Front Page Titles (by Subject) 12. The Right to Employment and the Right to Profit - Selected Essays on Political Economy
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12. The Right to Employment and the Right to Profit - Frédéric Bastiat, Selected Essays on Political Economy 
Selected Essays on Political Economy, trans. Seymour Cain, ed. George B. de Huszar, introduction by F.A. Hayek (Irvington-on-Hudson: Foundation for Economic Education, 1995).
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12. The Right to Employment and the Right to Profit
“Brothers, assess yourselves to furnish me work at your price.” This is the right to employment, elementary or first-degree socialism.
“Brothers, assess yourselves to furnish me work at my price.” This is the right to profit, refined or second-degree socialism.
Both live by virtue of such of their effects as are seen. They will die from those of their effects that are not seen.
What is seen is the work and the profit stimulated by the assessments levied on society. What is not seen is the work and the profits that would come from this same amount of money if it were left in the hands of the taxpayers themselves.
In 1848 the right to employment showed itself for a moment with two faces. That was enough to ruin it in public opinion.
One of these faces was called: National workshop.
The other: Forty-five centimes.*
Millions went every day from the rue de Rivoli to the national workshops. This was the beautiful side of the coin.
But here is what was on the other side. In order for millions of francs to come out of a coffer, they must first have come into it. That is why the organizers of the right to employment addressed themselves to the taxpayers.
Now, the farmers said: “I must pay forty-five centimes. Then I shall be deprived of clothes; I cannot marl my field; I cannot have my house repaired.”
And the hired hands said: “Since our boss is not going to have any new clothes, there will be less work for the tailor; since he is not going to have his field marled, there will be less work for the ditchdigger; since he is not going to have his house repaired, there will be less work for the carpenter and the mason.”
It was therefore proved that you cannot profit twice from the same transaction, and that the work paid for by the government was created at the expense of work that would have been paid for by the taxpayer. That was the end of the right to employment, which came to be seen as an illusion as well as an injustice.
However, the right to profit, which is nothing but an exaggeration of the right to employment, is still alive and flourishing.
Is there not something shameful in the role that the protectionist makes society play?
He says to society:
“You must give me work, and, what is more, lucrative work. I have foolishly chosen an industry that leaves me with a loss of ten per cent. If you slap a tax of twenty francs on my fellow citizens and excuse me from paying it, my loss will be converted into a profit. Now, profit is a right; you owe it to me.”
The society that listens to this sophist, that will levy taxes on itself to satisfy him, that does not perceive that the loss wiped out in one industry is no less a loss because others are forced to shoulder it—this society, I say, deserves the burden placed upon it.
Thus, we see, from the many subjects I have dealt with, that not to know political economy is to allow oneself to be dazzled by the immediate effect of a phenomenon; to know political economy is to take into account the sum total of all effects, both immediate and future.10
I could submit here a host of other questions to the same test. But I desist from doing so, because of the monotony of demonstrations that would always be the same, and I conclude by applying to political economy what Chateaubriand* said of history:
There are two consequences in history: one immediate and instantaneously recognized; the other distant and unperceived at first. These consequences often contradict each other; the former come from our short-run wisdom, the latter from long-run wisdom. The providential event appears after the human event. Behind men rises God. Deny as much as you wish the Supreme Wisdom, do not believe in its action, dispute over words, call what the common man calls Providence “the force of circumstances" or “reason"; but look at the end of an accomplished fact, and you will see that it has always produced the opposite of what was expected when it has not been founded from the first on morality and justice.
(Chateaubriand, Memoirs from beyond the Tomb.)
The law perverted! And along with it all the collective forces of the nation! The law, I say, not only turned aside from its proper end, but made to pursue a directly contrary end! The law become the instrument, instead of the restrainer, of all kinds of cupidity! The law itself perpetrating the very iniquity that it is its function to punish! Certainly, if this is so, it is a serious matter, to which I should be allowed to call the attention of my fellow citizens.
We hold from God the gift that for us includes all other gifts: life—physical, intellectual, and moral life.
But life is not self-sustaining. He who gave it to us has left to us the responsibility of preserving it, of developing it, of perfecting it.
To that end, He has provided us with a collection of marvelous faculties; He has set us in the midst of a variety of resources. It is by the application of our faculties to these resources that the phenomenon of assimilation, of appropriation, is realized, by which life runs its appointed course.
Existence, faculties, assimilation—in other words, personality, liberty, property—that is what man is.
Of these three things one may say, without any demagogic quibbling, that they are anterior and superior to all human legislation.
It is not because men have passed laws that personality, liberty, and property exist. On the contrary, it is because personality, liberty, and property already exist that men make laws.
What, then, is law? As I have said elsewhere, it is the collective organization of the individual's right to legitimate self-defense.2
Each of us certainly gets from Nature, from God, the right to defend his person, his liberty, and his property, since they are the three elements constituting or sustaining life, elements which are mutually complementary and which cannot be understood without one another. For what are our faculties, if not an extension of our personality, and what is property, if not an extension of our faculties?
If each man has the right to defend, even by force, his person, his liberty, and his property, several men have the right to get together, come to an understanding, and organize a collective force to provide regularly for this defense.
Collective right, then, has its principle, its raison d'être, its legitimate basis, in individual right; and the collective force can rationally have no other end, no other function, than that of the individual forces for which it substitutes.
Thus, as an individual cannot legitimately use force against the person, liberty, or property of another individual, for the same reason collective force cannot legitimately be applied to destroy the person, liberty, and property of individuals or classes.
For this perverse use of force would be, in the one case as in the other, in contradiction with our premises. Who will dare to say that force has been given to us, not to defend our rights, but to destroy the equal rights of our brothers? And if this is not true of the use of force by each individual, acting separately, how can it be true of the collective force, which is nothing but the organized union of the separate forces?
Hence, if anything is self-evident, it is this: Law is the organization of the natural right to legitimate self-defense; it is the substitution of collective force for individual forces, to act in the sphere in which they have the right to act, to do what they have the right to do: to guarantee security of person, liberty, and property rights, to cause justice to reign over all.
And if there existed a nation constituted on this basis, it seems to me that order would prevail there in fact as well as in theory. It seems to me that this nation would have the simplest, most economical, least burdensome, least disturbing, least officious, most just, and consequently most stable government that can be imagined, whatever its political form might be.
For under such a regime, everyone would comprehend clearly that the full enjoyment of his life, as well as complete responsibility for it, was his and his alone. As long as his person was respected, his labor free, and the fruits of his labor guaranteed against all unjust encroachment, no one would have any quarrel with the state. When fortunate, we should not, it is true, have to thank it for our successes; but, when unfortunate, we should no more blame it for our reverses than our farmers would blame it for hail or frost. We should know it only by the inestimable benefit of security.
It can further be affirmed that thanks to the nonintervention of the state in private affairs, wants and satisfactions would develop in their natural order. We should not see poor families seeking instruction in literature before they have bread. We should not see the city being populated at the expense of the country, or the country at the expense of the city. We should not see those great displacements of capital, of labor, and of population which are provoked by legislative measures, displacements that render the very sources of existence so uncertain and precarious, and thereby add so greatly to the responsibilities of the government.
Unfortunately, the law is by no means confined to its proper role. It is not only in indifferent and debatable matters that it has exceeded its legitimate function. It has done worse; it has acted in a way contrary to its own end; it has destroyed its own object: it has been employed in abolishing the justice which it was supposed to maintain, in effacing that limit between rights which it was its mission to respect; it has put the collective force at the service of those who desire to exploit, without risk and without scruple, the person, liberty, or property of others; it has converted plunder into a right, in order to protect it, and legitimate defense into a crime, in order to punish it.
How has this perversion of the law been accomplished? What have been the consequences of it?
The law has been perverted under the influence of two very different causes: unintelligent selfishness and false philanthropy.
Let us speak of the first cause.
Self-preservation and self-development are aspirations common to all men, so that, if each person enjoyed the free exercise of his faculties and the free disposition of their products, social progress would be continual, uninterrupted, and unfailing.
But there is another disposition that is also common among men. It is to live and to develop, when they can, at the expense of one another. This is no rash charge, nor is it an expression of a morose and pessimistic state of mind. History bears witness to its truth: its annals are filled with accounts of constant wars, mass migrations, acts of clerical despotism, the universality of slavery, commercial frauds, and monopolies.
This lamentable disposition springs from the very nature of man, from that primitive, universal, unconquerable feeling which impels him to seek his own well-being and to shun pain.
Man can live and enjoy life only by constant assimilation and appropriation, that is, by a constant application of his faculties to things, by labor. This is the origin of property.
But, in fact, he can live and enjoy life by assimilating and appropriating the product of the labor of his fellow man. This is the origin of plunder.
Now, labor being in itself painful, and man being naturally inclined to shun pain, it follows—history is there to prove it—that wherever plunder is less onerous than labor, it prevails; and neither religion nor morality can, in this case, prevent it from doing so.
When, then, does plunder stop? When it becomes more onerous and more dangerous than labor.
It is clearly evident that the object of the law should be to oppose this harmful tendency with the powerful obstacle of collective force, that it should side with property against plunder.
But the law is made, most often, by one man or by one class of men. And, since the law does not exist without sanction, without the support of a preponderant force, it inevitably puts this force into the hands of those who legislate.
This unavoidable phenomenon, combined with the lamentable inclination that, as we have observed, exists in the heart of man, explains the almost universal perversion of the law. It is understandable how, instead of restraining injustice, the law becomes its instrument, indeed its most invincible instrument. It is understandable that, in proportion to the power of the legislator, and for his profit, the law destroys, in varying degree, among the rest of mankind, the rights of the person by way of slavery, liberty by way of oppression, property by way of plunder.
It is in the nature of men to react against the iniquity of which they are the victims. When, therefore, plunder is organized by the law for the profit of the classes who make it, all the plundered classes seek, by peaceful or revolutionary means, to enter into the making of the laws. These classes, according to the degree of enlightenment they have achieved, can propose two different ends to themselves when they thus seek to attain their political rights: either they may wish to bring legal plunder to an end, or they may aim at getting their share of it.
Woe to the nations in which the masses are dominated by this last thought when they, in their turn, seize the power to make the law!
Until that time, legal plunder is exercised by the few against, the many, as it is among nations in which the right to legislate is concentrated in a few hands. But now it becomes universal, and an effort is made to redress the balance by means of universal plunder. Instead of being abolished, social injustice is made general. As soon as the disinherited classes have obtained their political rights, the first idea they seize upon is not to abolish plunder (this would suppose in them more wisdom than they can have), but to organize a system of reprisals against the other classes that is also injurious to themselves; as if, before justice reigns, a harsh retribution must strike all, some because of their iniquity, others because of their ignorance.
No greater change nor any greater evil could be introduced into society than this: to convert the law into an instrument of plunder.
What are the consequences of such a perversion of the law? Volumes would be required to describe all of them. Let us content ourselves with indicating the most important.
The first is to efface from everyone's conscience the distinction between what is just and what is unjust.
No society can exist if respect for the law does not to some extent prevail; but the surest way to have the laws respected is to make them respectable. When law and morality are in contradiction, the citizen finds himself in the cruel dilemma of either losing his moral sense or of losing respect for the law, two evils of which one is as great as the other, and between which it is difficult to choose.
It is so much the nature of law to make justice prevail that law and justice are one and the same thing in the minds of the masses. We all have a strong disposition to regard what is legal as legitimate, to such an extent that there are very many who erroneously derive all justice from law. It suffices, then, that the law ordains and authorizes plunder to make plunder seem just and sacred to many consciences. Slavery, restraint of trade, and monopoly find defenders not only among those who profit from them but even among those who suffer from them. Try to raise a few doubts about the morality of these institutions. “You are,” it will be said, “a dangerous innovator, a utopian, a theorist, a scorner of the laws; you are undermining the foundation upon which society rests.” If you give a course in ethics or political economy, official organizations will be found making this petition to the government: “That economic science be taught henceforth no longer only from the point of view of free trade (of liberty, property, justice), as has been done up to now, but also and especially from the point of view of the facts and the legislation (contrary to liberty, property, and justice) which prevail in French industry.
“That in the chairs publicly endowed by the treasury, the professors strictly abstain from diminishing in the slightest degree the respect due to the laws now in force.”3
So that if a law exists which sanctions slavery or monopoly, oppression or spoliation, in any form whatever, one must not even speak about it; for how speak about it without undermining the respect that the law inspires? Moreover, ethics and political economy must be taught from the viewpoint of that law, that is, on the assumption that it must be just simply because it is the law.
Another result of this deplorable perversion of the law is to give to political passions and struggles, and indeed to the whole field of politics, an exaggerated importance.
I could prove this proposition in a thousand ways. I shall confine myself, by way of example, to connecting it with a subject that has recently occupied all minds: universal suffrage.
Whatever the disciples of Rousseau's school, who call themselves very much advanced, and whom I believe to be twenty centuries behind the times, may think of it, universal suffrage (taking this word in its strict sense) is not one of those sacred dogmas which it is a crime to examine or doubt.
Serious objections may be advanced against universal suffrage. First, the word universal conceals a gross sophism. There are thirty-six million inhabitants in France. For the right to suffrage to be universal, it must be granted to thirty-six million voters. In the most extensive electoral system, only nine million voters are eligible. Three out of four persons, then, are excluded, and what is more, they are excluded by the fourth. On what principle is this exclusion founded? On the principle of incapacity. Universal suffrage thus means: universal suffrage for those capable. There remains this question of fact: Who are the capable ones? Are age, sex, and criminal records the only signs by which incapacity can be recognized?
If we examine the question more closely, we very quickly perceive the reason why the right to suffrage rests on the presumption of capacity. The most extensive system differs in this respect from the most limited only in the evaluation of the signs whereby this capacity can be recognized. This constitutes a difference of degree, not of principle.
The reason is that the voter acts not only for himself, but for everyone.
If, as our republicans in the Greek and Roman style allege, the right of suffrage is every person's birthright, it would be unjust for adult males to prevent women and children from voting. Why prevent them? Because they are presumed to be incapable. And why is incapacity a cause for exclusion? Because it is not the voter alone who must bear the consequences of his vote; because each vote involves and affects the whole community; because the community clearly has the right to require some guarantees as to the acts on which its welfare and existence depend.
I know what the reply may be. I also know what the rejoinder could be. This is not the place for an exhaustive controversy on the subject. What I want to call attention to is that this very controversy (as well as most political questions), which agitates, arouses, and convulses nations, would lose almost all its importance if the law had always been what it should be.
In fact, if the law confined itself to safeguarding all persons, liberties, and property rights; if it were only the organization of the individual's right to legitimate self-defense, the obstacle, the check, the punishment opposed to all acts of oppression and plunder; is it likely that we citizens would argue very much about whether the suffrage should be more or less universal? Is it likely that such a dispute would endanger the greatest good, the public peace? Is it likely that the excluded classes would not peacefully await their turn? Is it likely that the favored classes would be so jealous of their privilege? And is it not clear that, the interests of all being identical and common, the vote of the enfranchised would cause no great inconvenience for the rest of the population?
But once let the disastrous principle be introduced that, under the pretext of organization, regulation, protection, or encouragement, the law can take from some to give to others, to draw off a part of the wealth acquired by all classes in order to increase that of one class, whether farmers or manufacturers or merchants or shipowners or artists or actors; then certainly, in that event, there is no class that does not demand, with good reason, to have a hand in making the laws; that does not vehemently claim its right to vote and to be considered eligible; that would not overthrow society rather than fail to obtain that right. Even beggars and tramps will prove to you that they have an incontestable right to vote. They will say to you: “We never buy wine, tobacco, or salt without paying a tax, and part of that tax is given by law, in bounties and subsidies, to men richer than we are. Others use the law to raise artificially the prices of bread, meat, iron, and cloth. Since everyone exploits the law to his own profit, we too want to do so. We desire to have it grant us the right to public relief, which is the poor man's share of the plunder. To this end we must become voters and legislators, so that we may organize the dole for our class in grand style, as you have organized protective tariffs in grand style for your class. Do not tell us that you will act on our behalf, that you will throw our way, as M. Mimerel* proposes, a sum of six hundred thousand francs, to keep us quiet and as a bone for us to gnaw on. We have other demands, and, in any case, we want to act for ourselves, as the other classes have acted for themselves!”
What can one reply to such an argument? Yes, so long as it is admitted in principle that the law may be diverted from its true mission, that it may violate property rights instead of guaranteeing them, each class will want to make the law, whether to defend itself against being plundered or to organize plunder for its own profit. Political questions will always be interlocutory, dominant, and absorbing; in a word, people will be continually pounding on the door of the legislature. The struggle will not be less bitter within it. To be convinced of this, it is hardly necessary to observe what goes on in the parliaments of France and England; it is enough to know what the issues are that are being debated there.
Is there any need to prove that this odious perversion of the law is a perpetual cause of hatred, discord, and even social disorder? Look at the United States. There is no country in the world where the law confines itself more rigorously to its proper role, which is to guarantee everyone's liberty and property. Accordingly, there is no country in which the social order seems to rest on a more stable foundation. Nevertheless, even in the United States there are two questions, and only two, which, since it was founded, have several times put the political order in danger. And what are these two questions? The question of slavery and that of tariffs, that is, precisely the only two questions concerning which, contrary to the general spirit of this republic, the law has assumed a spoliative character. Slavery is a violation, sanctioned by law, of the rights of the person. Protective tariffs are a violation, perpetrated by the law, of the right to property; and certainly it is remarkable that in the midst of so many other disputes this twofold legal scourge, a sad heritage from the Old World, should be the only one that can and perhaps will lead to the dissolution of the Union. It is, in fact, impossible to imagine any graver situation in a society than one in which the law becomes an instrument of injustice. And if this fact gives rise to such dreadful consequences in the United States, where it is only exceptional, what must be its consequences in Europe, where it is a principle and a system?
M. de Montalembert,* adopting the thought expressed in a famous proclamation of M. Carlier,† said: “We must make war on socialism.” And by socialism, we must take it that he means plunder, according to the definition of M. Charles Dupin.
But what kind of plunder did he mean? For there are two kinds. There is extralegal plunder and legal plunder.
As for extralegal plunder, such as theft or fraud, which is defined, provided for, and punished by the Penal Code, I do not think that we can, in all truth, decorate it with the name of socialism. It is not this that systematically menaces the foundations of society. Besides, the war against this type of plunder has not awaited the signal from M. de Montalembert or of M. Carlier. It has been waged since the beginning of the world; France had provided for it long before the February Revolution, long before the appearance of socialism, by a whole apparatus of courts, police, gendarmes, prisons, dungeons, and gallows. It is the law itself that carries on this war, and what would be desirable, to my mind, is that the law should always maintain this attitude toward plunder.
But this is not the case. The law sometimes sides with the plunderer. Sometimes it commits plunder with its own hands, in order to spare the beneficiary shame, danger, and qualms of conscience. Sometimes it places this whole apparatus of courts, police, constabularies, and prisons at the service of the plunderer, and puts the plundered person, when he defends himself, in the prisoners' dock. In a word, there is legal plunder, and it is no doubt this that M. de Montalembert is talking about.
This kind of plunder may be merely an exceptional blemish on a nation's legislation, in which case, the best thing to do, without too many tirades and jeremiads, is to eliminate it as soon as possible, despite the outcries of the vested interests. How is it to be recognized? Very simply. All we have to do is to see whether the law takes from some what belongs to them in order to give it to others to whom it does not belong. We must see whether the law performs, for the profit of one citizen and to the detriment of others, an act which that citizen could not perform himself without being guilty of a crime. Repeal such a law without delay. It is not only an iniquity in itself; it is a fertile source of iniquities, because it invites reprisals, and if you do not take care, what begins by being an exception tends to become general, to multiply itself, and to develop into a veritable system. No doubt the person benefited by the law will raise loud cries of protest; he will invoke his acquired rights. He will say that the state has an obligation to protect and encourage his industry; he will allege that it is good that the state should enrich him, because, when he is richer, he spends more and thus showers wages on the poor workers. Take care not to listen to this sophist, for it is precisely by the systematic elaboration of these arguments that legal plunder will itself be systematized.
This is, in fact, what has happened. The prevailing illusion of our age is that it is possible to enrich all classes at the expense of one another—to make plunder universal under the pretext of organizing it. Now, legal plunder can be committed in an infinite number of ways; hence, there are an infinite number of plans for organizing it: tariffs, protection, bonuses, subsidies, incentives, the progressive income tax, free education, the right to employment, the right to profit, the right to wages, the right to relief, the right to the tools of production, interest-free credit, etc., etc. And it is the aggregate of all these plans, in respect to what they have in common, legal plunder, that goes under the name of socialism.
Now, since socialism thus defined forms a body of doctrine, what war would you make on it, if not a war of doctrine? You find that doctrine false, absurd, abominable. Then refute it. This will be all the easier for you the more false, more absurd, more abominable the doctrine is. Above all, if you would be strong, begin by eliminating from your legislation all of the socialism that may have crept into it. The task is by no means a small one.
M. de Montalembert has been reproached with wanting to turn brute force against socialism. It is a charge of which he should be exonerated, for he has formally declared: “We must wage a war against socialism that is compatible with law, honor, and justice.”
