Front Page Titles (by Subject) BOOK X: On the Action of Government with Regard to Property - Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments
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BOOK X: On the Action of Government with Regard to Property - Benjamin Constant, Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments 
Principles of Politics Applicable to a all Governments, trans. Dennis O’Keeffe, ed. Etienne Hofmann, Introduction by Nicholas Capaldi (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003).
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On the Action of Government with Regard to Property
The Purpose of This Book
We have ruled out in this work any research into the constitution of States and the organization of their political powers. Nevertheless, we cannot absolve ourselves from dealing with the place that property should have in government concerns since we have to determine what the relations between government and property ought to be. We are therefore obliged to put forward some ideas which derive from the first principles of human association. Since these ideas relate equally, however, to all forms of institution, they will not draw us at all into the discussions we want to avoid.
People may be astonished that we should refute in some detail opinions which today seem generally abandoned. Our purpose, however, is not to write simply on opinions which may enjoy favor today, but rather to attack false opinions to the extent that we find them on our way.
Moreover, we know how quickly men go from one view to another, especially in France. Such error as one  does not deign to reply to at such a time, because one thinks it without supporters, can at the first emergency show up, resting on arguments one had regarded as forever rebuffed.
In addition, there are among us a rather large number of writers always at the service of the dominant system. We have already seen them go from unbridled demagogy to the opposite exaggeration. Nothing would be less astonishing on their part than a new apostasy. These are real lansquenets,1 but without the courage. Disavowals cost them nothing. Absurdities do not check them, because for them opinions are only calculation. They search everywhere for a power whose wishes they can reduce to principles. Their zeal is all the more active and tireless in that it dispenses with their conviction.
The Natural Division of the Inhabitants of the Same Territory into Two Classes
No nation has regarded all the individuals living in its territory, in whatever way this might be, as members of the political association. This is not a question of arbitrary distinctions, such as among the ancients separated free men from slaves, or in modern times nobles from the lowborn. The most full democracy still establishes two categories: to the one are relegated foreigners and those below the age decreed by the law for the exercise of citizenship rights. The other consists of men having reached that age and born in the country. Only the latter are members of the political association. There is therefore a principle following which, of those individuals brought together in a given territory, some are citizens and some not.
Obviously, this principle is that to be a member of the political association requires a certain degree of informed outlook and common interests with the other members. Men below the legal age lack this degree of informed outlook. Foreigners are not capable of being guided by that common interest. The proof of this is that the former, on reaching the age  the law requires, become members of the political association, while the latter do this by way of residence, ownership, or their social relationships. We take it that these things give enlightenment to the former and the required interest to the latter.
This principle, however, needs further extension. In our present societies, birth in the country and the age of majority are not enough to confer on men the qualities proper to the exercise of citizenship rights. Those whom poverty holds in endless dependence and condemns from childhood to laboring work, are neither more informed than children as to public affairs, nor have a greater stake than foreigners in a national prosperity, with whose elements they are not familiar and whose benefits they share only indirectly.
I do not wish to wrong the working class. It is no less patriotic than other classes. It is often ready for the most heroic sacrifices, and its devotion is all the more admirable in that it is neither rewarded financially nor with honor. As I see it, however, the patriotism which gives one the courage to die for one’s country is one thing, while that which makes one capable of understanding one’s interests is another. Therefore a condition beyond having been born in the country and the prescribed age is required, namely the leisure needed for developing an informed outlook and soundness of judgment. Only property secures this leisure. Only property can render men capable of exercising political rights. Only owners can be citizens. To counter this with natural equality is to be reasoning within a hypothesis inapplicable to the present state of societies. If from this idea of men’s having equal rights we go on to claim that owners must not have more extensive ones than nonowners, we will have to conclude either that all must be owners or none. For most assuredly the right to property establishes between those who have it and those bereft of it a far greater inequality than all political rights. Now, if we come to terms with so decisive an inequality, we must also accept all the further agreements indispensable to the consolidation of this first one. Only the principle is subject to doubt. Once it is admitted, its consequences are entailed. Is property necessary to the well-being and improvement of the social condition? If we adopt the affirmative, people cannot be astonished at seeing us admitting its obvious results. 
A number of those who have defended property by way of abstract reason seem to me to have fallen into grave error. They have represented property as something mysterious, anterior to society and independent of it.2 Property is served by the rejection of these hypotheses. Mystery is harmful in everything which does not spring from superstition. Property is not anterior to society. Without political association, which gives it its guarantee, it would be only the right of the first possessor, the right of force, that is to say, a right which is no such thing. It is absolutely not independent of society, since some kind of social condition, admittedly a very wretched one, could be conceived without it, while property without society is unimaginable. Property exists by virtue of society. Society found that the best way to get its members to enjoy goods common to all or disputed by all before its institution, was to concede some of them to each person or to maintain each person in that part of them he happened to possess, guaranteeing to him enjoyment of this, plus such changes as this enjoyment might undergo either by the countless changes of chance or by inequality in the degrees of effort. Property is only a social convention. Our recognizing it as such, however, does not mean we envisage it as less sacred, less inviolable, less necessary than do writers using a different philosophical approach. Some philosophers have considered its establishment an evil and its abolition possible.3 They have had recourse, however, to found their  theories, to a host of suppositions of which some are quite unrealizable and of which the least chimerical are relegated to a future it is not even permissible for us to predict. Not only is their fundamental assumption a growth in enlightenment at which man may perhaps one day arrive but on which it would be absurd to found our present institutions, but they have assumed as proven a diminution in the work required today for the subsistence of the human race of an order which surpasses all invention even suspected. Certainly each one of our discoveries in mechanical science which replaces human force by instruments and machines is a victory for thought; and by the laws of nature, these victories becoming easier as they multiply, they must follow one another at an increasing rate. But what we have done under this heading, and even what we can imagine, fall far short of our total exemption from manual labor. Nevertheless, this exemption would be indispensable for the abolition of property, short of our wishing, as some writers propose, to divide this work equally among all members of the society. Such a division, however, even if it were not an absurd dream, would work against its own purpose, would take away from thought the leisure necessary to make it strong and profound, from ingenuity the perseverance which brings it to perfection, from all classes the advantages of habit, continuity, unity of purpose, and centralization of productive forces. Without property the human race would be in stasis, in the most brutish and savage state of its existence. Each person, responsible for providing on his own for all his needs, would split his energies to meet them and, bent beneath the weight of these multiplied cares, would never advance an inch. The abolition of property would destroy the division of labor, the basis of the perfecting of all the arts and sciences. The progressive faculty, the favorite hope of the writers I am opposing, would die for lack of time and independence. The crass and forced equality they recommend to us would be an invincible obstacle to the gradual setting up of true equality, that of happiness and enlightenment. 
On the Status Property Should Occupy in Political Institutions
The question being thus resolved, property being necessary, then, to the perfecting and prosperity of the social condition, it follows that it must be surrounded by all the safeguards; and power is the only sufficient safeguard. Property must not be made into an eternal cause of struggles and crimes. Better destroy it, as certain extravagant thinkers want, than tolerate it as an abuse by treating it with disfavor. These thinkers at least present a theoretical system which they believe compatible with the social State, such as they conceive it. What shall we say, however, of these hidden enemies of property who, allowing it without giving it influence, seem to set it up only to deliver it over, helpless, to the vehement hostility it provokes? What shall we think of Mably, who depicts it as a scourge and then urges us to respect it?4 This is to bequeath to society indestructible seeds of discord. Property must be in charge or annihilated. If you put power on one side and property on the other, the latter will soon be at odds with legislation. Careful reflection and government become separate. Opinion wages war with the latter.
One might say that the present state of society, mixing and mingling owners and nonowners in a thousand ways, gives to some of the latter the same interests and means as the former, that the man who works, no less than the man who owns, needs peace and security; that owners are in law and fact only distributors of the common wealth between all individuals and that it is to the advantage of all that order and peace should favor the development of all abilities and all individual resources.
The fault in these arguments is their proving too much. If they were conclusive, there would be no reason for denying foreigners political rights. Europe’s commercial relations are such that it is in the interests of the great majority of Europeans that peace  and contentment prevail in all countries. The overthrow of a country of any sort is as fatal for foreigners whose financial speculations have linked their fortune to that country as this overthrow could be to its own inhabitants, with the exception of its propertied class. The facts prove it. During the most savage wars, a country’s businessmen make endless appeals and sometimes efforts for the hostile country not to be destroyed. Nevertheless, a consideration so vague will not seem sufficient, in my view, to justify political rights for foreigners.
Doubtless, if you suppose that nonproprietors will always calmly examine all sides of the question, their considered interest will be to respect property and become proprietors; but if you admit the more likely hypothesis that they will often be led by their most obvious and immediate interest, this latter interest will lead them, if not to destroy property, at least to diminish its influence.
