuits’ aim was to Christianize the native people, organize the social and economic life of the communities, and create “the kingdom of God on earth.” Bastiat rejected the idea of these communities, just as he did the contemporary attempts to create utopian socialist communities in Europe and America in the 1830s and 1840s, on the grounds that the communities owned property, in particular land, in common; sought an equality of ownership; and strictly regulated the free market.
[11. ]Rousseau, Du contrat social, bk. 2, chap. 7, “The Legislator.”
[12. ]The edition of Spirit of the Laws to which Bastiat might have had access was Œuvres de Montesquieu, avec éloges, analyses, commentaires, remarques, notes, réfutations, imitations, par MM Destutt de Tracy, Villemain, et al. (Paris, 1827), in eight volumes. The editor was Victor Destutt de Tracy, the son of Antoine Destutt de Tracy, who had earlier written an extensive commentary on the Spirit of the Laws for Thomas Jefferson, which Jefferson had published in 1811, A Commentary and Review of Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws.
[13. ]Bastiat is wrong here. This passage, which he attributes to Condillac, is Mably’s Droits et devoirs, p. 510.
[14. ](Paillottet’s note) In the pamphlet Baccalaureate and Socialism, the author reveals the filiation of this very error through a series of similar quotations. (OC, vol. 4, p. 442, “Baccalauréat et socialisme.”) [See also “Baccalaureate and Socialism,” pp. 185–234 in this volume.]
[15. ](Paillottet’s note) For a people to be happy, it is essential for the individuals that make it up to be farsighted and prudent and to have the confidence in one another that is rooted in security.
And the state, having ordered everything, will be responsible for everything.
This will constitute a hotbed of revolution and revolutions with no outcome, since they will be carried out by a people who, by forbidding experience, have been forbidden to progress. (Idea drawn from the manuscripts of the author.)
[16. ]The edition of the writings of Robespierre to which Bastiat very likely would have had access was titled Œuvres de Maximilien Robespierre, a three-volume edition of Robespierre’s collected works. It was published in the late 1830s as the French socialist movement was beginning to grow on the eve of the revolution of 1848.
[17. ]Blanc, L’Organisation du travail.
[18. ](Bastiat’s note) Political economy precedes politics; politics states whether human interests are naturally harmonious or antagonistic, which political economy ought to know before establishing the attributes of government.
[1. ]The following five letters were formally addressed to Le Journal des débats, which is why Bastiat refers to them several times as “the articles.” However, in his mind they were intended as letters to Victor Considérant. In them he explains his notions of rent, services, and value as they will be developed later in Economic Harmonies.