But how is it that M. de Montalembert does not perceive that he is placing himself in a vicious circle? You want to use the law to oppose socialism? But it is precisely socialism that invokes the law. It does not look for extralegal plunder, but for legal plunder. Socialism, like monopoly of all kinds, tries to make use of the law itself; and once it has the law on its side, how do you expect to turn the law against it? How do you expect to strike at it with your tribunals, your police, your prisons?
So, what do you do? You want to prevent socialists from having a hand in the making of the laws. You want to keep them from entering the legislature. You will not succeed, I venture to predict, while within the legislature laws are passed in accordance with the principle of legal plunder. Your idea is too iniquitous, too absurd.
This question of legal plunder must be decided once for all, and there are only three solutions:
Partial plunder, universal plunder, absence of plunder—one must choose. The law can follow only one of these three possible courses.
Partial plunder is the system that prevailed as long as the electorate was partial, the system to which some wish to return in order to avoid the invasion of socialism.
Universal plunder is the system with which we have been threatened since the suffrage became universal, the masses having conceived the idea of legislating on the same principle as the legislators who preceded them.
Absence of plunder is the principle of justice, of peace, of order, of stability, of harmony, of good sense, which I shall proclaim with all the power (alas! so inadequate) of my lungs, until my last breath.*
And, in all sincerity, can anything more be asked of the law? Can the law, having force as a necessary sanction, be reasonably employed for anything else than safeguarding the rights of everyone? I question whether the law may be extended beyond this domain without turning it, and consequently without turning force, against human rights. And as this is the most disastrous, the most illogical social disturbance imaginable, we must recognize clearly that the true solution, so much sought after, of the social problem is comprised in these simple words: The law is organized justice.
Now, organizing justice by law, that is, by force, excludes the idea of organizing by law or by force any manifestation whatsoever of human activity: labor, charity, agriculture, commerce, industry, education, the fine arts, or religion; for one of these secondary organizations would inevitably destroy the essential organization. How, in fact, is one to imagine force encroaching on the liberty of the citizens without striking a blow at justice, and thus acting contrary to its proper object?
Here I come into conflict with the most popular prejudices of our day. People not only want the law to be just; they also want it to be philanthropic. They are not satisfied that justice should guarantee to each citizen the free and inoffensive exercise of his faculties for his physical, intellectual, and moral development; they require of it that it should directly spread welfare, education, and morality throughout the country. This is the seductive aspect of socialism.
But, I repeat, these two functions of the law contradict each other. We must choose between them. A citizen cannot at the same time be free and not free. M. de Lamartine wrote me one day: “Your doctrine is only the half of my program; you have stopped at liberty; I go on to fraternity.” I answered him: “The second half of your program will destroy the first half.” And, in fact, it is quite impossible for me to separate the word “fraternity" from the word “voluntary.” It is quite impossible for me to conceive of fraternity as legally enforced, without liberty being legally destroyed, and justice being legally trampled underfoot.
Legal plunder has two roots: One, as we have just seen, is in human selfishness; the other is in false philanthropy.
Before going further, I believe I ought to explain what I mean by the word “plunder.”*
I do not use it, as is so often done, in a vague, indeterminate, approximate, or metaphorical sense; I use it in its precise, scientific sense, as expressing the idea opposed to that of property. When property is transferred without the consent of its owner and without compensation, whether by force or by fraud, from the one who possesses it to anyone who has not created it, I say that property rights have been violated, that plunder has been committed. I say that this is precisely what the law is supposed to suppress always and everywhere. If the law itself commits the act that it is supposed to suppress, I say that this is still plunder and, as far as society is concerned, plunder of an even graver kind. In this case, however, it is not the one that profits from the act of plunder who is responsible for it; it is the law, the legislator, society itself, and it is in this that the political danger consists.
It is regrettable that this word “plunder" has an offensive connotation. I have tried in vain to find another, for I would not want at any time, and especially in these times, to add an irritating word to our dissensions. Accordingly, whether people believe me or not, I declare that I do not propose to disparage the motives or the morality of anyone. I am attacking an idea that I believe to be false, a system that seems to me unjust, yet so unintentionally unjust that each of us profits from it without wanting to and suffers from it without knowing it. One would have to write under the influence of partisan bias or fear to question the sincerity of those who advocate protectionism, socialism, or even communism, which are only three different stages of growth of one and the same plant. All that one can say is that plunder is more apparent in protectionism by virtue of its partiality4 and in communism by virtue of its universality; from which it follows that of the three systems socialism is still the vaguest, the most indecisive, and consequently the most sincere.
In any case, to grant that legal plunder has one of its roots in false philanthropy is clearly to eliminate the question of motives from the discussion.
This being understood, let us examine this popular aspiration, which seeks to realize the general welfare by way of general plunder, and let us see what it is worth, whence it comes, and whither it tends.
The socialists ask us: “Since the law organizes justice, why should it not organize labor, education, and religion?”
Why? Because it cannot organize labor, education, and religion without disorganizing justice.
Do not forget that the law is force, and that, consequently, the domain of the law cannot legitimately extend beyond the legitimate domain of force.
When law and force confine a man within the bounds of justice, they do not impose anything on him but a mere negation. They impose on him only the obligation to refrain from injuring others. They do not infringe on his personality or his liberty or his property. They merely safeguard the personality, the liberty, and the property of others. They stand on the defensive; they defend the equal right of all. They fulfill a mission whose harmlessness is evident, whose utility is palpable, and whose legitimacy is uncontested.
This is so true that, as one of my friends remarked to me, to say that the object of the law is to make justice prevail is to use an expression that is not strictly exact. One should say: The object of the law is to prevent injustice from prevailing. In fact, it is not justice, but injustice, that has an existence of its own. The first results from the absence of the second.
But when the law, by the intervention of its necessary agent, force, imposes a system of labor, a method or a subject of education, a faith or a religion, its action on men is no longer negative, but positive. It substitutes the will of the legislator for their own will, the initiative of the legislator for their own initiative. They no longer have to take counsel together, to compare, to foresee; the law does all this for them. Intelligence becomes a useless accessory; they cease to be men; they lose their personality, their liberty, their property.
Try to imagine a system of labor imposed by force that is not a violation of liberty; a transfer of wealth imposed by force that is not a violation of property rights. If you cannot do so, then you must agree that the law cannot organize labor and industry without organizing injustice.
When, from the depths of his study, a political theorist turns his gaze on society, he is struck by the spectacle of inequality that it presents. He groans at the sufferings that are the lot of so great a number of our brothers, sufferings which appear even sadder by their contrast with luxury and opulence.
He should perhaps ask himself whether the cause of such social conditions is not ancient acts of plunder, effected by way of conquest, and more recent acts of plunder, effected by the intervention of the law. He should ask himself whether, granted the aspiration of all men towards well-being and self-fulfillment, the reign of justice would not be enough to set the forces of progress into rapid motion and to realize the greatest amount of equality compatible with that individual responsibility which God has ordained as the just retribution for virtue and vice.
But the political theorist does not even dream of this. His thought is directed towards schemes, arrangements, legal or factitious organizations. He seeks for the remedy in the perpetuation and intensification of the very conditions that have produced the disease.
For are there any of these legal arrangements, aside from justice (which, as we have seen, is a mere negation), that do not involve the principle of plunder?
You say: “There are men who do not have any money,” and you appeal to the law. But the law is not a breast that fills itself or whose lacteal veins draw substance from other sources than society. Nothing enters the public treasury for the benefit of a citizen or a class unless other citizens and other classes have been forced to put it there. If everyone draws out only the equivalent of what he has put in, your law, it is true, is not spoliative, but it does nothing for those who do not have any money; it does nothing to promote equality. It can be an instrument of equalization only in so far as it takes from some to give to others, and then it is an instrument of plunder. Examine, in this light, protective tariffs, subsidies, the right to profit, the right to employment, the right to public relief, the right to education, progressive taxation, interest-free credit, and public works. You will always find them based on legal plunder, organized injustice.
You say: “There are men who lack enlightenment,” and you appeal to the law. But the law is not a torch spreading a light of its own near and far. It extends over a society where there are some who have knowledge and others who do not; some citizens who need to learn, and others who are willing to teach. It can do only one of two things: either let this type of transaction occur freely, i.e., allow this kind of need to be satisfied voluntarily, or apply coercion in this regard and take from some the wherewithal to pay teachers appointed to instruct others for nothing. But in the second case there cannot fail to be a violation of freedom and property rights, that is, legal plunder.
You say: “There are men who are lacking in morality or religion,” and you appeal to the law. But the law is force, and need I point out what a violent and foolish undertaking it is to introduce force in these matters?
It would seem that the socialists, however complacent they may be about themselves, cannot help perceiving the monster of legal plunder that results from their schemes and efforts. But what do they do? They disguise plunder, cleverly concealing it from all eyes, even their own, under the seductive names of fraternity, solidarity, organization, and association. And because we do not ask so much of the law, because we require only justice from it, the socialists suppose that we reject fraternity, solidarity, organization, and association, and they throw in our faces the epithet individualists.
They should know, however, that what we reject is not natural, but forced organization.
It is not free association, but the forms of association that the socialists seek to impose on us.
It is not spontaneous fraternity, but legal fraternity.
It is not providential, but artificial solidarity, which is nothing but an unjust displacement of responsibility.
Socialism, like the ancient political ideology from which it emanates, confuses government with society. That is why, every time that we do not want a thing to be done by the government, the socialists conclude that we do not want that thing to be done at all. We are opposed to state education; hence, we are opposed to all education. We object to a state religion; hence, we do not want any religion at all. We are against an equality imposed by the state; hence, we are opposed to equality; etc., etc. It is as if they accused us of not wanting men to eat, because we oppose the cultivation of grain by the state.
How has the bizarre idea come to prevail in the political world that one can make the law produce what it does not contain: good in the positive sense, i.e., wealth, science, and religion?
Modern political theorists, particularly those of the socialist school, base their diverse doctrines on a common hypothesis, certainly the strangest, the most arrogant that could ever have entered a human brain.
They divide mankind into two parts. The commonality of men, with one exception, forms the first; the political theorist, all by himself, forms the second, and by far the most important.
In fact, they begin by supposing that men are endowed with neither motivation nor discernment; that they are devoid of initiative; that they are constituted of inert matter, of passive particles, of atoms without spontaneity, at the most a form of vegetation indifferent to its own mode of existence, susceptible of receiving from an external will and hand an infinite number of more or less symmetrical, artistic, and perfected forms.
Next, each of them supposes forthwith that he himself—under the title of organizer, discoverer, lawgiver, or founder—is that will and that hand, that universal mover, that creative power whose sublime mission it is to reunite into society those scattered materials which are men.
Starting from this assumption, just as every topiarist, according to his fancy, trims trees into pyramids, parasols, cubes, cones, vases, espaliers, distaffs, and fans, so every socialist, according to his caprice, prunes poor mankind into groups, series, centers, subcenters, cells, social workshops, harmonized, contrasted, etc., etc.
And just as the gardener needs axes, saws, pruning hooks, and shears to shape his trees, so the proponent of an artificially planned social order needs the forces that he can find only in the laws in order to organize his society: tariff laws, tax laws, relief laws, and education laws.
Indeed, so true is it that socialists consider mankind as raw material to be fitted into various social molds that if, by chance, they are not quite sure of the success of these arrangements, they demand at least a part of mankind as raw material for experimentation. We know how popular the idea of experimenting with all systems is with them, and one of their leaders has been known to demand seriously of the Constituent Assembly a local district with all its inhabitants on which to make his experiments.
It is thus that every inventor builds a small-scale model of his machine before making it full-scale. It is thus that the chemist sacrifices a few reagents, that the farmer sacrifices a few seeds in a corner of his field, to try out an idea.
But what an incommensurable distance there is between the gardener and his trees, between the inventor and his machine, between the chemist and his reagents, between the farmer and his seeds! The socialist believes in all sincerity that the same distance separates him from the rest of mankind.
We need not be astonished that the political theorists of the nineteenth century consider society as an artificial creation emanating from the genius of the lawgiver.
This idea, the effect of classical education, has dominated all the thinkers and great writers of our country.
All of them look upon the relations between mankind and the legislator as the same as those that exist between the clay and the potter.
Moreover, if they have consented to recognize in the heart of man a principle of action and in his intelligence a principle of discernment, they have thought this gift of God a baleful one, and that mankind, under the influence of these two impulses, tended inevitably towards its own degradation. In fact, they supposed that men, if left to their own inclinations, would concern themselves with religion only to end in atheism; with education, only to arrive at ignorance; with labor and trade, only to sink into poverty.
Fortunately, according to these same writers, there are a few men—the governors and lawgivers—who have received from heaven, not only for themselves, but for everyone else, opposite inclinations.
While mankind tends towards evil, they incline towards the good; while mankind marches into the darkness, they aspire towards enlightenment; while mankind is drawn towards vice, they are attracted by virtue. And, on this assumption, they call for force, so that it may put them in a position to substitute their own inclinations for those of the human race.
It suffices to open, almost at random, a book of philosophy, of politics, or of history, to see how strongly rooted in our country is this idea—the daughter of classical studies, and the mother of socialism—that mankind is merely inert matter, receiving from the power of the government life, organization, morality and wealth; or indeed, what is worse still, that mankind itself tends towards its own degradation and is checked on this downward slope only by the mysterious hand of the legislator. Conventional classical thought everywhere shows us that behind passive society there is an occult power which—under the name of law or lawgiver, or referred to by means of that more convenient and vaguer expression, “they”—moves, animates, enriches, and edifies mankind.
One of the things that they [who?] impressed the most strongly on the minds of the Egyptians was the love of their country..... It was not permitted to be useless to the state; the law assigned each man his job, which was handed down from father to son. One could neither have two jobs nor change his occupation..... But there was one occupation which had to be common to all: the study of the laws and of wisdom. Ignorance of religion and of the national regulations was not excused under any circumstances. Besides, each profession had its district, which was assigned to it [by whom?]..... Among the good laws, the best was that everyone was taught [by whom?] to observe them..... Their men of science filled Egypt with marvelous inventions, and left them ignorant of virtually nothing that could render life easy and peaceful.
Thus, men, according to Bossuet, derive nothing from themselves: patriotism, wealth, industry, wisdom, inventions, husbandry, the sciences—all come to them by the operation of laws or of kings. The people's part is only to let things be done to them. When Diodorus accuses the Egyptians of rejecting wrestling and music, Bossuet reproves him. How is that possible, he says, since these arts were invented by Trismegistus?
The same with the Persians:
One of the first responsibilities of the prince was to make agriculture flourish..... As there were posts established for the conduct of armies, there were also some for overseeing agricultural work..... The respect that was inspired in the Persians for the royal authority verged on the excessive.
The Greeks, although very intelligent, were nonetheless so far unable to control their own destinies that of themselves, like horses and dogs, they would not have ventured upon even the simplest games. In classic thought it is always assumed that everything comes to the people from without, nothing from within.
The Greeks, naturally full of intelligence and of courage, had been educated in early times by the kings and colonists sent out from Egypt. It is from there that they learned physical exercises, foot races, and horse and chariot races..... But the best thing that the Egyptians had taught them was to become docile, to let themselves be formed by the laws for the public good.
Reared in the study and admiration of antiquity, and a witness to the power of Louis XIV, Fénelon could hardly avoid accepting the idea that man is passive, and that his misfortunes as well as his prosperity, his virtues as well as his vices, come to him by an external influence exerted on him by the law or by the one who makes it. Thus, in his utopia, Salentum,† he puts men, with all their interests, faculties, desires, and possessions, under the absolute discretion of the lawgiver. In any matter whatsoever, they never judge for themselves; it is always the prince who judges for them. The nation is only unformed matter of which the prince is the soul. In him resides all thought, all foresight, the principles of all organization, of all progress, and, consequently, all responsibility.
To prove this assertion, I should have to quote the whole tenth book of Télémaque. I refer the reader to it and content myself with citing a few passages taken at random from this celebrated work, to which, in every other respect, I am the first to do justice.
With that surprising credulity which is characteristic of the admirers of classical antiquity, Fénelon accepts, against the authority of reason and the historical facts, the view that the Egyptians were generally happy, and he attributes their felicity, not to their own wisdom, but to that of their kings.
We could not turn our eyes toward the two shores without perceiving rich cities, agreeably situated country houses, fields covered every year with a golden harvest, without ever lying fallow; meadows full of flocks; husbandmen bending under the weight of the fruits which the earth poured forth from its breast; shepherds who made all the environing echoes repeat the sweet sounds of their flutes and their pipes. “Happy,” said Mentor,*“are the people who are ruled by a wise king.”
Next, Mentor had me note the joy and abundance that pervaded the whole of Egypt, where twenty-two thousand cities could be counted; the excellence of the municipal administration; the justice administered in favor of the poor against the rich; the good education of children, who were accustomed to obedience, labor, sobriety, and the love of arts and letters; the scrupulous observance of all the ceremonies of religion; the unselfishness, the regard for honor, the fidelity to men, and the fear of the gods which every father inspired in his children. He never ceased admiring this good order. “Happy,” he told me, “are the people whom a wise king rules in this way.”
Fénelon composes a still more seductive idyll on Crete. Then, he has Mentor add:
All that you see in this wonderful island is the result of the laws of Minos. The education that he ordained for children makes the body healthy and strong. They accustom them from the first to a simple, frugal, and industrious life; they presume that all the pleasures of sense weaken the body and the mind; they offer them no other pleasure than that of being invincible by their virtue and of acquiring much glory..... Here they punish three vices that go unpunished among other peoples: ingratitude, dissimulation, and avarice. They never have any need to restrain pomp and soft living, for these are unknown in Crete..... They do not permit costly furnishings or ostentatious clothing or lavish feasts or gilded palaces.
It is thus that Mentor prepares his pupil to pound into dust, as in a mortar, and to manipulate, no doubt with the most philanthropic motives, the people of Ithaca, and, to carry greater conviction, he cites the example of Salentum.
This is how we get our first political ideas. We are taught to treat men almost as Olivier de Serres† taught farmers to treat and mix the soil.
To maintain the spirit of commerce, all the laws must favor it. These same laws, by their provisions, dividing fortunes in proportion as commerce increases them, must make the circumstances of every poor citizen sufficiently comfortable for him to be able to work like the others, and the circumstances of every rich citizen so moderate that he will need to work to maintain or improve them.....
In this way the laws dispose of all fortunes.
Although equality of wealth is the very essence of the democratic state, it is, nevertheless, so difficult to establish that it is not always expedient to aim at extreme exactitude in this regard. It suffices to reduce or fix the differences within certain limits, after which it will be the function of particular laws to equalize, so to speak, the remaining inequalities by the taxes that they impose on the rich and the relief that they grant to the poor.....
Here again it is by law, by force, that fortunes are to be equalized.
There were two kinds of republics in Greece. Some were military, like Sparta; the others were commercial, like Athens. In one type they wanted the citizens to be idle; in the other they sought to inculcate the love of labor.
I invite the reader's attention to the great genius these lawgivers must have had: in flying in the face of all accepted customs, in confounding all the virtues, they showed the world their wisdom. Lycurgus, in combining larceny with the spirit of justice, the harshest slavery with extreme liberty, the most atrocious sentiments with the greatest moderation, gave stability to his city. He seemed to be depriving it of all its resources, arts, commerce, money, and defenses; there was ambition, but no hope of being better off; there were natural affections, and yet no man there was either child or husband or father; even chastity was no longer regarded as respectable. This is the way that Sparta was led to grandeur and glory.....
The same extraordinary phenomenon seen in the institutions of Greece has been manifested amidst the degeneracy and corruption of modern times. A lawgiver, an upright man, has formed a people in whom honesty appears as natural as bravery among the Spartans. Mr. Penn is a true Lycurgus, and although the former has had peace as his object as the latter had war, they resemble each other in the peculiar direction in which they have led their people, in the influence that they have exercised over free men, in the prejudices that they have overcome, in the passions that they have subdued.
Paraguay can furnish us another example. To regard the pleasure of commanding as the only good thing in life is to wish to commit a crime against society; but it will always be admirable to govern men in such a way as to make them happier.....
Those who would like to have similar institutions will set up a regime in which property is communally owned, as in Plato's republic, and in which there will be the respect that he demanded for the gods and the separation of the natives from foreigners for the preservation of morality, with the state, not the citizens, engaging in commerce; they will give us our arts without our luxury and will satisfy our needs rather than our desires.
The unthinking masses, in their infatuation, may cry out: “It is Montesquieu who said it; hence, it is magnificent! It is sublime!” I shall have the courage of my convictions and am not afraid to say:
What! you have the cheek to call that beautiful!*
But it is frightful! Abominable! And these citations, which I could multiply, show that, according to Montesquieu, men's persons, their liberties, their property, the whole of mankind, are only raw materials for the lawgiver to exercise his sagacity on.
Although this political theorist, the supreme authority of democrats, founds the edifice of society on the general will, no one has accepted as completely as he the hypothesis of the entire passivity of the human race in the hands of the lawgiver.
If it be true that a great prince is a rarity, what, then, is to be said of a great lawgiver? The first has only to follow the model that the other constructs. The latter is the artificer who invents the machine; the former is only the operator who turns it on and runs it.
And what are men in all this? The machine that is turned on and that runs, or rather the raw material of which the machine is made!
Thus, the same relations exist between the lawgiver and the prince as between the agronomist and the farmer, and between the prince and his subjects as between the farmer and the soil. At what a height above mankind, then, is the political theorist placed, for he rules the legislators themselves and teaches them their profession in these imperative terms:
Do you want to give stability to the state? Bring the extremes as closely together as possible. Do not allow either rich men or beggars.