Furthermore, admitting the most favorable hypothesis, that the first concern of nonproprietors is to become proprietors, if the organization of property puts some obstacle in the way of their succeeding, or they merely imagine this to be so, their natural inclination will be to change that organization. Now, the organization of property is something you cannot disturb without harming its nature and upsetting society as a whole. We will see later how many vexatious effects the idea of a forced dissemination of property can give rise to. In short, these arguments bear only on a very small group of nonproprietors. The vast majority will always be deprived of leisure, the indispensable condition of enlightenment. Civil safeguards, individual freedom, free opinion, in a word, social protection, are owed to nonproprietors, because any political association owes them even to the foreigner it receives into its bosom; but political rights are not a protection; they bestow power. The political association must give this only to its members. To grant it to nonproprietors is not to give them a shield, but an offensive weapon.
The necessary purpose of the propertyless is to manage to become propertied. All the resources you give them they will use for this purpose. If you add to the freedom for their talents and efforts, which you  do owe them, political rights, which you do not, these rights, in the hands of the vast majority of them, will infallibly be used to encroach on property. They will march on it by that irregular and meretricious route, rather than following the natural route, work. This will be a source of corruption for them, and for the State, of disorder. It has been very properly observed that when the propertyless have political rights one of three things happens. Either their only motivation springs from themselves and then they destroy the society; or they are motivated by the man or men in power and they become the instruments of tyranny, which is what happens in unexceptional times; or they are motivated by those aspiring to power and become the instruments of factions. This is what happens during great political crises.
There are always two classes in a country, those who want to conserve and those who want to make gains.5 The first need only security; the second, before they need security, need force. Freedom and justice are the sole means of well-being for the former. By means of justice they conserve what they possess; and by way of freedom they enjoy it. For the latter, however, injustice and tyranny may often be the means to success. Their encroachments are by way of injustice and defended by tyranny. Machiavelli establishes that it is better to entrust the defense of freedom to those who want to make gains than to those who wish to conserve.6 But he is not talking about property. He is talking about power, and oppressive power to boot, like that of the Roman patricians or the Venetian nobles. This is no more than saying that the defense of freedom should be entrusted to those who suffer from tyranny rather than those who enjoy it.
 In the countries with representative or republican arrangements, it is important above all that their assemblies should comprise proprietors, whatever their further organization may be in other respects. An individual may capture the crowd through outstanding merit. The ruling body, however, to win public confidence, need material interests manifestly appropriate to their duties. A nation will always presume that people who are united are led by common interest. It will take it for granted that love of order, justice, and conservation will be the prevailing concern among proprietors. The latter are thus useful not only in terms of their inherent qualities but also of those attributed to them, as well as of the interests they are assumed to have, and of the salutary prejudices they inspire. Put the unpropertied class in charge of the State, however well intentioned they may be, and the anxiety of the propertied will hem in all their measures. The wisest laws will be suspected and hence disobeyed. The opposite sort of organization, by contrast, will reconcile popular assent, even to a government which is defective in some regards.
During the French Revolution, owners competed with nonowners in the making of absurd and spoliatory laws. This is because they feared the latter now that they had power. The owners wanted to be forgiven for being owners. The fear of losing what one has renders one every bit as cowardly or enraged as the hope of acquiring that which one has not. These faults and crimes on the part of property holders, however, were a consequence of the influence of the propertyless class.
On Examples Drawn from Antiquity
We should separate from this subject all the examples drawn from antiquity. We will devote another book in this work to developing the numberless differences which mark us off from the ancients.7 Let us merely say here that in the small States of antiquity property was far from being the same thing it is with us.  The sharing out of conquered territories made or could make proprietors of all individuals. In our times conquests aggrandize States but do not give new lands at all to the citizens. All the laboring work, which takes away all leisure from those committed to it, was done by slaves. Slavery is abolished. The rich appeased the poor in feeding them out of largesse. Our financial system no longer permits handouts of money and corn. The public square contained the whole nation, which was governed by eloquence, a power which in our huge societies no longer exists. The discussions gave the whole nation general ideas on politics, even when they directed it badly on such and such particular occasions. Thus, freed from manual work by the slaves, often fed for nothing by the rich, or by the State, which came to the same thing, given understanding of government by orators, nonowners were able to give almost all their time to public affairs. They acquired the habit of so preoccupying themselves, and this habit made them less unfit for it.
Today private matters, the cares imposed on each person for his subsistance, take at least most of the poor man’s time, if not all of it. Public matters are only an accessory. Printing has replaced popular discussion. The lower classes, however, have little time to read. What they read without choice, they take up without examining. No opinion gets debated in their presence. Theirs therefore forms by chance.
Nonowners could consequently exercise political rights in the republics of antiquity with less inconvenience than they could in our modern States; and yet, if we examine the thing closely, we will become convinced that their influence was fatal to these same republics. Athens suffered greatly from not having based its government on property. Its lawmakers had always to battle with the ascendancy of the propertyless. Most of its writers, its philosophers, even its poets have a marked preference  for oligarchy.8 This is because they were seeking in the power of the few the security that they should have reposed in property alone. The Lacedaemonian [Spartan] institutions were not based on property; but these bizarre institutions had distorted property as they had annihilated personal freedom and imposed silence on all the affections. They rested moreover on the most horrible servitude. The helots and the Messenians were the true propertyless class of Laconia, and for them the loss of political rights was subsumed in that of natural rights.9 The opponents of property stress the poverty of some of the illustrious citizens of ancient Rome. These illustrious citizens were, however, despite their poverty, propertied. Cincinnatus owned the land he ploughed. If the propertyless in Rome had what looked like political rights, they paid for that sterile honor, dying of poverty, thrown into prisons, their creditors the patricians legally entitled to defame them.
Such will always be the fate of this class while it has rights it cannot exercise without putting the public good at risk. In their alarm owners will have recourse to the most violent means in order to break the threatening weapon now in the hands of their enemies, entrusted to them by an imprudent constitution. Of all the political passions, fear is the most aggressive. Proprietors will always be oppressive to avoid being oppressed. Property will never be powerless. If it is refused legal influence, it will soon seize upon the arbitrary and corrupting kind.
On the Proprietorial Spirit
One observation is crucial to prevent a confusion of ideas. To put power into property is not the same as to put property in power. Wealth has influence and commands consideration only insofar as it is not suddenly acquired. More than once, during the Revolution, our governors, constantly hearing government of the propertied nostalgically praised, were tempted to become proprietors to make themselves more worthy of being governors. But even when they had bestowed on themselves, from one day to another, considerable properties  by calling their wishes the law, the people were liable to think that what the law had conferred, the law could retract; and so property, instead of protecting the institution, needed continually to be protected by it. New owners, squatting on their spoils, remain conquerors at heart. You do not learn the proprietary spirit as readily as you grab property. During the war of the peasants of Swabia against their lords,10 the former sometimes donned the armor of their defeated masters. What did this lead to? That one could see under this knightly armor no less insolence and more vulgarity.
If the wealthy class inspires more confidence, it is because its members’ point of departure is more advantageous, their outlook freer, their intelligence more schooled to enlightenment, their education more cultivated. But enriching men suddenly in midcareer, you do not give them any of these advantages. Their sudden wealth does not work retrospectively.
It is the same with the sizeable salaries attached to particular jobs. These just do not replace property. When they are disproportionate to the previous wealth of those who receive them, they do not serve to form a new rich class. They give individuals new needs and habits which corrupt them. Far from making them independent and assured, they make them dependent and agitated. In wealth as in other things, nothing can stand in for experience.
That Territorial Property Alone Brings Together All the Advantages of Property
Several writers who recognize the need to entrust political rights exclusively to proprietors do not consider  landed property the only true property. The economists, as is known, M. Turgot included, had a quite opposite theoretical view. According to them the main element constituting a society is the territory under its jurisdiction. The only positive and legal distinction between men emanates from ownership or nonownership of the national territory. The nonowners of territory, not being able to reside in a country without the consent of the owners, who grant them, in exchange for their work or capital, a refuge which they could deny them, are not members of a political association in which their residence is not by right. This reasoning, however rigorous it may appear, seems to me too slight a foundation for a practical institution. I dislike reasoning from a hypothesis which rejects reality, and nothing seems to me less capable of reconciling those without land to the necessary sacrifice of citizen rights, than their being represented as homeless vagabonds, who can be expelled on the whim of a man who has no preeminence over them save having seized the land first. Besides, I think it worthless to have recourse to such forced suppositions. Arguments of another kind, more applicable and less abstract, will lead us to the same end.
Two types of property different from territorial property have been distinguished. The first is business property. The other has been called intellectual and moral property.
Let us speak first of all of business property.
This lacks several of the advantages of landed property, and these advantages are precisely those in which the safeguarding spirit necessary for political association consists.
Landed property has an influence on the character and lot of man by the very nature of the cares it demands. The cultivator gives himself over to constant and ongoing occupations. Thus he contracts regularity of habit. Chance, which is a great source of immorality because it overturns all calculations and therefore those of morality, has absolutely no part in the life of the cultivator. All interruption harms him. Any imprudence means certain loss to him. His successes come slowly. He can achieve them only by work. He cannot speed them up nor make them grow by lighthearted daring. He depends upon nature and is independent of men. All these things give him a calm disposition, a sense of security, and a feeling for order which  attach him to the vocation to which he owes his peace of mind as much as his living.
