Front Page Titles (by Subject) 19: Parliamentary Conflicts of Interest 1 , 2 - Collected Works of Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850
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19: Parliamentary Conflicts of Interest 1 , 2 - 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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[vol. 5, p. 518. “Incompatibilités parlementaires.” March 1850. n.p.]
We have translated the title of this pamphlet as “Parliamentary Conflicts of Interest” (and related occurrences of the word incompatibilités as “conflicts of interest”) instead of retaining the literal English translation, which presents some awkwardness. In the context of this pamphlet, Bastiat is referring to the matter of civil servants who have been elected to the Chamber of Deputies and whether or not they should continue to fulfill their work commitments to the state while they serve in the Chamber. Bastiat argued that it was “incompatible” for them to do both.]
I urge you to give some attention to this article.
“Is it a good thing to exclude certain categories of citizen from the National Assembly?”
“Is it a good thing to make high political office seem dazzling in the eyes of deputies?”
These are the two questions that I will deal with now. The constitution itself has not raised more important ones.
However, a very strange thing has happened: one of these questions, the second one, was decided without discussion.
Should the government recruit in the Chamber? England says yes and is in trouble because of this. America says no and is thereby doing well. In’89 we adopted the American way of thinking; in 1814 we preferred the English way. Between authorities of this stature, there is, it would appear, good reason for caution. However, the National Assembly has plumped for the system of the restoration imported from England and has done this without discussion.
The author of this article had put forward an amendment. In the time he took to mount the steps of the rostrum, the question was decided. “I propose,” he said. “The Chamber has voted,” shouted the president. “What! Without allowing me to . . .” “The Chamber has voted.” “But nobody was aware of this!” “Consult the office; the Chamber has voted.”
Certainly on this occasion, the Assembly will not be reproached for being systematically dilatory!
What should we do? Grab the attention of the Assembly before the final vote. I am doing this in writing in the hope that a more-experienced voice will come to my assistance.
Besides, for the ordeal of a verbal discussion, the lungs of a stentor would be needed to address attentive hearers. Decidedly, the safest thing is to put it in writing.
Citizen deputies, from the depths of my soul and conscience, I believe that section 4 of the electoral law must be redrafted. As it is, it will lead to anarchy. There is still time, let us not bequeath this scourge to the country.
The issue of conflicts of interest raises two profoundly separate questions that have nevertheless oft en been confused.
Will the position of deputy in the National Assembly be open or closed to those whose careers are in the civil service?
Will a civil service career be open or closed to deputies of the people?
These are certainly two separate questions that have no connection with one another, so much so that solving one does not prejudice in any way the solution of the other. The position of deputy may be open to civil servants without the civil service being open to deputies and vice versa.
The law that we are discussing is very severe with regard to the admission of civil servants to the Chamber and very tolerant with regard to the admission of deputies of the people to high political office. In the first case, I consider that it has let itself be drawn into base radicalism. On the other hand, in the second, it is not even prudent.
I will not hide the fact that, in this article, I have reached quite different conclusions.
To move from public office to the Chamber there should be no exclusion, but adequate precautions should be taken.
To move from the Chamber to public office there should be total exclusion.
Respect for universal suffrage! Those it elects people’s deputies should be representatives and remain such. No exclusion to entry but total exclusion to exit. That is the principle. We will see that this is in line with the public good.
May electors have themselves represented by civil servants?
My reply is yes, except that it is up to society to take adequate precautions.
I encounter an initial difficulty here, one that appears to place an insurmountable rejection in advance in the path of anything I might say. The constitution itself proclaims the principle of the conflict of interest between any paid civil service job and a mandate to represent the people. However, as the report says, it is not a question of eluding this principle but of applying it, since henceforth it will be fundamental.
I ask whether it is not being too subtle to get round the word service as used in the Constitution and say: “What it intends to exclude is not the person nor even the civil servant but the service and the danger that it might bring into the Legislative Assembly. Provided, therefore, that the service does not enter and remains outside, even if it is resumed at the end of the legislative term by the person appointed to it, the intention of the Constitution is upheld.”
The National Assembly has thus interpreted Article 283 of the Constitution with regard to the army, and since I must necessarily extend this interpretation to all civil servants, I have reason to believe that I will be allowed not to be diverted by the rejection that the report is placing in my path.
What I am asking, in effect, is this: That any elector should be eligible. That electoral colleges may have themselves represented by anyone who has deserved their confidence. But if the choice of the electors falls upon a civil servant, it is the man and not the job that enters the Chamber. The civil servant will not, for all that, lose his previous rights and job titles. He will not be expected to make the sacrifice of a genuine property acquired through long and useful work. Society has only to make a few trivial demands and should be content with adequate safeguards. In this way, the civil servant will be removed from the influence of executive power; he will not be allowed promotion or dismissed from office. He will be made safe from the pushing and pulling between hope and fear. He will not be able to exercise his erstwhile functions or collect his payments for them. In a word, he will be a representative, and only a representative, throughout the duration of his mandate. His life in public service will, so to speak, be suspended and as though absorbed by his life in parliament. This is what was done for the military, through the distinction made between rank and actual function. Why should this not also be done for magistrates?
Let us note this clearly: conflict of interest, taken in the meaning of exclusion, is an idea that in the nature of things had to be put forward and popularized under the former regime.
At that time, no indemnity was given to deputies who were not civil servants, but they could use the job of deputy as a stepping-stone to lucrative office. On the other hand, civil servants elected as deputies continued to receive their salaries. To tell the truth, they were paid not as civil servants but as deputies, since they no longer fulfilled their duties, and if the minister was displeased with the way they voted, he could, by removing them from their position as deputies, deprive them of all their salary.
The results of a combination like this had to be and, indeed, were deplorable. On the one hand, candidates who were not civil servants were very rare in the majority of districts. The electors were free to choose, yes, but the extent of their choice did not exceed five or six people. The first condition of eligibility was considerable wealth.4 If a man who was merely prosperous stood for election, he was rejected with some reason, since he was suspected of having ulterior motives, which were not forbidden by the charter.
On the other hand, civil service candidates came in droves. It was very simple. First, they were granted an indemnity. Second, the job of deputy was for them an assured means of rapid advancement.
When you think that the battle for portfolios, the inevitable consequence of the ease of access to ministries for deputies (a huge subject that I will deal with in the following paragraph), as I say, when you think that the battle for portfolios generated coalitions within parliament that were systematically organized to overthrow the cabinet, that the cabinet could resist only with the help of a majority that was equally systematic, compact, and devoted, it is easy to understand what this double facility given to men of position to become deputies, and for deputies to become men of position, would lead to.
The result had to be and was that the civil service departments were converted into a form of exploitation, the government absorbed the domain of private activity, our freedoms were lost, our finances were ruined, and corruption descended increasingly from high parliamentary levels to the lowest levels of the electorate.5
In circumstances like these, we should not be surprised that the nation becomes attached to the principle of conflict of interest as though it were a lifeline. Everyone remembers that the rallying cry of honest electors was, “No more civil servants in the Chamber!” And the manifesto of the candidates carried the words, “I promise not to accept either office or favors.”
However, has the February revolution changed nothing in this state of affairs, one that both explained and justified the current of public opinion?
First, we have universal suffrage, and obviously the influence of the government on the elections is going to be much weakened, if indeed it retains any at all.
Second, no government purpose will be served by its securing the election by preference of civil servants who are totally removed from its influence.
What is more, we have an equal salary paid to all the deputies, a circumstance which, just on its own, changes the situation completely.
In fact, we do not need to fear, as in the past, that there will be a lack of candidates for election. We have more to fear from difficulties arising from having far too many to choose from. It will therefore be impossible for civil servants to overrun the Chamber. I add that they will have no incentive to do so, since the job of deputy will no longer be for them a means of achieving success. In former times, civil servants welcomed candidacy as a piece of luck. Today they can accept it only as a genuine sacrifice, at least from the point of view of their career.
Changes so profound in the respective situations of the two sets of people are also likely, I think, to change the view we had formed of conflict of interest, under the influence of quite different circumstances. I believe that we should envisage the real principle and common good, not in the light of the ancient charter but in that of the new constitution.
Conflict of interest as a synonym for exclusion has three major disadvantages:
1. First, it is a huge disadvantage to restrict the choices open to universal suffrage. Universal suffrage is a principle that is as jealous as it is absolute. When an entire population has enveloped a councillor of the Court of Appeal, for example, with esteem, respect, confidence, and admiration, when its members have faith in his enlightenment and virtues, do you think it will be easy to make them understand that they have the option to entrust to anyone they like other than this worthy magistrate the task of correcting their legislation?