Is the soil too unfruitful or sterile, or the country too small for the inhabitants? Then turn to industry and the arts for the products that you may exchange for the provisions that you lack..... Do you have good soil, and do you lack inhabitants? Give all your attention to agriculture, which increases the population, and banish the arts, which can serve only to depopulate the country..... If you occupy extensive and accessible coastal areas, cover the sea with ships, and you will have a brilliant but short existence. Does the sea off your coasts break only upon inaccessible rocks? Then remain barbarians and fisheaters; you will live more peacefully, perhaps better, and surely more happily than as seafarers. In a word, besides having to take account of the maxims common to all, every nation lives in circumstances that are distinctively its own and that render its legislation appropriate to it alone. Accordingly, at one time the Hebrews, and recently the Arabs, had religion as their principal object; the Athenians, letters; Carthage and Tyre, commerce; Rhodes, seafaring; Sparta, war; and Rome, virtue. The author of The Spirit of the Laws has shown by what art the lawgiver directs education towards each of these objects..... But if the lawgiver, mistaking his object, adopts a principle different from what comes naturally to his people, if one tends toward slavery and the other toward liberty; one toward wealth, the other toward population; one toward peace, the other toward conquests; the laws will gradually be enfeebled, the constitution will be undermined, and the state will be in continual agitation until it is destroyed or changed, until invincible Nature has regained control.
But if Nature is so invincible as to regain control, why does not Rousseau admit that it did not need the lawgiver to gain this control in the first place? Why does he not admit that men, acting on their own initiative, will turn of themselves toward agriculture if the soil is fertile, toward commerce if the coastline is extensive and accessible, without the interference of a Lycurgus, a Solon, or a Rousseau, who might very well be mistaken?
In any case, we see what a terrible responsibility Rousseau has laid on the inventors, founders, leaders, lawgivers, and manipulators of societies. Consequently, he demands much of them.
Whoever ventures to undertake the founding of a nation should feel himself capable of changing human nature, so to speak, of transforming each individual, who by himself is a perfect and separate whole, into a part of a greater whole, from which that individual receives all or part of his life and his being; of changing the constitution of man in order to fortify it; of substituting a partial and moral existence for the physical and independent existence that we have all received from Nature. In a word, he must be able to deprive man of his own powers in order to give him those that are foreign to him.....
Poor human race! What would the disciples of Rousseau do to your dignity?
Climate, that is, the air and the soil, constitutes the primary guiding principle of the lawgiver. His resources dictate his duties. He must first consider his location. A people situated on the seacoast will have laws relating to navigation..... If the colony is brought inland, a legislator must take into account both the type and the degree of fertility of the soil.....
It is above all in the distribution of property that the wisdom of his legislation will be manifested. In general, and in all the countries of the world, when a colony is founded, land must be given to all the men, that is, a sufficient amount to each for the support of a family.....
On an uninhabited island that you plan to people with children, you would have only to let the seed of truth blossom in the development of their reason..... But when you settle adults in a new country, your skill consists in allowing them to keep only those of their old harmful opinions and customs that cannot be cured or corrected. If you wish to prevent them from being transmitted to posterity, you must protect the second generation by educating the children in common, public schools. A prince, a legislator, ought never to establish a colony without sending along wise men for the instruction of the youth..... In a new colony, all facilities are available to the precautions of the lawgiver who proposes to refine the manners and the morals of the people. If he has genius and virtue, the lands and the men that he will have at his disposal will inspire his soul with a plan of society that a writer could sketch only in a vague way and on the basis of unstable hypotheses, which vary and are complicated by an infinite number of circumstances too difficult to foresee and combine.....
Does it not seem that we are listening to a professor of agriculture lecturing to his students? Climate constitutes the guiding principle of the farmer. His resources dictate his duties. He must first consider his location. If it is on clayey soil, he must act in such and such a manner. If it is sandy, he must handle it in another way. All facilities are available to the farmer who wishes to clear and improve his land. If he has ability, the fertilizers that he finds at hand will inspire him with a plan of operation that a professor can sketch only in a vague way and on the basis of unstable hypotheses, which vary and are complicated by an infinite number of circumstances too difficult to foresee and combine.
But, sublime writers, kindly deign to remember sometimes that this clay, this sand, this dungheap, of which you dispose so arbitrarily, is composed of men, your equals, intelligent and free beings like you, who have received from God, like you, the power to see, to plan, to think, and to judge for themselves!
He imagines a country whose laws have, in the course of time, fallen into desuetude, and whose security has been neglected, and he goes on thus:
In these circumstances, people must be convinced that the springs of government have been relaxed..... Give them a new tension [it is the reader whom Mably is addressing], and the malady will be cured..... Think less of punishing faults than of encouraging the virtues of which you have need. By this method, you will restore the vigor of youth to your republic. It is because they have not known this that free peoples have lost their liberty! But if the progress of the malady is such that ordinary magistrates cannot remedy it efficaciously, have recourse to an extraordinary magistracy, whose term will be short and whose power will be considerable. The imagination of the citizens needs at such a time to be stirred.....
And there are twenty volumes all in this vein.
There was a time when, under the influence of such teachings, which constitute the basis of classical education, everyone wanted to place himself outside and above humanity, in order to manage it, organize it, and educate it in his own way.
Build, my lord, on the model of Lycurgus or Solon. Before reading further, amuse yourself by giving laws to some savage tribe in America or Africa. Settle these nomads in fixed abodes; teach them to tend flocks; .... seek to develop the social qualities that Nature has implanted in them..... Order them to begin to practice the duties of humanity..... Resort to punishments to poison the pleasures of sensual indulgence; and you will see these savages, with every article of your legislation, lose a vice and gain a virtue.
All nations have had laws. But few among them have been happy. What is the reason for this? It is that the lawgivers have nearly always been unaware of the fact that the object of society is to unite families by a common interest.
The impartiality of the laws consists in two things: in establishing equality in the property and in the dignity of the citizens..... In so far as your laws establish a greater equality, they will become dearer to every citizen..... How can avarice, ambition, sensuality, laziness, idleness, envy, hatred, or jealousy agitate men equal in wealth and in dignity and to whom the laws allow no hope of disturbing this equality? [An idyllic passage follows.]
What you have been told concerning the Spartan republic should throw much light on this question. No other state has ever had laws more in accordance with the order of Nature or of equality.5
It is not surprising that the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries considered the human race as inert matter, waiting to receive everything—form, figure, impulse, movement, and life—from a great prince, a great lawgiver, a great genius. These centuries were nourished on the study of antiquity, and antiquity offers us, in fact, everywhere, in Egypt, in Persia, in Greece, in Rome, the spectacle of a few men manipulating as they liked a mass of mankind enslaved by force or imposture. What does this prove? That, because man and society are capable of improvement, there must necessarily be more error, ignorance, despotism, slavery, and superstition in the earliest periods of history. The error of the writers that I have cited is not that they established the historical facts about antiquity, but that they held it up as a model for the admiration and imitation of future generations. Their error consists in admitting, with an inconceivable absence of critical judgment, and with a blind faith in a childish conventionality, what is inadmissable, namely, the grandeur, dignity, morality, and well-being of these artificial societies of the ancient world. They failed to realize that it takes time for enlightenment to be produced and propagated, and that, in so far as enlightenment is achieved, right no longer needs to be maintained by might, and society regains possession of itself.
And in fact, what is the political trend that we are witnessing today in world affairs? It is nothing more nor less than the instinctive striving of all nations toward liberty.6 And what is this liberty, whose name alone has the power to stir all hearts and set the world to shaking, but the combination of all liberties—freedom of conscience, of education, of association, of the press, of movement, of labor, of exchange; in other words, the freedom of everyone to use all his faculties in a peaceful way; in still other words, the destruction of all forms of despotism, even of legal despotism, and the restriction of the law to its sole rational function, that is, of regulating the right of the individual to legitimate self-defense and of repressing injustice?
This tendency of the human race, it must be admitted, is greatly thwarted, particularly in our country, by the lamentable disposition—the effect of classical education—common to all political theorists of placing themselves outside humanity in order to arrange it, organize it, and educate it in whatever way they please.
For while society is struggling to achieve liberty, the great men who have put themselves at its head, imbued with the principles of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, think only of restraining it under the philanthropic despotism of their artificial social orders and of making it bear docilely—to use Rousseau's expression—the yoke of the public welfare as they have imagined it.
This was clearly evident in 1789. Hardly was the old legal regime destroyed than the leaders of the Revolution busied themselves with imposing upon the new society other artificial arrangements, always starting from the same premise: the omnipotence of the law.
The lawgiver holds the future in his hands. It is for him to will the good of mankind. It is for him to make men what he wants them to be.
The function of government is to direct the physical and moral forces of the nation toward the ends for which it was founded.
A people to whom liberty is to be restored must be re-created. Since old prejudices must be destroyed, old customs changed, depraved inclinations corrected, superfluous wants restrained, inveterate vices eradicated; what is needed is strong action, a violent impulse..... Citizens, the inflexible austerity of Lycurgus became at Sparta the unshakable foundation of the republic; the weak and overtrusting character of Solon plunged Athens back into slavery. This parallel comprises the whole science of government.
Considering the extent to which the human race has been degraded, I am convinced of the necessity of undertaking a complete regeneration and, if I may so express myself, of creating a new people.
You see, men are nothing but raw materials. It is not for them to will the good; they are incapable of it; it is for the lawgiver, according to Saint-Just. Men are only what he (the lawgiver) wills them to be.
According to Robespierre, who copies Rousseau literally, the lawgiver begins by determining the national goal. Then, the government has only to direct all physical and moral forces towards this end. The nation itself always remains passive in all this, and Billaud-Varenne teaches us that it should have only those prejudices, customs, inclinations, and wants that the lawgiver authorizes it to have. He goes so far as to say that the inflexible austerity of one man is the foundation of the republic.
As we have seen, where evil is so great that ordinary magistrates cannot remedy it, Mably advises dictatorship to promote virtue. “Have recourse,” says he, “to an extraordinary magistracy, whose term will be short and whose power will be considerable. The imagination of the citizens needs to be stirred.”
This doctrine has not been forgotten. Listen to Robespierre:
The principle of republican government is virtue, and the means needed to establish it is terror. We wish to substitute in our country morality for selfishness, honesty for honor, principles for customs, duties for proprieties, the rule of reason for the tyranny of fashion, contempt of vice for contempt of misfortune, pride for insolence, greatness of soul for vanity, love of glory for love of money, good people for good society, merit for intrigue, genius for wit, truth for ostentation, the charm of happiness for the tedium of sensuality, the greatness of man for the pettiness of the great, a magnanimous, powerful, happy people for an amiable, frivolous, wretched people; that is, all the virtues and all the miracles of a republic for all the vices and all the follies of a monarchy.
At what a height above the rest of mankind Robespierre here places himself! And note the arrogance with which he speaks. He does not confine himself to expressing the wish for a great renovation of the human heart; he does not even expect such a result from a regular government. No, he wants to bring it to pass himself, and by means of terror. The purpose of the speech from which this childish mass of labored antitheses is taken was to set forth the moral principles that should guide a revolutionary government. Note that when Robespierre demands a dictatorship, it is not only to repel a foreign invader or to crush internal factions; it is, rather, to make his own moral principles prevail by means of terror and prior to action under the Constitution. His demand comes to nothing less than the authority to extirpate from the country, by means of terror, selfishness, honor, customs, propriety, fashion, vanity, the love of money, good society, intrigue, wit, sensuality, and poverty. It is only after he, Robespierre, will have accomplished these miracles—as he rightly calls them—that he will permit the laws to regain their sway. Oh, you wretches! You who believe yourselves so great! You who regard mankind as so inconsiderable! You want to reform everything! Reform yourselves first! This will be enough of a task for you.
Still, in general, these distinguished reformers, lawgivers, and political theorists do not ask to exercise an immediate despotism over mankind. No, they are much too moderate and philanthropic for that. They demand only the despotism, absolutism, and omnipotence of the law. They aspire only to make the law.
In order to show how universal this strange disposition has been among French intellectuals, not only should I have to copy all the works of Mably, of Raynal, of Rousseau, of Fénelon, and long extracts from Bossuet and Montesquieu, but it would also be necessary for me to reproduce the complete verbatim report of the proceedings of the Convention. I have no intention of doing any such thing. The reader may refer to this literature for himself.
It is not at all surprising that this idea should have well suited Napoleon. He embraced it with ardor and put it energetically into practice. Considering himself as a chemist, he saw in Europe only material for experiments. But soon that material proved itself a powerful reagent. More than half disabused, Bonaparte at St. Helena appeared to recognize that there was some initiative in people, and he showed himself less hostile to liberty. However, this did not prevent him from giving this lesson to his son in his will: “To govern is to promote morality, education, and welfare.”
Is it necessary, after all this, to show, by meticulous citations the sources from which Morelly,* Babeuf,† Owen,‡ Saint-Simon, and Fourier derive their doctrines? I shall confine myself to submitting to the reader a few extracts from the book of Louis Blanc§ on the organization of labor.
“In our plan, the motive force of society is the government.”
In what does this motive force which the government gives to society consist? In imposing upon it the plan of M. Louis Blanc.
On the other hand, society is nothing more nor less than the human race.
Hence, by definition, the human race is to receive its motive force from M. Louis Blanc.
It is free to do as it likes, it will be said. Undoubtedly, the human race is free to follow anybody's advice. But this is not the way in which M. Louis Blanc understands the matter. He intends his plan to be converted into law and consequently imposed forcibly by an exercise of power.
In our plan, the state merely gives to labor a set of laws [please excuse it], in virtue of which industrial activity can and must be carried on in complete liberty. It [the state] merely places society on a declivity [that is all] so that, once there, it descends solely by force of circumstances and by the natural operation of the established mechanism.
But what is this declivity? The one prescribed by M. Louis Blanc. Does it not lead into an abyss? No, it leads to happiness. How, then, is it that society does not spontaneously place itself there? Because it does not know what it wants and because it needs a motive force. Who will give it this motive force? The government. And who will give the motive force to the government? The inventor of the mechanism, M. Louis Blanc.
We never emerge from this circle—mankind passive, and a great man who moves it through the intervention of the law.
Once on this declivity, will society at least enjoy some measure of liberty? Undoubtedly. And what is liberty?
Let us say it once for all: liberty consists not only in the right granted, but also in the power given to man to exercise and develop his faculties, under the rule of justice and the protection of the law.
And this is no empty distinction: its meaning is profound; its consequences are immense. For once it is granted that man, to be truly free, must have the power to exercise and develop his faculties, it follows that society owes to each of its members a suitable education, without which the human mind cannot develop, and the tools of production, without which human industry cannot be carried on. Now, by whose intervention will society give to each of its members a suitable education and the necessary tools of production, if not by that of the state?
Thus, freedom is power. In what does this power consist? In possessing education and the tools of production. Who will provide the education and the tools of production? Society, which owes them. By whose intervention will society give the tools of production to those who do not have them? By the intervention of the state. From whom will the state take them?
It is for the reader to make the reply and to see where all this tends.
One of the strangest phenomena of our time, and one which will probably astonish our descendants, is that the doctrine that is based on this triple hypothesis—the fundamental inertia of mankind, the omnipotence of the law, and the infallibility of the lawgiver—should be the sacred symbol of the party that proclaims itself alone democratic.
It is true that it also calls itself social.
In so far as it is democratic, it has an unlimited faith in mankind.
In so far as it is social, it treats mankind as no better than mud.
If political rights are in question, if it is a case of choosing a legislator from their midst, oh, then, according to him, the people are full of a native wisdom; they are endowed with an admirable intuition; their will is always right; the general will cannot be wrong. The suffrage cannot be too universal. No one owes society any guarantee of his electoral competence. His will and capacity to choose wisely are always taken for granted. Can the people be mistaken? Are we not living in the age of enlightenment? Are the people to be kept eternally under guardianship? Have they not given enough proofs of their intelligence and wisdom? Have they not attained their maturity? Are they not able to judge for themselves? Do they not know their own best interests? Is there a man or a class that will dare to claim the right to act as a substitute for the people and to decide and to act for them? No, no, the people want to be free, and they shall be. They want to direct their own affairs, and they shall direct them.
But once the legislator is elected and freed from his campaign promises, oh, then his language changes! The nation returns to passivity, to inertia, to nothingness, and the legislator takes on the character of omnipotence. His the invention, his the direction, his the impulsion, his the organization. Mankind has nothing to do but to let things be done to it; the hour of despotism has arrived. And note that this is inevitable; for the people, a short time ago so enlightened, so moral, so perfect, no longer have any natural inclinations, or what they do have lead only to degradation. And you want to let them keep a little of their freedom! Do you not know that, according to M. Considérant,*freedom leads inevitably to monopoly? Do you not know that freedom means competition, and that competition, according to M. Louis Blanc, is a system of extermination for the common people, and a cause of ruin for the businessman? For evidence that the freer nations are, the closer they are to destruction and ruination, should we not look at Switzerland, Holland, England, and the United States? Do you not know that, again according to M. Louis Blanc, competition leads to monopoly, and that, for the same reason, low costs lead to high prices? That competition tends to exhaust the sources of consumption and pushes production into a destructive activity? That competition forces production to increase and consumption to decrease? Whence it follows that free peoples produce in order not to consume—that liberty means both oppression and madness, and that M. Louis Blanc simply must step in and set matters straight?
What further freedom should be left to them? Should it be freedom of conscience? But they would all profit from the opportunity by becoming atheists. Freedom of education? But fathers would be eager to pay professors to teach their children immorality and error; besides, if we are to believe M. Thiers, if there were freedom of education, it would cease to be national, and we should teach our children the ideas of the Turks or the Hindus; instead, thanks to the legal despotism of the university, they have the good fortune to be taught the noble ideas of the Romans. Freedom of labor? But that is competition, which has the result of leaving all the products unconsumed, of exterminating the common people, and of ruining the businessman. Free trade? But it is well known—the protectionists have demonstrated it ad nauseam—that a man is ruined when he trades freely, and that, to enrich himself, he must trade without freedom. Freedom of association? But, according to the socialist doctrine, freedom and association are mutually exclusive, since one aims precisely at depriving men of their freedom only in order to force them to associate.
You see clearly, then, that the social democrats cannot, in good conscience, allow mankind any liberty, since man by his very nature—unless these gentlemen set things aright—is prone to degeneration and demoralization of every kind.
The question remains, in that case, why they clamor so loudly for universal suffrage.
The demands of the socialists raise another question, which I have often addressed to them, and to which, as far as I know, they have never replied. Since the natural inclinations of mankind are so evil that its liberty must be taken away, how is it that the inclinations of the socialists are good? Are not the legislators and their agents part of the human race? Do they believe themselves molded from another clay than the rest of mankind? They say that society, left to itself, heads inevitably for destruction because its instincts are perverse. They demand the power to stop mankind from sliding down this fatal declivity and to impose a better direction on it. If, then, they have received from heaven intelligence and virtues that place them beyond and above mankind, let them show their credentials. They want to be shepherds, and they want us to be their sheep. This arrangement presupposes in them a natural superiority, a claim that we have every right to require them to establish before we go any further.
Note that I am not contesting their right to invent social orders, to disseminate their proposals, to advise their adoption, and to experiment with them on themselves, at their own expense and risk; but I do indeed contest their right to impose them on us by law, that is, by the use of the police force and public funds.
I demand that the Cabetists,* the Fourierists, the Proudhonians,* the classicists, and the protectionists renounce, not their particular ideas, but the idea, which is common to them all, of subjecting us forcibly to their groups and phalanxes, to their social workshops, to their free-credit banks, to their Greco-Roman morality, to their commercial restrictions. What I demand of them is to grant us the right to judge their plans and not to join in them, directly or indirectly, if we find that they hurt our interests or are repugnant to our consciences.
For their demand to resort to taxation and the coercive power of the government, besides being oppressive and spoliative, also implies the fatal presupposition that the planner of the social order is infallible and that all the rest of mankind are incompetent.
And if mankind is incompetent to judge for itself, how, then, can they presume to speak to us of universal suffrage?
This contradiction in ideas is, unfortunately, reflected in historical fact; and while the French people have been in advance of all other nations in the conquest of their rights, or rather of their political guarantees, they have nonetheless remained the most governed, regimented, administered, imposed upon, shackled, and exploited of all.
France is also, and necessarily, the one nation in which revolutions are most likely to occur.
Once we start from this idea, accepted by all our political theorists, and so energetically expressed by M. Louis Blanc in these words: “The motive force of society is the government"; once men consider themselves as sentient, but passive, incapable of improving themselves morally or materially by their own intelligence and energy, and reduced to expecting everything from the law; in a word, when they admit that their relation to the state is that of a flock of sheep to the shepherd, it is clear that the responsibility of the government is immense. Good and evil, virtue and vice, equality and inequality, wealth and poverty, all proceed from it. It is entrusted with everything, it undertakes everything, it does everything; hence, it is responsible for everything. If we are happy, it has every right to claim our gratitude; but if we are wretched, it alone is to blame. Does it not dispose in principle of our persons and our property? Is not the law omnipotent? In creating a monopoly of education, it has undertaken to fulfill the hopes of fathers of families who have been deprived of their liberty; and if these hopes are deceived, whose fault is it? In regulating industry, it has undertaken to make it prosper; otherwise it would have been absurd to deprive it of its liberty, and if industry suffers, whose fault is it? In upsetting the balance of trade by the operation of tariffs, the state has undertaken to make trade flourish; and if, far from flourishing, it falls off, whose fault is it? In granting the shipping industry protection in exchange for its liberty, it has undertaken to render this industry profitable; and if it becomes unprofitable, whose fault is it?