Business property influences man only by the positive gain it procures him or promises him. It puts in his life less order, more artificiality, and less fixity than landed property. The operations of the businessman are often made up of fortuitous transactions. His successes are more rapid, but chance plays a greater part therein. Business property does not have that necessary element of slow and sure progression which gives man the habit and soon the need for uniformity. Business property does not make him independent of other men. On the contrary, it makes him dependent on them. Vanity, that fertile seed of political agitation, is constantly wounded in him. It almost never is in agriculture.11 The latter case calculates in peace the order of the seasons, the nature of the soil, the character of the climate. The elements of the calculations of the businessman are whims, passions, pride, the luxury of his fellows. A farm is a native land in miniature. One is born there, raised there, grows up with the trees which surround it. Business property excludes these sources of sweet sensation. The objects of speculation pile up on one another; but everything within them is static. Nothing carries the impress of natural development. Nothing speaks to the imagination nor to memory, nothing to the moral part of man. People say my ancestors’ fields, my parents’ cabin. People never say my parents’ workshop or shop counter. The improvements of landed property cannot be separated from the soil which receives them and of which they become part. Business property is not susceptible to improvement but to growth, and that growth can be moved around freely. The landowner rarely gains, except in an indirect way, from what his competitors lose. It is never in his power to contribute to their loss. The tillage farmer cannot by his speculations threaten his neighbor’s harvest. The businessman gains directly from what others lose. Often it lies with him to add to their losses, and in many circumstances this is his most adroit speculation, his most assured advantage. In terms of intellectual faculties, the cultivator is greatly superior to the artisan. Agriculture demands a sequence of observations, of experiences which form and develop judgment.12 From this peasants  derive that just and accurate sense which astonishes us. Industrial jobs are, for the most part, limited by the division of labor to mechanical operations. Landed property binds man to the country he lives in, puts obstacles in the way of displacement of people, creates patriotism through interests. Business makes all countries much the same, facilitates displacements, separates interests from patriotism.13 This advantage of landed property, this drawback of business property, in political terms increases as the value of the property diminishes. An artisan loses almost nothing in being displaced. A small landowner is ruined when he has to move. Now it is above all by the class of smaller proprietors that one must judge the effects of different types of property, since these classes are the most numerous.
Independently of this moral preeminence of landed property, it is favorable to public order by the very situation in which it puts those who possess it. Workmen concentrated in the towns are at the mercy of factions. Cultivators, spread around the country districts, are almost impossible to unite and therefore to be led to rebel. Business proprietors, it has been said, must be much more attached to order, stability, and public peace than landed proprietors, because they lose much more during upheavals. Burn the harvest of a cultivator and he still has the field. He loses only a year’s income. Pillage a merchant’s shop and his assets are destroyed. But the loss is not made up solely of the instantaneous damage the proprietor experiences. We have to consider the degradation which happens to the property. Now, a pillaged shop can be full again of the kind of wealth that was stolen within twenty-four hours. But a farm burnt down, a soil impoverished for lack of cultivation, can be reestablished only by a long sequence of work and care. This becomes more striking still, when it is a question of poor proprietors. Seditionaries could in a single day compensate all the workers in a town, even if this was only in leaving them to plunder the rich. But nature alone can compensate, with her accustomed slowness, the cultivators of a district. These truths were felt by Aristotle. He contrived to bring out, very forcefully, the distinctive characters of the agricultural and mercantile classes, and he decided without hesitation in favor of the former.14 Doubtless, business property has its advantages.  Industry and commerce have created a new means of defense for liberty, namely credit. Landed property guarantees the stability of institutions; business property assures the independence of individuals. Therefore the refusal of political rights to these capitalists and business people, whose activity and opulence double the prosperity of the countries they live in, this refusal, if it were absolute, in my view would be an injustice and moreover an imprudence. It would be to do that of which we have already shown the danger above. It would put wealth in opposition to power.
If one reflects, however, one will easily perceive that the exclusion will not hit in any way those businessmen it would be a pity to exclude. What could be easier for them than to acquire a property in the country which would make them citizens? If they refused, I would not reckon much for their attachment to their country, or rather to their government. For it always is the fault of governments when men do not love their native soil. Such business proprietors as will not be able to buy landed property will be men whom a necessity which your institutions will never circumvent commits to mechanical work. These are therefore men lacking all means of educating themselves, likely with the purest intentions to make the State carry the cost of their inevitable errors. These men must be protected, respected, guaranteed against any harassment by the rich. We must brush aside any obstacles impeding their work and make their laborious lives as smooth as possible. They must not be transferred, however, to a new situation for which their calling does not equip them, where their participation would be pointless, or where their strong feelings would be threatening, or where their very presence would become fearfully disturbing for the other social groups, a cause for suspicion and for this very reason of hostile defensive measures and of flagrant injustices.
The property which has been entitled intellectual has been defended  in a rather ingenious way. A distinguished professional man, it has been said, a legal expert, for example, is no less strongly attached to the country he lives in than the landed proprietor. It is easier for this latter to alienate his patrimony than it would for the former to move his reputation. His fortune is the confidence he inspires. This derives from a number of years of work, from intelligence, skill, the services he has rendered, the habit people have acquired of consulting him in difficult circumstances, and the local understanding his long experience has formed. Expatriation would deprive him of these advantages. He would be ruined by the single fact of having to present himself as an unknown in a foreign land.
This property called intellectual, however, resides only in public opinion. If all are allowed to attribute it to themselves, doubtless all will demand it. For political rights will become not only a social advantage but a proof of talent, and to refuse them to oneself would be a rare act at once of disinterestedness and of modesty. If it is the opinion of others which has to confer this intellectual property, that opinion is made plain only by the success and wealth which are the necessary result. Thus there will be distinguished men in the professions, like opulent capitalists. Nothing will be easier for them than acquiring the landed property required.
There are, however, considerations of higher significance to be weighed. The professions require more than any other job perhaps, if their influence in political discussion is not to be fatal, to be joined with landed property. The professions, so praiseworthy in so many ways, do not always number among their good qualities the putting into ideas of that practical accuracy necessary for pronouncing on men’s positive interests. We saw during our Revolution writers, mathematicians, and chemists lending themselves to the most exaggerated opinions, not because in other respects they were not enlightened and estimable, but because they had lived apart from men. Some had been accustomed to indulging their imagination, others to taking into account only rigorous evidence, a third lot  to seeing nature in its reproduction of human beings, paving the way to destruction. They had arrived by different routes at the same result, namely disdaining considerations drawn from facts, scorning the real sensible world, and reasoning like visionaries on the social condition, like geometers on our passions and like doctors on our human sorrows.
If these mistakes have been the portion of superior men, what will the errors of inferior candidates and defective applicants be? How very necessary it is to put a brake on wounded amour propre, on sour vanity, on all the causes of bitterness, agitation, and dissatisfaction, against a society in which people find themselves displaced, of hatred against men who seem unjust in their evaluations! All intellectual works are no doubt honorable. All must be respected. Our first attribute, our distinctive faculty, is thought. Whoever makes use of it has the right to our esteem, even independently of success. Whoever outrages or rebuffs it abdicates the name human and puts himself outside the human race. Every science, however, gives to the mind of him who cultivates it an exclusive slant, which becomes dangerous in matters political, unless it is counterbalanced. Now, the counterweight can be found only in landed property. This alone establishes uniform ties between men. It puts them on guard against the imprudent sacrifice of the happiness and peace of others by enveloping within this sacrifice their own well-being, by obliging them to reckon on their own account. It makes them come down from lofty, chimerical theories and inapplicable exaggerations by establishing between them and other members of the society numerous complicated relations and common interests.
Let it not be thought, though, that this safeguard is useful only for maintaining order. It is no less so for maintaining freedom. By a bizarre coming together, the sciences which, during political upheavals, sometimes incline men to impossible ideas of freedom, render them at other times indifferent and servile under despotism. Scholars proper are rarely bothered by power, even unjust power. It is only reflective thought such power hates. It likes the sciences well enough as tools for the governors and the fine arts as distractions for the governed. Thus the road followed by men whose studies have no connection with the active interests of human life protects them from the harassments of a government which never sees them as rivals. They often display too little anger at abuses of power which weigh only on other groups. 
On Property in Public Funds
The present situation of the great states of Europe has created in our times a new kind of property, that of public funds. This property does not at all tie its possessor to the soil, as does landed property. It demands neither assiduous work nor difficult speculations, like business property. It does not suppose distinguished talents, like the property we have termed intellectual.
The state’s creditor is interested in the wealth of his country only as any creditor is in the wealth of his debtor. Provided the latter pays him, he is satisfied, and the dealings whose purpose is to assure his payment always seem fair enough, however costly they may be. The right he has all the time to sell his holding makes him indifferent to the probable but distant chance of national ruin. There is not a corner of land, not a manufacture, not a source of production whose impoverishment he does not contemplate with insouciance, as long as there are other resources which defray the payment of his income and which sustain the market value of his capital in the public mind.15
Some writers have considered the establishment of the public debt as a cause of prosperity. Among the sophisms with which they have propped up this bizarre opinion, they have got across a consideration well tuned to seduce governments, namely that a State’s creditors are the natural supports of government. Associated with its fortunes, they have to defend it with all their might, as the sole guarantee of the capital due to them. What seems true to me is that in all circumstances, a lasting force, equally favorable to the worst and best of institutions, has at the very least as many drawbacks as advantages. It has to be added, however, that a body of men which depends  on government only out of a desire to see its assets secured is always ready to break off the instant anxiety affects its hopes. Now, is it a good thing for a realm that there should be a group of individuals who consider government only in purely pecuniary terms, sustaining it despite its abuses when it pays them and declaring themselves its bitter enemies the second it stops paying them?