2. It is no less exorbitant to attempt to deprive a complete class of citizens of their finest political right and the noblest reward of lengthy and loyal service, a reward given by electors exercising free choice. The question might almost be raised as to what extent the National Assembly has this right.
3. From the point of view of practical usefulness, it is blindingly obvious that the level of experience and enlightenment has to be very low in a chamber that is renewed every three years and from which all men who are highly experienced in public affairs are excluded. What! Here we have an assembly that has to deal with the navy and the army too, in which there is not a single naval or army officer! We have to deal too with civil and criminal legislation and in the Assembly there will not be a single magistrate!
It is true that army and naval officers are admitted, through a law that has nothing to do with the matter and for reasons that do not relate to the fundamentals of this question. But this itself is a fourth and serious disadvantage to be added to the other three. The people will not understand that in a chamber in which laws are passed, the military is present and lawyers are absent just because in 1832 or 1834 a particular set of arrangements was introduced in the army. It will be said that such a shocking inequality should not be the result of an old and entirely contingent law. You were made responsible for drafting a comprehensive electoral law; this was worth doing and you ought not to bring a monstrous inconsistency into it under the cloak of an obscure article in the Military Code. Absolute incompatibility would have been better. It would at least have had the prestige of a principle.
A few words now on the precautions that I think society has the right to take with regard to civil servants who are elected as deputies.
People may try to get me to be inconsistent by saying: “Since you do not accept any limits to the choices open to universal suffrage, since you do not believe that a category of citizens can be deprived of their political rights, how can you accede to the idea that more-or less-restrictive precautions can be placed on some people while others are not subjected to them?”
These restrictions, it should be clearly noted, are limited to one thing: ensuring the independence and impartiality of the representative in the public interest and placing deputies who are civil servants on a totally equal footing with those who are not. When a magistrate accepts a legislative mandate, the law of the country should say to him, “Your parliamentary life is just beginning and, as long as it lasts, your judiciary life will be suspended.” What in this is excessive or contrary to right principle? When the function is interrupted de facto, why should it not also be by law, since this has the additional advantage that it protects the civil servant from all pernicious influences? I do not want him subject to promotion or dismissal by the executive power, since, if he were to be, this would not be for actions relating to the service that he is no longer engaged in but as a result of the way he votes. Now who could accede to the executive power’s rewarding or punishing votes? These safeguards are not arbitrary. Their aim is not to restrict the choices which go with universal suffrage or the political rights of one class of citizens, but on the contrary to make them universal, since without them we would necessarily face absolute conflict of interest.
A man who, in whatever degree, is part of the government hierarchy should straightforwardly accept that he is in a very different position from that of other citizens with regard to society, and notably so with respect to the subject before us.
The activities of the civil service and private industry have something in common and something that differentiates them. What they have in common is that both satisfy social needs. The latter protects us from hunger, cold, illness, and ignorance, the former from war, unrest, injustice, and violence. These are all services rendered for payment.
This, however, is what is different. Each person is free to accept or refuse private services or to receive them to the extent that suits him and to think about how much they cost. I cannot force anyone to buy my pamphlets, read them, or pay the price for them that the publisher would charge if he had the power to do so.
But everything that concerns the departments of the civil service is regulated in advance by law. It is not I who judge how much security I will buy and how much I will pay for it. Civil servants give me as much as the law prescribes that they should and I pay for it as much as the law ordains that I should. My free will counts for nothing.
It is therefore essential to know who will be drafting this bill.
Since it is in the nature of man to sell for as high a price as possible as many goods as possible, and those of the poorest-possible quality, it might be thought that we would be governed horribly and expensively if those who had the privilege of selling government products also had the privilege of determining their quantity, quality, and price.6
For this reason, faced with that vast organization that we call the government and that, like all organized bodies, is constantly seeking to grow, the nation, as represented by its deputies, decides for itself on which matters, to what extent, and at what price it wants to be governed and administered.
If, to settle these things, the nation chooses individually those who govern, it is greatly to be feared that it will, within a short time, be administered to within an inch of its life until its funds run out.
So I understand why men driven to extremes have thought of saying to the nation, “I forbid you to have yourselves represented by civil servants.” This is absolute conflict of interest.
For my part, I am much inclined to say the same thing to the nation, but only as a piece of advice. I am not very certain of having the right to convert this advice into prohibition. Certainly, if universal suffrage is left free, this means that it can make mistakes. Does it therefore follow that to anticipate its errors, we ought to deprive universal suffrage of its freedom?
However, what we do have the right to do, as those responsible for drafting an electoral law, is to ensure the independence of the civil servants that are elected as deputies and to put them on an equal footing with their colleagues, to protect them from the capriciousness of their superiors, and to regulate their position during their mandate insofar as this may be contrary to the public good.
This is the aim of the first part of my amendment.7
I think it reconciles everything.
It respects the rights of electors.
It respects the citizens’ rights of civil servants.
It eliminates the special interest that in former times incited civil servants to become deputies.
It restricts the number of those who will seek to be elected as deputies.
It ensures the independence of those elected.
It leaves rights intact while abolishing abuses.
It raises the level of experience and education in the Chamber.
In a word, it reconciles principles with usefulness.
However, if the rule of conflict of interest is not in force before the election, it certainly must be afterward. The two parts of my amendment stand together, and I would prefer a hundred times to see it rejected as a whole than to have half of it accepted.
Can deputies become civil servants?
At every period, when a question of parliamentary reform has arisen, people have felt the need to bar careers in the civil service to deputies.
This was based on the following reasoning, which is in fact highly conclusive: The people who are governed elect representatives to supervise, control, limit, and, if necessary, prosecute those who govern. In order to carry out this mission, they have to retain their full independence with regard to the executive. If the executive were to enroll deputies in its ranks, the aim of the institution would miscarry. Such is the constitutional objection.
The moral objection is no less strong. What could be sadder than to see the deputies of the people betraying the confidence invested in them, one after the other, selling for their advancement both their votes and the interests of their constituents?
At first people hoped to reconcile everything through reelection.8 Experience has shown the ineffectiveness of this palliative measure.
Public opinion therefore became strongly attached to this second aspect of conflict of interest, and Article 28 of the constitution is nothing other than the manifestation of its triumph.
However, public opinion has also always considered that there should be one exception to conflict of interest, and that, while it is wise to forbid lesser jobs to deputies, this should not be so for ministries, embassies, and what is known as high political office.
Thus, in all the plans for parliamentary reform that were produced before February, in that of M. Gauguier as in that of M. de Rumilly and that of M. Thiers, while Article 1 always set out the principle boldly, Article 2 invariably produced the exception.
To tell the truth, I think that nobody has entertained the thought that it could possibly be otherwise.
And, since public opinion, right or wrong, always ends up carrying the day, Article 79 of the draft electoral law is nothing more than a second manifestation of its triumph.
This article states:
“Article 79. The salaried public offices to which, as exceptions to Article 28 of the Constitution, the members of the National Assembly may be called for as long as the law is in effect, following selection by the executive power, are those of:
Public opinion does not change overnight. It is therefore with no hope of present success that I am addressing the National Assembly. It will not delete this article of the law. However, I am carrying out a duty, since I can see (and I only hope I am wrong!) that this article will cover our unfortunate country in ruins and debris.
I certainly do not have such faith in my own infallibility that I would trust my views when they are in opposition to those of the general public. May I therefore be allowed to shelter behind authorities who are not to be despised.
Ministers who are deputies! This is a very English import. It is from England, the cradle of representative government, that this irrational and monstrous combination has come. However, it should be noted that in England the entire representative regime is just an ingenious method of putting and retaining power in the hands of a few parliamentary families. In the spirit of the British constitution, it would have been absurd to shut off access to power to members of Parliament, since this constitution has the precise objective of delivering this to them. And we will soon see, however, what hideous and terrible consequences this departure from the simplest indications of common sense has had.
But on the other hand, the founders of the American republic wisely rejected this source of trouble and political upheaval. Our fathers did the same in 1789. I am not therefore in the process of supporting a purely personal view or an innovation with neither precedent nor authority.