Thus, there is not a single ill afflicting the nation for which the government has not voluntarily made itself responsible. Is it astonishing, then, that each little twinge should be a cause of revolution?
And what remedy is proposed? To enlarge the domain of the law indefinitely, that is, the responsibility of the government.
But if the government undertakes to raise and to regulate wages, and cannot do so; if it undertakes to assist all the unfortunate, and cannot do so; if it undertakes to assure pensions to all workers, and cannot do so; if it undertakes to provide workers with the tools of production, and cannot do so; if it undertakes to make interest-free credit available to all those clamoring for loans, and cannot do so; if, in words that we regret to note were written by M. de Lamartine, “the state assumes the task of enlightening, developing, increasing, strengthening, spiritualizing, and sanctifying the soul of the people,” and if it fails; is it not evident that after each disappointment (alas, only too probable!), there will be a no less inevitable revolution?
Reverting to my subject, I declare: Just at the dividing line between economic science and political science,7 an important question presents itself. It is this:
What is law? What should it be? What is the extent of its jurisdiction? What are its limits? Where, in consequence, do the prerogatives of the legislator stop?
I do not hesitate to reply: The law is collective force organized to oppose injustice. To put it briefly: Law is justice.
It is not true that the legislator has an absolute power over our persons and our property, since they pre-exist him, and his task is to surround them with guarantees.
It is not true that the function of the law is to regulate our consciences, our ideas, our wills, our education, our opinions, our work, our trade, our talents, our recreation.
Its function is to prevent the rights of one person from interfering with the rights of another in any of these matters.
Because it has force as its necessary sanction, the law can have as its legitimate domain only the legitimate domain of force, namely, justice.
And as each individual has the right to use force only for legitimate self-defense, collective force, which is only the union of individual forces, cannot rationally be applied for any other end.
The law, then, is solely the organization of the pre-existing individual right to legitimate self-defense.
Law is justice.
It is false to say that it may oppress man's person or plunder his property even for a philanthropic end, for its function is to protect both person and property.
And let it not be said that it can at least be philanthropic, provided it abstains from all oppression and all plunder; for that is self-contradictory. The law cannot fail to act on our persons or our property; if it does not guarantee them, it violates personal liberty and the right to property by the mere fact that it acts, by the mere fact that it exists.
Law is justice.
This is something clear, simple, perfectly defined and delimited, accessible to every intelligence, visible to every eye, for justice is a fixed, immutable, unalterable quantity that admits of neither more nor less.
If you go beyond this, and make the law religious, fraternal, egalitarian, philanthropic, industrial, literary, or artistic, you will be immediately lost in vagueness and uncertainty, on unknown territory, in a utopia imposed by force or, worse still, amidst the multitude of utopias struggling to gain possession of the law and to impose themselves upon you; for fraternity and philanthropy have no fixed limits, like justice. Where will you draw the line? Where will the law draw the line? Someone like M. de Saint-Cricq* would extend his philanthropy only to certain industrial classes and would demand that the law regulate the consumers so as to favor the producers. Another, like M. Considérant, champions the cause of the workers and demands for them from the law an assured minimum of clothing, housing, food, and all other necessities of life. A third, M. Louis Blanc, will say, quite rightly, that this is nothing but a rough sketch of what fraternity should be, and that the law should provide everyone with the tools of production and the facilities for education. A fourth will note that such an arrangement still leaves room for inequality, and that the law should introduce luxury, literature, and the arts into the most remote hamlets. You will thus be led directly to communism, or rather legislation will be, what it is already: the battlefield of all kinds of wild dreams and unbridled greed.
The law is justice.
If we accept this definition, we can conceive of a government that is simple and stable. And I defy anyone to tell me whence could come the idea of a revolution, of an insurrection, of even a riot against a public police force limited to repressing injustice. Under such a regime there would be greater prosperity, the prosperity would be more equally distributed, and as for the inescapable sufferings of humanity, no one would dream of blaming them on the government, which would have as little to do with them as it has with variations in the temperature. Have the people ever been seen to revolt against the Court of Appeals, or break into the chambers of a justice of the peace to demand minimum wages, interest-free credit, tools of production, protective tariffs, or government workshops? They know well that these projects are outside the jurisdiction of the magistrate, and they would likewise learn that they are beyond the jurisdiction of the law.
But base the law on the principle of fraternity, proclaim that everything good and everything bad derive from it, that it is responsible for all individual ills, all social inequality, and you will open the door to an endless series of complaints, resentments, disturbances, and revolutions.
Law is justice.
And it would indeed be strange that it should justly be anything else! Is not justice right? Are not rights equal? By what right, then, may the law intervene to make me submit to the social order planned by Messrs. Mimerel, de Melun,* Thiers,† or Louis Blanc, rather than make these gentlemen submit to my plans? Is it to be supposed that I have not received from Nature enough imagination to invent a utopia too? Is it the role of the law to make a choice between so many idle fancies and to put the public police force at the service of one of them?
Law is justice.
And let it not be said, as is done incessantly, that thus conceived, the law, being atheistic, individualistic, and pitiless, would make mankind in its own image. This is an absurd inference, well worthy of that infatuation with government which sees mankind as but the creature of the law.
Because we shall be free, does it follow that we shall cease to act? Because we shall not receive our motive power from the law, does it follow that we shall be devoid of motive power? Because the law will confine itself to guaranteeing us the free exercise of our faculties, does it follow that our faculties will be paralyzed? Because the law will not impose upon us forms of religion, modes of association, methods of education, rules for labor, regulations of trade, or plans for charity, does it follow that we shall forthwith plunge into atheism, isolation, ignorance, poverty, and selfishness? Does it follow that we shall no longer be able to recognize the power and goodness of God, to associate with one another, to aid one another, to love and succour our unfortunate brethren, to study the secrets of Nature, and to aspire to perfect ourselves?
Law is justice.
And it is under the law of justice, under the rule of right, under the influence of liberty, security, stability, and responsibility, that every man will attain to the full worth and dignity of his being, and that mankind will achieve, in a calm and orderly way—slowly, no doubt, but surely—the progress to which it is destined.
It seems to me that reason is on my side; for whatever question I submit to theoretical consideration, whether it be religious, philosophical, political, or economic; whether it has to do with well-being, morality, equality, right, justice, progress, responsibility, solidarity, property, labor, trade, capital, wages, taxes, population, credit, or government; at whatever point on the scientific horizon I may begin my investigations, they invariably reach the same conclusion: The solution of the social problem lies in liberty.
And is not experience also on my side? Look at the condition of the world today. Which nations are the happiest, most moral, and most peaceful? Those among which the law intervenes the least in private activity; where the government makes itself felt the least; where individuality has the most scope, and public opinion the greatest influence; where the administrative apparatus is the least ramified and the least complicated, the taxes the least heavy and the least unequal, popular discontent the least aroused and the least justifiable; where the responsibility of individuals and of classes is the most active, and where, consequently, if the prevailing morality is not perfect, it tends inevitably to be improved; where transactions, agreements, and associations are the least restricted; where labor, capital, and population are least subject to artificial displacement; where mankind follows most nearly its own inclinations; where the thought of God is most prevalent; those, in a word, which approach most nearly this solution: Within the limits of equity, everything is to be accomplished through the free and perfectible initiative of man; nothing is to be achieved by law or by force save universal justice.
This must be said: There are too many “great" men in the world; there are too many legislators, planners, founders of societies, leaders of nations, fathers of their country, etc., etc. Too many people place themselves above mankind in order to guide its footsteps; too many people make a career of being concerned with mankind.
I shall be told: You yourself are certainly very much concerned with it.
That is true. But it must be admitted that I am concerned in an entirely different sense and with an altogether different object in view, and if I take my place among the reformers, it is only to make them take their hands off mankind.
I concern myself with mankind not as Vaucanson* did with his automaton, but as a physiologist does with the human organism: in order to study it and marvel at it.
I am concerned with it in the spirit which animated a celebrated traveler.
He arrived in the midst of a savage tribe. A child had just been born, and a crowd of diviners, sorcerers, and quacks armed with rings, hooks, and straps surrounded it. One said: “This child will never smell the perfume of a pipe if I do not stretch his nostrils.” Another said: “He will be deprived of the sense of hearing if I do not make his ears come down to his shoulders.” A third: “He will not see the light of the sun if I do not give his eyes an oblique slant.” A fourth: “He will never stand erect if I do not bend his legs.” A fifth: “He will not be able to think if I do not flatten his skull.”
“Stop!” said the traveler. “What God does He does well. Don't pretend to know more than He does; and since He has given organs to this frail creature, let the organs develop and be strengthened by exercise, trial and error, experience, and freedom.”
God has endowed mankind also with all that it needs to accomplish its destiny. There is a providential social physiology, as there is a providential individual physiology. Social organs too are so constituted as to develop harmoniously in the open air of liberty. Away, then, with the quacks and the planners! Away with their rings, their chains, their hooks, their pincers! Away with their artificial methods! Away with their social workshop, their phalanstery, their statism, their centralization, their tariffs, their universities, their state religion, their interest-free credit or bank monopolies, their regulations, their restrictions, their moralization, and their equalization by taxation! And after vainly inflicting so many systems on the body politic, let us end where we should have begun. Let us cast out all artificial systems and give freedom a chance—freedom, which is an act of faith in God and in His handiwork.
Property and Law1
The confidence of my fellow citizens has invested me with the title of legislator.
I should certainly have declined that title if I had understood it as Rousseau did.
“Whoever ventures to undertake the founding of a nation,” he says,
should feel himself capable of changing human nature, so to speak; of transforming each individual, who by himself is a perfect and separate whole, into a part of a greater whole, from which that individual somehow receives his life and his being; of changing the physical constitution of man in order to strengthen it, etc., etc..... If it be true that a great prince is a rarity, what, then, is to be said of a great lawgiver? The first has only to follow the model that the other constructs. The latter is the artificer who invents the machine; the former is only the operator who turns it on and runs it.
Rousseau, being convinced that society is a human contrivance, found it necessary to place law and the lawgiver on an extremely lofty elevation. He saw between the lawgiver and the rest of mankind as great a distance, or rather as great a gulf, as that which separates the inventor of the machine from the inert matter of which it is composed.
In his opinion, the law should transform persons and should create or not create property. In my opinion, society, persons, and property exist prior to the law, and—to restrict myself specifically to the last of these—I would say: Property does not exist because there are laws, but laws exist because there is property.
The opposition between these two systems is fundamental. Since the consequences that follow from them keep eluding us, I hope I may be permitted to make the question very precise. First, let me state that I use the word property in the general sense, and not in the limited sense of landed property. I regret, and probably all economists regret with me, that this word involuntarily evokes in us the idea of the possession of land. By property I understand the right that the worker has to the value that he has created by his labor.
Now, this much granted, I ask whether this right is created by law, or whether it is not, on the contrary, prior and superior to the law; whether law is needed to give rise to the right to property, or whether, on the contrary, property is a pre-existing fact and right that gave rise to law. In the first case, it is the function of the legislator to organize, modify, and even eliminate property if he deems it good to do so; in the second, his jurisdiction is limited to guaranteeing and safeguarding property rights.
In the preamble to a draft for a constitution, published by one of the greatest thinkers of modern times, M. de Lamennais,* I find the following words:
The French people declare that they recognize rights and duties prior and superior to all positive laws and independent of them.
These rights and duties, emanating directly from God, are summed up in the triple dogma which these sacred words express: Equality, Liberty, Fraternity.
I ask whether the right to property is not one of those rights which, far from springing from positive law, are prior to the law and are the reason for its existence.
This is not, as might be thought, a theoretical and idle question. It is of tremendous, of fundamental importance. Its solution concerns society most urgently, and the reader will be convinced of this, I hope, after I have compared the two systems in question in regard to their origin and their consequences.
Economists believe that property is a providential fact, like the human person. The law does not bring the one into existence any more than it does the other. Property is a necessary consequence of the nature of man.
In the full sense of the word, man is born a proprietor, because he is born with wants whose satisfaction is necessary to life, and with organs and faculties whose exercise is indispensable to the satisfaction of these wants. Faculties are only an extension of the person; and property is nothing but an extension of the faculties. To separate a man from his faculties is to cause him to die; to separate a man from the product of his faculties is likewise to cause him to die.
There are some political theorists who are very much concerned with knowing how God ought to have made man. We, for our part, study man as God has made him. We observe that he cannot live without providing for his wants, that he cannot provide for his wants without labor, and that he will not perform any labor if he is not sure of applying the fruit of his labor to the satisfaction of his wants.
That is why we believe that property has been divinely instituted, and that the object of human law is its protection or security.
So true is it that property is prior to law that it is recognized even among savages who do not have laws, or at least not written laws. When a savage has devoted his labor to constructing a hut, no one will dispute his possession or ownership of it. To be sure, another, stronger savage may chase him out of it, but not without angering and alarming the whole tribe. It is this very abuse of force which gives rise to association, to common agreement, to law, and which puts the public police force at the service of property. Hence, law is born of property, instead of property being born of law.
One may say that the principle of property is recognized even among animals. The swallow peacefully cares for its young in the nest that it has built by its own efforts.
Even plants live and develop by assimilation, by appropriation. They appropriate the substances, the gases, the salts that are within their reach. Any interruption in this process is all that is needed to make them wither and die.
Man, too, lives and develops by appropriation. Appropriation is a natural phenomenon, providential and essential to life; and property is only appropriation that labor has made a right. When labor has rendered substances assimilable and appropriable that were not so before, I do not really see how it can be alleged that, by right, the act of appropriation should be performed for the benefit of another individual than the one who has done the work.
It is because of these primordial facts, which are necessary consequences of the very nature of man, that the law intervenes. As the desire for life and self-development can induce the strong man to despoil the weak, and thus to violate his right to the fruits of his labor, it has been agreed that the combined force of all members of society should be devoted to preventing and repressing violence. The function of the law, then, is to safeguard the right to property. It is not property that is a matter of agreement, but law.
Let us now seek for the origin of the opposing system.
All our past constitutions proclaim that property is sacred, a fact that seems to indicate that the goal of social organization is the free development of private associations or individuals through their labor. This implies that the right to property is prior to the law, since the sole object of the law would be to protect property.
But I wonder whether such a declaration has not been intro-duced into our constitutions instinctively, so to speak, as a mere pious phrase, as a dead letter, and whether, above all, it underlies all our social convictions.
Now, if it is true, as has been said, that literature is the expression of society, doubts may well be raised in this regard; for never, certainly, have political theorists, after having respectfully saluted the principle of property, invoked so much the intervention of the law, not to safeguard property rights, but to modify, impair, transform, balance, equalize, and organize property, credit, and labor.
Now, this supposes that an absolute power over persons and property is imputed to the law, and hence to the legislator.
This may distress us, but it should not surprise us.
Whence do we derive our ideas on these matters, and even our very notion of rights? From Latin literature and Roman law.
I have not studied law, but it is sufficient for me to know that the source of our theories is in Roman law, to affirm that they are false. The Romans could not fail to consider property anything but a purely conventional fact—a product, an artificial creation, of written law. Evidently they could not go back, as political economy does, to the very nature of man and perceive the relations and necessary connections that exist among wants, faculties, labor, and property. It would have been absurd and suicidal for them to have done so. How could they, when they lived by looting, when all their property was the fruit of plunder, when they had based their whole way of life on the labor of slaves; how could they, without shattering the foundations of their society, introduce into their legislation the idea that the true title to property is the labor that produces it? No, they could neither say it nor think it. They had to have recourse to a purely empirical definition of property—jus utendi et abutendi* —a definition that refers only to effects and not to causes or origins, for they were indeed forced to conceal the latter from view.
It is sad to think that the science of law as we know it in the nineteenth century is still based on principles formulated in antiquity to justify slavery; but this is easily explained. The teaching of law is monopolized in France, and monopoly excludes progress.
It is true that jurists do not create all of public opinion; but it must be said that university and clerical education prepares French youth marvelously to accept the false ideas of jurists on these matters, since, the better to assure this, it plunges all of us, during the ten best years of our lives, in the atmosphere of war and slavery that enveloped and permeated Roman society.
Do not be surprised, then, to see reproduced in the eighteenth century the Roman idea that property is a matter of convention and of legal institution; that, far from law being a corollary of property, it is property that is a corollary of law. We know that, for Rousseau, not only property but the whole of society was the result of a contract, of an invention, a product of the legislator's mind.
The social order is a sacred right that serves as the basis of all the others. However, this right does not come from Nature. Therefore, it is founded on convention.
Thus, the right that serves as the basis of all the others is purely conventional. Hence, property, which is a subsequent right, is also conventional. It does not come from Nature.
Robespierre was imbued with the ideas of Rousseau. In what the disciple says about property, we recognize the theories and even the rhetorical forms of the master.
Citizens, I propose to you first a few necesasry articles to complete our theory of property. Let this word alarm no one. You sordid souls, who esteem only gold, do not be frightened; I do not wish to lay hands on your treasures, however impure their source..... For my part, I would rather be born in the hut of Fabricius than in the palace of Lucullus, etc., etc.
Here it should be noted that, when one analyzes the notion of property, it is irrational and dangerous to treat this term as synonymous with opulence, and, even worse, with ill-gotten opulence. The hut of Fabricius* is property just as much as the palace of Lucullus.† But let me call the reader's attention to the following words, which sum up the whole system:
In defining freedom, man's primary need, the most sacred of his natural rights, we have said, quite correctly, that it has as its limit the rights of others. Why have you not applied this principle to property, which is socially instituted, as if the eternal laws of Nature were less inviolable than the conventions of men?
After these introductory remarks, Robespierre formulates his principles in these terms:
Art. 1. Property is the right that each citizen has to enjoy and to dispose of the portion of goods that is guaranteed to him by law.
Art. 2. The right to property is limited, as are all others, by the obligation to respect the rights of others.
Thus, Robespierre sets up an opposition between liberty and property. These are two rights of different origin: one comes from Nature; the other is socially instituted. The first is natural; the second, conventional.
The fact that Robespierre imposes identical limits on these two rights should have led him, it would seem, to think that they come from the same source. Whether liberty or property is in question, to respect the right of others is not to destroy or impair the right, but rather to recognize and confirm it. It is precisely because property as well as liberty is a right prior to the law that both exist only on condition of respecting the like right of others, and it is the function of the law to see that this limit is respected, which means to recognize and support this very principle.
In any case, it is certain that Robespierre, following Rousseau's example, considered property as a social institution, as a convention. He did not connect it at all with its true justification, which is labor. It is the right, he said, to dispose of the portion of goods guaranteed by law.
I do not need to recall here that through Rousseau and Robespierre the Roman idea of property has been transmitted to all our self-styled socialist schools of thought. We know that the first volume of Louis Blanc, on the Revolution, is a dithyramb to the philosopher of Geneva and to the leader of the Convention.
Thus, this idea that the right to property is socially instituted, that it is an invention of the legislator, a creation of the law—in other words, that it is unknown to men in the state of nature—has been transmitted from the Romans down to us, through the teaching of law, classical studies, the political theorists of the eighteenth century, the revolutionaries of 1793, and the modern proponents of a planned social order.
Let us now proceed to consider the consequences of the two systems that I have just placed in opposition. Let us begin with the legal system.
The first result is to open an unlimited field to the imagination of the utopians.
This is obvious. Once it is accepted in principle that property derives its existence from the law, there are as many possible ways of organizing labor as there are possible laws in the heads of dreamers. Once it is accepted in principle that it is the responsibility of the legislator to arrange, combine, and form persons and property in any way he pleases, there are no limits to the imaginable ways in which persons and property can be arranged, combined, and formed. At this moment, there are certainly five hundred proposals in circulation in Paris for the organization of labor, without counting an equal number of proposals for the organization of credit. Undoubtedly, these plans are mutually contradictory, but all have in common this underlying thought: it is the law that creates the right to property; it is the legislator who disposes of the workers and the fruits of their labor as an absolute master.
Among these proposals, the ones that have attracted the most public attention are those of Fourier, Saint-Simon, Owen, Cabet, and Louis Blanc. But it would be absurd to believe that these five modes of organization are the only ones possible. There are an unlimited number of them. Each morning a new one may appear, more seductive than that of the day before, and I leave it to your imagination to envision what would become of mankind if, as soon as one of these plans were imposed on us, another more plausible were suddenly to make its appearance. Mankind would be reduced to the alternative either of changing its mode of life every morning, or of persevering forever along a road recognized as false, simply because it had already been entered upon.
A second result is to arouse in all these dreamers a thirst for power. Suppose I conceive of a system for the organization of labor. To set forth my system and wait for men to adopt it if it is good, would be to assume that the initiative lies with them. But in the system that I am examining, the initiative lies with the legislator. “The legislator,” as Rousseau says, “should feel strong enough to transform human nature.” Hence, what I should aspire to is to become a legislator, in order to impose on mankind a social order of my own invention.