Doubtless the bad faith of the administration and its slackness in the fulfillment of its promises imply a neglect of justice which must extend to many other things. Free governments have always been distinguished by their scrupulous reliability.16 England has never put the creditors of its immense debt through the least worry or delay. America, since the consolidation of its independence, has scrupulously observed the same principles of trustworthiness. Holland has deserved the same praise for as long as it has existed. It is not thus with states subject to despotic governments. The fact is, only free governments can in no circumstances separate their interests from their duties. In this respect, the creditors of national debts must desire like all other citizens that freedom be established and maintained.
I confess to preferring that they be animated by nobler motives. It might happen that a despotic government, aware of the danger of annoying its creditors, came to put all its efforts into pleasing them, and succeeded for a more or less long period in weighing the nation down with excessive taxes. In this case the holders of the national debt, cut off from the rest of the nation, would remain faithful to a government treating only them justly. Property in public funds is of an essentially egotistical and solitary nature, one easily becoming aggressive, because it exists only at others’ expense. By a remarkable effect of the complex organization of modern societies, while the natural interest of any nation is that taxation be lowered to the least possible, the creation of a national debt gives one part of each nation an interest in increasing it.17
We could muster many other arguments, furthermore,  against a theory which, in reality, like many other theories, is only an excuse, disguised as a precept. In thinking of the existence of a public debt as morally and politically unfortunate, however, I do envisage it at the same time, in the present situation of society, as an inevitable evil for the large States. Those which habitually make subventions to national expenditure out of taxation are almost always forced to anticipate, and their anticipations constitute debt. Moreover, at the first out-of-the-way happening they are all obliged to borrow. As for those which have adopted the loan system, in preference to the tax system, establishing taxes only to service their loans (today this is virtually the English system), a public debt is inseparable from their existence. Thus to recommend modern States to relinquish the resources that credit offers them would be a pointless exercise. But precisely because public debt creates a new kind of property, whose effects are very different from those of other kinds of property and above all from those of landed property, landed property must be given all the more importance to counterbalance the bad effects of this new kind.
This is what the English constitution has done effortlessly. The owners of a debt of fifteen billion have less political influence than the proprietors of land whose total income would not pay the interest on that debt.18 This explains why it has not corrupted British public-spiritedness. National representation, founded in large part on landed property, has maintained the integrity of that public spirit—an admirable result of well-managed freedom! The outlooks brought about by state rentiers in France conspired to overthrow the French monarchy, because under that monarchy there was no other center of legal and lasting public opinion. The State’s creditors in England identify with national feeling, because political organization, there taking as its base landed property, as its means of action the people’s rights,19 and for its limits the most important individual rights,20 has been able thereby to render salutary  the very features of the case whose natural tendencies seem most dangerous.
On the Amount of Landed Property Which Society Has the Right to Insist upon for the Exercise of Political Rights
Despite my wish to steer clear of details, I must add a few words on the amount of property which should be required.
A property can be so confined that he who owns it is a proprietor only in appearance. According to the writer I have cited above,21 anyone whose income from land is not sufficient to see him through the year, without having to work for other people, is not fully a proprietor. In terms of the proportion of property he is lacking, he is back among the wage-earning class. Proprietors are masters of his life, for they can refuse him work. Therefore only he who has the necessary income to exist independently of any other party’s will, can exercise political rights. A lesser property condition is illusory, a higher one unjust. Given the necessary minimum, independence is entirely relative, a matter of character and impartiality. The advantages of landed property come more from its nature than its magnitude.
The economists have had the idea of linking land to political rights in such a way that landowners would have more or fewer votes according to the extent of their holdings. This idea would distort property. It would soon turn it into an oligarchy, which would become narrower every day, because the tendency of large properties is to swallow small ones. Once the minimum land holding carrying citizenship rights is fixed, the big proprietors must not have any legal superiority over the others. The division of powers applies in a way to the government of property owners, as to all forms of government; and just as in all free constitutions an attempt is made to endow the subordinate powers  with the ability to resist the encroachments of the superior, and an interest in so doing, so small owners must be given an interest in opposing the aristocracy of the large and the ability so to do. This happens naturally if all proprietors enjoying true independence have equal rights.
That Owners Have No Interest in Abusing Power vis-à-vis Nonowners
Is there a fear that proprietors, as sole holders of political powers, may make these weigh heavily on the deprived class? The nature of property is enough to dispel this fear. Since the birth of commerce,22 proprietors have no longer formed a distinct class, separated from the rest of men by lasting prerogatives. The membership of this class renews itself constantly. Some people leave, others enter it. If property were immobile and always stayed in the same hands, it would be a most improper institution. It would split the human race in two. One part would be everything, the other nothing. Such is not the essence of property, however. In defiance of those who possess it, it tends to a continual changing of hands. The eventuality to be studiously avoided, as I will say presently, is anything which could stop this salutary changing of hands.
If the law favors the accumulation of property, rendering it inalienable in certain families or classes, the government of proprietors becomes tyrannical. It is the circulation of property which guarantees the justice of the institution. This circulation is in the nature of things. It suffices not to hinder it.
Moreover, in the present state of civilization, the interest of proprietors is not separate from that of the industrial or wage-earning classes. A very great number of proprietors belong to one or the other of these classes. What hurts them falls on the proprietors themselves.
For these two reasons proprietors always eschew vexatious laws. If these laws were directed solely at nonproprietors, they would doubly menace  their own authors.
Among certain ancient peoples, in Rome for example, proprietorial government involved abuse of power. This was due to circumstances which have not been remarked upon. Among the ancients the poor were always indebted to the rich, because the latter used only their slaves for work. In modern times it is normally the rich who are indebted to the poor. In the former case the rich demanded from the poor what the latter lacked completely, that is to say, money. That demand, needing violence to be satisfied, and, despite the violence, being mostly unsatisfied, there was a source of hatred and continual opposition between these two classes. In modern societies the rich demand from the poor what the latter can always supply in plenty, their labor, and from this there results much better agreement.
Even were someone to prove to me that today there are still abuses in proprietorial government, I should not abandon my view. I would undertake to show that these abuses, vestiges of less enlightened centuries, do more harm every day to the proprietors themselves. I include an example in a note.23 I would hope for the rectification of these abuses simply through progress by way of education and experience, and I would see far fewer drawbacks in putting up with them temporarily than in giving nonproprietors political rights, that is to say, power. Once one is convinced that property is indispensable to the prosperity of the social State, one must, as has already been said,24 guarantee it come what may, and its only sufficient means of guarantee is the power of the owners.  One has to will the institutions one establishes, and any institution which supports property is on a suicide course when it gives power to nonproprietors.
It would be a mistake for merchants and manufacturers to fear the government of landowners. It is not the latter who have passed laws disastrous for commerce and industry. Such laws have been caused either by universal ignorance of the first principles of political economy, an ignorance common once to all classes, or by the ferocious violence of the propertyless, or by the private calculations and passing interests of traders. These last above all have been deadly. Monopolies, prohibitions, and privileges, by supplying some particular industry with disproportionate means and destroying the competition, are fatal to production in general. These contrivances are mercantile. Commerce is the child of freedom, yet the trader can enrich himself by the constraints with which he surrounds his competitors. Used as he is to speculating on everything, he is often given to speculating on the laws themselves. Unchecked, he will make laws to favor his business, instead of being content to make sure that his business enjoys the safeguard of the law.
Adam Smith’s wise commentator has said: “as much as the influence of manufacturers, merchants, and capitalists on legislation expresses itself in narrow outlooks, complicated rules, and oppressive constraints, so the proprietorial dispensation is to be recognized in fair intentions, simple arrangements, and the free and easy flow of all types of circulation.”25
Precisely in the interest of commerce, it is therefore useful that legislative power be entrusted to landowners, whose activity is less restless and whose calculations are less volatile.
In all this our hypothesis assumes a society without privileged castes. Castes of this type, being means for conserving and moreover for acquiring property, corrupt it. If owners possess improper powers, they will be enemies of freedom and justice, not as owners, but as privileged persons. If they are not privileged, they will be their most faithful supports. 