Like Washington, Franklin, and the authors of the’91 constitution,9 I cannot stop myself from seeing in the eligibility of deputies for ministerial posts a constant cause of unrest and instability. I do not think that it is possible to imagine an alliance that is more destructive of any effectiveness and any continuity in the action of the government, or a harder pillow for the heads of kings or presidents of republics. Nothing on earth seems to me to be more likely to arouse a partisan spirit, ferment factional conflict, corrupt all the sources of information and publicity, distort the action of the rostrum and the press, mislead public opinion after having whipped it up, make true facts unpopular in order to make falsehood popular, hinder administrative processes, stir up national hatred, provoke foreign wars, ruin public finances, wear down and discredit governments, discourage and corrupt those being governed, and, in a word, falsify all the stimuli of a representative regime. I know of no social scourge that can be compared to that, and I believe that if God Himself sent us a constitution by one of His angels, all it would need is for the National Assembly to insert Article 79 for this divine work to become the scourge of our country.
This is what I propose to demonstrate.
I warn you that my line of argument is a long syllogism based on this premise, taken as read: “Men love power. They adore it with such fervor that to conquer or retain it, there is nothing they would not sacrifice, even the tranquillity and happiness of their country.”
This universally observed truth will not be contested in advance. But when, from consequence to consequence, I have led the reader to my conclusion—that access to government must be closed to deputies—it may be that the reader will return to my starting point, not having found any broken link in my chain of reasoning, and say to me, “Nego majorem,10 you have not proved the attraction of power.”
In this case I will stubbornly stand by my unproven thesis. Proof! Just open the annals of the human race at random! Consult ancient or modern history, whether sacred or profane, and ask yourself where all these wars of race, class, nations, or families came from! You will always receive the invariable answer: the thirst for power.
This having been said, does the law not act blindly and rashly in the extreme when it offers candidacy for a position of power to the very men it makes responsible for checking, criticizing, accusing, and judging those who hold it? I am no more suspicious than the next man of the sentiment of this or that person, but I distrust the human heart when it is placed by a reckless law between duty and self-interest. In spite of the most eloquent speeches in the world on the purity and disinterestedness of the magistrates, I would not like to have my small savings in a country in which a judge is able to decree its confiscation in his own favor. In the same way, I pity the minister who has to say to himself: “The nation forces me to report to men who really want to replace me and who can do so provided they can find fault with me.” Just go and prove your innocence to judges like these!
But it is not just the minister who is to be pitied; it is above all the nation. A terrible conflict is about to break out and this will provide the challenge. What is at stake is its tranquillity, its well-being, its moral code, and even the true standing of its ideas.
The salaried high offices to which, as exceptions to Article 28 of the Constitution, the members of the National Assembly may be called during the life of this legislature, following selection by the executive power, are those of ministers.
Oh, this is a peril so great and palpable that, if we did not have experience in this respect, if we were reduced to a priori judgment, or simple common sense, we would not hesitate for a minute.
Allow me to imagine that you have no concept of a representative regime. You, a new Astolphus,11 are being transported to the moon and you are told: “Out of all the nations that people this world, here is one that does not know what tranquillity, calm, security, peace, and stability are.” “Does it not have a government?” you ask. “Oh, there is none more governed in the universe,” comes the reply, and to find one that is governed as much, you would have to travel around all the planets to no avail, except perhaps the earth. The government there is immense, dreadfully overbearing, and spendthrift. Five out of six of the people with some sort of education work for the state there. But at last those being governed there have won a precious right. They periodically elect deputies who draft all the laws, hold the purse strings, and oblige the government to obey their decisions, either in its actions or in its expenditures. “Oh! What splendid order, what a wise economy ought to result from this simple mechanism!” you cry. “Certainly this people has to have found, or will find, by trial and error, the exact point at which the government will achieve the greatest benefits at least cost. Why then are you telling me that everything is in trouble and confusion under such a marvelous regime?” “You ought to know,” replies your guide, “that if the inhabitants of the moon, or the lunatics, have a prodigious love of being governed, there is one thing that they love even more prodigiously and that is to govern. So, they have introduced into their wonderful constitution a tiny article, lost in the midst of all the others, that says: “The representatives combine the faculty of overthrowing ministers with that of replacing them. Consequently, if parties, systematic opposition groups, or coalitions are formed in parliament, which by dint of noise and clamor and exaggerating and distorting all the questions manage to make the government unpopular and overthrow it through the blows delivered by a majority that has been suitably prepared to do this, the leaders of these parties, opposition groups, and unions, will ipso facto be ministers, and, while these heterogeneous elements are quarreling among themselves for power, the overthrown ministers, who have become simple representatives once again, will proceed to foment intrigues, alliances, and new opposition groups and unions.” “Good heavens!” you cry; “since this is so, I am not surprised that the history of this people is just the history of a frightful and constant upheaval!”
But let us return to the moon, fortunate if, like Astolphus, we can take back to it a small vial of common sense. We will pay homage to anyone involved during the third reading12 of our electoral law.
I request leave to stress once again my a priori argument. Only this time we will apply it to existing situations, which are occurring as we watch.
There are in France some eighty parliaments on a small scale. They are known as General Councils. The reports sent by prefects to General Councils are similar in many respects to those sent by ministers to the National Assembly. On the one hand there are agents mandated by the public, who decide in its name to what extent and at what cost they intend to be governed. On the other, an agent of the executive power studies the measures to be taken, has them accepted if he can, and once they are, sees that they are carried out. This is a procedure that is carried out repeatedly nearly a hundred times a year under our eyes, and what does it teach us? Certainly the hearts of general councillors are formed from the same clay as those of the representatives of the people. There are few of them who do not want to become prefects as much as deputies want to become ministers. However, the idea does not even cross their minds, and the reason for this is simple: the law has not made the post of councillor a stepping-stone to the prefecture. However ambitious men are (and nearly all of them are), they pursue, per fas et nefas,13 only what it is possible to attain. Faced with total impossibility, desire fades away for lack of sustenance. We see children crying for the moon, but when reason takes over, they no longer think about it. This is directed at those who tell me, “Do you then believe that you can root out ambition from men’s hearts?” Certainly not, and I do not even want to. However, what is very possible is to divert ambition from a given path by abolishing the bait that had rashly been placed there. You can erect greasy poles as much as you like; no one will climb them if there is no prize at the top.
It is clear that if a systematic opposition group or an equal coalition of the red and white were to form in General Councils, it might well overthrow the prefect, but it would not install the leaders in his place. What is also certain, and experience has borne this out, is that as a result of this impossibility, coalitions like this do not form in them. The prefect puts forward his plans; the Council discusses them, assesses them among its membership, and estimates their intrinsic value from the point of view of the general good. I am ready to accept that one person may let himself be influenced by local considerations and another by his own personal interest. The law cannot reform the human heart; it is up to the electors to allow for this. But it is very true that nobody systematically rejects the proposals of a prefect solely to check him, to thwart him, or to overthrow him and take his place. This senseless conflict, for which the country pays the cost in the end, this conflict that is so frequent in our legislative assemblies that it is their very history and life, is never witnessed in the assemblies of the départements; do you want to see it occur there? There is a simple way of doing this. Constitute these tiny parliaments along the lines of the big one; introduce into the law that organizes the General Councils a little article drafted thus:
“If a measure, whether good or bad, put forward by the prefect is rejected, he will be removed from office. The member of the Council who has led the opposition will be nominated in his place and will distribute to his companions of fortune all the major activities of the département: general tax collection, the management of direct and indirect contributions, etc.”
I ask the question: out of my nine hundred colleagues, is there a single one who would dare to vote for a dispensation like this? Would he not think he was making the country a most disastrous gift? Could one choose anything better if one had decided to watch it die under the grip of factions? Is it not certain that this article alone would totally throw the spirit of General Councils into confusion? Is it not certain that these hundred enclaves in which calm, independence, and impartiality reign would be converted into so many arenas of conflict and intrigue? Is it not clear that each proposal put forward by the prefect would become a battlefield of personal conflict instead of being studied for its own sake and for its effect on the public good? Would each person not seek only opportunities for his own advantage? Now, let us assume that there are journals in the département; would the warring parties not devote every effort to win them over to their side? Would not the controversy between these journals be tinged with the passions that agitate the council? Would all the questions not be brought before the public changed and distorted? When there are elections, how can a public that has been misled or circumvented judge matters correctly? Do you not see, moreover, that corruption and intrigue, whipped up by the heat of the conflict, will know no bounds?
These dangers strike and terrify you. Representatives of the people, you would let your right hand burn sooner than vote in an organization for the General Councils that was as absurd and anarchical as this. And yet, what are you going to do? You are going to deposit this destructive scourge, this dreadful solvent, in the constitution of the National Assembly when you reject it with horror in assemblies of the département. In Article 79 you are going to proclaim out loud that you will be saturating the heart of the social body with this poison, from which you are protecting its veins.