Moreover, it is clear that the systems which are based on the idea that the right to property is socially instituted all end either in the most concentrated privilege or in complete communism, depending upon the evil or good intentions of the inventor. If his purposes are sinister, he will make use of the law to enrich a few at the expense of all. If he is philanthropically inclined, he will try to equalize the standard of living, and, to that end, he will devise some means of assuring everyone a legal claim to an equal share in whatever is produced. It remains to be seen whether, in that case, it is possible to produce anything at all.
In this regard, the Luxembourg* has recently presented us with a most extraordinary spectacle. Did we not hear, right in the middle of the nineteenth century, a few days after the February Revolution (a revolution made in the name of liberty) a man, more than a cabinet minister, actually a member of the provisional government, a public official vested with revolutionary and unlimited authority, coolly inquire whether in the allotment of wages it was good to consider the strength, the talent, the industriousness, the capability of the worker, that is, the wealth he produced; or whether, in disregard of these personal virtues or of their useful effect, it would not be better to give everyone henceforth a uniform remuneration? This is tantamount to asking: Will a yard of cloth brought to market by an idler sell at the same price as two yards offered by an industrious man? And, what passes all belief, this same individual proclaimed that he would prefer profits to be uniform, whatever the quality or the quantity of the product offered for sale, and he therefore decided in his wisdom that, although two are two by nature, they are to be no more than one by law.
This is where we get when we start from the assumption that the law is stronger than nature.
Those whom he addressed apparently understood that such arbitrariness is repugnant to the very nature of man, that one yard of cloth could never be made to give the right to the same remuneration as two yards. In such a case, the competition that was to be abolished would be replaced by another competition a thousand times worse: each worker would strive to be the one who worked the least, who exerted himself the least, since, by law, the wage would always be guaranteed and would be the same for all.
But Citizen* Blanc had foreseen this objection, and, to prevent this dolce far niente so natural in man, alas! when his work is not remunerated, he thought of the idea of erecting in each community a post where the names of the idlers would be inscribed. But he did not say whether there would be inquisitors to spy out the sin of laziness, tribunals to judge it, and police to carry out the sentence. It is to be noted that the utopians are never concerned with the vast governmental apparatus that alone can set their legal mechanism in motion.
When the delegates of the Luxembourg appeared a bit incredulous, up strode Citizen Vidal,† the secretary of Citizen Blanc, to add the finishing touches to the thought of the master. Following Rousseau's example, Citizen Vidal proposed nothing less than to change human nature and the laws of Providence.2
It has pleased Providence to give to every individual certain wants and their consequences, as well as certain faculties and their consequences, thus creating self-interest, otherwise known as the instinct for self-preservation and the desire for self-development, as the great motive force of mankind. M. Vidal is going to change all this. He has looked at the work of God, and he has seen that it was not good. Consequently, proceeding from the principle that the law and the legislator can do everything, he is going to suppress self-interest by decree. He substitutes for it the code of honor. It is no longer in order to live or to raise and support their families that men are to work, but to maintain their honor, to avoid the fatal post, as if this new motive were not again self-interest of another sort.
M. Vidal keeps incessantly citing what adherence to a code of honor has made armies do. But, alas! let him tell us the whole truth, and if his plan is to regiment the workers, let him say, then, whether martial law, with its thirty crimes punishable by death, is to become the code of labor.
An even more striking effect of the harmful principle that I am here seeking to combat is the uncertainty that it always holds suspended, like the sword of Damocles, over labor, capital, commerce, and industry; and this is so serious that I venture to ask the reader to give his full attention to it.
In a country like the United States, where the right to property is placed above the law, where the sole function of the public police force is to safeguard this natural right, each person can in full confidence dedicate his capital and his labor to production. He does not have to fear that his plans and calculations will be upset from one instant to another by the legislature.
But when, on the contrary, acting on the principle that not labor, but the law, is the basis of property, we permit the makers of utopias to impose their schemes on us in a general way and by decree, who does not see that all the foresight and prudence that Nature has implanted in the heart of man is turned against industrial progress?
Where, at such a time, is the bold speculator who would dare set up a factory or engage in an enterprise? Yesterday it was decreed that he will be permitted to work only for a fixed number of hours. Today it is decreed that the wages of a certain type of labor will be fixed. Who can foresee tomorrow's decree, that of the day after tomorrow, or those of the days following? Once the legislator is placed at this incommensurable distance from other men, and believes, in all conscience, that he can dispose of their time, their labor, and their transactions, all of which are their property, what man in the whole country has the least knowledge of the position in which the law will forcibly place him and his line of work tomorrow? And, under such conditions, who can or will undertake anything?
I certainly do not deny that among the innumerable systems that this false principle gives rise to, a great number, the greater number even, originate from benevolent and generous intentions. But what is vicious is the principle itself. The manifest end of each particular plan is to equalize prosperity. But the still more manifest result of the principle on which these plans are founded is to equalize poverty; nay more, the effect is to force the well-to-do families down into the ranks of the poor and to decimate the families of the poor by sickness and starvation.
I confess that I fear for the future of my country when I think of the seriousness of the financial difficulties that this dangerous principle will aggravate still further.
On February 24, we found that we had a budget that exceeds the income that France can reasonably attain; and, beyond that, according to the present Minister of Finance, nearly a billion francs worth of debts payable immediately on demand.
In this situation, already so alarming, the expenses have been continually increasing, and the receipts constantly decreasing.
Nor is this all. The public has been deluged, with an unlimited prodigality, by two sorts of promises. According to one, a vast number of charitable, but costly, institutions are to be established at public expense. According to the other, all taxes are going to be reduced. Thus, on the one hand, nurseries, asylums, free primary and secondary schools, workshops, and industrial retirement pensions are going to be multiplied. Slaveowners are going to be paid indemnities, and the slaves themselves are to be paid damages; the state is going to found credit institutions, lend to workers the tools of production, double the size of the army, reorganize the navy, etc., etc., and, on the other hand, it will abolish the tax on salt, tolls, and all the most unpopular excises.
Certainly, whatever idea one may have of France's resources, it will at least be admitted that these resources must be developed in order to be adequate for this double enterprise, so gigantic and apparently so contradictory.
But here, in the midst of this extraordinary movement, which may be considered as above the power of man to accomplish, at the same time as all the energies of the country are being directed toward productive labor, a cry arises: The right to property is a creation of the law. Consequently, the legislator can promulgate at any time, in accordance with whatever theories he has come to accept, decrees that may upset all the calculations of industry. The worker is not the owner of a thing or of a value because he has created it by his labor, but because today's law guarantees it. Tomorrow's law can withdraw this guarantee, and then the ownership is no longer legitimate.
What must be the consequence of all this? Capital and labor will be frightened; they will no longer be able to count on the future. Capital, under the impact of such a doctrine, will hide, flee, be destroyed. And what will become, then, of the workers, those workers for whom you profess an affection so deep and sincere, but so unenlightened? Will they be better fed when agricultural production is stopped? Will they be better dressed when no one dares to build a factory? Will they have more employment when capital will have disappeared?
And from what source will you derive the taxes? And how will you replenish the treasury? How will you pay the army? How will you meet your debts? With what money will you furnish the tools of production? With what resources will you support these charitable institutions, so easy to establish by decree?
I hasten to turn aside from these dreary considerations. It remains for me to examine the consequences of the principle opposed to that which prevails today, the economist's principle, the principle that derives the right to property from labor, and not from the law, the principle which says: Property is prior to law; the sole function of the law is to safeguard the right to property wherever it exists, wherever it is formed, in whatever manner the worker produces it, whether individually or in association, provided that he respects the rights of others.
First, whereas the jurists' principle involves virtual slavery, the economists' principle implies liberty. Property, the right to enjoy the fruits of one's labor, the right to work, to develop, to exercise one's faculties, according to one's own understanding, without the state intervening otherwise than by its protective action—this is what is meant by liberty. And I still cannot understand why the numerous partisans of the systems opposed to liberty allow the word liberty to remain on the flag of the Republic. To be sure, a few of them have effaced it in order to substitute the word solidarity. They are more honest and more logical. But they should have said communism, and not solidarity; for the solidarity of men's interests, like property, exists outside the purview of the law.
Moreover, it implies unity. This we have already seen. If the legislator creates the right to property, there are as many modes of property as there can be errors in the utopians' heads, that is, an infinite number. If, on the contrary, the right to property is a providential fact, prior to all human legislation, and which it is the function of human legislation to safeguard, there is no place for any other system.
Beyond this, there is security; and all evidence clearly indicates that, if people sincerely recognize the obligation of every person to provide his own means of existence, as well as every person's right to the fruits of his own labor as prior and superior to the law, if human law is needed and intervenes only to guarantee to all the freedom to engage in labor and the ownership of its fruits, then all human industry is assured a future of complete security. There is no longer reason to fear that the legislature may, with one decree after another, stifle effort, upset plans, frustrate foresight. Under the shelter of such security, capital will rapidly be created. The rapid accumulation of capital, in turn, is the sole reason for the increase in the value of labor. The working classes will, then, be well off; they themselves will co-operate to form new capital. They will be better able to rise from the status of wage earners, to invest in business enterprises, to found enterprises of their own, and to regain their dignity.
Finally, the eternal principle that the state should not be a producer, but the provider of security for the producers, necessarily involves economy and order in public finances; consequently, this principle alone renders prosperity possible and a just distribution of taxes.
Let us never forget that, in fact, the state has no resources of its own. It has nothing, it possesses nothing that it does not take from the workers. When, then, it meddles in everything, it substitutes the deplorable and costly activity of its own agents for private activity. If, as in the United States, it came to be recognized that the function of the state is to provide complete security for all, it could fulfill this function with a few hundred million francs. Thanks to this economy, combined with industrial prosperity, it would finally be possible to impose a single direct tax, levied exclusively on property of all kinds.
But, for that, we must wait until we have learned by experience—perhaps cruel experience—to trust in the state a little less and in mankind a little more.
I shall conclude with a few words on the Association for Free Trade.* It has been very much criticized for having adopted this name. Its adversaries have rejoiced, and its supporters have been distressed, by what both consider as a defect.
“Why spread alarm in this way?” said its supporters. “Why inscribe a principle on your banner? Why not limit yourself to demanding those wise and prudent changes in the customs duties that time has rendered necessary and experience has shown to be expedient?”
Why? Because, in my eyes at least, free trade has never been a question of customs duties, but a question of right, of justice, of public order, of property. Because privilege, under whatever form it is manifested, implies the denial or the scorn of property rights; because the intervention of the state to equalize wealth, to increase the share of some at the expense of others, is communism, as a drop of water is just as much water as the whole ocean; because I foresaw that the right to property, once weakened in one form, would soon be attacked in a thousand different forms; because I had not given up my solitude in order to work for a mere reduction in customs duties, which would have implied my adherence to the false idea that the law is prior to property, but to fly to the rescue of the opposite principle, compromised by the protectionist system; because I was convinced that the landed proprietors and the capitalists had themselves implanted, in the tariff, the seed of that communism which now frightens them, since they asked the law for additions to their profits, to the detriment of the working classes. I saw clearly that these classes would not delay in claiming also, by virtue of equality, the benefit of the law for the equalization of wealth, which is communism.
If our critics will but read the first statement issued by our Association, the program drafted at a preliminary session, May 10, 1846, they will be convinced that this was our dominating idea:
Exchange, like property, is a natural right. Every citizen who has produced or acquired a product should have the option of applying it immediately to his own use or of giving it to whoever on the face of the earth consents to give him in exchange the object of his desires. To deprive him of this faculty, when he has committed no act contrary to public order and good morals, and solely to satisfy the convenience of another citizen, is to legitimize an act of plunder and to violate the law of justice.
It is, further, to violate the conditions of public order; for what order can exist in a society in which each industry, aided and abetted by the law and the public police force, seeks its success in the oppression of all the others?
We placed the question so far above customs duties that we added:
The undersigned do not contest the right of society to levy on the merchandise that crosses its borders taxes reserved for the common expense, provided that they are determined solely by the needs of the public treasury.
But as soon as the tax, losing its fiscal character, has for its object the exclusion of a foreign product, to the detriment of the treasury itself, in order to raise artificially the price of a similar domestic product, and to exact tribute from the community for the profit of one class, from that moment protection, or rather plunder, makes its appearance, and this is the principle that the Association seeks to discredit and to efface completely from our laws.
Certainly, if we had been working only for an immediate reduction in customs duties, if we had been, as has been alleged, the agents of certain commercial interests, we should have been very careful not to inscribe on our banner a word that implies a principle. Is it supposed that I did not foresee the obstacles that this declaration of war against injustice would place in our path? Did I not know very well that by evasive maneuvering, by hiding our aim, by veiling half our thought, we should the sooner achieve such or such a partial victory? But just how would these triumphs, actually ephemeral, have redeemed and safeguarded the great principle of property rights, which in that case we should ourselves have kept in the background and out of the discussion?
I repeat, we asked for the abolition of the protectionist system, not as a good governmental measure, but as an act of justice, as the realization of liberty, as the strict consequence of a right superior to the law. We should not conceal what we really want under a misleading form of expression.3
The time is coming when it will be recognized that we were right not to consent to put into the name of our Association a lure, a trap, a surprise, an equivocation, but rather the frank expression of an eternal principle of order and justice; for there is power only in principles: they alone are a beacon light for men's minds, a rallying point for convictions gone astray.
In recent times, a universal tremor has spread, like a shiver of fright, through all of France. At the mere mention of the word communism everyone becomes alarmed. Seeing the strangest systems emerge openly and almost officially, witnessing a continual succession of subversive decrees, and fearing that these may be followed by decrees even more subversive, everyone is wondering in what direction we are going. Capital is frightened, credit has taken flight, work has been suspended, the saw and the hammer have stopped in the midst of their labor, as if a disastrous electric current had suddenly paralyzed all men's minds and hands. And why? Because the right to property, already essentially compromised by the protectionist system, has been subjected to new shocks consequent upon the first one; because the intervention of the law in matters of industry, as a means of stabilizing values and equilibrating incomes, an intervention of which the protectionist system has been the first known manifestation, now threatens to manifest itself in a thousand forms, known or unknown. Yes, I say it openly: it is the landowners, those who are considered property owners par excellence, who have undermined property rights, since they have appealed to the law to give an artificial value to their lands and their products. It is the capitalists who have suggested the idea of equalizing wealth by law. Protectionism has been the forerunner of communism; I say more: it has been its first manifestation. For what do the suffering classes demand today? They ask for nothing else than what the capitalists and landlords have demanded and obtained. They ask for the intervention of the law to achieve balance, equilibrium, equality in the distribution of wealth. What has been done in the first case by means of the tariff, they wish to do by other means, but the principle remains the same: Use the law to take from some to give to others; and certainly since it is you, landowners and capitalists, who have had this disastrous principle accepted, do not complain, then, if people less fortunate than you are claim its benefits. They at least have a claim to it that you do not.4
But finally people's eyes are beginning to open, and they see the nature of the abyss toward which we are being driven because of this first violation of the conditions essential to all social stability. Is it not a terrible lesson, a tangible proof of the existence of that chain of causes and effects whereby the justice of providential retribution ultimately becomes apparent, to see the rich terrified today by the inroads made by a false doctrine of which they themselves laid the iniquitous foundations, and whose consequences they believed they could quietly turn to their own profit? Yes, protectionists, you have been the promoters of communism. Yes, property owners, you have destroyed the true idea of property in our minds. It was political economy that gave us this idea, and you have proscribed political economy, because in the name of the right to property it opposes your unjust privileges.5 And when the adherents of these new schools of thought that frighten you came to power, what was the first thing they tried to do? To suppress political economy, for political economy is a perpetual protest against the legal leveling which you have sought, and which others, following your example, seek today. You have demanded of the law something other and more than should be asked of the law, something other and more than the law can give. You have asked of it, not security (that would have been your right), but a surplus value over and above what belongs to you, which could not be accorded to you without violating the rights of others. And now, the folly of your claims has become a universal folly. And if you wish to ward off the storm that threatens to destroy you, you have only one recourse left. Recognize your error; renounce your privileges; let the law return to its proper sphere, and restrict the legislator to his proper role. You have abandoned us, you have attacked us, because you undoubtedly did not understand us. Now that you perceive the abyss that you have opened with your own hands, hasten to join us in our defense of the right to property by giving to this term its broadest possible meaning and showing that it includes both man's faculties and all that his faculties can produce, whether by labor or by exchange.
The doctrine which we are defending arouses a certain opposition because of its extreme simplicity; it confines itself to demanding of the law security for all. People can scarcely believe that the machinery of government can be reduced to these proportions. Moreover, as this doctrine restricts the law to the limits of universal justice, it is reproached for excluding fraternity. Political economy does not accept this accusation. This will be the subject of a forthcoming article.
Justice and Fraternity1
The economist school is opposed, on many points, to the numerous socialist schools, which call themselves more advanced, and which are, I readily agree, more active and more popular. We have as adversaries (I do not want to say, detractors) the Communists,* the Fourierists, the Owenists, Cabet, Louis Blanc, Proudhon, Pierre Leroux† and many others.
What is peculiar is that these schools differ among themselves at least as much as they differ with us. Hence, they must, in the first place, accept one principle in common that we do not accept; next, this principle must lend itself to the infinite diversity that we see among them.
I believe that what separates us radically from them is this:
Political economy is resolved to ask of the law nothing but universal justice.
Socialism, in its various forms and applications, the number of which is naturally indefinite, demands of the law, in addition, the realization of the principle of fraternity.
Now, what is the result? The socialists presuppose, with Rousseau, that the law is the foundation of the entire social order. As we know, Rousseau makes society rest on a contract. Louis Blanc, on the very first page of his book on the Revolution, says:
The principle of fraternity is that which, regarding the members of the great family of man as jointly and separately answerable for one another, looks forward to the day when society, the work of man, is organized on the model of the human body, the work of God.
Starting from this premise, that society is the work of man, the work of the law, the socialists cannot fail to conclude that nothing exists in society that was not ordained and arranged in advance by the legislator.
Hence, seeing that political economy confines itself to demanding of the law justice everywhere and for all, i.e., universal justice, they thought that it did not admit fraternity in social relations.
Their reasoning is strictly logical. “Since the social order is based entirely on the law,” they said, “and since you demand only justice from the law, you exclude fraternity from the law and, consequently, from society.”
Hence the accusations of rigidity, of coldness, of hardness, of dryness, that have been heaped on economic science and on those who teach it or accept its teachings.
But is the major premise admissible? Is it true that the social order is based entirely on the law? It is immediately apparent that if this is not so, all these accusations are left without any support.
We say that positive law, which always acts with authority, by way of compulsion, supported by coercive power, its penalties enforced by the bayonet and the jail, decrees neither affection nor friendship nor love nor self-denial nor devotion nor sacrifice. Hence, it cannot, by the same token, decree that which sums them all up, namely, fraternity. Is to say this, then, to annihilate or deny these noble attributes of our nature? Certainly not; it is only to say that society is larger than the law; that a great number of acts are performed, that a great many feelings are stirred, beyond and above the law.
For my part, I protest, in the name of science, with all my power against this wretched interpretation, according to which, because we recognize that the law has a limit, we are accused of denying everything that lies beyond that limit. We too, believe us, are filled with fervent emotion when we hear the word fraternity, handed down eighteen centuries ago from the top of the holy mountain and inscribed forever on our republican flag. We too desire to see individuals, families, nations associate with one another, aid one another, relieve one another in the painful journey of mortal life. We too feel our hearts stir and our tears welling up at the recital of noble deeds, whether they add lustre to the lives of simple citizens, join different classes together in close union, or accelerate the onward movement of nations chosen by destiny to occupy the advanced outposts of progress and civilization.
Are we to be reduced to speaking of ourselves? In that case, let our actions be subjected to close scrutiny. Certainly we should like very much to grant that the numerous political theorists who in our day wish to stifle even the feeling of self-interest in men's hearts, who appear so pitiless toward what they call individualism, who incessantly repeat the words “devotion,” “sacrifice,” “fraternity,” are themselves actuated exclusively by those sublime motives that they recommend to others, that they practice what they preach, that they have been careful to put their own conduct into harmony with their doctrines. We should indeed like to take them at their word and believe that they are full of disinterestedness and charity; but, in the last analysis, we may venture to say that we do not fear comparison in this regard.
Every would-be Decius* among them has a plan designed to make mankind happy, and they all have the air of saying that if we oppose them, it is because we fear either for our property or for other social advantages. No; we oppose them because we consider their ideas to be false, because we believe their proposals to be as naive as they are disastrous. If we could be shown that happiness could be brought forever down to earth by an artificial social organization, or by decreeing fraternity, there are some among us, even though we are economists, who would gladly sign that decree with the last drop of their blood.
But we have not been shown that fraternity can be imposed. If, indeed, wherever it appears, it excites our sympathy so keenly, that is because it acts outside of all legal constraint. Either fraternity is spontaneous, or it does not exist. To decree it is to annihilate it. The law can indeed force men to remain just; in vain would it try to force them to be self-sacrificing.
It is not I, moreover, who have invented this distinction. As I have just said, eighteen centuries ago these words were uttered by the divine Founder of our religion:
The law says unto you: Do not do unto others what you would not have done unto you.
And I say unto you: Do unto others what you would have others do unto you.
I believe that these words fix the limit that separates justice from fraternity. I believe that they trace, besides, a line of demarcation, I will not say absolute and unbridgeable, but theoretical and rational, between the domain circumscribed by the law and the limitless region of human spontaneity.