On Hereditary Privileges Compared to Property
Hereditary privileges have been compared to property. Property’s enemies have adopted this comparison with alacrity. Privileges having become an odious thing, they have wanted this disfavor to fall on property. The friends of privilege have taken up this comparison for a contrary motive. Property being indispensable, they wanted to justify privileges as provenly necessary. This comparison would be right only if property did not change hands. Only then would it resemble privilege. Then it would also be, however, the most oppressive usurpation, as we said earlier. If property is the constant interest of the majority across the generations, this is because anyone can aspire to it and be assured of getting it through work. Hereditary privileges, however, are only, and can never be other than, the interest of the few. They exclude all who do not belong to the favored caste. They bear not only on the present but on the future and deprive generations unborn. Property stirs emulation; privilege rebuffs and discourages it. Property puts a value on all social relations, all social conditions. Privileges hold themselves aloof. Property communicates and thus improves itself. Privileges surround themselves with defenses and in communication lose their advantages. The more proprietors there are in a country, the more property is respected and the more people are affluent. The more privileged people there are, the more privileges are depreciated and the more people are for all that oppressed. For it is on them that the immunities of the privileged bear down. It is hard, even when we extend our conjectural sphere as far as possible, to imagine a tolerable social condition without property. America shows us a wise and peaceful government without privileged institutions.26 Privileges and society are always at war. The latter wants a rule; the former want exceptions. If property has its drawbacks sometimes, they come from privileges, which, as a result of their diverse combinations, make the acquisition of property often impossible and always difficult for the nonprivileged class. Entails, primogeniture, and all the regulations which make property immobile and troublesome are in the nature of privileges, in fact their emanations.
 In our era a number of men, having abolished hereditary privileges, went on to undermine property. We should not conclude that these things are intimately linked. In all questions there is a point where the mad and the sane split. The latter stop after the overthrow of prejudices which it was important to destroy. The former want to extend the destruction to things worth keeping.27
When it is suggested that property is a convention of the same kind as hereditary privileges, we need to separate these two ideas again, in the countries where these privileges have been discredited. Nothing harms useful things more than their resting on improper things. The two collapse together. The relationship between privileges and property is like that between superstition and morality. Superstition can give morality a meretricious succor. If superstition loses its force, however, morality itself is undermined.
Privileges and proscriptions are social errors of the same kind. They likewise take citizens away from the law, either by abitrary punishments or arbitrary favor.
Montesquieu is often quoted in favor of privileges. But he examines rather than judges the laws. He explains the reasons for them, assigning causes without justifying institutions. He wrote, moreover, under a government mild in practice, though arbitrary by nature. Now, under such a government, privileges can be useful.28 Where rights have disappeared, privileges can be a defense. For all their drawbacks, they are better than the absence of any intermediary power. To do without privileges, a constitution has to be excellent. Under despotism equality becomes a scourge. 
What has happened to the privileged castes in our times in France obliges me to enter here some explanation of my opinion on the matter. I would not wish to be confused with men who sought in the abolition of improprieties only a means of satisfying their hatred and long-wounded vanity.
The destruction of hereditary privileges in France was an inevitable consequence of the progress of civilization. From the time the nobility had ceased being feudal, it had become a brilliant ornament but without a definite purpose, agreeable to its possessors, humiliating to those who did not possess it, but without real means and above all without power. Its advantages consisted more in exclusions for the lower orders than in prerogatives for the preferred class. The nobles obtained improper favors but were not invested with any legal power. They did not constitute an intermediary body which kept the people in order and the government in check. They formed an almost imaginary corporation, which for everything which was not just recollection or prejudice, depended on the government. Heredity in England does not confer on its members a contested power, arbitrary and vexatious, but a specified authority and constitutional functions. Its prerogatives, being legal in nature and created for a definite purpose, are less wounding for those who do not enjoy them and give more power to those who do. Therefore, this heredity is less exposed to attack at the same time as it is more readily defended. The nobility in France, however, invited attack from every vain and worthless thing and armed almost no interest to defend itself. It had no base, no fixed position in the community. There was nothing to guarantee its survival. Quite the contrary: everything conspired to its ruin, even the education and individual superiority of its own members. This is why it was destroyed almost without commotion. It vanished like a shadow, being only an indefinable memento of a half-destroyed system. Therefore its abolition cannot be the object of justified censure. Everything the  leaders of our Revolution have added to this measure, however, has been unjust and insane.
One cause which has not been sufficiently noted contributed, if I am not mistaken, to the mingling of wise principles with odious and unreasonable means. We can count the origins of hereditary privileges among the differences between us and the ancients.
Among the peoples of antiquity, civilized by colonies without being conquered by them, inequalities in rank had their origin solely in superiority, either physical or moral. You will be conscious that I am not speaking of slaves, who have to be counted for nothing in the social system of the ancients. Among them, the privileged were a class of compatriots, come to wealth or esteem because their ancestors had acquired merit in the youthful society, teaching it either the first principles of government, or the ceremonies of religion, or discoveries necessary to life’s needs and the elements of civilization. Among the moderns, by contrast, inequalities of rank have their basis in conquest. The civilized peoples of the Roman empire were shared out like cheap cattle among ferocious aggressors. European institutions have for centuries borne the imprint of military force. Overcome by the sword, the conquered have also been kept in servitude by it. Their masters did not deign to disguise the origin of their power by ingenious fables or make it respectable by well or badly founded claims to superior wisdom. The two races reproduced themselves, for a long time with no other relationship than bondage on the one hand and oppression on the other. Everything from the fourth to the fifteenth century served to remind a Europe civilized but overrun, of the scourge it had received from the north. The superiority of the ancient peoples derives from this cause. They walked free from all domination, on land that no proud foot of a conqueror had ever trampled on. The moderns, a race debased and dispossessed, went wrong following a single conquest.
From this difference between the ancients and us has resulted a striking difference in the intellectual systems of the friends of liberty in the two eras. Despite the drawbacks of hereditary privilege, even among the ancients, almost all the publicists of antiquity  want power concentrated in the hands of the upper classes. Aristotle makes this an essential part of a well-constituted democracy.29 By contrast, since the Renaissance of learning, the supporters of political freedom have never believed its establishment possible without the destruction of the predominant castes. Those whom Aristotle sees as our guides, Machiavelli sees as victims who must be sacrificed.30 From the fifteenth century until our times, those who have taken a position in the matter have written in favor of equality, and acted or spoken on behalf of the descendants of the oppressed and against the descendants of the oppressors. In proscribing not only hereditary privileges but also their possessors, they have themselves without knowing been dominated by hereditary prejudices. At the foundation of the Republic in France, the aim was more, as in the Italian republics, the rebuffing of conquerors than the giving of equal rights to citizens. Scanning the laws against the nobles in Italy, especially Florence, you would think yourself reading the laws of the Convention.31 These eighteenth-century nobles have been depicted like fifteenth-century barons. Hateful men have skillfully blended all the centuries to rekindle and maintain hatred. Just as we once went back to the Franks and Goths when we wanted to be oppressors, they now revisited the Franks and Goths in the search of pretexts for the opposite oppression. Puerile vanity once searched for noble titles in archives and chronicles. A harsher and more vindictive vanity now drew on them for the wherewithal of accusations. A little reflection, however, must convince us that privileges of a naturally improper kind can be a means of leisure, of improvement and enlightenment, for their possessors. Great independent wealth is usually a guarantee against several kinds of baseness and vice. Knowing one is respected saves one from that thin-skinned and restless vanity which sees insult and imagines scorn everywhere, those violent, implacable feelings which take revenge in the ill they do, on the sorrows they undergo. Being given to gentle ways  and accustomed to very refined nuances gives the outlook a delicate susceptibility, and the mind a ready flexibility.
These precious qualities had to be put to good advantage. The spirit of chivalry had to be circled with barriers it could not transgress, without its being excluded from the careers open to everyone. Thus would be formed that class of men which the ancient lawmakers regarded as destined by nature for government. It would be formed by the enlightened section of the commoners and the enlightened section of the nobility.
Woe betide the men who have prevented this amalgam, as easy as it is necessary. They did not want to take account of the centuries, nor to distinguish between nuances, nor to reassure apprehensions, nor to pardon fugitive vanities, nor to let pointless complaints subside and foolish menaces evaporate. They have recorded the doings of wounded pride. In treating all nobles as enemies of freedom, they made countless enemies for freedom. Nobility was restored by a new distinction, persecution, and strong in this privilege, fought the better against the so-called free institutions, in whose names it was being oppressed. It found in its proscription legitimate reasons for resistance and infallible means of attracting interest to its cause. To accompany the abolition of improprieties with injustices, is not to put obstacles to their returning, but to offer them the hope of coming back along with justice.
On the Best Way of Giving Proprietors a Large Political Influence
The surest and easiest way of giving proprietors great political influence has already been indicated by Aristotle: “To combine your laws and institutions in such a way,” he says, “that the high positions cannot be the object of a calculated interest. Without that, the masses, which, it must be said, are affected little by exclusion from honors,  because they like to get on with their own business, will envy honors and profit. All the safeguards are fine, if the magistracy is not a temptation to greed. The poor will prefer lucrative occupations to difficult and unpaid ones. The rich will fill the magistracy, because they will not need payment.”32
These principles are probably not applicable to all the jobs in the modern State apparatus, because there are some which require wealth beyond any individual holding. Nothing stops their being applied, however, to legislative positions, which increase only slightly the routine expenditures of those in whom they are invested.