You say: “That is very different. The attributions of General Councils are very limited. Their discussions have no great importance; politics are banished; they do not give laws to the country; and, after all, the position of prefect is not a very attractive object of greed.
Do you not understand that each of your alleged objections places as many more conclusive reasons that are just as clear as day within my reach? What! Will the struggle be less bitter, will it inflict less harm on the country because the arena is larger, the theater more elevated, the battlefield more extensive, the whipping up of passions more lively, the prize for the combat more desired, the questions that serve the war machine more burning, more difficult, and hence more likely to mislead the feelings and judgment of the multitude? While it is distressing when public opinion makes a mistake with regard to a neighborhood path, is it not a thousand times worse when it makes a mistake with regard to questions of peace or war, financial order or bankruptcy, public order or anarchy?
I say that Article 79, whether applied to General Councils or National Assemblies, amounts to disorder that has intentionally been organized according to the same design, in the first case on a small scale and in the second case on an immense one.
But let us cut short the monotonous enumeration of reasons by a call on experience.
In England, it is from members of Parliament that the king always chooses his ministers.
I do not know whether the principle of the separation of functions is stipulated, at least on paper, in that country. What is certain is that not even a shadow of this principle is revealed by the facts. All of the executive, legislative, legal, and spiritual powers are lodged in one class to its own advantage, and that is the oligarchic class. If it encounters a limitation, this is due to public opinion, and the limitation is very recent. For this reason, the English people have up to now not so much been governed as exploited, as is shown by taxes of two billion and debts of twenty-two billion. If its finances have been better managed in the recent past, England has not the combination of powers to thank for this but public opinion, which, even though deprived of constitutional means, exercises great influence, and also the common prudence of those who carry out this exploitation and who decided to stop just when they were about to become engulfed, along with the entire nation, in the abyss opened up by their rapacity.
In a country in which all the branches of government are just parts of a single exploitative system that benefits the parliamentary families, it is not surprising that ministries are open to members of Parliament. It would be surprising if this were not the case, and it would be even more surprising if this curious organization were imitated by a people that claims to govern itself, and what is more, govern itself well.
Be that as it may, what result has it produced in England itself?
No doubt people are expecting me to give the history of the coalitions that have caused disruption in England. This would amount to an account of its entire constitutional history. However, I cannot refrain from recalling a few of its details.
When Walpole was prime minister, a coalition was formed. It was led by Pulteney and Carteret for the dissident Whigs (those for whom Walpole had not succeeded in finding positions) and by Windham for the Tories who, suspected of Jacobite sympathies, were condemned to the sterile honor of acting as auxiliaries to all forms of opposition.14
It was in this coalition that Pitt the Elder (subsequently Lord Chatham) began his brilliant career.
Since the Jacobite spirit, which was still deep rooted, was capable of giving France an opportunity to cause a powerful diversion in case of hostilities, Walpole’s policy favored peace. The coalition, therefore, was for war.
“To put an end to a system of corruption that subjected Parliament to the desires of the government and to replace Walpole’s timid and exclusively peace-loving policy in foreign relations with one that has greater pride and more dignity”: this was the twin aim that the coalition set for itself. I leave you to imagine what it said about France.
You cannot play with impunity with the patriotic sentiments of a people who sense their strength. The coalition spoke so freely and so loudly to the English of their humiliation that they ended up believing it. They called raucously for war. This broke out on the occasion of a right of inspection.15
Walpole loved power just as much as his adversaries did. Rather than lose it, he claimed to lead the operations. He put forward a subsidies bill and the coalition rejected it. The coalition wanted war but refused the means of waging it. This was how it saw the matter: a war fought without adequate resources would be a disaster; we would then be able to say: “It is the fault of the minister who has waged it half-heartedly.” When a coalition places a country’s honor on one side of the scales and its own success on the other, it is not the country’s honor that wins the day.
This conspiracy succeeded. The war was unsuccessful, and Walpole fell from power. The opposition, minus Pitt, came into power; but, made up of heterogeneous elements, it could not agree. During this internal struggle, England was always beaten. A new coalition formed. Pitt was its driving force. He turned against Carteret. With him, he favored war; against him he wanted peace. He called him an appalling minister and a traitor and reproached him for subsidizing Hanoverian16 troops. A few years later, we find these two men, now firm friends, sitting side by side in the same council. Pitt said of Carteret, “I am proud to say that I owe what I am to his patronage, friendship, and what he taught me.”
In the meantime, the new coalition brought on a ministerial crisis. The Pelham brothers17 were ministers. A fourth coalition was formed by Pulteney and Carteret. They overthrew the Pelhams. However, they themselves were overthrown three days later. While Parliament was in the throes of these intrigues the war continued, and the Pretender,18 who took advantage of the situation, made advances in Scotland. But this consideration did not rein in personal ambition.
Pitt finally regained a somewhat modest official position. He was of the governing party for a few days. He approved everything he had criticized, including the subsidy to the Hanoverians. He criticized everything he had approved, including resistance to the right of inspection invoked by the Spanish, which he had used as a pretext to foment the war, a war that itself had just been a pretext for overthrowing Walpole. “Experience has matured me,” he said; “I have now gained the conviction that Spain is within its rights.” At last peace was concluded with the Treaty of Aixla-Chapelle, which restored things to the state they were in before and did not even mention the right of inspection that had inflamed Europe.
Then came a fifth coalition against Pitt. This was unsuccessful. Then a sixth that had one particular characteristic: it was directed by one-half of the cabinet against the other half. Pitt and Fox19 were indeed ministers, but both wanted to be prime minister. They joined forces but were soon to oppose one another. In fact, Fox rose and Pitt fell, and Pitt lost no time in fomenting a seventh coalition. Finally with the help of circumstances (these circumstances were the ruin and humbling of England), Pitt succeeded in his efforts. He was to all intents and purposes prime minister. He was to have four years before him to make himself immortal, since John Bull began to be disgusted with all these conflicts.
At the end of four years, Pitt fell victim to parliamentary intrigue. His adversaries got the better of him all the more easily by constantly throwing his old speeches in his face. An interminable series of ministerial crises followed. It reached the point where Pitt, who had regained power in the midst of these vicissitudes and thought he was doing Frederick the Great much honor by offering him an alliance, received this crushing reply from him: “It is very difficult to enter into an agreement of any stature with a country that, as a result of continual changes in its government, offers no guarantee of continuity and stability.”
But let us leave the venerable Chatham to wear out his final days in these sorry conflicts. Here comes a new generation, other men with the same names, another Pitt,20 another Fox,21 who, in matters of eloquence and genius, were no less worthy than their predecessors. However, the law remained the same. Members of Parliament could become ministers. For this reason we are going to find the same coalitions, the same disasters, and the same immorality.
Early in his career, Chatham had encountered a peace-loving government and had naturally clamored for war. The second Pitt entered Parliament during the war; his role was to clamor for peace.
North resisted the son just as Walpole had resisted the father. The opposition achieved a peak of violence. Fox went so far as to demand North’s head.
North fell and a new government was formed. Burke, Fox, and Sheridan were included in it, but Pitt was not. Four months later there was a fresh shuffle, which brought Pitt into the government and removed Sheridan, Fox, and Burke. With whom do you think Fox was to form an alliance? With North himself! What a strange sight! Fox first of all wanted peace because the government was warlike. Now he wanted war because the government was peace loving. It is easy to see that war and peace were purely parliamentary strategies.
As absurd and odious as this coalition was, it succeeded. Pitt fell and North was summoned to the palace. However, individual ambition had reached such a point that it was impossible to put an end to the governmental crisis. It lasted two months. Messages from the two Houses, petitions by the citizens, and the embarrassment of the king had no effect. The members of Parliament who were candidates for ministerial office did not back down from their demands. George III thought of throwing such a heavy crown to the winds, and I believe that this period was the origin of the dreadful illness that afflicted him later on. In truth this was enough to make him lose his head.25
At last agreement was reached. Fox became minister, leaving North and Pitt in opposition. A new crisis, new difficulties. Pitt triumphed and, in spite of the fury of Fox, who had become the head of another coalition, managed to maintain his position. Fox could no longer contain himself and launched into coarse insults. Pitt replied, “Sympathetic as I am with the position of the honorable gentleman who has just spoken, with the torture of his dashed hopes, his illusions that have been destroyed, and his ambition that has been disappointed, I declare that I would consider myself inexcusable if the outbursts of a mind crushed by the weight of devouring regret were to arouse in me any other emotion than that of pity. I declare that they do not have the power to provoke my anger nor even my scorn.”