When a great number of families, all of whom, whether in isolation or in association, need to work in order to live, to prosper, and to better themselves, pool some of their forces, what can they demand of this common force save the protection of all persons, all products of labor, all property, all rights, all interests? Is this anything else than universal justice? Evidently, the right of each is limited by the absolutely similar right of all the others. The law, then, can do no more than recognize this limit and see that it is respected. If it were to permit a few to infringe this limit, this would be to the detriment of others. The law would be unjust. It would be still more so if, instead of tolerating this encroachment, it ordered it.
Suppose property is involved, for example. The principle is that what each has produced by his labor belongs to him, the more so as this labor has been comparatively more or less skillful, continuous, successful, and, consequently, more or less productive. What if two workers wish to unite their forces, to share the common product according to mutually agreed-upon terms, or to exchange their products between them, or if one should make a loan or a gift to the other? What has this to do with the law? Nothing, it seems to me, if the law has only to require the fulfillment of contracts and to prevent or punish misrepresentation, violence, and fraud.
Does this mean that it forbids acts of self-sacrifice and generosity? Who could have such an idea? But will it go so far as to order them? This is precisely the point that divides economists from socialists.
If the socialists mean that under extraordinary circumstances, for urgent cases, the state should set aside some resources to assist certain unfortunate people, to help them adjust to changing conditions, we will, of course, agree. This is done now; we desire that it be done better. There is, however, a point on this road that must not be passed; it is the point where governmental foresight would step in to replace individual foresight and thus destroy it. It is quite evident that organized charity would, in this case, do much more permanent harm than temporary good.
But we are not concerned here with exceptional measures. What we are inquiring into is this: Is it the function of the law, considered from a general and theoretical point of view, to declare the limits of pre-existing reciprocal rights and to see that they are respected, or, instead, to make men happy directly by compelling acts of charity, self-abnegation, and mutual sacrifice?
What strikes me most forcibly in this latter system (and it is for this reason that I often return to it in this hastily written essay), is the uncertainty in which it leaves all human activity and its results, the unknown factor with which it confronts society, an unknown that has the power to paralyze all its forces.
One knows what justice is, and where it is. It is a fixed, immutable point. If the law takes justice as its guide, everyone knows what to hold fast to and acts accordingly.
But at what definite point is fraternity to be situated? What is its limit? What is its form? Evidently, it is infinite. Fraternity, by definition, consists in making a sacrifice for others, in working for the sake of others. When it is free, spontaneous, voluntary, I understand it, and I applaud it. I admire sacrifice all the more when it is wholehearted. But when the principle is proclaimed that fraternity will be imposed by law, that is, in plain language, that the distribution of the fruits of labor will be made by legislation, without regard for the rights of labor itself; who can say to what extent this principle will be applied, what form a legislator's caprice may assume, what institutions may be decreed from one day to the next? Now, I question whether any society can exist under such conditions.
Note that sacrifice, by its very nature, is not, like justice, something that has a limit. It can extend from the gift of a centime thrown into the bowl of a beggar to the gift of life itself, usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis.* The Gospel, which taught men fraternity, has explained it in the counsels of perfection: “But whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.” It has done more than explain fraternity to us; it has given us the most perfect, the most touching, and the most sublime example at the summit of Golgotha.
Will it, then, be said that legislation and administrative measures should push the realization of the principle of fraternity that far? Or will it, rather, stop somewhere along the way? But at what point will it stop, and according to what rule? This will depend today on one ballot, tomorrow on another.
There is the same uncertainty in regard to its form. It is a matter of imposing sacrifices on a few for the sake of all, or on all for the sake of a few. Who can tell me how the law will go about this? For it cannot be denied that there are an indefinite number of formulas for achieving fraternity. Not a day passes that five or six of them do not come to me in the mail, and all, please observe, completely different. Truly, is it not madness to believe that a nation can enjoy any peace of mind or any material prosperity when it is an accepted principle that, from one day to the next, the legislator can cast the whole country into whichever one of the hundred thousand fraternitarian molds he may momentarily prefer?
Let me compare the most important results of each of the two systems, that recommended by the economists, and that proposed by the socialists.
First, let us imagine a nation that adopts universal justice as the basis of its legislation.
Suppose that the citizens say to the government: “We take upon ourselves the responsibility for our own existence; we shall take care of our own labor, of our own business, of our own education, of our own development, of our own religion; your sole function will be to keep all of us, in all our actions, within the limits of our rights.”
So many things have been tried that I should really like to see my country, or any country whatever, at least make a trial of this. Certainly no one can deny that the mechanism is marvelously simple. Everyone exercises his rights as he pleases, provided that he does not encroach on the rights of others. The test would be all the more interesting, since, in point of fact, the nations that come the closest to this system surpass all the others in security, prosperity, equality, and dignity. Yes, if I had ten more years to live, I should willingly give up nine of them to be present for one year to see such an experiment made in my country. For it seems to me that I would be the happy witness of the following results:
In the first place, everyone would be sure of his future, at least in so far as it could be affected by the law. As I have remarked, exact justice is something so definite that legislation which had only justice in view would be virtually immutable. It could vary only as to the means of approaching ever more closely to this single end: the protection of men's persons and their rights. Thus, everyone would be able to devote himself to all sorts of honest enterprises without fear and without uncertainty. All careers would be open to all; every man would be able to exercise his faculties freely, as determined by his interests, his inclinations, his aptitudes, or his circumstances; there would be neither privileges nor monopolies nor restrictions of any kind.
Moreover, the forces of government would attain this goal all the better because they would all be applied to preventing and repressing misrepresentation, fraud, delinquency, crime, and acts of violence, instead of being dissipated, as at present, among a host of matters alien to their essential function. Our adversaries themselves will not deny that to prevent and repress injustice is the principle function of the state. Why, then, has this precious art of prevention and repression of injustice made so little progress among us? Because the state neglects it for the thousand other functions with which it has been entrusted. For that reason, security is not the distinctive trait of French society—far from it! It would be complete, however, under the system that I, for the moment, have undertaken to analyze. There would be security in regard to the future, since no utopia could be imposed by borrowing the public police force; there would be security in the present, since that force would be devoted exclusively to combatting and abolishing injustice.
Here I must say a word concerning the consequences that security engenders. In such a situation, property in its diverse forms—landed, personal, industrial, intellectual, manual—is completely safe. It is sheltered from the attacks of malefactors and, what is more, from the attacks of the law. Whatever may be the nature of the services that the workers render to society or to one another, or that they exchange abroad, these services will always retain their natural value. This value will, to be sure, be affected by the vicissitudes of circumstance, but at least it will never be affected by the caprices of the law, by the exigencies of taxation, or by parliamentary intrigues, demands, and influences. The prices of goods and services will then undergo the minimum possible fluctuation; and, under these conditions, it will be impossible for industry not to develop, for wealth not to increase, for capital not to be accumulated, with prodigious rapidity.
Now, when capital funds are multiplied, there is competition among them; their remuneration diminishes, or, in other words, the rate of interest is lowered. It is less and less of a burden on the price of products. The proportional share of capital in the common product of labor keeps on decreasing. The tools of production become more widely diffused as they come within the reach of a greater number of men. The prices of consumers' goods are reduced by the full amount of capital's lesser share; the cost of living falls, and this is a primary prerequisite for the independence of the working classes.2
At the same time, and as a result of the same cause (the rapid increase in capital), wages are necessarily raised. Capital, in fact, yields no return at all unless it is put to work. The more the wages fund increases, and the more fully it is employed in the payment of a given number of workers, the higher wages rise.
Thus, the necessary result of this regime of exact justice, and consequently of liberty and security, is to relieve the suffering classes in two ways: first, by reducing the cost of living; second, by raising wage rates.
It is not possible for the condition of the workers to be thus naturally and doubly improved without a corresponding improvement and refinement in their moral condition. We are then on the road to equality. I am not referring only to that equality before the law which the system evidently implies, since it excludes all injustice, but also to actual physical and moral equality, resulting from the fact that the remuneration of labor increases as, and even because, that of capital decreases.
If we glance at the relations of such a nation with other nations, we find that they are all favorable to peace. Protecting itself against any aggression is its only policy. It neither threatens nor is threatened. It has no diplomacy and still less a diplomacy based on positions of strength. In virtue of the principle of universal justice, no citizen being able to prevent another citizen from buying or selling abroad, the commercial relations of this nation will be free and widespread. No one will deny that these relations contribute to the maintenance of peace. They will themselves constitute a veritable and precious system of defense, which will render arsenals, fortified places, navies, and standing armies well-nigh useless. Thus, all the energies of this nation will be applied to productive labor, a new cause of increase of capital, with all the effects deriving from it.
It is easy to see that in such a nation, the government is reduced to very limited proportions, and the administrative apparatus to the utmost simplicity. What does it have to do? To give to the public police force the sole function of making justice prevail among the citizens. Now, this can be done with little expense and costs only twenty-six million francs in France today. Hence, this nation will not, so to speak, pay taxes. It is even certain that civilization and progress will tend to make the government more and more simple and economical, for the more that justice becomes an outgrowth of good social customs, the more practicable it will be to reduce the force organized to impose it.
When a nation is burdened with taxes, nothing is more difficult, and I would say, impossible, than to levy them equally. The statisticians and fiscal authorities no longer even try to do so. What is still more difficult, however, is to shift the tax burden onto the shoulders of the rich. The state can have an abundance of money only by taking from everyone and especially from the masses. But in the simple type of regime on behalf of which I have made this futile plea, a regime that demands only a few dozen million francs, nothing is easier than an equitable levy. A single tax, proportional to the amount of property owned, levied on each household and without expense for the existing machinery of the municipal councils, is sufficient for the purpose. No more of that tenacious zeal on behalf of the public treasury, of that devouring bureaucracy, which constitute the parasites and the vermin of the body politic; no more of those indirect contributions, of that money wrested by force and by cunning, of those fiscal traps laid in every avenue of productive labor, of those shackles which do us even more harm on account of the liberties that they take away from us than on account of the resources that they deprive us of.
Do I need to show that order would be the inevitable result of such a regime? From whence could disorder come? Not from poverty; it would probably be, at least in its chronic state, unknown in the country; and if, after all, accidental and transient suffering did occur, no one would dream of blaming it on the state, the government, the law. Today, when it is an accepted principle that the function of the state is to distribute wealth to everybody, it is natural that the state is held accountable for this commitment. To keep it, it multiplies taxes and produces more poverty than it cures. With new demands on the part of the public and new taxes on the part of the state, we cannot but go from one revolution to another. But if it were well understood that the state can take from the workers only what is strictly indispensable to guarantee them against all fraud and all violence, I cannot perceive from what side disorder would come.
Some may think that, under a regime so simple, so easily realizable, society would be very gloomy and sad. What would become of the great affairs of state? What purpose would statesmen serve? Would not the national assembly itself, reduced to making improvements in the Civil Code and the Penal Code, cease to offer to the avid curiosity of the public the spectacle of its passionate debates and dramatic struggles?
These singular qualms stem from the idea that government and society are one and the same thing—as false and harmful an idea as there ever was. If that identity existed, to simplify government would be, in fact, to reduce the role of society.
But would the sole fact that the public police force would be limited to making justice prevail take something away from the initiative of the citizens? Is their action restricted, even today, to the limits fixed by the law? Would it not be permissible for them, provided that they did not exceed the bounds of justice, to form an infinite number of private organizations and associations of every nature, religious, charitable, industrial, agricultural, intellectual, and even phalansterian and Icarian? Is it not certain, on the contrary, that the abundance of capital would favor all these enterprises? But each would associate himself with them voluntarily at his own peril and risk. Those who desire the intervention of the state want to form these associations at the risk and expense of the public.
It will no doubt be said: In this regime, we see clearly justice, economy, freedom, wealth, peace, order, and equality, but not fraternity.
Once again let us ask ourselves: Is there in the heart of man only what the legislator has put there? Did fraternity have to make its appearance on earth by way of the ballot box? Does the law forbid you to practice charity simply because all that it imposes on you is the obligation to practice justice? Are we to believe that women will cease to be self-sacrificing and that pity will no longer find a place in their hearts because self-sacrifice and pity will not be commanded by the law? What, then, is the article of the code, which, wresting a young woman from the arms of her mother, impels her to serve in those gloomy homes for the aged where the ugly scars of the body and the still uglier scars of the mind are displayed? What is the article of the code that determines the vocation of the priest? To what written law, to what governmental intervention, must we ascribe the foundation of Christianity, the zeal of the apostles, the courage of the martyrs, the charity of Fénelon or of Francis de Paul, the self-denial of so many men who in our day have risked their lives a thousand times for the triumph of the people's cause?3
Every time we deem an action to be good and beautiful, we should like, quite naturally, to see it made the general practice. Now, when we see in society a force to which all gives way, our first impulse is to enlist its aid by decreeing the action and imposing it on everyone. But the question is whether one does not thereby degrade both the nature of this force and the nature of the action, rendering legally obligatory what was essentially spontaneous and voluntary. As far as I am concerned, I cannot get it into my head that the law, which is force, can be usefully applied to any purpose other than repressing wrongs and maintaining rights.
I have just described a nation where this would be the case. Let us suppose, now, that among the people of this nation the opinion prevailed that the law should no longer be limited to imposing justice; that it should aspire further to impose fraternity.
What will happen? It will not take me long to tell, for the reader has only to remake the preceding picture in reverse.
At first a frightful uncertainty, a deadly insecurity, will hover over the whole domain of private activity; for fraternity can express itself in billions of unknown forms and, consequently, billions of unforeseen decrees. Innumerable proposals will each day come to threaten all established relations. In the name of fraternity someone will demand equality of wage rates, whereupon the working classes will be reduced to the status of Indian castes; neither ability nor courage nor assiduity nor intelligence will be able to raise them up again: a leaden law will weigh them down. This world will be a Dante's inferno to them: Abandon all hope, ye who enter. In the name of fraternity another will demand that the working day be reduced to ten, eight, six, four hours; whereupon production will be forthwith brought to a halt. As there will be no more bread to appease hunger, nor cloth to protect men against the cold, a third will propose replacing bread and cloth by legal tender paper money. Do we not buy things with money? To multiply money, he will say, is to multiply bread and cloth; to multiply paper is to multiply money. Q.E.D. A fourth will require that competition be abolished by decree; a fifth, that self-interest be eliminated by law; this one will want the state to provide work; that one, education; and another, pensions for all citizens. Still another would dethrone all the kings on earth, and decree, in the name of fraternity, universal war. I stop here. It is quite evident that, if we take this path, the supply of utopias is inexhaustible. They will be rejected, it will be said. Granted; but it is possible that they will not be; and this suffices to create uncertainty, the greatest scourge of labor.
Under this system, capital cannot be formed. It will be rare, dear, and concentrated in a few hands. This means that wages will be reduced, and that inequality will open up a continually widening gulf between the social classes.
It will not be long before the public finances reach a state of complete disorder. How could it be otherwise when the state is responsible for furnishing everything to everybody? The people will be crushed under the burden of taxes; loan after loan will be floated; after having drained the present, the state will devour the future.
Finally, as it will be accepted in principle that the state is responsible for establishing fraternity on behalf of its citizens, we shall see the entire people transformed into petitioners. Landed property, agriculture, industry, commerce, shipping, industrial companies, all will bestir themselves to claim favors from the state. The public treasury will be literally pillaged. Everyone will have good reasons to prove that legal fraternity should be interpreted in this sense: “Let me have the benefits, and let others pay the costs.” Everyone's effort will be directed toward snatching a scrap of fraternal privilege from the legislature. The suffering classes, although having the greatest claim, will not always have the greatest success; their multitude will, meanwhile, increase constantly, from which it follows that we can have only one revolution after another.
In a word, we shall see unfolding before us the whole somber spectacle whose prologue some modern societies are already presenting, after having adopted this disastrous idea of legal fraternity.
I have no need to say that this whole concept has its origin in generous feelings, in disinterested motives. It is just because of this that it has so rapidly gained the support of the masses, and also that it is sure to open an abyss under our feet if it proves to be false.
I add that I shall be happy, for my part, if it proves not to be false. Good heavens! If universal fraternity can be decreed, and the sanction of the public police force can be efficaciously given to this decree; if the motive of self-interest, as Louis Blanc wishes, can be made to disappear by a mere show of hands; if this article in the program of peaceful democracy: “No more selfishness!” can be realized by way of legislation; if it can be arranged that the state may give everything to everyone, without receiving anything from anyone; then let it be done by all means. Certainly, I shall vote for the decree and rejoice that humanity is to attain perfection and happiness by so short and easy a road.
But it must be said plainly that such conceptions seem to us chimerical and futile to the point of naïveté. That they should have raised hopes in the class that labors and suffers and does not have time for reflection, is not surprising. But how can they mislead competent political theorists?
These writers believed that the sufferings that overwhelm a great number of our brethren are imputable to liberty, that is, justice. They started with the idea that the system of liberty, of exact justice, had been put to the test legally, and that it had failed. They concluded from this that the time had come for legislation to take a further step, and that it should finally be imbued with the principle of fraternity. Hence these Saint-Simonian, Fourierist, Communist, Owenist schools of thought; hence these efforts to mobilize labor; hence these declarations that the state owes subsistence, well-being, and education to all its citizens; that it should be generous, charitable, involved in everything, devoted to everybody; that its mission is to feed the infants, instruct the young, assure employment to the able-bodied, provide pensions for the disabled; in a word, that it should intervene directly to relieve all suffering, satisfy and anticipate all wants, furnish capital to all enterprises, enlightenment to all minds, balm for all wounds, asylums for all the unfortunate, and even aid, to the point of shedding French blood, for all oppressed people on the face of the earth.
Who would not like to see all these benefits flow forth upon the world from the law as from an inexhaustible source? Who would not be happy to see the state take upon itself every difficulty, every precaution, every responsibility, every duty, all the laborious and heavy tasks that Providence, whose designs are impenetrable, has imposed upon mankind, leaving to the individuals of which it is composed the attractive and easy path—satisfactions, enjoyments, certainty, calm, repose, an always assured present, an always smiling future, wealth without worries, a family without responsibilities, credit without pledges, a life without effort?
Certainly, we would like to have all this, if it were possible. But is it possible? That is the question. We cannot understand what people mean by the state. We believe that there is in this perpetual personification of the state the strangest and the most humiliating of mystifications. What, then, is this state that takes upon itself all virtues, all duties, all acts of munificence? Whence does it draw those resources that it is urged to dispense by way of benefits to individuals? Is it not from the individuals themselves? How, then, can these resources be increased by passing through the hands of a parasitical and voracious intermediary? Is it not clear, on the contrary, that the whole apparatus of government is of such a nature as to absorb many useful resources and to reduce the share of the workers proportionately? Is it not also evident that the latter will thereby lose a part of their freedom, along with a part of their well-being?
From whatever point of view I consider human law, I cannot see that anything other than justice can be reasonably demanded of it.
Suppose it is asked to concern itself with matters of religion, for example. Certainly, it would be desirable that there should be only one creed, one faith, one form of worship in the world, provided it were the true faith. But, however desirable unity may be, diversity, that is to say, inquiry and discussion, is even more worth while, until such time as the infallible sign whereby this true faith is to be recognized shines forth for all men to see. The intervention of the state, even under the pretext of fraternity, would, then, be an act of oppression, an injustice, if it sought to establish unity; for who can be sure that the state would not, unconsciously perhaps, work to stifle truth to the advantage of error? Unity should result from the universal consent of free convictions and from the natural attraction that truth exercises over men's minds. All that can be demanded of the law, then, is liberty for all beliefs, no matter what intellectual anarchy would result. For what does this anarchy prove? That unity comes, not at the beginning, but at the end, of intellectual evolution. It is not a point of departure; it is a point of culmination. A law that would impose it would be unjust; and if justice does not necessarily imply fraternity, at least it will be agreed that fraternity excludes injustice.
The same is true of education. Obviously, if people could agree on the best possible kind of education, in regard to both content and method, a uniform system of public instruction would be preferable, since error would, in that case, be necessarily excluded by law. But as long as such a criterion has not been found, as long as the legislator and the Minister of Public Education do not carry on their persons an unquestionable sign of infallibility, the true method has the best chance of being discovered and of displacing the others if room is left for diversity, trial and error, experimentation, and individual efforts guided by a self-regarding interest in the outcome—in a word, where there is freedom. The chances are worst in a uniform system of education established by decree, for in such a system error is permanent, universal, and irremediable. Therefore, those who, in the name of fraternity, demand that the law determine what shall be taught and impose this on everyone should realize that they are running the risk of having the law direct and impose the teaching of nothing but error; for legal interdiction can pervert the truth by perverting the minds that believe they have possession of it. Now, is it, I ask, fraternity, in the true sense of the word, that has recourse to force to impose, or at least to run the risk of imposing, error on mankind? Diversity is feared; it is stigmatized as anarchy. But it results necessarily from the very diversity of men's opinions and convictions, a diversity that tends, besides, to disappear with discussion, study, and experience. In the meanwhile, what claim has one system to prevail over any other by law or force? Here again we find that this pretended fraternity, which invokes the law or legal constraint, is in opposition to justice.