Thus it was in Carthage. All the magistratures appointed by the people discharged their functions without payment. Other jobs were salaried. It is the same in England. I think myself on strong ground when I take as my proof that home of liberty. In this country people often denounce the corruption of the House of Commons. Just compare what this corruption, even in difficult circumstances, has done for the crown with what elsewhere other assemblies, largely paid, have done for a thousand successive tyrants.
In a free constitution, where nonproprietors have no political rights, it is outrageously contradictory to keep the people out of representation, as if only the rich ought to represent them, and then to make them pay their representatives, as if the latter were poor.
I do not like strong property requirements. I have given my reason elsewhere.33 Independence is entirely relative. As soon as a man has the necessary minimum, he need only elevate his soul to do without superfluities. It is desirable, however, that legislative positions be in general filled by wealthy men.  Now, on declaring them unpaid, we place power in the hands of the leisured class, without refusing a fair chance to all the legitimate exceptions.
When sizeable payments are attached to legislative positions, these payments become the main objective. Mediocrity, ineptitude, and baseness perceive in these august duties only a miserable speculation of chance, whose success is guaranteed them by silence and servility. The corruption which is the product of ambitious designs is far less deadly than that which results from ignoble calculations. Ambition is compatible with a thousand generous qualities: probity, courage, impartiality, and independence. Avarice is compatible with none of these. If we cannot keep ambitious men out of public positions, at least let us keep the greedy out. This way we will diminish the number of competitors considerably, and those we drive away will be precisely the least worthy.
Paying the people’s representatives is not to give them an interest in fulfilling their functions well, but in exercising them a long time.
Two conditions are necessary for representative duties to be unpaid. The first is that they be important. No one would want to take on, unpaid, jobs rendered puerile by their insignificance, or which would be shameful if they ceased being puerile. But, it must be added, under such a constitution, it would be better were there no legislative positions at all.
The second condition is that reelection be possible indefinitely.34 The impossibility of reelection under a representative government is in all respects a great mistake.  Only the chance of uninterrupted reelection offers merit a fitting reward and lodges in the public mind a body of imposing and respected names. Far from any free people should be both those shameful prejudices which demand distinctions of birth giving access to positions and their exclusive exercise, and also those prohibitive laws which prevent the people reelecting those who have not lost its trust. The influence of individuals is not destroyed by jealous institutions. In every era such influence of this sort as exists freely is always indispensable. The influence of individuals diminishes of its own accord with the spread of enlightenment. Let us not meddle therein with envious laws. Individuals naturally lose their supremacy when a larger number are educated to the same level. Let us not dispossess talent by arbitrary exclusions. There are in the assemblies weak men, who cannot be reelected, men who want either the goodwill of government, in order to obtain some compensation, or to make as few enemies as possible, in order to live in peaceful retirement. If you put obstacles in the way of indefinite reelection, you deprive talent and courage of their due and prepare a comfortable and secure shelter for cowardice and ineptitude. You put on the same level the man who has faced every danger and him who has bent his degraded head under tyranny. Reelection favors righteous calculation. Such calculations alone have lasting success, but to obtain it, they need time. Upright and brave men versed in public affairs are not so numerous that one can reject those who have already merited public esteem. New talents will appear too. The people tend to welcome them. Do not impose any constraint on them in this matter. Do not force them at each reelection to choose newcomers, ones still with their fortunes to make in matters of self-esteem and hell-bent on fame. Nothing costs a nation more dearly than the creation of reputations. Look at America. The people’s votes have never stopped supporting the founders of liberty. Look at England. There famous names have become a sort of popular property, in an unbroken series of reelections.  Happy those nations which offer like examples and know how to trust durably!
On the Action of Government on Property
The reader will have been able to spot that among the considerations we have advanced for upholding the high place property must have in our political life, none has been drawn from the metaphysical nature of property itself. We have treated it only as a social convention.
We have seen, however, that this viewpoint does not stop us seeing property as a thing society must surround with every protection. Our axiom is always that it would be better not to set up property than to make it a subject of struggle and bitterness, and that this danger can be avoided only by giving it inviolability on the one hand and power on the other.
Like considerations will guide us in our efforts to determine the limits of political jurisdiction over property.
Property, to the extent it is a social convention, falls within the scope of political jurisdiction. Society has rights over property it definitely does not have over the freedom, lives, and opinions of its members.
Property, however, has intimate links with other aspects of human existence, some of which are not subject at all to collective jurisdiction while the remaining ones are so only in a limited way. Society must therefore restrain its jurisdiction over property, because it could not be exercised to its full extent without menacing things which are not subject to it. Political authority must never, as part of its action over property, offend inviolable rights. Society must also restrict its jurisdiction over property so as not to give individuals an interest in eluding the law. Such an interest is morally adverse, firstly in that  it entails the habit of hypocrisy and fraud, and secondly in that it requires the encouragement of informing. We dealt with this earlier.35 Since this observation applies, however, to almost all the things government wants to take action on, necessarily it recurs often in our theorizing.
On Laws Which Favor the Accumulation of Property in the Same Hands
The property laws can be of two kinds. They can be intended to favor its accumulation and perpetuate it in the same hands, the same families or individual classes. Such is the origin of lands declared inalienable, of the exempting of certain classes from taxation, of entailments, of primogeniture—in sum, of all the feudal or noble customs.
This legal system, taken in all its extent and the severity it had in the past throughout Europe, takes away from property its true character and greatest advantage. It makes it a privilege. It disinherits the class finding itself without property. It transforms passing chance, which the next moment would have put right, into a permanent injustice. If the country is commercial and industrious, this system of property undermines it, because it forces individuals in commerce or industry to seek refuge or property in a more hospitable country. If the country is purely agricultural, this system brings in the most oppressive despotism. A terrible oligarchy forms. The peasants are reduced to the condition of serfs. The landowners themselves are corrupted by the improprieties which benefit them. They develop a ferocious, almost savage mentality. They need for their perpetuation to banish all enlightenment, to repel all improvement in the poor man’s lot, to oppose the formation of that intermediary class which, bringing together the advantages of education and the absence of prejudices which the privileged condition entails, is among all peoples  the depository of just ideas, of useful knowledge, of impartial opinion and the hopes of humanity.
Today there are few countries where this system continues in its entirety; but almost everywhere we find vestiges of it, not without drawbacks. Such laws, when they are only partial, have, indeed, a new disadvantage. The group forbidden to acquire certain properties is angry at this exclusion, which is anyway always accompanied by other humiliating distinctions, since one abuse never stands alone. The excluded group takes advantage of what it possesses to demand the rights it is denied. It encourages discontent and exaggerated opinions in all nonproprietors. It prepares troubles, struggles, and revolutions to which everybody afterwards falls victim.
In the countries where these oppressive laws continue in undiminished rigor, it has been claimed, as always in such cases, that the classes they oppress recognize the advantages therein. It has been said that serfdom, a natural consequence of this system of property, was felicitous for the peasants and examples were given. Nobles one could suspect of hypocrisy and who should at least be accused of lack of foresight, have offered their vassals freedom. This is to say that they proposed to men brutalized by ignorance, without energy or capability or ideas, that they leave their fields and cabins, to go freely with their infirm parents and children of tender years, in search of a subsistence they had no means of procuring. These vassals preferred their chains, from which it was concluded that serfdom was agreeable. What, however, does such experience show? What we knew, that for men to be given freedom, they must not have been degraded to a subhuman condition by slavery. Then, freedom is doubtless only an illusory and deadly gift, just as the daylight becomes sorrowful for him whose view is enfeebled by the shadows of a dungeon. This truth holds for all types of servitude. Men who have never known freedom’s advantages may well enthusiastically submit to the yoke:  reject their sheepish and deceptive witness. They have no right to make depositions in so holy a cause. As to freedom, listen to those ennobled by its blessings. Only they should be heard, only they consulted.36
I would add that all governments today are working, commendably, to eliminate the last traces of this barbarous legislation. Alexander I is one prince in particular who seems to have brought to the throne the love of humanity and justice and who puts his renown not to driving his people back into barbarism but to preparing them by instruction for freedom, encouraging on his vast lands the freeing of the serfs and the dissemination of landownership.37
The thing about the inalienability of goods is something common to everything human. Its intention was reasonable in the era which gave it birth; but the institution has outlived its usefulness. When there was no public justice and force was the sole guarantee against robbery, this force being found only in sizeable properties, which provided numerous vassals ready to defend their master, the inalienability of property was a means of security. Today, when social conditions are quite different, this inalienability is an evil for agriculture and pointless to boot. The owner of very large properties inevitably neglects a large proportion of his property. As Smith says in The Wealth of Nations, Book III, Ch. 2, to convince oneself of this, one need only compare big estates which have stayed in the same family continuously since the days of feudal anarchy, with the small holdings surrounding them. What is true of States is true of properties. Excessive smallness deprives them of the most efficient means of improvement. Excessive size  makes them liable to careless management, haste, and negligence.38
He who wants to sell proves he lacks the means or motivation for improvement. He who wants to buy proves he has will and means. Entailments and all types of inalienability force the former to keep that which is a burden on him and prevent the latter acquiring what would be advantageous to him. To society this is a double loss, since amelioration of property constitutes national wealth.