I will stop there. In truth, this story would be endless. If I have quoted illustrious names, it is certainly not for the vain pleasure of denigrating great reputations. I thought that my argument would be given even more force by including them. If a rash law could humiliate men such as the Pitts and the Foxes to this extent, what would it not have done to more common mortals, such as Walpole, Burke, and North?
What should be noted above all is that England was the plaything and victim of these coalitions. One led to a ruinous war, the other to a humiliating peace. A third caused the failure of the plan conceived by Pitt for justice and reparation in favor of Ireland.26 How much suffering and shame would have been spared England and humanity by this plan!
What a sad sight is that of statesmen abandoned to the shame of perpetual contradiction! Chatham, when in opposition, taught that the slightest sign of commercial prosperity in France was a calamity for Great Britain. Chatham, when a minister, concluded a peace with France and pronounced that the prosperity of one people is beneficial to all the others. We are accustomed to seeing in Fox a defender of French ideas. Doubtless he was, when Pitt was making war on us. But when Pitt negotiated the treaty of 1786,27 Fox said in as many words that hostility was the natural state of things, the normal situation with regard to relations between the two peoples.
Unfortunately, these changes in views, which were only strategic maneuvers for the coalitions, were taken seriously by the people. This is why we have seen them pleading for peace or war in turn at the whim of the leader who was popular at the time. In this lies the great danger of coalitions.
We might rightly say that for the last few years these types of maneuver are so decried in England that their statesmen no longer dare to indulge in them. What does that prove, other than that, because of their disastrous effects, they have finally opened the eyes of the people and molded their experience? I am well aware that man is naturally liable to progress, that he always ends by becoming enlightened, if not by farsightedness, at least by experience, and that a corrupt institution loses its effectiveness for harm in the long run as a result of doing harm. Is this a reason for adopting such an institution? Besides, it should not be believed that England escaped this scourge a long time ago. We have seen the country suffering its ill effects within our lifetimes.
In 1824, as the state of the finances was hopeless, a clever minister, Huskisson, thought of a great reform which was very unpopular at the time. Huskisson had to content himself with carrying out a few experiments in order to prepare and enlighten public opinion.
At the time, there was a young man in Parliament, who was deeply versed in economics and who understood the full greatness and extent of this reform. If, as a member of Parliament, his access to government had been barred, he would have had nothing better to do than to help Huskisson in his difficult enterprise. But there was also a fatal Article 79 in the English constitution. And Sir Robert Peel, for it was he, said to himself: “This reform is fine, and it is I and I alone who will accomplish it.” However, to do this, he had to be a minister. To be a minister, he had to overthrow Huskisson. For Huskisson to be overthrown, he had to be made unpopular. To make him unpopular, Sir Robert had to decry the work that he admired deep in his heart. This is what Sir Robert set out to do.
Huskisson died without achieving his idea. Finances were desperate. A heroic solution had to be conceived. Lord John Russell put forward a bill that started and implied the said reform. Sir Robert did not scruple to oppose it furiously. The bill failed. Russell advised the king to dissolve Parliament and call for an election, so grave was the situation. Sir Robert filled England with protectionist arguments, which were contrary to his convictions but essential to his plans. The old preconceived ideas prevailed. The new House of Commons overthrew Russell, and Peel entered the government with the express mission of opposing any reform. You can see that he was not afraid to take the longest way round.
However, Sir Robert had counted on help that was not slow to appear, public affliction. Since his careful attentions had delayed the reform, the state of finances had naturally gone from bad to worse. All the budgets had resulted in terrifying deficits. Because foodstuffs had not been able to enter Great Britain, the country experienced famine accompanied, as is always the case, by criminal acts, debauchery, illness, and death. Affliction! Nothing is more propitious to make a people fickle. Public opinion, supported by a powerful league, demanded freedom. The situation had reached the point that Sir Robert wanted. He then betrayed his past, his constituents, and his parliamentary party; and one fine day he proclaimed that he had become converted to political economy and carried out himself the very reform which, to England’s great misfortune, he had delayed for ten years with the sole aim of robbing others of the glory of its achievement. He gained this glory but paid dearly for it through being abandoned by all his friends and having to suffer pangs of conscience.
We also have our constitutional history, in other words, the history of our portfolio war, a war that throws our country into turmoil and oft en corrupts it altogether. I will not spend much time on this; it would just be an echo of what has already been read, with changes in the names of the players and a few of the stage details.
The point to which I want above all to draw the reader’s attention is not so much the deplorable nature of the maneuvers of parliamentary coalitions as the most dangerous aspect of one of their effects: the popularization of injustice and absurdity for a while and the rendering unpopular of truth itself.
One day, M. de Villèle noticed that the state had a little credit, and that he could borrow at 4½ percent. We then had heavy debt with interest that cost us 5 percent. M. de Villèle thought of putting the following proposal to the state’s creditors: agree from now on to receive only the interest at today’s rate for all transactions or take back your capital; I am ready to give it back to you. What was more reasonable and just, and how many times has France really asked for such a simple measure since then?
However, in the Chamber there were deputies who wanted to become ministers. Their natural role, therefore, was to find fault with M. de Villèle in anything and everything. They thus decried the conversion with so much noise and intensity that France wanted no truck with it at any price. It appeared that to give back a few million to the taxpayers was to tear out their entrails. When the upright M. Laffite, imbued by his financial experience to the extent of forgetting his role as a coalition member, decided to say: “After all, there is an advantage in the conversion,” he was instantly denounced as a renegade, and Paris no longer wanted him as its deputy. Imagine making a just decrease in the interest paid to stockholders unpopular! Since coalitions have achieved this tour de force, they will surely achieve a good many others. Such being the case, at present we are still paying for this lesson and what is worse, we do not appear to be benefiting from it.
But here is M. Molé in power. Two men of talent entered the Chamber under the governance of the new charter, which also has its Article 79. This article whispered in the ear of one of our two deputies these seductive words: “If you can manage to demolish M. Molé by making him unpopular, one of you will take his place.” And our two champions, who have never been able to agree on anything, agreed perfectly about heaping floods of unpopularity on M. Molé’s head.
What terrain did they choose? Matters concerning foreign affairs. This was about the only one on which the two men of opposing political opinions were able to agree for a moment. Besides, it was perfectly suited to the aim they had in mind. “The government is cowardly and traitorous, and it is humiliating the French flag. We ourselves are the true patriots and defenders of national honor.” What is better calculated to debase your opponent and raise yourself in the eyes of a public that is so well known to be sensitive to points of honor? It is true that if this exalted feeling of patriotism is pushed too far in the masses, it may result initially in scuffles and then in universal conflagration. However, this was just a secondary consideration in the eyes of a coalition; the essential lay in seizing power.
At the time of which we are speaking, M. Molé had found France bound by a treaty that included, if I am not mistaken, the following clause which I quote: “When the Austrians leave the legations,28 the French will leave Ancona.” Well, once the Austrians left the legations, the French left Ancona. Nothing in the world was more natural and just. Unless it is claimed that the glory of France lies in violating treaties and that she has been given promises so that she can deceive those with whom she negotiates, M. Molé was right a thousand times.
However, it was precisely on this question that MM Thiers and Guizot, supported by a public opinion that had been misled, succeeded in overthrowing him. And it was on this occasion that M. Thiers professed the famous doctrine on the value of international undertakings that has made him an impossible man since it has done nothing less than make France itself an impossible nation, at least among civilized peoples. But the essence of coalitions is to create future embarrassment and obstacles for those who enter into them. The reason for this is simple. While people are in systematic opposition, they declare sublime principles and fierce patriotism and clothe themselves in outraged austerity. When the hour of success sounds, they enter the government, but they are obliged to leave all declamatory baggage outside the door and humbly follow the policy of their predecessors. This is why the public conscience loses any faith it has. The people see a policy that they have been taught to find despicable being continued. They say sadly to themselves, “The men who gained my confidence through their fine speeches in opposition never fail to betray it when they become ministers.” Fortunately, they do not add: “From now on, I will be calling upon men of action, not speechmakers.”