I could make the same observation about the press, and, in fact, I hardly understand why those who demand a uniform system of state education do not demand a uniform state press. For the press is also a kind of education. The press admits discussion, since it lives by it. There too, then, is diversity and anarchy. Why not, accordingly, create a Ministry of Publicity and give over to its charge all the books and all the newspapers in France? Either the state is infallible, and we can do no better than to let it take entire control over men's minds; or it is not, and in that case it is no more reasonable to turn education over to it than the press.
If I consider our foreign relations, I see no other prudent, sound rule, acceptable to all—such, in short, that it could become a law—than justice. To submit these relations to the principle of legal, forced fraternity, is to decree perpetual, universal war; for it is to assume the obligation of putting our power, the blood and the wealth of our citizens, at the service of whoever claims them in order to serve a cause that excites the sympathy of the legislator. A strange kind of fraternity, indeed! A long time ago Cervantes personified its ridiculous vanity.
But it is above all in regard to labor that the dogma of fraternity seems to me to be dangerous, when, contrary to the idea that constitutes the very essence of that sacred word, people dream of inserting it into our legal codes, to the accompaniment of the penal provisions that sanction all positive law.
Fraternity always implies devotion and sacrifice; that is why it commands our heartfelt admiration. If one says, as do certain socialists, that acts of fraternal devotion are profitable to their author, then they do not have to be decreed; men have no need of a law to persuade them to make profits. Besides, this point of view greatly degrades and tarnishes the idea of fraternity.
Let us, then, respect its essential character, which is comprised in these words: Voluntary sacrifice determined by fraternal feeling.
If you make of fraternity a matter of legal prescription, whose acts are set forth in advance and rendered obligatory by the industrial code, what remains of this definition? Nothing but sacrifice; but involuntary, forced sacrifice, exacted by fear of punishment. And, in all honesty, what is a sacrifice of this nature, imposed upon one man for the profit of another? Is it an example of fraternity? No, it is an act of injustice; one must say the word: it is a form of legal plunder, the worst kind of plunder, since it is systematic, permanent, and unavoidable.
What did Barbès* do, when, at the session of May 15, he decreed a tax of a billion francs on behalf of the suffering classes? He put your principle into practice. This is so true that the proclamation of Sobrier,† which concluded like the speech of Barbès, is preceded by this preamble: “Considering that fraternity must be more than an empty word, that it must be manifested by deeds, be it decreed: the capitalists, known as such, will contribute, etc.”
What right do you who protest have to blame Barbès and Sobrier? What have they done, except to be a little more logical than you and to push your own principle a little further?
I say that whenever this principle is introduced into legislation, even though it may make only a timid appearance at first, it soon paralyzes capital and labor; for there is no guarantee that it will not be extended indefinitely. Are so many arguments necessary, then, to demonstrate that when men are no longer certain of enjoying the fruit of their labor, they do not work at all or work less? Insecurity, as is well known, is the principal agent of paralysis in the case of capital. It drives capital away and prevents it from being formed; and what will then become of the very classes whose sufferings are supposed thereby to be relieved? I sincerely believe that this alone is cause enough to make the most prosperous nation fall in a short time below the level of Turkey.
Sacrifice imposed on some on behalf of others, by the operation of the tax laws, evidently loses the character of fraternity. Who, then, deserves credit for it? Is it the legislator? It costs him nothing but the effort of casting his ballot. Is it the tax collector? He obeys out of fear of being removed from office. Is it the taxpayer? He pays reluctantly. Who, then, deserves the credit that self-sacrifice implies? Where is its morality to be found?
Illegal plunder fills everyone with aversion; it turns against itself all the forces of public opinion and puts them on the side of justice. Legal plunder, on the contrary, is perpetrated without troubling the conscience, and this cannot fail to weaken the moral fibre of a nation.
With courage and prudence, a man can protect himself from illegal plunder, but no one can escape from legal plunder. If someone tries, what is the distressing spectacle presented to society? A plunderer armed with the law, a victim resisting the law.
When, under the pretext of fraternity, the legal code imposes mutual sacrifices on the citizens, human nature is not thereby abrogated. Everyone will then direct his efforts toward contributing little to, and taking much from, the common fund of sacrifices. Now, is it the most unfortunate who gain in this struggle? Certainly not, but rather the most influential and calculating.
Are union, concord, and harmony at least the results of fraternity thus understood? Oh, undoubtedly, fraternity is the divine chain whose links will ultimately unite individuals, families, nations, and races; but it will do so only by remaining what it is, that is, the most free, the most spontaneous, the most voluntary, the most meritorious, the most religious of sentiments. It is not its counterfeit that will accomplish this prodigy; legal plunder may borrow the name of fraternity, as well as its appearance, its formulas, and its insignia, but it will never be anything but a principle of discord, confusion, unjust claims, terror, misery, inertia, and animosity.
We are presented with a serious objection. We are told: It is indeed true that freedom, equality before the law, is justice. But strict justice remains neutral between the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak, the wise and the ignorant, the property owner and the proletarian, the fellow countryman and the foreigner. Now, men's interests being naturally antagonistic, to allow men their freedom with only just laws intervening between them is to sacrifice the poor, the weak, the ignorant, the proletarian, the gladiator who enters the arena unarmed.
“What could result,” says M. Considérant,
from that industrial liberty on which so much reliance had been placed, from the famous principle of free competition, which was believed to be so eminently democratic in character? Nothing could come of it save the general enslavement, the collective enfeoffment, of the masses, deprived of capital, of industrial arms, of the tools of production, and, above all, of education, by the class that is industrially supplied and well equipped. We are told: “The lists are open; every individual is free to enter the fray; the conditions are equal for all the combatants.” Very good. Only one thing is forgotten—that on this great battlefield some are trained, disciplined, equipped, armed to the teeth, that they have in their possession a vast store of provisions, matériel, munitions, and engines of war, that they occupy all the strategic positions; and that others, plundered, destitute, ignorant, and hungry, are obliged, in order to live from day to day and keep their wives and children alive, to implore their adversaries themselves for any kind of work whatever at a meager wage.4
What! Industry compared to war! These arms, which are called capital, which consist of provisions of all kinds, and which can never be employed except in the conquest of rebellious Nature, are compared, by virtue of a deplorable sophism, to those blood-stained arms which men turn against one another on the battlefield! Indeed, it is only too easy to derogate the industrial order, when the whole vocabulary of warfare is borrowed in order to decry it.
The profound, irreconcilable disagreement on this point between socialists and economists consists in this: The socialists believe that men's interests are essentially antagonistic. The economists believe in the natural harmony, or rather in the necessary and progressive harmonization, of men's interests. This is the whole difference.
Starting from the premise that men's interests are naturally antagonistic, the socialists are led, by logical necessity, to seek an artificial organization of these conflicting interests or even to stifle, if they can, the feeling of self-interest in the heart of man. This is what they tried to do at the Luxembourg. But if they are mad enough to try, they are not strong enough to succeed; and it goes without saying that, after having declaimed against individualism in their books, they collect royalties on these books and conduct themselves quite like everyone else in the ordinary affairs of life.
To be sure, if men's interests are naturally antagonistic, we must trample underfoot justice, liberty, and equality before the law. We must remake the world, or, as they say, reconstitute society, according to one of the numerous plans that they never stop inventing. For self-interest, a disorganizing principle, there must be substituted legal, imposed, involuntary, forced self-sacrifice—in a word, organized plunder; and as this new principle can only arouse infinite aversion and resistance, an attempt will be made at first to get it accepted under the deceptive name of fraternity, after which the law, which is force, will be invoked.
But if Providence is not mistaken, if it has arranged things in such a way that men's interests, under the law of justice, tend to adjust themselves naturally in the most harmonious way; if, in the words of M. de Lamartine, they achieve, under a regime of liberty, a justice that no amount of despotism could produce for them; if equality of rights is the most certain, the most direct means toward actual equality; then, we can ask of the law nothing but justice, liberty, and equality, just as only the removal of obstacles is needed for each of the drops of water that form the ocean to find its own level.
And this is precisely the conclusion at which political economy arrives. It does not set out in search of this conclusion; it comes upon it. But it rejoices at finding it; for is it not ultimately a great satisfaction for the mind to see harmony in liberty, when others are reduced to demanding it by way of arbitrary measures?
The reproachful words that the socialists often address to us are very strange indeed! If, unfortunately, we have fallen into error, should they not deplore it? What do we say? We say: After mature consideration, it must be recognized that what God has done He has done well, so that the best chance of progress lies in justice and liberty.
The socialists believe us to be in error; that is their right. But they should at least be distressed by it; for our error, if it be demonstrated, implies the urgency of substituting the artificial for the natural, despotism for liberty, a contingent and human invention for the eternal and divine conception.
Suppose that a professor of chemistry were to say: “The world is threatened by a great catastrophe; God has not taken proper precautions. I have analyzed the air that comes from human lungs, and I have come to the conclusion that it is not fit to breathe; so that, by calculating the volume of the atmosphere, I can predict the day when it will be entirely polluted, and when mankind will die of consumption, unless it adopts an artificial mode of respiration of my invention.”
Another professor steps forward and says: “No, mankind will not perish thus. It is true that the air that has already served to sustain animal life is vitiated for that purpose; but it is fit for plant life, and what plants exhale is favorable to human respiration. An incomplete study has induced some to think that God made a mistake; a more exact inquiry shows a harmonious design in His handiwork. Men can continue to breathe as Nature willed it.”
What should we say if the first professor overwhelmed the second with abuse, saying: “You are a chemist with a cold, hard, dried-up heart; you preach the horrible doctrine of laissez faire; you do not love mankind, since you demonstrate the uselessness of my respiratory apparatus.”
This is the sum and substance of our quarrel with the socialists. Both they and we desire harmony. They seek it in the innumerable schemes that they want the law to impose on men; we find it in the nature of men and things.
This would be the place to demonstrate that men's interests tend toward harmony, for that is the whole question; but this would require a course in political economy, and the reader will have to excuse me for the moment from undertaking such a task.5 I shall say just this: If political economy attains to the insight that men's interests are harmonious, it does so because it does not stop, as socialism does, at the immediate consequences of phenomena, but goes on to their eventual and ultimate effects. This is the whole secret. The two schools differ exactly as the two chemists of whom I have just spoken: one sees the part, and the other the whole. For example, when the socialists are willing to take pains to follow the results of competition to the end, that is, to the consumer, instead of stopping at the producer, they will see that it is the most powerful agent for equality and progress, whether at home or abroad. And it is because political economy finds harmony in this ultimate effect that it says: In my domain, there is much to learn, and little to do. Much to learn, because the concatenation of effects can be followed only with great application; little to do, since the harmony of the whole phenomenon is derived from the ultimate effect.
I happened to discuss this question with the eminent gentleman whom the Revolution lifted to such great heights. I said to him: “Only justice can be demanded from the law, which acts by means of coercion.”
He thought that people can, in addition, expect fraternity from the law. Last August he wrote me: “If ever, in a time of crisis, I find myself placed at the helm, your idea will be half of my creed.”
And I reply to him here: “The second half of your creed will stifle the first, for you cannot legislate fraternity without legislating injustice.”6
In closing, I will say to the socialists: If you believe that political economy rejects association, organization, and fraternity, you are in error.
Association! Do you not know that this is society itself, ceaselessly perfecting itself?
Organization! Do you not know that this is what makes all the difference there is between a congeries of heterogeneous elements and the masterpieces of Nature?
Fraternity! Do you not know that this is to justice what the warm impulses of the heart are to the cold calculations of the mind?
We are in agreement with you. We applaud your effort to disseminate among mankind a seed that will bear fruit in the future.
But we are opposed to you from the moment that you have law and taxation, that is, coercion and plunder, intervene; for besides the fact that this resort to force shows that you have more faith in yourselves than in the genius of mankind, it is enough for us to see that you propose to tamper with Nature herself and to impair the very essence of that fraternity which you seek to realize.7
I wish that someone would offer a prize, not of five hundred francs, but of a million, with crosses, crowns, and ribbons, to whoever would give a good, simple, and intelligible definition of this term: the state.
What an immense service he would render to society!
The state! What is it? Where is it? What does it do? What should it do?
All that we know about it is that it is a mysterious personage, and certainly the most solicited, the most tormented, the busiest, the most advised, the most blamed, the most invoked, and the most provoked in the world.
For, sir, I do not have the honor of knowing you, but I wager ten to one that for six months you have been making utopias; and if you have been making them, I wager ten to one that you place upon the state the responsibility of realizing them.
And you, madame, I am sure that you desire from the bottom of your heart to cure all the ills of mankind, and that you would be in no wise embarrassed if the state would only lend a hand.
But alas! The unfortunate state, like Figaro, knows neither to whom to listen nor where to turn. The hundred thousand tongues of press and rostrum all cry out to it at once:
“Oh, sirs, a little patience,” replies the state with a piteous air. “I shall try to satisfy you, but for that I shall need some resources. I have prepared proposals for five or six taxes, brand new and the mildest in the world. You will see how glad people will be to pay them.”
But then a great cry is raised: “Shame! Shame! Anybody can do a thing if he has the resources! Then you would not be worthy of being called the state. Far from hitting us with new taxes, we demand that you eliminate the old ones. Abolish:
In the midst of this tumult, and after the country had changed its state two or three times for not having satisfied all these demands, I tried to point out that they were contradictory. Good Lord! What was I thinking of? Could I not keep this unfortunate remark to myself?
So here I am, discredited forever; and it is now an accepted fact that I am a heartless, pitiless man, a dry philosopher, an individualist, a bourgeois—in a word, an economist of the English or American school.
Oh, pardon me, sublime writers, whom nothing stops, not even contradictions. I am wrong, no doubt, and I retract my error with all my heart. I demand nothing better, you may be sure, than that you should really have discovered outside of us a benevolent and inexhaustible being, calling itself the state, which has bread for all mouths, work for all hands, capital for all enterprises, credit for all projects, ointment for all wounds, balm for all suffering, advice for all perplexities, solutions for all problems, truths for all minds, distractions for all varieties of boredom, milk for children and wine for old age, which provides for all our needs, foresees all our desires, satisfies all our curiosity, corrects all our errors, amends all our faults, and exempts us all henceforth from the need for foresight, prudence, judgment, sagacity, experience, order, economy, temperance, and industry.
And why should I not desire it? Heaven forgive me! The more I reflect on it, the more I find how easy the whole thing is; and I, too, long to have at hand that inexhaustible source of riches and enlightenment, that universal physician, that limitless treasure, that infallible counselor, that you call the state.
Hence, I insist that it be shown to me, that it be defined, and that is why I propose that a prize be offered to the first to discover this rare bird. For, after all, it will have to be admitted that this precious discovery has not yet been made, since the people have up to now overthrown immediately everything that has presented itself under the name of the state, precisely because it has failed to fulfill the somewhat contradictory conditions of the program.
Need it be said that we may have been, in this respect, duped by one of the most bizarre illusions that has ever taken possession of the human mind?
Man is averse to pain and suffering. And yet he is condemned by nature to the suffering of privation if he does not take the pains to work for a living. He has, then, only the choice between these two evils. How arrange matters so that both may be avoided? He has found up to now and will ever find only one means: that is, to enjoy the fruits of other men's labor; that is, to arrange matters in such a way that the pains and the satisfactions, instead of falling to each according to their natural proportion, are divided between the exploited and their exploiters, with all the pain going to the former, and all the satisfactions to the latter. This is the principle on which slavery is based, as well as plunder of any and every form: wars, acts of violence, restraints of trade, frauds, misrepresentations, etc.—monstrous abuses, but consistent with the idea that gave rise to them. One should hate and combat oppressors, but one cannot say that they are absurd.
Slavery is on its way out, thank Heaven, and our natural inclination to defend our property makes direct and outright plunder difficult. One thing, however, has remained. It is the unfortunate primitive tendency which all men have to divide their complex lot in life into two parts, shifting the pains to others and keeping the satisfactions for themselves. It remains to be seen under what new form this deplorable tendency is manifested.
The oppressor no longer acts directly by his own force on the oppressed. No, our conscience has become too fastidious for that. There are still, to be sure, the oppressor and his victim, but between them is placed an intermediary, the state, that is, the law itself. What is better fitted to silence our scruples and—what is perhaps considered even more important—to overcome all resistance? Hence, all of us, with whatever claim, under one pretext or another, address the state. We say to it: “I do not find that there is a satisfactory proportion between my enjoyments and my labor. I should like very much to take a little from the property of others to establish the desired equilibrium. But that is dangerous. Could you not make it a little easier? Could you not find me a good job in the civil service or hinder the industry of my competitors or, still better, give me an interest-free loan of the capital you have taken from its rightful owners or educate my children at the public expense or grant me incentive subsidies or assure my well-being when I shall be fifty years old? By this means I shall reach my goal in all good conscience, for the law itself will have acted for me, and I shall have all the advantages of plunder without enduring either the risks or the odium.”
As, on the one hand, it is certain that we all address some such request to the state, and, on the other hand, it is a well-established fact that the state cannot procure satisfaction for some without adding to the labor of others, while awaiting another definition of the state, I believe myself entitled to give my own here. Who knows if it will not carry off the prize? Here it is:
The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone seeks to live at the expense of everyone else.
For, today as in the past, each of us, more or less, would like to profit from the labor of others. One does not dare to proclaim this feeling publicly, one conceals it from oneself, and then what does one do? One imagines an intermediary; one addresses the state, and each class proceeds in turn to say to it: “You, who can take fairly and honorably, take from the public and share with us.” Alas! The state is only too ready to follow such diabolical advice; for it is composed of cabinet ministers, of bureaucrats, of men, in short, who, like all men, carry in their hearts the desire, and always enthusiastically seize the opportunity, to see their wealth and influence grow. The state understands, then, very quickly the use it can make of the role the public entrusts to it. It will be the arbiter, the master, of all destinies. It will take a great deal; hence, a great deal will remain for itself. It will multiply the number of its agents; it will enlarge the scope of its prerogatives; it will end by acquiring overwhelming proportions.
But what is most noteworthy is the astonishing blindness of the public to all this. When victorious soldiers reduced the vanquished to slavery, they were barbarous, but they were not absurd. Their object was, as ours is, to live at the expense of others; but, unlike us, they attained it. What are we to think of a people who apparently do not suspect that reciprocal pillage is no less pillage because it is reciprocal; that it is no less criminal because it is carried out legally and in an orderly manner; that it adds nothing to the public welfare; that, on the contrary, it diminishes it by all that this spendthrift intermediary that we call the state costs?
And we have placed this great myth, for the edification of the people, in the Preamble of the Constitution. Here are the first words of the Preamble:
France has been constituted as a republic in order to .... raise all its citizens to an ever higher standard of morality, enlightenment, and well-being.
Thus, it is France, or the abstraction, which is to raise Frenchmen, or the realities, to a higher standard of morality, well-being, etc. Is this not to be possessed by the bizarre illusion that leads us to expect everything from another power than our own? Is this not to imply that there is, above and beyond the French people, a virtuous, enlightened, rich being who can and ought to bestow his benefits on them? Is this not to assume, and certainly most gratuitously, that there exists between France and the people of France, that is, between the synoptic, abstract term used to designate all these individuals and the individuals themselves, a father-son, guardian-ward, teacher-pupil relationship? I am well aware of the fact that we sometimes speak metaphorically of “the fatherland" or of France as a “tender mother.” But in order to expose in its full flagrance the inanity of the proposition inserted into our Constitution, it suffices to show that it can be reversed, I will not say without disadvantage, but even to advantage. Would exactness suffer if the Preamble had said:
“The French have been constituted as a republic in order to raise France to an ever higher standard of morality, enlightenment, and well-being"?
Now, what is the value of an axiom of which the subject and the object can be interchanged without disadvantage? Everyone understands the statement: “The mother will nurse the baby.” But it would be ridiculous to say: “The baby will nurse the mother.”
The Americans formed another idea of the relations of citizens to the state when they placed at the head of their Constitution these simple words:
We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain, etc.
There is no mythical creation here, no abstraction from which the citizens demand everything. They expect nothing save from themselves and their own efforts.
If I have permitted myself to criticize the first words of our Constitution, it is not, as one might think, in order to deal with a mere metaphysical subtlety. I contend that this personification of the state has been in the past, and will be in the future, a fertile source of calamities and of revolutions.
Here the public, on the one side, the state on the other, are considered as two distinct entities, the latter intent on pouring down upon the former, the former having the right to claim from the latter, a veritable shower of human felicities. What must be the inevitable result?
The fact is, the state does not and cannot have one hand only. It has two hands, one to take and the other to give—in other words, the rough hand and the gentle hand. The activity of the second is necessarily subordinated to the activity of the first. Strictly speaking, the state can take and not give. We have seen this happen, and it is to be explained by the porous and absorbent nature of its hands, which always retain a part, and sometimes the whole, of what they touch. But what has never been seen, what will never be seen and cannot even be conceived, is the state giving the public more than it has taken from it. It is therefore foolish for us to take the humble attitude of beggars when we ask anything of the state. It is fundamentally impossible for it to confer a particular advantage on some of the individuals who constitute the community without inflicting a greater damage on the entire community.
It finds itself, then, placed by our demands in an obviously vicious circle.
If it withholds the boon that is demanded of it, it is accused of impotence, of ill will, of incapacity. If it tries to meet the demand, it is reduced to levying increased taxes on the people, to doing more harm than good, and to incurring, on another account, general disaffection.
Thus, we find two expectations on the part of the public, two promises on the part of the government: many benefits and no taxes. Such expectations and promises, being contradictory, are never fulfilled.