We must observe, in finishing this section, that the order of ideas has forced us to invert the facts. It was not at all by way of laws forbidding the wider distribution of property that the feudal oligarchy was established, but by conquest. It was then that this oligarchy, to perpetuate itself, had recourse to these prohibitive laws. Thus it would be wrong to fear a like result from proprietorial government. This government, when it rests on the principles established above,39 will stay true to them because proprietors have no interest in replacing the legitimate enjoyment they are assured of by property they know they can guard, if they so choose, by impediments which would add nothing to their enjoyment and offend their wishes. Proprietorial government has nowhere produced a feudal one; rather, feudal government has corrupted proprietorial government.
On Laws Which Enforce the Wider Spreading of Property
The laws can have an opposite tendency. They can purpose the widest possible spread of ownership. Such is the avowed motive of the agrarian laws, of the dividing up of lands, of the ban on  wills, and of that host of regulations aimed at preventing people managing to make light of these laws.
This activity of government, above all that which bears on the right to make wills—for the agrarian laws are sufficiently discredited—seems at first more legitimate and in keeping with egalitarian principles than the contrary action. In fact, it is superfluous. It wants to force what would happen naturally. Property tends to split up. If the government leaves it to itself, it will no sooner be acquired than you will see it dispersed. The proof of this is the proliferating laws necessary under all aristocratic governments to keep it in the same families. The accumulation of property is always a consequence of institutions.
It follows that the simplest and surest means of encouraging the widening ownership of property would be to abolish all the laws which oppose it.
Since governments, however, never content themselves with negative actions, they have usually gone further. They have not only abrogated vicious institutions, but combated the effects of the habits, recollections, and prejudices which might have survived these institutions with positive regulations.
What has happened is what naturally must happen when government arbitrarily restrains men’s freedom. The laws on this matter have been evaded. Further laws were needed to curb these infractions. From this followed innumerable obstacles to the transfer, disposal, and transmission of property.
These restrictions having entailed further inconveniences, people accused each other of having violated them. Greed armed itself with what was intended to check it.
During our Revolution a host of circumstantial safeguards were built up into eternal principles. Legislators who imagined they had the deepest outlooks and widest perspectives have always fixed their gaze on the possibility of a small refractory minority. To get at this they have borne down on all the French. Blind legislators, to make laws not for their fellow citizens but against their enemies! Insane legislators, under whose rule the law was no longer the shelter of all but an offensive arm against the few!
Freedom is constantly attacked by reasoning applicable only to constraint. Thus in our time the free transmission of property has been attacked with arguments which were valid only against the restrictions put on such transmission  by the laws of old. The right to make wills and primogeniture have been confused, when the latter is on the contrary an encroachment on and the destruction of the right to make wills.
On this question, I will not stop to refute other sophisms drawn from an obscure and abstract metaphysics. People have argued that death entails annihilation, holding it absurd to let a man dispose of goods which were no longer his and to lend a fictitious existence to his will when he no longer existed. These arguments are fundamentally unsound. They could be applied to all men’s transactions; for if their intentions must cease to have effect once their lives are ended, long-term debts, leases, and all operations which have to be completed only by some fixed, far-off date would end by law with their deaths.
The question of wills, it seems to me, furnishes a striking example of the good which the absence of government intervention in a matter could sometimes do, without pain or effort, whenever this good is obtained only in an imperfect and artificial way, one hampered by two contradictory laws.
Legislators in several free societies, on the one hand seeing the dispersal of property as favorable to freedom and on the other paternal power as necessary to morality, have consequently made laws to impede the accumulation of property and have tried out a thousand institutions in support of paternal power. Now, these laws and institutions have been at loggerheads and their twin purposes have failed. Properties have not undergone the dispersal the law intended because fathers, jealous of their disputed rights, have used every deception which might promote either their own individual interests or that tendency, natural to man, to elude the regulations which hurt him. This has not in the least stopped paternal power weakening. The sons, jealously guarding the equal rights the law gave them, regarded the fathers’ attempts to strip them of part of the enjoyment of these as wicked contrivances.
If the legislator had abstained from all such commands in this matter, paternal power would have found a solid basis in the right to make wills. Fatherly fair play, which, whatever is said about it, is overwhelmingly the norm, would have given the dispersal of property a far more secure guarantee than is to be found in all the precautionary measures of positive law. Governments, however,  when they think both that it is their duty and that it serves their renown to have a useful purpose in view for all things, make partial laws at cross-purposes, which cancel each other out and create only harassment.
Restrictions on the free disposition of properties after their owners’ deaths have the drawback we have called attention to in so many other laws, that of inviting fraud, of existing only to be eluded, of entailing inquisition, suspicion, and informing. They have the further drawback, however, that the vices they lead to reach right into families. It is not solely the citizens but the parents who are at war with one another. Not just social relations but nature itself is poisoned. Parents are made no less unjust but are also in bad faith. Children whose ingratitude is authorized think themselves likewise authorized to a sort of inspection of their parents’ actions. The domestic sanctuary, which ought to be a refuge of calm and of peaceful affections, becomes the shameful site of domestic struggle between a legally supported filial independence and the resentment of fathers, who punish this surveillance as they strive to elude the laws.
The legitimate jurisdiction of government over the transmission of property is extremely limited. It should guarantee the latter and leave it alone, establishing some procedures for determining owners’ real wishes, without placing restrictions or impediments on those wishes.
Tolerate partial injustices, which are inevitable among men, but much less frequent than you like to believe in order to give yourself pretexts for perpetual interference. If you want to remedy them, you will be throwing yourself into an endless course of action, upsetting yourself pointlessly over it; and without managing to block individual injustices, you will succeed only in becoming an unjust creature yourself.
Every time that an abuse exists, the rest of the social institutions encourage it. Unable to destroy it, they make room for it and set themselves up, so to speak, around it. Formerly, the right to make wills felt the effects of hereditary privileges, but only because it was sacrificed to these.
When institutions have done harm, and this goes on after the institutions are destroyed, it is better to put up with the inconvenience caused by the traces of these defective institutions, than to hasten to remedy this with further institutions which might also have unforeseen drawbacks.
The same considerations which inspired the restrictions on  the free transmission of property have led governments to progressive taxation, compulsory borrowings, and taxes directed solely against the wealthy. These measures have been so fully rebuked by experience, however, that it is almost superfluous to demonstrate their futility and danger. They are in direct opposition to the present trends in society. They condemn wealth to lying. They put it at loggerheads with our institutions. Now, what could be more pernicious and absurd than stirring up war between governmental power and wealth, the most instantly disposable power, the one most serving of every interest, and therefore much more real and genuinely obeyed! Government is a threat, wealth a reward. You get away from government by deceiving it. To gain wealth’s blessings, you have to serve it. The latter must prevail.
Furthermore, it is a mistake to imagine that the poor gain what is taken thus from the rich. He who has not will always depend, whatever we do, on him who has. If you upset the rich man, he will concentrate more on his pleasures, his speculation, his fantasies. As far as possible he will withdraw his capital from circulation, and the poor man will feel the effects of this.
[1. ][The lansquenets were German mercenary footsoldiers of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Constant explicitly says the writers in question are cowards and implicitly that they are low-born and mercenary. Translator’s note]
[2. ]See on this subject the old but still useful article by Pierre Larousse in the Grand dictionnaire universel du XIXe siècle, s.v. Propriété, Section II: Légitimité du droit de propriété. This article has the merit of bringing out Constant’s originality and locating him both among those who, like him, see property as a social institution (Pascal, Domat, Bossuet, Montesquieu, Mirabeau, Tronchet, Robespierre) and specifically against those who represent property as “anterior to society,” such as Mercier de la Rivière, Destutt de Tracy, and Cousin. Locke’s name should be added to the latter list.
[3. ]Constant is thinking in the first place of Godwin, in the last book of whose Enquiry Concerning Political Justice defects in the system of property are analyzed. One can also number among philosophers hostile to property in the eighteenth century Morelly and his Code de la nature, then Linguet, and in some respects Mably.
[4. ]Honoré-Gabriel Bonnot de Mably, De la législation ou principes des lois, Livre I, Ch. 3 De l’établissement de la propriété, where Mably preaches a certain egalitarianism, and Ch. 4 Des obstacles insurmontables qui s’opposent au rétablissement de l’égalité détruite, where he gives up the idea of imposing social equality. The references are to the Oeuvres complètes de l’Abbé de Mably, Lyon, J.-B. Delamollière, 1792, t. IX.
[5. ]The same idea is seen in Madame de Staël, Des circonstances actuelles, éd. cit., p. 173: “Now, there are two elemental interests, so to speak, which split the world: the need to acquire and the need to conserve.”
[6. ]Machiavelli, Discours sur la première décade de Tite-Live, Ch. V, Oeuvres complètes, op. cit., pp. 392–394.
[7. ]Book XVI, On Political Power in the Ancient World.
[9. ][The helots were prisoners of war of Sparta, subsequently enslaved. The city of Mycenae, like Sparta situated in Laconia, was conquered by the Spartans and its inhabitants enslaved. Translator’s note]
[10. ]A reference to the great peasant war which in 1524 and 1525 ravaged not only Swabia but the whole of what is now southern Germany, including even Alsace.