We have just seen MM Thiers and Guizot aim the batteries of Ancona against M. Molé in parliament. I could now demonstrate how other coalitions have disparaged M. Guizot using the batteries of Tahiti,29 Morocco,30 and Syria.31 But the story would really become tedious if I did. It is always the same. Two or three deputies from a variety of parties, oft en opposed to one another and oft en irreconcilable, get it into their heads that they ought to be ministers whatever happens. They calculate that all these parties together would be able to form a majority or very close to one. Therefore they form a coalition. They do not bother with serious administrative or financial reform that would lead to public good. No, they would not agree on this. Besides, the role of a coalition is to attack men violently and abuses tepidly! Destroy abuse! That would be to reduce the inheritance to which they aspire! Our two or three leaders pitch their camp firmly on questions relating to foreign affairs. Their mouths are full of the words: national honor, patriotism, the greatness of France, and physical and moral superiority. They whip up the journals and then public opinion; they exalt it, inflame it, and overexcite it, now on the question of the Egyptian pasha, then on the right of search, and yet again on questions raised by someone such as Pritchard.32 They lead us right up to the brink of war. Europe is racked by anxiety. Armies are increased on all sides and budgets with them. “Just a little more effort,” says the coalition; “The government must fall or Europe has to be in flames.” The government does indeed fall, but the armies remain, as do the budgets. One of the happy victors joins the government; the two others remain on the wayside and go on to form a new coalition with the overthrown ministers that uses the same intrigues to achieve the same results. If anyone thinks of saying to the newly appointed government, “Now reduce the army and the budget,” they will reply, “What! Do you not see how oft en the danger of war arises in Europe?” And the people chorus: “They are right.” So the burden increases with each government crisis until it becomes unbearable and the artificial perils abroad are replaced by the genuine ones at home. And the government says: “We have to arm half of the nation to keep the other half in check.” Whereupon the people, or at least that part of the people who still have something to lose, say: “It is right.”
Such is the sorry sight that France and England are offering to the rest of the world, to the extent that many people with common sense have been brought to the point of asking themselves whether a representative regime, however logical in theory, is not by its very nature a cruel hoax. That depends. Without Article 79, it lives up to the hopes that gave it birth, as is proved by the example of the United States. With Article 79, it is just a series of illusions and disappointments for the people.
And how could it be otherwise? Men have dreamed of greatness, influence, wealth, and glory. Who does not dream of these on occasion? Suddenly the wind of election blows them into the legislative arena. If the constitution of their country tells them, “You are entering here as a deputy and you will remain a deputy,” what good would it do them, I ask you, to torment, hinder, decry, and overturn those in power? However, far from speaking to them thus, the constitution tells one of them, “The government needs to increase its following and has high political office in its gift, which I do not forbid you to accept,” and another, “You have daring and talent; there is the ministers’ bench. If you succeed in removing the incumbents, your place will be on it.”
At this point, infallibly, the floods of angry accusations begin, the unheard-of efforts to gain the support of a fleeting popularity, and the grand display of unattainable principles when the person is on the attack or abject concessions when he is on the defensive. There is nothing but traps and counter-traps, feints and counterfeints, mines and countermines. Politics becomes mere strategy. Operations are carried out outside and in offices, commissions, and committees. The slightest accident in parliament, the election of the treasurer of a parliamentary assembly, is a signal that makes hearts beat fast through fear or hope. No greater interest would be aroused if it were a question of the Civil Code itself. The most unlikely elements form alliances and the most natural alliances dissolve. Here, a partisan spirit forms a coalition. There, the undercover skill of one minister causes the downfall of another. If a matter arises concerning a law on which the well-being of the people depends but which does not involve a question of confidence, the Chamber is deserted. On the other hand, any event that occurs that carries within it general conflagration is always welcome if it offers a terrain on which assault ladders may be raised. Ancona, Tahiti, Morocco, Syria, Pritchard, the right of inspection or fortifications,33 any of these is a good excuse, provided that the coalition can gain enough strength from it to overthrow the cabinet. At this point we are drenched in this type of stereotyped lamentations, “At home, France is suffering, etc., etc., while abroad, France is humiliated, etc., etc.” Is this true? Is it false? Nobody cares. Will this measure make us quarrel with Europe? Will it oblige us to keep five hundred thousand men constantly on the ready? Will it stop the march of civilization? Will it create obstacles for any future government? That is not the point. Basically, just one thing is of interest: the fall or triumph of a particular name.
And do not think that this political perversity affects only base hearts within parliament, hearts that are consumed by ignoble ambition, the commonplace lovers of well-paid positions. No, it attacks over and above all the highest minds, noble hearts, and powerful intellects. To tame men like these, it needs only Article 79 to awaken in the depths of their consciences, in place of the trivial thought: You will achieve your dreams of wealth, this much more dominant idea: You will achieve your dreams for the public good. Lord Chatham had shown evidence of great disinterest, and M. Guizot has never been accused of worshipping the golden calf. We have seen these two men in coalitions, and what did they do there? Everything that a thirst for power and, perhaps worse, a thirst for riches might suggest. The display of sentiments they did not have, clothing themselves in ferocious patriotism of which they did not approve, generating embarrassment for the government of their country, making negotiations of the highest importance fail, inciting journalism and public views to follow the most perilous paths, creating problems for their own future government through all of this, and preparing themselves in advance for shameful retractions: that is what they did. Why? Because the tempting demon, hidden in the form of an Article 79, had whispered in their ear these words, whose seductive power it has known from the beginning: “Eritis sicut dii;34 overturn everything in your path, but achieve power and you will be the providence of the people.” And the deputy, succumbing to this, makes speeches, sets out doctrines, and carries out actions of which his conscience disapproves. He says to himself: “I have to do this to make my way. Once I have reached government, I will be able to return to my genuine ideas and my true principles.”
There are therefore very few deputies who are not diverted by the prospect of government from the straight line that their constituents were entitled to see them pursue. Here again, if the war for portfolios, this scourge which the fabulist might have included in his sorry list between plague and famine, if only this war for portfolios was limited to the chamber of the national palace! But the field of battle has gradually expanded right up to and beyond the borders of our country. Warlike masses are everywhere; only their leaders remain in the Chamber. They know that, in order to reach the body of the fort, they have to start by conquering the outer works—journalism, popularity, public opinion, and electoral majorities. It is therefore fatal for all these forces, to the extent that they support or oppose the coalition, to become impregnated and imbued with the passions that are aroused in parliament. Journalism from one end of France to the other no longer discusses; it pleads a case. It argues for and against each law and each measure, not on the basis of what good or harm they contain but solely from the point of view of the assistance they might provide temporarily to this or that champion. The government press has only one motto: E sempre bene,35 and the press for the opposition, like the old woman in the satire, lets the following word be read on her petticoat: Argumentabor.36
When journalism has thus decided to mislead the general public and mislead itself, it is able to accomplish some surprising miracles of this sort. Let us recall the right of inspection.37 For I do not know how many years this treaty was carried out without anyone taking any notice. However, since a coalition needed a strategic expedient, it unearthed this unfortunate treaty and used it as the basis of its operations. Within a short time, with the help of journalism, the coalition succeeded in making every Frenchman believe that it had only one clause, which stated: “English warships will have the right to inspect French commercial ships.” I have no need to relate the explosion of patriotism that a notion like this was bound to generate. It reached a point at which we still cannot understand how a world war could have been avoided. I remember at this time finding myself in a circle of many people who were fulminating against this odious treaty. Someone thought of asking, “How many of you have read it?” It was fortunate for him that his audience had no stones to hand or he would inevitably have been stoned.
Besides, the involvement of the journals in the war for portfolios and the role they play in it was revealed by one of them in terms that deserve to be quoted here (La Presse dated 17 November 1845):
“M. Petetin describes the press as he understands it and as he likes fondly to imagine it. In good faith, does he believe that when Le Constitutionnel, Le Siècle, etc., attack M. Guizot and when in turn Le Journal des débats takes on M. Thiers, these papers fight solely for the idea in its essence, for truth, stimulated by the internal needs of conscience? Defining the press in this way is to paint it as one imagines it, not to paint it as it is. It costs us nothing to declare this, for if we are journalists we are less so by vocation than by circumstance. Every day we see the press in the service of human passions, rival ambitions, ministerial alliances, parliamentary intrigue, a wide variety and the most diverse of political calculations and those that are the least noble; we see it associating closely with these. But we rarely see it in the service of ideas, and when by chance a journal happens to take hold of an idea, it is never for itself, it is always as a governmental instrument of defense or attack. He who is writing these lines is speaking from experience. Every time he has tried to make journalism leave the partisan rut for the open fields of ideas and reform, the path of the healthy application of economic science to public administration, he has found himself alone, and has had to acknowledge that, outside the narrow circle drawn by the assembled letters of four or five individuals, there was no possible discussion, and no politics.”