Is this not the cause of all our revolutions? For between the state, which is lavish with impossible promises, and the public, which has conceived unrealizable expectations, two classes of men intervene: the ambitious and the utopian. Their role is completely prescribed for them by the situation. It suffices for these demagogues to cry into the ears of the people: “Those in power are deceiving you; if we were in their place, we would overwhelm you with benefits and free you from taxes.”
And the people believe, and the people hope, and the people make a revolution.
Its friends are no sooner in charge of things than they are called on to make good their promises: “Give me a job, then, bread, relief, credit, education, and colonies,” say the people, “and at the same time, in keeping with your promises, deliver me from the burden of taxation.”
The new state is no less embarrassed than the old, for, when it comes to the impossible, one can, indeed, make promises, but one cannot keep them. It tries to gain time, which it needs to bring its vast projects to fruition. At first it makes a few timid attempts; on the one hand, it extends primary education a little; on the other, it reduces somewhat the tax on beverages (1830). But it is always confronted with the same contradiction: if it wishes to be philanthropic, it must continue to levy taxes; and if it renounces taxation, it must also renounce philanthropy.
These two promises always and necessarily conflict with each other. To have recourse to borrowing, that is, to eat into the future, is indeed a means of reconciling them in the present; one tries to do a little good in the present at the expense of a great deal of harm in the future. But this procedure raises the specter of bankruptcy, which destroys credit. What is to be done, then? The new state then takes a firm stand against its critics: it regroups its forces to maintain itself, it stifles opinion, it has recourse to arbitrary decrees, it ridicules its former maxims, it declares that one can govern only on condition of being unpopular; in short, it proclaims itself the government.
And this is precisely what other demagogues are waiting for. They exploit the same illusion, take the same road, obtain the same success, and soon come to be engulfed in the same abyss.
This is the way we came to the February Revolution. At that time the illusion that is the subject of this article had made its way further than ever into popular thought, along with socialist doctrines. More than ever before, people expected that the state, in a republican form, would open wide the floodgates of its bounty and close off the stream of taxes. “I have often been deceived,” said the people, “but this time I myself will stand guard to see that I am not again deceived.”
What could the provisional government do? Alas! What is always done in such a circumstance: promise and gain time. It did not fail to do this, and, to add solemnity to its promises, it gave them definitive form in its decrees. “Increased welfare, shorter working hours, relief, credit, gratuitous education, agricultural settlements, land clearance, and, at the same time, reductions in the taxes on salt, beverages, letters, meat, all will be granted .... when the National Assembly meets.”
The National Assembly met, and, as two contradictory ideas cannot both be realized, its task, its sad task, was confined to retracting, as gently as possible, one after another, all the decrees of the provisional government.
Still, in order not to make the disappointment too cruel, it had to compromise a little. Certain commitments were kept; others were fulfilled in token form. Hence, the present administration is trying to devise new taxes.
Now, looking ahead a few months, I ask myself sadly what will happen when the newly created civil servants go out into the country to collect the new taxes on inheritances, incomes, and the profits of agriculture. May Heaven give the lie to my presentiments, but here again I see a role for the demagogues to play.
Read the last Manifesto of the Montagnards* which they issued in connection with the presidential election. It is rather long, but can be summed up in a few words: The state should give a great deal to the citizens and take little from them. It is always the same tactic, or, if you will, the same error.
The state owes instruction and education free of charge to all citizens.
A general and professional education, appropriate as nearly as possible to the needs, vocations, and capacities of each citizen.
Teach each citizen his duties toward God, toward men, and toward himself; develop his feelings, his aptitudes, and his faculties; give him, in short, proficiency in his work, understanding of his best interests, and knowledge of his rights.
Put within everyone's reach literature and the arts, the heritage of human thought, the treasures of the mind, all the intellectual enjoyments which elevate and strengthen the soul.
Insure against every disaster, fire, flood, etc. [how great are the implications of this little et cetera!], suffered by a citizen.
Intervene in the relations between capital and labor and make itself the regulator of credit.
Practical encouragement and efficacious protection to agriculture.
Buy up the railroads, the canals, the mines, and undoubtedly also administer them with that industrial expertise which is so characteristic of it.
Stimulate laudable enterprises, and encourage and aid them with all the resources capable of making them succeed. As regulator of credit, it will largely control the industrial and agricultural associations, in order to assure their success.
The state is to do all this without prejudice to the services that it performs today; and, for example, it must always adopt a threatening attitude toward foreign nations; for, say the signers of the program,
linked by that holy solidarity and by the precedents of republican France, we extend our commitments and our hopes, beyond the barriers that despotism has raised between nations, on behalf of all those whom the yoke of tyranny oppresses; we desire that our glorious army be again, if it must, the army of liberty.
You see that the gentle hand of the state, that good hand which gives and which bestows, will be very busy under the government of the Montagnards. Perhaps you believe that the same will be true of the rough hand, of the hand that reaches into our pockets and empties them?
Undeceive yourselves. The demagogues would not know their business if they had not acquired the art of hiding the rough hand while showing the gentle hand.
Their reign will surely mean a jubilee for the taxpayer.
“It is on luxuries,” they say, “not necessities, that taxes should be imposed.”
Will it not be a happy day when, in order to load us with benefits, the public treasury is content to take from us just our superfluous funds?
Nor is this all. The Montagnards intend that “taxation should lose its oppressive character and should henceforth be no more than an act of fraternity.”
Heavenly days! I am well aware of the fact that it is the vogue to get fraternity in everywhere, but I did not suspect that it could be put into the receipt of the tax collector.
Getting down to details, the signers of the manifesto say:
We demand the immediate abolition of taxes that fall on objects of primary necessity, such as salt, drinks, et cetera.
Reform of the real estate tax, the octroi, and license fees.
Justice free of charge, that is, the simplification of forms and the reduction of expenses. [This no doubt has to do with official stamps.]
Thus, real estate taxes, the octroi, license fees, taxes on stamps, salt, beverages, mail—all are to be done away with. These gentlemen have found the secret of keeping the gentle hand of the state energetic and active, while paralyzing its rough hand.
Indeed! I ask the impartial reader, is this not childish and, what is more, dangerously childish? Why would people not make one revolution after another, once they had made up their minds not to stop until this contradiction had been made a reality: “Give nothing to the state, and receive a great deal from it"?
Does anyone believe that if the Montagnards came to power, they would not themselves become the victims of the very means that they employed to seize it?
Citizens, throughout history two political systems have confronted each other, and both of them can be supported by good arguments. According to one, the state should do a great deal, but also it should take a great deal. According to the other, its double action should be barely perceptible. Between these two systems, one must choose. But as for the third system, which is a mixture of the two others, and which consists in requiring everything from the state without giving anything to it, it is chimerical, absurd, childish, contradictory, and dangerous. Those who advance it in order to give themselves the pleasure of accusing all governments of impotence and exposing them thus to your violent attacks, flatter and deceive you, or at least they deceive themselves.
As for us, we think that the state is not and should not be anything else than the common police force instituted, not to be an instrument of oppression and reciprocal plunder, but, on the contrary, to guarantee to each his own and to make justice and security prevail.3
Property and Plunder*
[*][The new regime brought in by the February Revolution sponsored national workshops to deal with the unemployment problem and also added forty-five centimes to the rate of indirect taxation. The workshops proved to be an unsatisfactory solution of the unemployment problem, a farcical system of handouts for little or no work. When it was decided to abolish the national workshops and find the unemployed places in the army, public works, or private industry, the workingmen of Paris, incensed at the government's betrayal of the “right to employment,” revolted and were subdued, after fierce fighting, in June, 1849.—Translator.]
[*][Vicomte François René de Chateaubriand (1768–1848), a forerunner of the romantic movement in French literature, and a royalist of the Bourbon stamp in politics. He served the restored Bourbon monarchy, after Napoleon's fall, as ambassador to England and Germany and as Minister of Foreign Affairs. His most famous works were The Genius of Christianity and Memoirs from beyond the Tomb.—Translator.]
[*][Pierre Auguste Remi Mimerel de Roubaix (1786–1872), textile manufacturer and politician. After his protectionist activities, which aroused Bastiat's ire in 1848–49, he was appointed by Napoleon III to the Advisory Council and to the Commission of Manufacturers. He was elected Representative in 1849 and named Senator by Napoleon in 1852.—Translator.]
[*][Charles, Count de Montalembert (1810–1870), publicist and exponent of liberal Catholicism.—Translator.]
[†][Pierre Carlier (1799–1858), French politician and police administrator. Chief of Paris police during both the 1830 and the 1848 revolutions, he was named Prefect of Police in 1849.—Translator.]
[*][Bastiat is alluding here to the lung trouble that was to prove fatal to him. Cf. p. 301 infra.—Translator.]
[*][For the rendering of the original French la spoliation by the English word “plunder" rather than “spoliation,” cf. the footnote to the title of chap. 6, p. 152 infra.—Translator.]
[*][François de Salignac de La Mothe-Fénelon (1651–1715), Archbishop of Cambrai, preceptor to the grandson of Louis XIV, author of a collection of Fables, the Dialogues of the Dead, and Télémaque.—Translator.]
[†][In French, Salente, the legendary city where Fénelon establishes his utopian government in Télémaque.—Translator.]
[*][In Télémaque Mentor is the tutor of the young prince.—Translator.]
[†][Olivier de Serres (1539–1619), one of the fathers of French agriculture and advisor to Henry IV.—Translator.]
[*][This is the answer of Alceste to his friend, Philinte, who has just hypocritically praised a very bad sonnet. (Molière, Le Misanthrope, Act I, scene ii.)—Translator.]
[*][The Abbé Guillaume Raynal (1713–1786), historian and philosopher, particularly known for his works on French medieval literature.—Translator.]
[*][Gabriel Bonnot de Mably (1709–1785), historian and philosopher, brother of the more famous Condillac.—Translator.]
[*][Étienne Bonnot de Condillac (1715–1780), one of the important figures of the French Enlightenment and author of the Treatise on Sensations, which advanced Locke's theories deriving all knowledge and experience from the senses. His ideas on political economy are to be found in his Le Commerce et le gouvernement.—Translator.]
[*][Louis Antoine Léon de Saint-Just (1767–1794), an important figure in the French Revolution. He was a member of the Committee of Public Safety responsible for the Reign of Terror. An ardent disciple of Robespierre, he was guillotined, like his master, when their government was overthrown.—Translator.]
[†][Jean Nicolas Billaud-Varenne (1756–1819), member of the Convention during the Revolution; first a supporter, then an enemy, of Robespierre; later deported for his part in the Reign of Terror.—Translator.]
[*][Louis Michel Lepéletier de Saint-Fargeau (1760–1793), member of the Revolutionary Convention, assassinated after he had voted for the death of Louis XVI.—Translator.]
[*][A relatively obscure eighteenth-century philosopher, known almost entirely through his works, which reveal a praiseworthy zeal to reform the social abuses of his day (Essai sur l'esprit humain, Essai sur le coeur humain, 1745; Physique de la beauté, 1748; Le Prince .... systeme d'un sage gouvernement, 1751). His Naufrage des îles flottantes ou Basiliade, 1753, a utopian “epic,” and his Code de la nature, 1755, contained radical notions of pure communism which strongly influenced Babeuf.—Translator.]
[†][Noël Babeuf (1764–1797), founder of La République des Égaux dedicated to a doctrine of complete social and economic equality. In 1796 he organized with his followers (les Babouvistes) a conspiracy to overthrow the Directory. The conspiracy was exposed and led to the arrest of the leaders and the death of Babeuf.—Translator.]
[*][Robert Owen (1771–1858), British reformer and socialist, active in efforts to improve factory workers' conditions.—Translator.]
[§][Louis Blanc (1811–1882), French politician and historian, creator of the social “workshop,” which combined elements of the co-operative and the trade-union. He attributed the evils of society to the pressures of competition, proposing instead “to each according to his needs, from each according to his abilities.”—Translator.]
[*][Victor Considérant (1808–1893), as a socialist of the Fourier school, is the frequent object of Bastiat's criticism.—Translator.]
[*][Followers of Étienne Cabet (1786–1856), French socialist, theorist, and experimenter. He founded associations in France; in Red River, Texas; and in Nauvoo, Illinois, to put into practice the theories set forth in his Voyage to Icaria.—Translator.]
[*][Followers of Pierre Joseph Proudhon (1809–1865), French social theorist and experimenter, a prolific writer on political and economic questions, for the most part radical or anarchistic in viewpoint. Bastiat and he had a fiery controversy over his proposal of loans without interest.—Translator.]
[*][Pierre Laurent Barthélemy, Comte de Saint-Cricq, member of the Chamber of Deputies, Minister of Commerce from January 4, 1828 to August 8, 1829, and later a Peer of France.—Translator.]
[*][Armand de Melun (1807–1877), a prominent philanthropist, leader in the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul, and in politics a moderate conservative.—Translator.]
[†][Louis Adolphe Thiers (1797–1877), French statesman and historian, opponent of free trade, and, in Bastiat's time, advocate of an aggressively anti-English policy for France.—Translator.]
[*][Jacques de Vaucanson (1709–1782). His claim to fame rests on his automatons, of which “The Flute Player" and “The Duck" were best known.—Translator.]
[*][Félicité de Lamennais (1782–1854), French philosopher, Catholic priest, reformer, and ardent champion of the working classes.—Translator.]
[*][“The right to use and abuse.”—Translator.]
[*][Gaius Luscinus Fabricius, distinguished Roman general and consul whose integrity so impressed Pyrrhus when he was sent as an ambassador to treat for the ransom and exchange of prisoners in 280 B.C. that they were released without ransom. He died so poor that the state had to provide for his daughter.—Translator.]
[†][Lucius Licinius Lucullus (110–56 B.C.), Roman general and plutocrat famous for the sumptuousness and elegance of his mode of life and especially for his extravagant gourmet meals.—Translator.]
[*][The meeting-place of the National Assembly.—Translator.]
[*][This title of address used during the French Revolution has, of course, an ironic connotation here, much like the term “Comrade" in our time.—Translator.]
[†][François Vidal (1814–1872), journalist, politician, and writer on economic subjects. An ardent advocate of government intervention in the relations between labor and capital, he edited a number of publications, including La Presse. After the Revolution of 1848, Louis Blanc made him secretary of the commission for the organization of labor. He later took an active part in the political opposition to Louis Bonaparte. His most famous work, to which Bastiat's French editor makes reference on p. 327 infra, is entitled De la répartition de richesses ou De la justice distributive en économie sociale (1846). It is a critical examination of the economic doctrines of his day.—Translator.]
[*][In 1846, Bastiat helped to organize the first Association for Free Trade in Bordeaux, and soon thereafter he was named secretary of a similar association established in Paris—Translator.]
[*][Writing before the time of Karl Marx, Bastiat uses this term, of course, to designate generally those political theorists, like the others whose names follow, who advocated collectivism as a means to advance equality.—Translator.]
[†][Pierre Leroux (1797–1871), French philosopher, publisher, and encyclopedist, a disciple of Saint-Simon. Editor of Le Globe.—Translator.]
[*][Publius Decius Mus, father and son, both military leaders of the Roman Republic between 350 and 275 B.C., are said to have performed acts of self-devotion by hurling themselves into the midst of the enemy when the Roman column each was leading was repulsed.—Translator.]
[*][“Unto death, even death on the Cross.”—Translator.]
[*][Armand Barbès (1809–1870), follower of Babeuf and organizer, in 1838, with Louis Blanqui and Martin Bernard, of the “Society of the Seasons,” which attempted an unsuccessful insurrection in 1839. The death sentence pronounced upon him for his part in this affair was commuted to life imprisonment, but he was liberated by the Revolution of 1848 and died in voluntary exile.—Translator.]
[†][Marie Joseph Sobrier (1825–1854), editor, in collaboration with George Sand, Eugène Sue, and others, of La Commune de Paris, journal du citoyen Sobrier, moniteur des clubs, des corporations, d'ouvriers et de l'armée, a daily newspaper that began publication in May, 1848, and ceased at the end of September, 1849.—Translator.]
[*][A local tax on certain commodities (foodstuffs, fodder, liquids, fuels, building materials, etc.) imposed as a condition of their being brought into a town or district.—Translator.]
[*][In 1848, members of the Socialist Democrat Party. The name, of course, goes back to the militant “Mountain" Party of Danton and Robespierre during the French Revolution.—Translator.]
[*][In French, la spoliation. While the English cognate “spoliation" has exactly the same meaning of “theft by force or fraud,” it is so infrequently used that the word “plunder" is substituted in these pages as coming closer to the emotional connotations of la spoliation.—Translator.]
[10.]If all the consequences of an action redounded on its author, we should soon enough receive our education. But this is not the case. Sometimes the visible good effects are for us, and the invisible bad effects are for others, which makes them all the more invisible. We must therefore wait for the reaction to come from those who have to endure the bad consequences of the act. Occasionally this takes a long time, and that is what prolongs the reign of error.
[1.][It was in June, 1850, that the author, during a few days spent with his family at Mugron, wrote this pamphlet.—Editor.]
[2.][See (in chap. 8 of this volume) the two last pages of the essay entitled “Plunder and Law.”—Editor.]
[3.][General Council of Manufacturing, Agriculture, and Commerce. (Session of May 6, 1850.)—Editor.]
[4.]If protection were granted in France to only one class—for example, to the ironmasters—it would be so absurdly spoliative that it could not be maintained. So we see all the protected industries banding together to make common cause and even to recruit members in a way calculated to make the association appear inclusive of the whole of national industry. They feel instinctively that plunder is masked by being made general.
[5.][In the pamphlet “Academic Degrees and Socialism" (chap. 9 in this volume), the author, by a series of analogous citations, shows again how this same error has been handed down from the past.—Editor.]
[6.]For a nation to be happy, it is indispensable that the individuals that compose it have the foresight, the prudence, and the confidence in one another that is born of security.
[7.]Political economy takes priority over political science. The former determines whether human interests are naturally harmonious or antagonistic. The latter must know this before establishing the prerogatives of government.
[1.][Article printed in the May 15, 1848, issue of the Journal des Économistes.—Editor.]
[2.][See, in Vol. I (of the French edition), the account of the work of M. Vidal on “The Distribution of Wealth" and, in Vol. II (of the French edition), the reply to five letters published by M. Vidal in the newspaper La Presse.—Editor.]
[3.][See, in Vol. I (of the French edition), the letter addressed in January, 1845, to M. de Lamartine on “The Right to Employment.”—Editor.]
[4.][See, in Vol. II (of the French edition), the collection of articles on the question of subsidies and (chap. 7 of this volume), “Protectionism and Communism.”—Editor.]
[5.][See (in this volume) chap. 8, “Plunder and Law,” and chap. 10, “Declaration of War against the Professors of Political Economy.”—Editor.]
[1.][Article printed in the June 15, 1848, issue of the Journal des économistes.—Editor.]
[2.][See the pamphlet “Capital and Rent" and, in Economic Harmonies, chap. 7.—Editor.]
[3.]In practice, men have always distinguished between a business transaction and an act of pure benevolence. I have sometimes had the pleasure of seeing in action the most charitable man, the most devout heart, the most fraternal soul that I know. The priest of my village carries to a rare degree of self-sacrifice the love of his neighbor and particularly of the poor. This goes so far that when, in order to come to the aid of the poor there is need of getting money from the rich, this honest man is not very scrupulous about his choice of means. He had given shelter in his home to a seventy-year-old nun, one of those who had been displaced by the Revolution. To provide an hour of distraction to his lodger, my friend, who had never touched a card, learned to play piquet; and you should have seen him pretend to be enthusiastic about the game, so that the nun would think that she was being useful to her benefactor. This went on for fifteen years. But here is what transformed an act of simple condescension into a veritable act of heroism: the good nun was devoured by a cancer, which gave off around her a horrible stench, of which she was never conscious. Now, it was noted that the curé never took tobacco during the game for fear of making known to the poor invalid her sad condition. How many people were given the cross of the Legion of Honor this past May Day who are incapable of doing for a single day anything as heroic as my old priest did for fifteen years!
[4.][See (in this volume chap. 6) “Property and Plunder,” including the final note. See also, in Vol. II (of the French edition), the reply to a letter of M. Considérant.—Editor.]
[5.][Several chapters of Economic Harmonies had already been published then in the Journal des économistes, and the author was obliged to continue this work without delay.—Editor.]
[6.][At the moment when a public convention in favor of free trade was being proposed at Marseilles in August, 1847, Bastiat encountered M. de Lamartine in that city and conversed a long time with him about commercial freedom, and then about freedom in general, the fundamental dogma of political economy. See, in Vol. II (of the French edition), the note that follows the address delivered at Marseilles. See also, in Vol. I, the two letters to M. de Lamartine.—Editor.]
[7.]“There are three regions in which mankind can dwell: a lower, that of plunder; a higher, that of charity; and an intermediate, that of justice.
[1.][To understand the form of this composition, note that it was printed in the Journal des débats, issue of September 25, 1848.—Editor.]
[2.][This last phrase is from M. de Lamartine. The author cites it also in the pamphlet (chap. 2 of this volume) entitled “The Law.”—Editor.]
[3.][See chap. 17 of Economic Harmonies and, in the first volume (of the French edition), the pamphlet of 1830 entitled “To the Electors of the Department of Landes.”—Editor.]