[14. ]Aristotle, La politique, VI, 4, a new translation with an introduction, notes, and index by J. Tricot, Paris, J. Vrin, 1962, t. II, pp. 441–442.
[21. ]Hofmann was able to find neither author nor definition.
[24. ]In Ch. 3 and 4 of this same Book X.
[26. ][It had one huge such institution: slavery. Translator’s note]
[27. ]A very similar argument is found in Mme. de Staël (éd. cit., p. 46): “There is a point in all debate where the foolish and the wise separate. It is when destructive action is over and the matter in hand is to form a link which reunites what the emptiness of some prejudice or other has disunited.” Constant will return to this theme in Ch. 4 and 5 of Book XVIII, in relation to revolutions.
[29. ]Above all, Aristotle attributes a great importance to the middle class. On this subject see Raymond Weil, Politique d’Aristote, Paris, A. Colin, 1966, pp. 94–97, Le citoyen et l’homme de bien, and pp. 159–173.
[32. ]Aristotle, La politique, V, 8, éd. cit., t. II, p. 382.
[33. ]In Ch. 9 of this same Book X.
[34. ]We can compare Constant’s arguments on the advantages of reelection with Madame de Staël’s in Des circonstances actuelles, éd. cit., pp. 187–190.
[35. ]In Book IV, Ch. 2, The idea which usually develops about the effects which the proliferation of the laws has and the falsity of that idea.
[36. ]For once, Constant agrees with Rousseau, who declared in his Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les hommes: “It is not, therefore, by the degradation of enslaved peoples that the natural disposition of man for or against servitude should be judged, but by the huge efforts made by all free peoples to guarantee themselves against oppression . . . I feel that it is not for slaves to reason on freedom.” Oeuvres complètes, éd. cit., t. III, pp. 181–182.
[37. ]On the reform projects of Alexander I, see the letter from F.-C. de La Harpe to the Emperor on 16 October 1801, in Correspondance de Frédéric-César de La Harpe et Alexandre Ier, published by Jean-Charles Biaudet and Françoise Nicod, t. I, 1785–1802, Neuchâtel, La Baconnière, 1978, pp. 316–330.
[38. ]Adam Smith, op. cit., t. II, p. 421. “There are still today, in each of the United Kingdoms, these great estates which have remained, without interruption, in the same family, since the time of feudal anarchy. One only has to compare the present state of these domains with the possessions of neighboring small proprietors, to judge, without other argument, how little such extensive holdings are favorable to progressive cultivation.”
[39. ]In Ch. 14 of this same Book X, On the Action of Government on Property.
[A. [Refers to page 172.]]See above all Xenophon and Aristophanes’ comedies.
[D. [Refers to page 176.]]Montesquieu remarks in Esprit des lois, XX, 2, that “if commerce unites nations, it does not similarly unite individuals”; hence it happens that nations, being united, are confused, that is to say that there is no more patriotism, and that individuals, not being united, there is no longer anything but traders, that is to say, there are no longer any fellow citizens.
[F. [Refers to page 180.]]I am speaking here of modern states only. The Roman Republic more than once broke away from the rules of justice with respect to its creditors.43 The ancients, however, did not have the same ideas as we either on income or public credit.
[I. [Refers to page 181.]]Popular election.
[J. [Refers to page 181.]]Freedom of the press, habeas corpus, juries, freedom of conscience.
[L. [Refers to page 184.]]The laws of England forbade any individual without property to move from one parish to another, without the latter’s consent, from fear that this individual, having no means of support, might become a charge on his new fellow citizens. These laws seem to the advantage of owners, against the nonowner seeking refuge. They are a clear attack, however, on individual freedom. He who cannot earn his living by the kind of work for which he is fitted, in the parish where he lives, is kept out of the one where his work could feed him easily. What is the result of this injustice?  Often a parish is oversupplied with labor while another is short of it. Then the daily rate in the latter goes up excessively. The owner who has driven away the hardworking man, whose upkeep he feared might one day be charged to him, therefore now pays in a dearer price for his iniquitous calculation. It is thus that all such abuses fall on those they seem to favor.
[N. [Refers to page 186.]]This is truly the point of view from which Montesquieu considered privileges. “Since despotism,” he says, “causes frightful evils to the natural order, the very evil which limits it is a good.” Esprit des lois, Livre II, Ch. 4.
[P. [Refers to page 189.]]See gli ordinamenti della justizia, laws which subjected the nobles of Florence to special legal arrangements, excluded them from citizenship, authorized their condemnation without other proof than public rumor. These laws were carried by the people around 1294, at the instigation of Gianno della Bella (noble), who placed himself at its head.51
[F. [Refers to page 180.]]I am speaking here of modern states only. The Roman Republic more than once broke away from the rules of justice with respect to its creditors.43 The ancients, however, did not have the same ideas as we either on income or public credit.
[P. [Refers to page 189.]]See gli ordinamenti della justizia, laws which subjected the nobles of Florence to special legal arrangements, excluded them from citizenship, authorized their condemnation without other proof than public rumor. These laws were carried by the people around 1294, at the instigation of Gianno della Bella (noble), who placed himself at its head.51
This quotation from Cato the Elder has clearly been borrowed from Adam Smith, op. cit., t. III, p. 73, and not from the original, which says: “Ut ex agricolis et viri fortissimi et milites strenuissimi gignuntur, maximeque pius questus stabilissimusque consequitur minimeque invidiosus, minimeque male coginantes sunt qui in eo studio occupati sunt.”—“But it is the peasants who produce the strongest men and the bravest soldiers. It is to them the most just gains accrue, as well as the most reliable and least subject to envy. Those absorbed by these concerns are the least evil minded.” Cato, De l’agriculture, edited, confirmed, and translated by Raoul Goujard, Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 1975, p. 9. [Constant here takes from Adam Smith, unacknowledged, a supposed quotation from Cato the Elder. Hofmann corrects the Latin quotation wrongly reproduced by Smith. Translator’s note]
Constant quotes from The Wealth of Nations, Book I, Ch. 10 (French translation from the English, op. cit., t. I, p. 262). Smith here opines that apart from fine arts and the high professions, no activities require such a range of knowledge and experience as agriculture.
Adam Smith, op. cit., t. IV, pp. 509–510. It may be useful to relate the English author’s argument here: “A creditor of the state has unquestionably a general interest in the prosperity of a country’s agriculture, manufacturing, and commerce, and therefore in the various lands being well maintained and the capital advantageously managed. If one of these things were lacking or were to fail generally, the product of the various taxes would no longer be sufficient to pay him the annuity or the return which is owed him. But a state creditor, considered simply as such, has no interest in such and such a piece of land being in good shape or such and such a piece of capital being well run. As a state creditor he is not familiar with any piece of land or capital; he has none under inspection, none he can busy himself with. There is not one particular one that cannot be totally wiped out without for the most part his even suspecting or at least without his being directly affected.”
Constant had left a blank in which to indicate the precise place in De l’esprit des lois where Montesquieu explains how the Romans swindled the financiers by devaluing the currency during the Second Punic War. [Livre XXII, Ch. 11. Translator’s note]
Jacques Necker, De l’administration des finances de la France, s.l., 1784, t. II, pp. 378–379: “The growth of public debt in like manner has distorted the social outlook, by multiplying in some countries the number of people with an interest contrary to the general interest. Rentiers desire, above all else, the wealth of the royal treasury; and since the extension of taxation is the most fertile source of this, the contributors (and above all the people, who are the biggest element in this, and have no money to lend) find today within the very bosom of the State, an adversarial faction whose credit and influence grow from day to day.”
Constant is in error here. The book he means, A brief examination into the increase of the revenue, commerce, and navigation of Great Britain, from 1792–1799, Dublin, Graisberry and Campbell, 1799, is not by Beeke but by George Rose.
Adam Smith, op. cit., t. II, pp. 439–489; Ch. 4 of Book III is called How the commerce of the towns contributed to the improvement of the country.
Germain Garnier, Notes du traducteur, in Adam Smith, op. cit., t. V, p. 309. Note XXXII, called Des pouvoirs législatifs et judiciaires, et de leur rapport avec la propriété.
In particular Ch. 5 of Discours sur la première décade de Tite-Live in Machiavelli, Oeuvres complètes, éd. cit., pp. 392–394. This chapter is entitled, more precisely, To whom more confidently to entrust the care of liberty, to the great or the people, and which of the two more often cause difficulty, he who wishes to acquire or he who wishes to conserve.
Etienne Bonnot de Condillac, Histoire moderne, Livre X, Ch. 4 Considérations sur l’Europe au moment du seizième siècle et par occasion sur les effets du commerce, in Cours d’étude . . . , op. cit., t. IX, pp. 456–471.
Emmanuel Siéyès, Essai sur les privilèges, s.l.n.d. , 48 p.
Constant was mostly inspired for this note by Jean-Charles-Léonard Sismondi, Recherches sur les constitutions des peuples libres, éd. cit., pp. 114–115, n. 9.