In truth, I do not know to what demonstration to turn if the reader is not scandalized and appalled by such a terrible admission?
Finally, just as the evil, having escaped parliament, invaded journalism, through journalism it invaded the whole of public opinion. How could the general public not be misled when, day after day, La Tribune and La Presse concentrated on allowing only false glimmers, false judgments, false quotations, and false assertions to reach it?
We have seen that the terrain on which ministerial battles normally take place is first of all the question of foreign affairs, followed by parliamentary and electoral corruption.
With regard to foreign affairs, everyone understands the danger of this incessant work undertaken by coalitions to whip up national hatred, inflame patriotic pride, and persuade the country that foreigners are thinking only of humiliating them and the executive power only of betraying them. I trust I may be allowed to say that this danger is perhaps greater in France than anywhere else. Our civilization has made work a necessity for us. It is our means of existence and progress. Production develops through security, freedom, order, and peace.
Unfortunately, university education is in flagrant contradiction with the needs of our time. By making us live throughout our youth the life of the Spartans and Romans, it fosters in our souls the sentiment common to children and barbarians, an admiration for brute force. The sight of a fine regiment, the sound of a flourish of trumpets, the appearance of the machines invented by men to break each other’s arms and legs, or the strutting of a drum major, all put us in a state of ecstasy. Like barbarians, we believe that patriotism means a hatred of foreigners. As soon as our intelligence begins to grow, it is nourished solely with military virtues, the great policies of the Romans, their profound diplomacy, and the strength of their legions. We learn our morals from Livy. Our catechism is Quintus Curtius and our enthusiasm is offered, as an ideal of civilization, a nation that founded its means of existence on the methodical plundering of the entire world. It is easy to understand how the efforts of parliamentary coalitions, which are always directed toward war, find us so eager to support them. They could not sow on a field that is better prepared. For this reason, in the space of a few years we came on three occasions within a whisker of clashing with Spain, Morocco, Turkey, Russia, Austria, and England. What would have become of France if calamities like these had not been averted with great difficulty and almost in spite of what she was doing? Louis-Philippe fell, but nothing will stop me from saying that he rendered the world an immense service by maintaining the peace. How much sweat this success worthy of the blessings of nations cost him! And why (this is the heart of my thesis)? Because at a given time peace no longer had public opinion on its side. And why did it not have public opinion on its side? Because it did not suit the newspapers. And why did it not suit them? Because it was inconvenient for some deputy, who aspired to a ministry. And why in the end was it inconvenient for this deputy? Because accusations of weakness and treason have been, are, and always will be the favorite weapon of deputies who aspire to portfolios and need to overthrow those who hold them.
The other point on which coalitions normally attack the government is corruption. In this respect, during the last regime, it was quite easy for them. However, do coalitions not make corruption itself inevitable, so to speak? The government, being attacked on a matter on which it is in the right—such as, for example, when people want to incite it to start an unjust war—initially defends itself using reason. However, it soon realizes that reason is powerless and that it has broken itself against systematic opposition. What recourse has it left in these circumstances? To create at all costs for itself a solid majority and to oppose one prejudice with another. This was Walpole’s defensive weapon and that of M. Guizot. I hope I will not be accused of presenting an apology or justification for corruption here. However, I will say this: given the state of the human heart, coalitions make corruption inevitable. The opposite implies contradiction, for if the government were honest, it would fall. It exists; therefore it corrupts. The only cabinets that have ever been stable to any extent were those which created a majority for themselves in spite of this: those of Walpole, North, Villèle, and Guizot.
And now let the reader imagine a country in which the major political meetings, chambers, and electoral bodies are under pressure, on the one hand from the maneuvers of systematic opposition, backed up by a journalism sowing hatred, lies, and warlike ideas, and on the other by government maneuvers instilling venality and corruption in the very fibers of the social body! And this has been going on for centuries! And this is becoming the permanent situation of the representative regime! Should we be surprised if honest people end up by losing all trust in it? It is true that from time to time we see leaders change their role. However, an event like this serves only to substitute universal and indelible skepticism for the last vestiges of trust.
I must close. I will end with a consideration of the greatest importance.
The National Assembly has established a constitution. We ought to give it the most profound respect. It is the lifeline of our purposes. However, this is not a reason to close our eyes to the dangers that it may present by virtue of its claims as a work of human construction, especially if, in this conscientious scrutiny, we set ourselves the aim of banishing from all its ancillary institutions anything that is likely to germinate a disastrous seed.
Everyone will agree, I think, that the danger of our constitution is to bring face to face two powers which are or may think they are rivals and equals because both take advantage of the universal suffrage from which they arise.38 Already the possibility of irreconcilable conflict is alarming many minds and has given rise to two very distinct theories. Some claim that the February revolution against the former executive power has not felt able to propose a reduction in the preponderance of the legislative power. On the contrary, the chairman of the Council claimed that, although in previous times the government had to withdraw in the face of majorities, this was not the case today. Be that as it may, any sincere advocate of security or stability ought to hope ardently that no actual opportunity for this conflict of power will occur and that the danger, if it exists, will remain latent.
If this is so, will we with light hearts establish a clear cause of artificial government crises within the electoral law? Faced with the huge constitutional difficulty confronting and appalling us, will we organize parliamentary strife before going our own ways, as though to increase at whim the opportunities for conflict?
Let us therefore meditate on this: what were known as government crises in former times will now be called struggles for power and will take on gigantic proportions because of this. We have already seen this, even though the constitution has scarcely been in existence for two months, and without the admirable moderation of the National Assembly we would now be in the eye of a revolutionary storm.
Certainly, this is a powerful reason for avoiding the creation of artificial causes of government crises. Under the constitutional monarchy, they did a great deal of harm, but in the end a solution was found. The king could dissolve the Chamber and go to the country. If the country condemned the opposition, the result arose from a new majority and the harmony of powers was reestablished. If the country condemned the government, this also resulted from a majority and the king could not refuse to give way.
Now, the question no longer arises between the opposition and the government. It arises between the legislative power and the executive power, both with a mandate for a specific duration39 ; that is to say, it arises between two expressions of universal suffrage.
Once again, I am not seeking to determine who should give way, but am limiting myself to saying, “Let us accept the ordeal if it occurs naturally, but let us not be so imprudent as to cause it to arise artificially several times a year.
Well, drawing on the lessons of the past, I ask the question: is not a declaration that representatives may aspire to portfolios an invitation to foment coalitions, increase the number of government crises, or, to express it better, struggles for power? I ask my colleagues to reflect on this.
Now I will deal with two objections.
It has been said: “You read a great deal into the eligibility of deputies to enter government. To hear you it would appear that, without this, the republic would be a paradise. By closing the door of power to deputies, do you think that you can extinguish all passions? Have you yourself not declared that in England coalitions have become impossible as a result of their unpopularity, and have we not seen Peel and Russell lend each other loyal support?”
The argument can be summed up thus: Because there will always be evil passions, let us conclude that sustenance for the most harmful of all should be included in the law. That with time and because they cause harm repeatedly, coalitions will wear out, I believe. There is no scourge about which as much can be said, and this is a singular reason for sowing the seed of coalition government in our laws. Superfluous wars and burdensome taxes, the fruit of coalitions, have taught England to scorn them. I do not say that after two or three centuries, at the cost of similar calamities, we might not learn the same lesson. The question is to know whether it is better to reject a bad law or to adopt it on the basis that the excessive harm it does will generate a reaction toward good in a hundred years.
It has also been said: to forbid governmental posts to deputies is to deprive the country of all of the great talents that are revealed in the National Assembly.
For my part, I say that forbidding governmental posts to deputies is, on the contrary, to keep the great talents in the service of the general good. To show the prospect of power to a man of genius who is a representative is to lead him on to do a hundred times more harm as a member of a coalition than he would ever do good as the member of a cabinet. It would be to turn his very genius against public tranquillity.
Besides, do we not delude ourselves by imagining that all the great talents are in the Chamber? Do we not believe that, in the entire armed forces, there is no one who would make a good minister of war and in the entire judiciary no one who would make a good minister of justice?
If there are men of genius in the Chamber, let them stay there. They will exercise a good influence on the majorities and the government, especially since they will no longer have any interest in exercising a bad one.
Besides, even if the objection had any value, it would give way before the immeasurably greater dangers of coalition that are the inevitable consequence of the article that I oppose. Do we hope to find a solution that has no disadvantages at all? Let us be capable of choosing the lesser of two evils. The following is a singular form of logic and one used by all sophists: Your proposal has a tiny disadvantage and mine has immense ones. We therefore must reject yours because of the tiny disadvantage it has.
Let us sum up this dissertation, which is both too long and too short.
The question of parliamentary conflicts of interest is at the very heart of the Constitution. For the last year, we have not turned over a question that is more in need of being resolved correctly.
The solution that is in line with justice and the public good appears to me to be based on two principles that are clear, simple, and incontrovertible:
1. For entering the National Assembly there should be no exclusion, but precautions should be taken with regard to civil servants.
2. For moving from representative seats to political office, there should be total exclusion.
In other words:
All electors are eligible.
All representatives must remain representatives.
All this is found in the amendment that I have formulated thus:
1. Civil servants elected as deputies will not lose their rights and titles and cannot be either promoted or dismissed from these. They cannot exercise their functions nor receive salaries for these for the entire duration of their mandate.
2. A deputy cannot accept any public office, especially that of a minister.
Bastiat’s Political Writings: Anecdotes and Reflections
In the present volume, we focus on Bastiat’s political writings, most of which were written in the 1840s on behalf of the various political campaigns in which Bastiat was involved. Not surprisingly, Bastiat was greatly affected, both personally and in his political outlook, by those campaigns and the people and events associated with them: his early activity in the free-trade movement; his burgeoning contact with the Parisian-based political economists in the Société d’économie politique;1 his political activity as an elected member of the Constituent Assembly and then the Legislative Assembly during the revolutionary years of 1848 and 1849; and his struggles in the Chamber of Deputies, in the periodical press, and on the streets against the growing socialist movement.
During our work on this translation of Bastiat’s political writings, we have come across interesting and sometimes unexpected material about the life and ideas, the colleagues and opponents, of Bastiat. Thus, in this essay I have gathered information about Bastiat and his political and intellectual milieu; much of the material is of a personal and anecdotal nature, and as such will, we hope, provide an added dimension to our understanding of the man and his ideas and complement the translation and the accompanying notes.
[1. ](Paillottet’s note) This article, published in March 1849, was reprinted in 1850, a few months before the author’s death. [Toward the end of Bastiat’s life, his health was failing to the point where he could no longer speak in the Chamber, and so in March 1849 he distributed his would-be speech in pamphlet form to his friends and colleagues.] The views he developed in it were deeply rooted in his mind, as can be seen in his “Letter to M. Larnac” dating from 1846 in vol. 1, as well as in the article written in 1830 titled “To the Electors of the Département of the Landes.” (OC, vol. 1, p. 480, “À M. Larnac, député des Landes,” and vol. 1, p. 217, “Aux électeurs du département des Landes.”)
[2. ]Bastiat distributed this pamphlet to his colleagues, in March 1849, during the debate on the draft of an electoral bill prepared by a commission of fifteen members directed by Adolphe Billault. A prior discussion had taken place in June 1848. At that time Bastiat had proposed the following amendment, which was rejected: “Civil servants who are elected deputies will not exercise their function during their mandates. . . . No deputy will be appointed to public functions during his mandate.”
[3. ]Article 28 of the Constitution stipulated, “Any paid public function is incompatible with the mandate of people’s representative. No member of the National Assembly may be assigned or promoted to salaried public functions whose incumbents are appointed by the executive power. Exceptions will be determined by an organic law.”
[4. ]To be eligible one had to pay personal income taxes at least equal to five hundred francs, which drastically limited the number of potential candidates.
[5. ]Corruption was one of the plagues of the July Monarchy, more particularly under the Guizot government. On 18 July 1847, in a resounding speech, Lamartine announced, “The revolution of public conscience, the revolution of contempt.”
[6. ](Paillottet’s note) See pages 10 and 11 in vol. 4, chapter 17 in vol. 6, and pages 443ff. in this volume. (OC, vol. 4, “Abondance, disette,” pp. 10 and 11; vol. 6, p. 535, “Services privés, service public”; and vol. 5, p. 407, “Paix et liberté ou le budget républicain,” pp. 443ff.
[7. ]During the discussion of the March 1849 law, on 26 February, Bastiat had indeed proposed an amendment that he justified in this way: “Deputies should be only deputies, and should not be appointed to any position by the executive power. If it so happened that some exceptions were found to be justified, a minister’s position should never be such an exception, as the greatest plague of a government is the possibility for a deputy to become a minister.”
[8. ]Under the July Monarchy, any deputy who accepted a remunerated public function had to return to his electors to get their permission to combine the two functions.
[9. ]The 1791 Constitution stipulated that ministers had to be chosen by the king outside the Assembly.
[10. ]“The major premise is untrue.”
[11. ]A character from the then-famous poem “Orlando furioso,” by Ludovico Ariosto (1474–1533). Orlando has lost his mind. Astolphe cures him with a bottle brought back from the moon and given to him by Saint John the Evangelist.
[12. ]Article 41 of the Constitution stipulated that no law could be voted before three deliberations had taken place at intervals of more than five days. The third deliberation of the draft of electoral legislation took place from 11 to 14 March 1849.
[13. ]“Through right and wrong.”
[14. ]The terms Whigs and Tories had appeared by 1640 in the English political vocabulary. While they are still in use today, they were formally replaced in the early nineteenth century by the terms liberals and conservatives. See also the entry for “Whig and Tory” in the Glossary of Subjects and Terms.
[15. ]Spain granted permission to England to send a commercial vessel to her American colonies once a year but kept the right to inspect English vessels to avoid smuggling.
[16. ]Bastiat is referring to the fact that the troops of King George II (elector of Hanover) were subsidized by the English government.
[17. ]Thomas Pelham-Holles and Henry Pelham.
[18. ]Charles Edward Stuart.
[19. ]Henry Fox.
[20. ]William Pitt (the Younger).
[21. ]Charles James Fox.
[22. ]Frederick North.
[23. ]Charles James Fox.
[24. ]Pitt the Younger.
[25. ]After 1788 George III started to display signs of mental illness.
[26. ]Pitt the Younger attempted until his death to eliminate discrimination against Catholics.
[27. ]The Eden-Rayneval Treaty (from the names of the two negotiators), a commercial treaty finally signed in 1788.
[28. ]A reference to the countries that the French had formally administered. Molé was minister of foreign affairs during the July Monarchy (1836) and was instrumental in withdrawing the French garrison from the Italian city of Ancona, where the French had been since it was first occupied in 1797, at which time Ancona declared itself to be a revolutionary municipality. Until Italy became a unified nation state, Austria and France were the dominant European powers in the northern part of Italy.
[29. ]In 1842 Tahiti was a French protectorate. Following incidents with English ships, Admiral Dupetit-Thouars transformed it into a territory of “direct sovereignty” and expelled the British consul George Pritchard, a Protestant minister hostile to the French, chiefly on account of their Catholicism. This created tension between London and Paris. The latter disavowed the admiral on 24 February 1844.
[30. ]A brief conflict opposed France to Morocco in 1844 because Morocco refused to sign the Treaty of Tangiers, which allowed cruisers of the signatory states to control merchant ships in order to check for slaves. This “right of search” did not fail to raise trouble between France and England for a while, as English cruisers, outnumbering those of other nations, exerted a de facto police of the seas. For “right of search,” see also the entry for “Slavery” in the Glossary of Subjects and Terms.
[31. ]France supported Mehemet Ali, pasha (governor) of Egypt, in his views on Syria, part of the Ottoman Empire. England and Russia supported the sultan.
[32. ]The “right of search” refers to the disputed and resented policy of the British navy of stopping and searching suspected slave ships on the high seas. See also the entry for “Slavery” in the Glossary of Subjects and Terms.
[33. ]Following the 1840 diplomatic crisis, the government had fortifications built around Paris.
[34. ]“You shall be as gods.”
[35. ]“All is well.”
[36. ]“It will be argued.” [Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (1636–1711), Satire X, Œuvres (1821), vol. 1, p. 293.]
[37. ]See the entry for “Slavery” in the Glossary of Subjects and Terms.
[38. ]The 1848 Constitution did not provide any means for resolving a conflict between the president of the republic and the Assembly. The president could not dissolve the Assembly; the Assembly could not overthrow the president (short of extraordinary circumstances).
[39. ]The president was elected for four years; the Assembly, for three years.
[1. ]The Société d’économie politique became the main organization that brought like-minded classical liberals together for discussion and debate. See Breton, “The Société d’économie politique of Paris (1842–1914),” pp. 53–69.